Fast and Spurious

NFL free agency opened with more than 60 contracts and a $1 billion binge on the first day alone, but the eye-popping numbers don’t tell the whole story. Let's pause to assess the winners, the losers and the leaps of faith ... plus, my take on Vince Wilfork’s impending divorce from the Patriots and why Everson Griffen—who?—became a rich man

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·
Linval Joseph (l.) got a five-year, $31.25 million deal from the Vikings, but in reality it’s a two-year deal for $13 million. (Ron Cortes/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT/Sipa USA)
Linval Joseph (l.) got a five-year, $31.25 million deal from the Vikings, but in reality it’s a two-year deal for $13 million. (Ron Cortes/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT/Sipa USA)

NFL free agency usually has a few stages. The first day is when teams throw big money at impact players, along with a few targeted signings that perfectly fit team needs. The next couple days involve veterans who are a little pickier about money and the corresponding cap hit. This weekend, we’ll witness the beginning of the next stage: the musical chairs installment, when players and agents start to get a bit more desperate to find a new team before the big money dries up. After that, the value shoppers will start picking over the discount bin.

So, this is the perfect time to hit pause and assess some of the moves that have already gone down. That said, I won’t get into the whole grading thing—“champions” in March have little correlation to the champions in February—but I like to group the key moves in a few different categories. Basically, it breaks down into moves that I really liked, those I’m cautious about, and leaps of faith, which may or may not pay off.

You’ll be happy

DE Willie Young, Bears (3 years, $9 million): An overlooked but very effective member of the Lions’ defensive line who should take the next step in Chicago. He’s an improving pass rusher with a great motor. Bears get bang for their bucks on this one.

OT Jared Veldheer, Cardinals (5 years, $35 million): If he didn’t have the torn triceps last year, he might have been the highest paid tackle on the market. He’s a very good player and Arizona should finally have a left tackle they can count on.

CB Alterraun Verner, Buccaneers (4 years, $25.5 million): Of the top cornerbacks on the market, Verner is the youngest and perhaps the best fit for what coach Love Smith likes to do on defense. Tampa Bay got a great deal because many teams don’t think Verner is a shutdown corner; those teams might be sorry they felt that way.

SS T.J. Ward, Broncos (4 years, $22.5 million): While many of these contracts are configured so the team can get out after one season, Ward should see the end of this deal, which is fair to both the player and team. He’s 27 and has more upside than other safeties on the market, such as Donte Whitner and Antoine Bethea. Denver will be happy.

CB Darrelle Revis, Patriots (Real deal: one year, $12 million): It’s a two-year contract, which allows the Patriots to spread the cap hit out. Revis will likely be there for one season, and then we’ll see happens. Regardless, the Patriots get a lockdown cornerback who is an upgrade over Aqib Talib in every way, especially durability.

OT Eugene Monroe, Ravens (5 years, $37.5 million): He’s been very good the past two seasons, and he’s only getting better. Smart move by both sides to keep a relatively young player (Monroe turns 27 in April) in the fold so he can continue to grow.

DT Linval Joseph, Vikings (5 years, $31.25 million): This is really a two-year deal for $13 million. Joseph is just 25, durable and more of a two-way (run and pass) defender than most realize. That’s great value up front for Minnesota.

OT Austin Howard, Raiders (5 years, $30 million): The overall deal is a bit rich for a player like Howard, but there’s beauty in how it’s structured. GM Reggie McKenzie worked hard to get the Raiders’ cap in order and now he’s installing a pay-as-you-go system. As soon as the player doesn’t perform, he’s gone with no cap hit.

DE Michael Bennett, Seahawks (4 years, $28.5 million): Looks like this is really three years and $27 million, and that’s a fair deal for a player who is extremely versatile and knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl.

DT Arthur Jones, Colts (5 years, $33 million): Given his knowledge and comfort in Chuck Pagano’s defense, Jones won’t have the same learning curve as many free agents playing with new clubs. An average of $6.6 million per year (at an important position in the scheme) should be solid value.

DL Red Bryant, Jaguars (4 years, $17 million): There’s only $5.25 million guaranteed in this contract, and Jacksonville got the kind of guy who will be as steady as an oak on that line.

FS Jairus Byrd, Saints (6 years, $54 million): The total value is startling, but that’s a reflection of how important the free safety position has become if you want to play man coverage. His deal is going to need some renegotiation at some point (probably after a second season), but Byrd will be worth it.

OG Jon Asamoah, Falcons (5 years, $22.5 million): Atlanta needed an upgrade on the line and got it with an underrated player who brings a nasty edge to the unit. His best football is ahead.

