The Biggest Gamble in the NFL’s Wildest Offseason Week
The NFL’s opening weekend is 26 weeks away, which is why there’s no good reason to say the sky is falling in any NFL market. I plan to write further about that on Tuesday at The MMQB. This morning, before I get to one of the strangest weeks in NFL offseason history, three notes:
- In Hawaii early this morning Eastern Time, the National Football League Players Association elected DeMaurice Smith to a third three-year term as executive director. It seems amazing that Smith was elected unanimously on the first ballot, seeing that he had eight challengers in an impassioned run-up to the vote. Smith was vulnerable in this election, for many reasons—including the impression that he did a bad deal with the 2011 CBA and his consistently contentious relationship with the league—but none of his challengers could muster the required 17 of 32 votes from the player reps who spent the weekend listening to proposals for the job. "In the end," NFLPA executive committee member Ryan Clark said from Hawaii shortly before 2 a.m. ET Monday, "we felt strongly that De was the best candidate for the next three years. But there was a process to get there. It wasn't his at the beginning of the weekend. We had 12 new reps here that he had to win over. But he did, and we feel like we're in a good place." The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt analyzes why Smith won and examines what it means for the union and the league, here.
- There’s some noise out there that Adrian Peterson could be traded to Arizona. Well, I guess he could, at some point. But the money would be a major problem. I spoke with a reliable Cardinals source Sunday night, and the three years and $45 million left on Peterson’s contract is an absolute non-starter with the Cards. “We haven’t had contact with the Vikings about it, to the best of my knowledge," the source said. “And there is no way we could live with those numbers. We just got Larry Fitzgerald’s contract under control. No way we’d add that salary." Two other detrimental factors: Arizona loves the running-back crop in this draft, and the Cardinals, with the 23rd and 55th overall picks, would be able to get a very good one. And Peterson turns 30 on Saturday. Not an optimum age for a back, even one who got so little wear on his tires in 2014.
- On page two of the column, some interesting stuff about why Dallas let DeMarco Murray walk, leading my 20 thoughts on the NFL Gone Mad in the past week.
Now for the craziest facet of the zany week we’ve just seen. Jimmy Johnson, who quietly has become a good sounding board for Philadelphia coach/franchise czar Chip Kelly, knows that when he watches Kelly operate he’s looking at an offensive version of himself from a quarter-century ago. And new Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, who flies from his home in Oklahoma to Philadelphia this morning to get on a new rehab track for his left ACL injury, still needs to be pinched. Bitterness-free, Bradford can’t believe his good fortune.
My one point, apropos of nothing, that was cool from the conversation with Bradford: The same afternoon he got the news he’d been traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, he texted his old college roommate from Oklahoma, DeMarco Murray, and the following exchange occurred (from Bradford’s memory Sunday night):
Bradford: “Just got traded to the Eagles. Come to Philly!”
Murray: “Yeah, we’re talking to them now.” Bradford: “Don’t mess with me. Really?” Murray: “Dead serious. Talking to them right now.”
The rest, of course, is angry Cowboy history.
* * *
Jimmy Johnson has advised Chip Kelly, and the new quarterback likes it.
A little history here: When Jimmy Johnson took over the Cowboys a quarter-century ago, he was Chip Kelly. College coach with a satchel of ideas he would bring to the big leagues—a small and fast defense, a willingness to trade in a league that hated trading (Dallas made 55 trades in his tenure), hubris, believing that what won in college could win in the NFL, and being married to no individual player or coach. It worked. Dallas won three Super Bowls, two with Johnson as coach and then one with Barry Switzer coaching Johnson’s players.
So here comes Kelly, with his own ideas the way Johnson had them. Big on sports science; running more plays than anyone in the league; a willingness to deal in a league warming to the idea of building through trades; hubris; believing that was won in college could win in the NFL; and being married to no one.
"You can’t be afraid to make moves. Chip’s not. So some of it is similar," says Jimmy Johnson. "But there is one big difference: We were the worst team in the league, and people were ready for a big change."
"Does Kelly remind you of you, 25 years ago?" I asked Johnson the other day.
"Well, in some ways," Johnson said. “I really like what I have seen out of Chip Kelly. Chip called me and we visited a couple times, and what I heard from him, I liked. No one can say from the outside—right moves, wrong moves. You gotta let ’em play out. You won’t know until you see the results. I felt I was right when I did the things I did, but who knew? I traded away my starting quarterback, Steve Pelluer, to Kansas City. The leading receiver, I don’t remember his name [it was Ray Alexander] we got rid of. I talked to Danny White, and he retired. Then I traded Herschel Walker. You can’t be afraid to make moves. Chip’s not. So some of it is similar. But there is one big difference: We were the worst team in the league two years in a row [1988, 1989]. People were ready for a big change.
“The similarities? We’re both confident, both competent, both know how to win. We talked after he got the new responsibilities this year. I just said, ‘Go with people you believe in, and go with players who fit your personality and fit your system.’ I have talked to Bill Belichick about this too. Certain players are going to be successful in his system and not in others."