CB Captain Munnerlyn, Vikings (3 years, $15 million): The NFL’s worst pass defense got a young (26), feisty and versatile player. Instant upgrade.

WR Golden Tate, Lions (5 years, $31 million): Detroit finally gets a viable receiver to pair with Calvin Johnson, and it didn’t break the bank to do it.

CB Nolan Carroll, Eagles (2 years, $5.2 million): An underrated player with the Dolphins, Carroll should be a better fit in Philadelphia where his length is a big asset.

A bit risky

FS Mike Mitchell, Steelers (5 years, $25 million): Mitchell had a very good season for the Panthers and got rewarded. Now we’ll find out if he overachieved with help from Carolina’s front seven, or if he’s really that good.

CB Aqib Talib, Broncos (6 years, $57 million): Judging by the total value of the deal, this seems risky. In reality, it’s a three-year deal for $27 million, but the Broncos have left themselves outs after the first and second seasons. That was smart, because Talib has a history of being one of the most volatile players on and off the field. Even if he’s past his off-field issues, his health is always a concern.

OLB DeMarcus Ware, Broncos (3 years, $30 million): Ware has good football ahead of him—and pairing him with Von Miller could be lethal—but his recent injury history should give pause. It’s a great deal if he’s on the field. If he’s not, the Broncos could be in trouble. Overall, this was risk worth taking.

ILB Karlos Dansby, Browns (4 years, $24 million): In reality, there’s $14 million guaranteed in this contract. There’s no question Dansby played great last season, but he turns 33 in November. Will his body hold up to the contract?

DE Lamarr Houston, Bears (5 years, $35 million): This is probably two years at $14.9 million, which is similar to Bennett’s deal with the Seahawks. Bennett is more versatile and a better pass rusher. It all depends on how Chicago uses Houston. He’s such a unique player, but his skills could go to waste.

SS Antoine Bethea, 49ers (4 years, $23 million): I think he is better overall than the player he’s replacing, Donte Whitner. But Bethea is 30, and while he hasn’t missed a game in six years, can that injury luck continue?

Buyer beware

LB D’Qwell Jackson, Colts (4 years, $22 million): Nobody questions Jackson’s leadership and work ethic, but he’s been declining, especially when in a 3-4 defense like this one. He might be better in a 4-3. A lot of risk for the Colts in this one.

DE Michael Johnson, Buccaneers (5 years, $43.8 million): This is a bit pricey for a player who has yet to show he can be the type of dominating pass rusher that normally commands this salary. Tampa is taking a leap of faith that he’ll be better in its system. Maybe he will, but there’s definite risk here.

SS Donte Whitner, Browns (4 years, $28 million): Whitner is a good player, but he’s in this category because I don’t understand why Cleveland didn’t retain T.J. Ward for less money, especially because he’s younger and, in my opinion, has more upside.

OG Zane Beadles, Jaguars (5 years, $30 million): He struggled down the stretch and in the Super Bowl. Beadles will need to prove that it was an aberration to live up to this contract, which could turn into two years at $12.5 million.

CB Vontae Davis, Colts (4 years, $39 million): Davis has always looked the part and flashed shut down ability — he just hasn’t done so consistently. He also has a tendency to get dinged up (see last year’s playoffs). Like Jackson, this is another roll of the dice by GM Ryan Grigson, who is also betting on RB Trent Richardson to pay off.

DE Tyson Jackson, Falcons (5 years, $25 million): Jackson’s going to receive at least $16 million out of this deal, which is a little rich for a player who is very good against the run but doesn’t provide much in pass rush.

TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (4 years, $16 million): I don’t get this one. Pettigrew has always been an inconsistent player who has teased with his potential. He has shown no signs of being more than just average.

NICKEL PACKAGE

1. We all know football is a tough business, but it’s still sad to see an impending divorce between the Patriots and nose tackle Vince Wilfork. The NFL Network reported that the 10-year veteran has asked to be released. The plan always appeared to be that Wilfork would be fairly extended this offseason, before the final year of his deal, and that he would rightfully finish his career in New England. But Wilfork, who missed just six games in his first nine years, tore his Achilles last season and that changed things. The Patriots probably factored in an injury discount, and Wilfork decided he’d rather take less elsewhere than continue on with the Patriots. That happens when a player feels disrespected. Why would Wilfork feel that way? Just an educated guess: after the Patriots made him honor his rookie contract by playing for six years way below market value, Wilfork probably didn’t take kindly to the team not sticking to the market-value extension both agreed to in 2010. The Patriots were just playing the game in a system that will always be stacked against the player, which is their right. Both the team and fans get upset if a player holds out and doesn’t honor his contract. Then teams, when given the chance, will quickly say, “Take a pay cut or leave.” (Wilfork isn’t a descending and/or injury-prone player like others who are often cut loose). NFL teams get to have it both ways. People love to talk about loyalty, but if the team isn’t going to show it, the player shouldn’t be expected to either.

wilfork-800

2. I like the decision by the Bills to move middle linebacker Kiko Alonso to weakside linebacker in their new scheme. As a rookie last season, Alonso was impressive at middle linebacker, but now he’ll have the opportunity to make more plays. He has that kind of potential.