The most controversial trade of them all last week was Bradford and a fourth-round pick to Philadelphia for Nick Foles and a second-round pick. Bradford’s played seven games in the past two years. He’s had two ACL tears to the same knee. By the time this season kicks off, he will have not played in a regular-season game for 22 months. That concerns most everyone who loves the Eagles. It also concerns Johnson.
“Well, with Bradford, the biggest concern I have, and the thing that concerned me with some players that I got burned on, is the injury factor. I remember I traded for [former University of Miami running back] Alonzo Highsmith, because I had great memories, and I did it against my doctor’s recommendations, and he wasn’t the same. So that’s my biggest concern, the health. I love Bradford, but is he gonna be on the field? But if he plays, I like him. Foles, his accuracy was a question. Bradford’s better at that, and it’s not even a questions if he’s healthy. I think Chip looked at Foles as not his guy."
I asked Johnson if he got a sense in his talks with Kelly that he was going to be active in remaking his roster this off-season.
"Oh yeah," Johnson said. “The last conversation was over an hour, going over everything. He was loading his guns."
* * *
The Eagles won 10 games in Kelly’s first year, 2013. They won 10 games in his second year, 2014. And have zero playoff wins in his two seasons.
Not good enough.
So you’re Chip Kelly, and you look at the quarterback landscape, and this is what you see:
- The quarterback you want, Marcus Mariota, going somewhere in the top five or six picks of the 2015 draft, and you’re picking 20th, and you know it’ll obliterate two drafts to have a chance to move up to get him.
- Nick Foles, who had a very hot streak in 2013, but just isn’t accurate enough downfield for your taste.
- A bunch of schmoes in free agency.
- One interesting, but flawed, prospect: Sam Bradford, the first pick in the 2010 draft, who’d played for an offensively challenged team in St. Louis—and played but seven games in the past two seasons because he tore his left ACL in two straight seasons. Bradford was intriguing because he’d operated a fast-paced spread scheme at Oklahoma, and Kelly was playing a fast-paced spread scheme with the Eagles (though with some significant differences).
“From afar, it looks like a blast to play in the offense," Bradford says. "I feel it’s similar to what I did at Oklahoma—playing fast, putting pressure on the D."
Bradford told Philadelphia media last week he knew this trade had been in the works for three or four weeks. Bradford is polite and accommodating, almost to a fault. He says the right things the right way. But when we spoke Sunday night, he was almost giddy.
“Usually," Bradford said from his home in Oklahoma City, “when you get to go to a new team, you’re going somewhere that’s rebuilding, or somewhere starting over. How often do you get to a team that’s won 10 games the last two years?
“From afar, it looks like a blast to play in the offense. I love the tempo, the mindset. They’re trying to score points every time they snap the ball. Very quarterback-friendly. The ball’s getting out quick, always places to go with the ball. If you’re getting heated up, there’s a place to go with it, always. Constantly putting pressure on the defense. I wish I had more knowledge of the offense to go into depth there. They’ve been top five in offense in both of his years there, and you don’t do that without creating a lot of explosive plays. It almost seems like they go short, short, short, almost lull you to sleep and then they’ll blow one by you. I feel it’s similar to what I did at Oklahoma—playing fast, putting pressure on the D."
Bradford flies from Oklahoma to Philadelphia today to start his second act. It’s a strange situation in this way: He tore his ACL in mid-season 2013 and went into rehab led by Reggie Scott, the Rams’ trainer. After tearing the same ACL again last August in a preseason game, he went back to work with Scott to rehab it all over again. And last Tuesday, after a rehab session with Scott at the Rams’ facility in suburban St. Louis, Bradford was told by coach Jeff Fisher that he’d been traded. Bradford was in his car going home when Kelly called to welcome him to the Eagles. They’d never spoken before. Bradford didn’t have a chance—and still hasn’t had one—to thank Scott for all the work he did with him for two years.
Now Bradford will be in the hands of new trainers and doctors. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but now he’ll be out of his comfort zone more in terms of rehab than he is with football.
As for that “injury-prone" label …
“I don’t think you let it bother you," Bradford said. “The past two injuries, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I just think I’ve been unlucky. It just happened. You can’t say now, ‘I just want to make it through the year healthy.’ The more you think about it, the more danger you’re in for it happen again. You’ve just go to play, and that’s what I am going to do."
Bradford is convinced his knee “is going to be as strong as it ever was," and he believes the leg will be back to normal by the time the season begins. “I do. I do. I really do," he said. “Last year, I was as strong as I’ve ever been. By the time I'm cleared and I'm ready to go, when I’m cleared, I will be back to where I was.
"I think I will be as good as I have ever been playing the position. And playing for Chip excites me. I love being challenged. I want to soak up all of it.’’
* * *
The more Johnson spoke, the more he was buying stock in Kelly futures.
“I am a fan of Chip Kelly," said Johnson, “and I will be a fan of Chip Kelly’s until he proves me wrong. I love his offense, I love his style, I love the nutrition stuff, love his practice schedule, love how he turns over the roster."
It’s not a honeymoon in every precinct. Philadelphia’s doubting Kelly right now, and there’s still an outside chance he could shock the world and pick Mariota to be his guy at quarterback, should Mariota go tumbling down the draft board. But with the first game six months away, there will be plenty of time for apoplexy. Let’s enjoy one man gambling his future on a quarterback with a wounded knee.
* * *
Twenty thoughts on the week that shook the NFL.
1. America’s (Punching Bag) Team: the Cowboys. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This is exactly what happened in Dallas with DeMarco Murray: The Cowboys, pre-free-agency, set a soft limit on what they would offer Murray—$5 million per year on a four-year deal. When the money started getting out of sight from Oakland and later from Philadelphia, the Cowboys stretched to $6 million, on average (four years, $24 million). When the Eagles got to an $8.5-million average, with $21 million guaranteed, the Cowboys never thought about matching. In fact, the Cowboys weren't particularly in mourning about losing him, though they loved Murray the player and Murray the person and would have liked to have him back on their terms. In the old days, impetuous Jerry Jones would have written the necessary check to keep Murray. But Jones and his son Stephen, the Cowboys' COO, have grown through a series of contracts that bit them (Marion Barber, Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer), and they’re determined to not get cap-strapped again. The same way they were mature enough to pass on Johnny Manziel for Zack Martin in round one last year—that's the way they handled Murray.
2. But signing Darren McFadden? He’s a Dallas backfield place-holder, for just $200,000 in guarantees. The 2008 fourth overall pick could be on the team as part of a running back committee in September (I keep thinking Todd Gurley’s an ideal fit in Dallas late in round one), or he could be gone. We’ll see what the running back market dictates.
3. No question in my mind we’ll see a bunch of Michael Johnson-type contracts out of the Class of 2015 free agents. In other words, one and done. One mediocre season, and on the street a few rich men will go. Johnson signed a big free-agent deal with Tampa Bay last year after five seasons in Cincinnati. The Bucs cut him last week after one unproductive and injury-plagued year, and he is returning to the Bengals.
4. Greg Hardy certainly is repelling his share of suitors. As the GM of one team who told me Hardy “is on our list, but pretty far down,” there are two distinct problems with taking him on: a) Teams believe there’s a good chance Hardy will be suspended for the first six games of the season because of the domestic-violence incident that caused him to be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list last year; b) the public battering the team would take would potentially be intense and distracting. I think he’d fit best—without regard to off-field stuff—in Dallas or pass-rush-desperate Atlanta, Tampa Bay, San Diego or Jacksonville. Which team can best take the heat?
5. Andre Johnson will catch 90 balls from Andrew Luck next year. Great signing.
6. Dwight Freeney can give some team 15 smart pass-rush snaps per game. If I were Atlanta or Tampa Bay, I’d be sniffing around Freeney.
7. Mike Maccagnan is off to a good start with the Jets, but come now. All he’s done is spend the millions John Idzik unwisely left for him instead of fixing the secondary last March. The Jets were a franchise-record $52 million under the cap two weeks ago, with an owner desperate to have his team relevant and to bring home a superstar who’d won his Super Bowl ring with a fierce rival. Again, no criticism of Maccagnan, but all he’s done so far is spend the money the owner wanted to spend.
8. The AFC East has been revolutionized. It now has two of the five best defensive players in football (Ndamukong Suh, who from Detroit to Miami, and Darrelle Revis, who remained in the division by moving from New England to the Jets); a jillion-dollar secondary in New York; and restorative offensive weapons LeSean McCoy and Kenny Stills, who will be shots in the arm to the Bills and the Dolphins, respectively. But on opening day one team will be led by Tom Brady. The other three will be led by Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel. One team will be coached by Bill Belichick. The other three will be coached by Joe Philbin, Todd Bowles and Rex Ryan. No question the rest of the division has narrowed the gap. No question, also, that there is still a gap.
9. One thing we know now: It’s likely that the Jets would have blown out of the water any offer for Revis. So at first blush, I thought the Patriots erred and should have spent the money the Jets did. But now it’s apparent the Jets would have just upped the ante, and Revis would have ended up in New Jersey anyway.
10. Quirky things about Brandon Marshall: Not many NFL players have been traded three times in their career. Marshall is one. In 2010, it was for two second-round picks. In 2012, it was for two third-round picks. This time, it’s Marshall and a seven for a fifth-round pick. I sense a trend. Another factoid about him: He now has the chance to be the first receiver ever to catch more than 150 passes on four teams. (He had 327 in Denver, 167 in Miami, 279 in Chicago.) He turns 31 next Monday. With the Jets, he may well have to play three seasons to catch 150.
11. If I’m John Schneider, I’m a little nervous about the Jimmy Graham deal. Not as nervous as when he made the Percy Harvin trade. But the NFC West is a very physical division. Graham’s going to knocked around a lot. He’s never been a physical presence; the Seahawks’ defense practically mocked him about that after Graham’s disappearing act in the playoff game 14 months ago in Seattle. The good thing for Schneider is that Graham is due to make $8 million, $9 million and $10 million, respectively, in the last three years of his current deal, and the Seahawks won’t have to take the cap hit if they have to cut him before the end of the deal in ’16 or ’17. New Orleans took the entire hit this year from Graham’s contract.
12. So happy about this: Schneider, Chip Kelly, Mickey Loomis, Ryan Grigson, John Dorsey and Les Snead are not your father’s GMs and club architects. They trade. They take chances. That’s what made last week so fun, and so compelling.