3. According to two front office sources, Vikings free-agent end Jared Allen is looking for a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $12 million per season. That would keep him where he was under his contract with the Vikings. Allen is still a very good and durable player with a lot to add as a veteran presence, but it’s hard to see him getting more than DeMarcus Ware ($10 million with Broncos). The list of contenders who are a good scheme fit with that kind of cash isn’t very long. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The Jaguars would be a good fit, but they don’t have a quarterback.

4. Many fans don’t know much about Vikings end Everson Griffen. After all, he started just one game in his first four seasons. So there was probably some surprise when he received a five-year, $42.5 million contract. But NFL teams viewed Griffen as a diamond in the rough because his lack of playing time resulted from being behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison on the depth chart. When he played, Griffen was very effective and a versatile chess piece. This is a fair deal for a rising player.

5. One thing that will have to be looked at once free agency is over: the amount of contracts in which teams basically hold an option after each season in the form of roster bonuses. Because of this wrinkle, fully guaranteed money (against injury, skill and cap) is becoming less and less. For example, Aqib Talib’s deal with the Broncos has a total value of six years and $57 million. But the Broncos could get out after one year at $12 million. His salaries in ’14 and ’15 are guaranteed for injury only, and don’t kick in until the third day of each league year. With the new draft system guaranteeing more of rookie salaries, most assumed that it would trickle up to veteran contracts. That hasn’t happened. It’s such a recent shift that it’s too early to gauge whether this is good or bad for the players.

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32 comments
JessieERichardson
JessieERichardson

just as Josephine implied I'm surprised that a mom can get paid $8270 in 1 month on the computer . see this site..............................



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Nathan16
Nathan16

"YOU'LL BE HAPPY...FS Jairus Byrd, Saints (6 years, $54 million)" Is the you'll be happy part referring to Byrd? This is really a $9M per year contract anyway you cut it. His second year cap number is over $9M!!! And this is a team that just jettisoned a whole bunch of skill players and still needs to sign their most dangerous skill player to a long-term deal. Did I mention Byrd is slow?

Nathan16
Nathan16

"DE Michael Bennett, Seahawks (4 years, $28.5 million): Looks like this is really three years and $27 million"


You know, in case a team decides he's not worth $1.5M for that forth year...

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

Well score one for Mr.King to all those who say he only speaks glowingly about the Pats.  He definitely sided with Vince and not the Pats in what he wrote about above.

magic mushroom
magic mushroom

i do hope Vince stays... i also want him to get what he is worth. he has been a solid player and deserves every penny. These guys are hard working individuals with short time span to make what they can make. Vince I hope you get a big fat contract wherever you may go, no pun intended.

ars630
ars630

Wilfork was a good soldier for the Patriots but players come and players go... Fans shouldn't get emotional about players. Remember, they don't get emotional about you. Root for laundry....NEXT!

Buck2185
Buck2185

Vince Wilfork meet Bill Belichick and the Patriot organization....Wilfork will get the last laugh as staying on the Patriots would be just another year of no superbowl. Besides, he has to be tired of playing for that chicken sh$# organization by now anyway.....

loaded_question
loaded_question

what a laugh. The NFL pays their players more than the CEO at Apple, IBM and Morgan get. Or is it just a lot of talk? Masked in terms like cap and bonus, performance and injury, insurance, gate receipts, wins/losses, advertising, ESPN payoffs and so forth take the total and divide by twenty. 

foothillsco
foothillsco

Vince Wolfork is an awesome player.  Always a thorn in Denver's (my team) offense.  Being a fan is hard when things like this happen.

LeBon
LeBon

"Wilfork isn’t a descending and/or injury-prone player" 


Big Vince has been a legend for us in N.E. but to say he was not descending isn't really true. Prior to his injury, he was regularly and effectively blocked with just one lineman, something we had not seen in the past. If he would rather play for another team then I wish him the best (he deserves to be given that opportunity) but I doubt he will see $7.5 million from any other team. 

drudown
drudown

It is easier to spend a billion when the NFL inexplicably pays NO Federal Income Tax.