13. Michael Johnson can’t complain about free agency. Not at all. He made $9 million in salary and bonus last year jumping from Cincinnati to Tampa to rush the passer. His production was measly: 28 pressures/hits/sacks in 648 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. And so the Bucs, who owed him $7 million guaranteed this year, cut him anyway. The Bengals signed him Sunday, and he’ll make $6 million for Cincinnati. So one of the least productive pass-rushers in football will make $22 million in 2014 and ’15 combined. What a country.
14. Jabaal Sheard’s a great signing in New England. The Patriots like big bodies who can rush the passer and are durable enough to handle run duties. At 264 pounds, Sheard’s a player who should have been a Patriot all along, and should have been picked atop the second round in 2011. Better late than never, especially for the reasonable price of two years and $11 million.
15. Now that Trent Richardson has been cut loose by Indianapolis, let’s assess one of the worst draft picks in modern NFL history. Not just because Richardson has been terrible in the NFL, but think of this: Cleveland had the fourth pick in the 2012 draft. Minnesota had the third pick. To ensure that they’d get Richardson, the player they were desperate to have, the Browns moved from four to three in round one, giving Minnesota fourth, fifth and seventh-round picks to move one slot. This is always a dangerous game to play, but the Browns, had they bypassed Richardson and kept the fourth pick and the picks in rounds four, five and seven, could have had linebacker Luke Kuechly, wide receiver Jairus Wright, running back Alfred Morris and either kicker Justin Tucker or linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Now, the trade of Richardson for Indy’s first-round pick in 2014 did salvage some shred of value for Richardson. Then the Browns used that pick to trade up four slots to select Johnny Manziel. Had they bypassed Manziel, Cleveland could have had a Joe Haden corner partner, Bradley Roby, in the first round, and with that pick in the third round, wideout depth in Donte Moncrief. I repeat: This is a dangerous game to play, because I don’t know who the Browns had on the draft board near those slots. But if Manziel flunks out as a Brown, the amazing thing will be that they had two chances to get the high 2012 pick right and failed at each.
16. Mike Iupati’s a mauler. Bruce Arians loves maulers, and he’s determined to run the ball better in Arizona. Iupati’s one of the best run-blocking guards in the league. This is a very good signing for that place, in that division.
17. Help me understand the Dwayne Harris deal. The Giants gave a good return man (ninth in punt-return average, 13th in kickoff-return average last year) a five-year, $17.5-million deal, with an out-of-whack $7.1 million guaranteed. (Well, it’s all out of whack.) The Giants did a good deal with Shane Vereen, to give Eli Manning one of the best receivers out of the backfield in football. But to give a slightly better than average return man $8 million over the next two seasons? That’s called cap money burning a hole in your pocket.
18. Best bargain left on the market? That’s easy. Tramon Williams. Still a solid cover man who, at 32, probably has two good years left. He knows he’s not going to get rich. Perfect fit for Cleveland in that defense, to play opposite Joe Haden.
19. Mike Wallace, Cordarrelle Patterson and maybe an unhappy Adrian Peterson. Yikes. I hope Vikings GM Rick Spielman knows what he’s doing. Chemistry class will be in session early in training camp for the Vikings if those three are in Mankato.
20. As for Percy Harvin … Had I been Harvin, I’d have signed with New England, which really wanted him, at the right price. The quarterback is crucial for Harvin now. But he did a one-year, $6 million deal with Buffalo. Wherever Harvin signed, my point is this: At some point, tease is going to have to translate into performance. For the past two-and-a-half years Harvin has been, for various reasons, a shell of the player who in mid-2012 was a legitimate MVP candidate. Look at these snapshots of a career on the edge:
- In the 40 regular-season games since mid-2012, Harvin has played 14 for Minnesota, Seattle and the Jets. He has missed 26 due to injury.
- Since mid-2012, Harvin has scored two regular-season touchdowns.
- Harvin has averaged 9.4 yards per catch in the last two-and-a-half seasons, a very low rate for a player who has a reputation as a game-breaker. Of the top 50 receivers in the NFL last year in receiving yards, only one (Matt Forte, 7.9) had a per-catch average of less than 10 yards.
- In the 14 games he’s played, Harvin has exceeded 60 receiving yards twice.
- His jet sweeps have helped Harvin’s rushing average (37 rushes for a 6.1-yard average since mid-2012) but have resulted in zero touchdowns.
The 23 months three franchises will not forget.
The Darrelle Revis timeline since his first go-round with the New York Jets:
April 21, 2013: Revis, still rehabbing from a torn ACL in the 2012 season, is traded from the Jets to Tampa Bay for first- and fourth-round picks. He signs a six-year, $96 million contract with no guaranteed money, meaning it’s a year-to-year deal.
Dec. 30, 2013: A day after the Bucs finish 4-12, the men who brought Revis to Tampa, GM Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano, are fired.
March 12, 2014: The new regime in Tampa Bay—GM Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith—cut Revis. Hours later, the Patriots sign him to a two-year, $32 million contract designed to be a one-year, $12-million deal … and then revisited after the 2014 season.
Feb. 1, 2015: With Revis allowing one catch for three yards in the AFC title game and Super Bowl combined (for a touchdown on an unofficial pick play by the umpire in the middle of the field), he did what New England brought him in to do—serve as the key defensive piece in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory.
March 10, 2015: Rather than pay Revis $20 million in 2015, the Patriots release him. This means that, though he signed two contracts totaling $128 million, Revis actually saw $28 million of it.
March 11, 2015: The Jets sign Revis to a five-year, $70-million contract.
In 24 months, Revis was (and is being) coached by Rex Ryan, Greg Schiano, Bill Belichick, and the coach he just met—Todd Bowles. In just over two years, he’s had six general managers: Mike Tannenbaum, John Idzik, Mark Dominik, Jason Licht, Bill Belichick (and Nick Caserio, the Patriots’ personnel czar) and Mike Maccagnan. He played in green, pewter red, red/white/blue, and green again.
So what exactly was it like?
Revis: “Getting hurt, tearing my ACL, and getting prepared for the next season, trade talks and me leaving, not knowing where I’m going to play football, what my future is, and then playing in Tampa, getting traded to Tampa, and then getting released by them and trying to figure out the best place to try to win, and I felt the best place was New England. So, it’s been a crazy two or three years in my career. I got to experience both sides [of the Jets-Patriots rivalry.] My experience on both sides of the fence, they [the Patriots] have been awesome, and they will be continue to be awesome when I get to play against them twice a year again. It was great. It was a crazy two or three years."
* * *
People need to know the good work Jared Allen is doing.
Chances are you’ve heard that Chicago defensive end Jared Allen is helping wounded service men and women get home from overseas tours by partnering with all sorts of corporate people to build homes for injured soldiers. His cause is called Jared Allen’s Homes For Wounded Warriors, and Friday was one of the major highlights.
Allen and his partners build the homes—seven so far—and the seventh, on Friday, was opened in suburban Phoenix to former Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who lost part of his skull when an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan sent him flying through the air. That was on Remsburg's 10th tour of duty. The story touched Allen, and so many in the veterans’ community, and also got the attention of President Obama, who visited Remsburg after he emerged from a three-month coma.
These are the types of cases Allen loves to help. “What is the American dream?" Allen said Saturday from Arizona. “It starts with your own home. Home should be the most secure spot in your life, where you can feel comfortable at your most vulnerable time. I come from a long line of people who served their country. My little brother does now. And I just got to thinking a few years ago, ‘Well, I’m not going to carry a gun in service to my country, but I’ve got to do something.’ I decided to try to help those who laid their lives on the line so people like you and me could live their lives in peace back home."
The “key ceremony," giving Remsburg the keys to his home, was Friday at 10 a.m. Allen had his young kids with him, and they were getting antsy, and so he left after a couple of hours; he lives in the Phoenix area, about 45 minutes from the Remsburg home. And a short time after he left, the Secret Service swooped in with word that Obama, who was in town on Friday, might be stopping by the house. Allen missed it, but Obama did come, applauded the cause that gave wounded vets these good homes, and wished Remsburg well. "There are a whole bunch of Corys out there," the president said in a short speech, "and not all their wounds are as easily seen. We've got to be just as vigilant, just as generous and just as focused in making sure that every single one of our men and women in uniform, that they're getting what they've earned and what they deserve."
"I’m sorry I missed it," said Allen, “but how cool is that? The president, at one of our homes!”
It’s cool, too, that Allen’s on a mission to do his part for those who are so deserving.
* * *
Three questions with founder of Over The Cap
I’ve gained a lot of respect for 39-year-old engineer (that’s his real job) Jason Fitzgerald and his site, Over The Cap, which catalogs NFL contracts and how teams are doing managing their salary caps. The site is two years old. As well as cataloging all player contracts, the New Jersey-based Fitzgerald interprets the data with smart articles. “I think we’re able to help people learn about an increasingly important part of the NFL that many feel is too difficult to understand," Fitzgerald says. I asked him three questions over the weekend.
The MMQB: You wrote Thursday that the Ndamukong Suh contract in Miami is particularly onerous. What concerns you in the future about that deal for the Dolphins, and how will they handle it?
Fitzgerald: In order to fit Suh within their cap easily this season, the Dolphins opted for a structure that will see Suh count for only $6 million against the cap, despite the annual contract value of $19.1 million. That leaves Suh with an average cap charge for the 2016-2018 seasons of $21.9 million. Quite honestly I am not sure how you compete in the NFL for a championship with those figures, especially for a defensive tackle.
When you look throughout NFL history, the highest percentage of cap spent on one individual player by a Super Bowl winner is just 13.1 percent, which occurred in 1994, the first year of the salary cap. The average is under 10 percent. The only defensive tackle to have the highest percentage of cap allocation on a team was Warren Sapp, who was just under 10 percent. If we assume the cap continues to rise at a rate of $10 million a season, the only seasons where Suh is at an acceptable cap number are 2015, 2017, and 2020. That is really limiting what you can do during the effective term of his contract. The 2016 season in particular is worrisome. His $28.6 million cap charge is crippling, and the team will need to decide to restructure for cap relief, making his future cap charges even more difficult to handle, or bite the bullet and realize what a mistake they made. This is the same contract structure the Dolphins recently used with receiver Mike Wallace, who had a cap hit of $3.25 million in his first contract year and a $17.25 million hit in his second year.