How is that not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? I fancy. 

hewhofishes
hewhofishes

hed be a great fit for the Steelers if they had the cap room - IF

Jason1988
Jason1988

This was Bedard, not King. 

el-cid
el-cid

@Buck2185  I don't care if you don't like them, but they've averaged about 12.5 wins a season for 20 years, 14 times to the playoffs and six Super Bowl appearances.  Winning record in 17 of the last 21 seasons.  Whaddaya want out of a team?

el-cid
el-cid

@loaded_question  Tim Cook at Apple got a 378 million dollar package in 2011.  That's more than the revenue of 30 of the 32 teams in 2013.  You are an idiot.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@LeBon  Any player who has played 10 years in the NFL is a descending player.  It's a rough and violent league and 10 yrs is a lot longer than the average career, especially since Vince is a big man on the defensive line.

Mike26
Mike26

@drudown  The NFL is a tax-exempt organization that has no profits or losses.  The teams that comprise the NFL pay taxes. 


Back to bed son...

eddie767
eddie767

@drudown  The NFL, as an organization, doesn't pay taxes, but individual teams do. The NFL is a nonprofit entity. How, I don't know. Why, U.S. Govt. gave it to them, in '70s. So technically you are right but legally you are wrong. 

gary41
gary41

@drudown The NFL received a special exemption negotiated by Pete Rozelle, as a non profit organization, when the NFL-AFL merged over 50 years ago.  They paid for it fair and square.  It's the American way.      

ConfusionReigns
ConfusionReigns

@drudown  Not being an expert on the NFL business organization (really I don't know anything about it, but this is a message board and having knowledge is not required for posting), but I am curious about your statement.  Is it the NFL that doesn't pay Fed Income tax or individual teams that don't?  The NFL could be formed as a not for profit, or some sort of MLP where all monies earned by the "NFL" are divided among the teams.  The cash (and thus the tax liability) becomes the property of the teams rather than the NFL, which could explain why the NFL pays no Fed Income Tax.  If teams are turning a profit I am willing to bet they are paying Fed Income Tax.  If these structures (or a similar structure) are in place its all legal under the tax laws of this country.  You can avoid paying Fed Income tax too, just become an expert in tax law (or hire one) and structure your personal finances in such a way to legally reduce or eliminate your tax liability.  You aren't going to beat the rich, but you can ride on their coattails if you so desire.  

Buck2185
Buck2185

@el-cid @Buck2185 To win a super bowl without cheating. The last time I checked, this was still on the Patriots bucket list to accomplish.....

RooMal
RooMal

@eddie767 @drudown  Can we just STOP with that "NFL non profit outrage/doesnt pay taxes" garbage?  Im a huge leftist but this trope is utter horsecrap. The National Football League is just an organization 32 teams pay into to do rules and give out all the hype and PR. The 32 TEAMS with OWNERS make ALL the profit, and they pay PLENTY of taxes. People are confused and think nobody is paying taxes on the 9 billion of revenue the 32 teams make. Thats a total lie. Still petitions keep circulating on the net, by people who have no idea. Yes it would be an outrage if the 9 billion of revenue wasnt taxed, but it is. 
    The NFL is a non profit in that, it doesnt rake in the revenue, the TEAMS OWNERS do. THEY get taxed completely on every revenue stream. The NFL,   Is just an organization the teams created a long time ago to handle rules and such. That it does a good job of it doesnt mean the org needs to be taxed, its fully funded by contributions from the 32 teams. Thats where Goodells salary comes in. Which is taxed. 

Pat11
Pat11

@ConfusionReigns @drudown Its a total non issue, no one owns the NFL, its just a organization of  teams who all pay taxes on profits and the player pay salary taxes like everyone else ( there supposed to anyway). Team owners will also pay capital gain taxes if they decide to sell their stake. 

Mike26
Mike26

@RooMal @eddie767 @drudown  Cities that fight back lose their teams.  So the cities ALWAYS have that option - don't fund the stadium and lose out on the millions of $$$ generated for generations upon generations of the city's residents, OR just partner with the team and get the deal done.  Enough with the whining about taxes, publicly-funded stadiums, etc.

RooMal
RooMal

@eddie767 @drudown  HOWEVER; individual states and cities should fight back when owners demand taxpayer funded stadiums. To hell with you, your profitable enough, borrow against future revenue and fund Jerryworld by yourself. Like every corporation works. 

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