At the end of the day I have a feeling that this contract may be looked at similar to Mike Ditka’s decision to trade an entire draft for Ricky Williams. It’s a situation where a team or a person gets it in their mind that they need a player to make an impact on an organization, and they lose sight of what they may be giving up to get that.
The MMQB: How much is the salary cap hamstringing the Saints? And who else could be a casualty to help them get out of cap jail?
Fitzgerald: The Saints are a fascinating team to watch right now, and I think it has caught many people who follow the league by surprise. These are problems that when you look closely, you can see shaping up two or three years before they become very noticeable. For the Saints, it began with the contract of Drew Brees, which was heavily backloaded and simply deferred problems until the 2014 season. You can deal with one contract like that, but in an attempt to continue to chase the Super Bowl, they made a number of short-sighted contract decisions with veteran players to allow them to keep adding players to the team while just pushing cap charges into the future. When they signed Jimmy Graham and Jairus Byrd last season, that was the final straw. It was a one-year window before the bubble would burst.
Last season the Saints began the year somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million over the cap, before they began deferring more cap charges to the future. That led to this past offseason, with the Saints somewhere around $25 million over the salary cap. They probably would have begun 2016 $35 million over the cap if they remained status quo. Even releasing the players with the worst contracts would have provided little relief. They were just a sinking ship taking on more water. The team really had no choice. The cap was going to ruin the franchise at some point, and they are at least able to turn some bad contracts into draft assets. Players like Thomas Morstead or Rafael Bush might be in danger of release at some point. I could see the team exploring a trade for Kenny Vaccaro if they can receive reasonable value for him this summer.
Moving forward, I would still be watching two big-name players closely in New Orleans. The immediate one is guard Jahri Evans, who has an $11 million cap hit. The second name is Drew Brees, not so much this year but in 2016. Brees will enter the final year of his contract in 2016 with a $27.6 million cap number. Brees will be 37. If the two sides cannot agree on a new deal by next year, I would anticipate that the Saints will be very open to trading Brees, who would likely still hold great value even in his late-30s. That would completely close the chapter on this era of Saints football, but it's a move they should consider if it gets them the assets needed to turn over the organization. They won’t receive anything if they let him walk away.
The MMQB: You've been a cap-watcher for a while. What team, or which GM, handles the cap the best?
Fitzgerald: If I had to narrow my choices down to two teams I would select the 49ers and the Patriots. The 49ers I appreciate because everything is done on their terms. Almost every player on that team, even the stars, has large amounts of money tied into being healthy and productive, which is not common in the NFL. For instance last year Navorro Bowman missed out on $750,000 in salary because he was hurt.
But if there is one team that stands out head and shoulders above anyone else it’s New England. To have the kind of success that they have had in a salary cap era of football is incredible. While everyone deals in two- and three-year windows, this team operates in decades. What sets New England apart isn’t so much the financial acumen (the Patriots have had more than their fair share of bad deals), but their steadfast approach to valuation of a player. They don’t waver or allow themselves to be taken advantage of. They are cold as ice when it comes to their players. It goes back years, to the team cutting Lawyer Milloy on the eve of the season. No player is bigger than the organization. Whether it was Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Mike Vrabel, Deion Branch or a number of other players, the team either turned the players into draft picks or walked away without getting stuck in a bad contract. Just the fact that they would approach Tom Brady about accepting a contract that would pay him in the ballpark of $10 million a year is something to appreciate. The Patriots can also be very quietly generous with their players to build that trust with a player who performs. Last season the team reworked the contract of Sebastian Vollmer to give him a better chance of earning incentives in his contract that he missed the year before because of injury. Often they give even their practice squad players a boost in salary at the end of the year. When the time comes to ask players for a pay cut later on, I am sure that these things are remembered. They play a different game than anyone else in the NFL.
Quotes of the Week
“The owners want to extend the playoffs into February. The owners want to play the Super Bowl on President’s Day weekend, a four-day weekend that would turn the Super Bowl into a bigger event. When I brought up the idea of bidding out the Super Bowl, the owners jumped at the idea. They loved it. They want 18 games because they believe that it’s worth anywhere from $3 billion to $4 billion per year. Let me repeat: $3 billion to $4 billion every year. For the players, that means that the salary cap would go up by anywhere from $46 million to $62 million per team. Yes, the salary cap could be more than $200 million in an 18-game season. That’s if you do it on your terms."
—NFL Players Association executive director candidate Sean Gilbert, in his closing speech to NFL player reps and alternate player reps at their annual meeting in Hawaii on Sunday night. Read Andrew Brandt’s analysis of election here.
“It's home. It's family. As much as my wife and kids are family, so is the Rooney family and my team and coaches."
—Ben Roethlisberger, on signing a five-year, $99 million extension with the Steelers on Saturday.
"He’s the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years here.”
—Chip Kelly, on Nick Foles on Dec. 2, 2013.
At the time, Foles was 6-1 as the Eagles’ starting quarterback.
Passer rating: 125.2.
Touchdown-to-interception ratio: 19-0.
Fifteen months later, Kelly trades Foles plus a second-round pick to St. Louis so he can acquire a quarterback who has been knocked out of two straight seasons with ACL tears to his left knee.
Football is a crazy game.
Remember on the old NFL Films tape when Jerry Glanville berates an official near the sideline and says, “You know what ‘NFL’ stands for? ‘Not For Long,’ and that’s what’s going to happen to you if you keep making calls like that."
“Jay Gruden comes out early in the offseason and says, ‘You know what? Robert Griffin III is our quarterback.’ I think that was to kind of try to show there’s no issues in house, but there clearly is. He’s not his guy. They want to go in a different direction.”
—Former Washington safety Ryan Clark on ESPN, on his belief that Gruden does not want Robert Griffin III to be his quarterback going forward. Clark was on the team in Gruden’s first season as coach in 2014.
“Absolutely none. No conversations. With any team. Regarding our QB. Period. Exclamation point."
—San Francisco GM Trent Baalke, on reports that he talked to teams about trading quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“That was a big thing with him. It is with most quarterbacks. He didn’t look anybody off. He’s a competitor, though. He threw three interceptions in this game, and he just kept throwing. He wasn’t scared of us."
—University of Louisville cornerback Gerod Holliman on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, to Robert Klemko of The MMQB. Holliman led the nation with 14 interceptions in 2014, including two off Winston.
Stat of the Week
In 2013, the NFL salary cap, per team, was $123 million.
In the first 48 hours of free agency last week, the Jets spent $127 million on three cornerbacks.
Of course, that $127 million is spread over 13 contract years. But no stat about the first days of free agency says as much about the contractual explosion as the fact that the Jets signed three cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine) to contracts, in aggregate, averaging $28.25 million per year.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Jameis Winston does not intend to attend the draft in Chicago. Rather, he plans to spend the draft with his family and friends down south. At least, that’s the plan for now.
Which got me to thinking: When is the last time the first pick of the draft—Winston is the leader in the clubhouse—did not attend the draft to be congratulated by the commissioner?
NFL refs Gene Steratore and Bill Vinovich worked college basketball tournaments over the weekend—Steratore the Big Ten tourney in Chicago, Vinovich the Big West tourney in Anaheim. Steratore’s quite familiar with the Big Ten. This month he’s done four Michigan State games and four Wisconsin games, including the conference championship game Sunday.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I didn’t travel in the past seven days. But I did get a good Stories of New York tale from my old boss at “Inside the NFL” on HBO, Brian Hyland, from a Manhattan scene he experienced Saturday. Sharing it:
“Subway elevator this morning. Little old man in a wheelchair, wearing a Yankee hat and a heavy coat for the cold rain. He has a helper but it ain’t easy getting through the door onto the street. I help push him through onto Fort Washington Avenue. As I maneuver to help, he helps me. We're squeezing him through the heavy green door and as he reaches to push, the sleeve of his coat on his arm moves up towards his elbow. And there I see it. In fading black ink. Covered with arm hair but clear. The number the Nazis gave him. Part of him. Forever on his arm.
“We get him through the door, he says, 'Thanks, young man' and his helper pushes him down Fort Washington Avenue. Another random Saturday morning in New York City that takes your breath away."
Tweets of the Week
I'm omniscient but even I don't know what the Philadelphia Eagles are doing.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) March 10, 2015
I don’t believe it is really God but that account sure does have a good sense of humor.
Eagles starting RB… 1 month ago: LeSean McCoy 1 week ago: Frank Gore 1 day ago: Ryan Mathews 1 hour ago: DeMarco Murray
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 12, 2015
In Chip We Trust !!! #EaglesNation
— Mike Trout (@Trouty20) March 12, 2015
The Angels outfielder is a South Jersey resident and devout Philadelphia Eagles fan.
Hey Terez. HEY Terez. HEY TEREZ! Any news yet? Huh? What can you tell us? Need to know right now! Can't wait! PLEEZE! #kansascity
— Mayor Sly James (@MayorSlyJames) March 11, 2015
The mayor of Kansas City, jonesing for news about the Chiefs' free-agency results a day after the system started last week, asking Terez Paylor, the Kansas City Star's beat person covering the team.
I see more fans are burning jerseys when their favorite FREE AGENT leaves their team. Because if you had a choice of jobs, you’d take less $
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 13, 2015
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think, after speaking to someone who was a part of the competition committee’s deliberations over the past two weeks, I would be surprised if anything significant was changed on what constitutes a catch when the league meetings begin next Sunday in Phoenix. There could be a minor tweak to the rule, but the feeling I get regarding the tenor in the room over the past couple of weeks is this: Committee members feel receivers need to maintain control when going to the ground.
2. I think this is what I thought after the esteemed Charley Casserly said on NFL Network following Marcus Mariota’s Pro Day: “Not a sure thing. If you’re going to take him, you’ve got to hold your breath.” What if Mariota—and this is a huge “what if” because of all the teams that need quarterbacks in the draft this year—starts to tumble down the draft board in round one? What if Washington passes on him at 5, and the Jets have some cold feet at 6, and GM Les Snead of the Rams loves Nick Foles and sees bigger needs at 10, and the Browns at 12 and the Texans at 16 and the Browns again at 19 all have cold feet for one reason or another? All of those things are incredibly unlikely, but what if? What if Mariota is staring Sam Bradford-loving Chip Kelly in the face at 20, or if Kelly sees Mariota tumbling at 12, 13, 14, and he thinks he’s just got to go for the gusto now? That would be one of the best stories in recent draft history, Kelly getting Mariota.
3. I think, drifting back to reality, I absolutely do not believe it’s going to happen. But it’s not an impossible dream. Just an unlikely one.
4. I think Trent Richardson goes down in NFL history as one of the strangest stories. Ever.
5. I think this is the best way to put the biggest deal of the weekend in perspective: Ben Roethlisberger will be only be 37 at the end of his 16th season as Steeler quarterback in 2019—if he lasts that long, of course—and that’s an age when quarterbacks are still having peak seasons. Today, with quarterbacks doing so much in the offseason to stay healthy and make their careers last, I really like what the Steelers did. They told the world that Roethlisberger is their quarterback for life.
6. I think all in this business should give a respectful nod to the Twin Cities this morning. Sid Hartman turned 95 on Sunday, and to celebrate he wrote his chock-full Sunday notes column about events in and around Minnesota, leading with Twins news about two prospects, moving to the Kevin Garnett influence on the Timberwolves and then his weekly jottings. Among the notes was one about a possible future University of Minnesota football player with a famous name:
The Gophers offered a scholarship this week to Eden Prairie’s all-around talent J.D. Spielman, son of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman. He also has offers from Iowa and Michigan and will visit Nebraska next week. His brother, Ronnie, is on the Ohio State lacrosse team.
Happy birthday, Sid. Many more.
7. I think I’ve gotten the impression—as do most people I talk to in the league—that Saints owner Tom Benson is mentally fit enough to decide what to do with the Saints and the NBA Pelicans. That’s a matter of some dispute now, and he had his fitness test with a New Orleans mental-health professional late last week. The point was driven home in a very good story by Ken Belson of The New York Times. “Was I surprised?" Benson told Belson, of the attempt by his heirs to declare him mentally unstable. “I think so, because when your family attacks you, it’s kind of hard to take, hard to understand.” It’s an ugly story that promises to get uglier, particularly if it ever goes to trial.
8. I think this is my tote board for New England's foe in the opening game of the 2015 season, Sept. 10 at Foxboro: Pittsburgh 5-2, Philadelphia 3-1, Jets 4-1, Buffalo 5-1.
9. I think the Jets must not have liked their roster very much. They signed, re-signed or traded for 11 players in the first three days of the 2015 league year.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. If I had one wish for ESPN (well, this wouldn’t be the one, I guess, but it would be in the top 10), I would wish its anchors would stop saying Team X “punched their ticket” for the NCAA tournament. First: Team X would have “punched its ticket.” Second: Well, it's a brutal cliché.
b. I live in New York. I can’t name one active Knick.
c. Knicks versus Lakers on Thursday night. Looked at the box score Friday morning. Never heard of any of the 10 starters in the game.
d. Ike Davis homered off Will Ferrell in the Cactus League the other day. Does a home run off an actor count?
e. But wait: That was a great thing for charity Ferrell did, playing in five games in the same day.
f. A few random college basketball observations:
g. Loved that Harvard-Yale playoff game for the Ivy League championship and the automatic NCAA berth, held Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia in front of a raucous crowd at the Palestra. Yale hasn’t gone to the NCAA Tournament since 1962. Pete Thamel covered the game for the magazine and for SI.com, his first trip ever to the Palestra. His view: “I went for the first time. The way the noise echoes is like no other gym I've been in. It bounces off the walls and gives the place such an energy. The concourse is like a walk through the history of college basketball. So many great old photos of players, coaches. Everyone from LeBron to Wilt played there in high school. Makes sense. That was a top 10 all-time day in my career. What a game. What a rivalry. What a venue. What a finish." Harvard 53, Yale 51.
h. Yale had a last shot, from guard Javier Duran, near the foul line, with a couple of seconds to go. It clanged off the rim, and a tip-in missed at the buzzer. Harvard goes to the tournament. Yale goes back to New Haven. Duran teaches a class called Perspective 101. “I’m just blessed," he told reporters afterward. “I’m extremely humbled. I had my parents come in from St. Louis—they drove 14 hours just to see this game. It’s probably the most fun game I’ve been a part of in my Yale career. As much as I want to be upset, it’s really awesome to be a part of this experience. I mean, how many people get to play in Yale-Harvard for an NCAA bid?"
i. What a weekend for Notre Dame, beating Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back days in the state of North Carolina.
j. Villanova over Xavier for the Big East Tournament title just doesn’t have the same ring as the classic Big East.
k. Four conferences played their tourneys in Vegas? What a country.
l. As usual, I will fill out a March Madness bracket, and be out of it by Saturday.
m. Beernerdness: I have long sung the praises of the Maine Beer Company (Freeport, Maine), and now comes Zoe Amber Ale, straight out of the local Whole Foods. Nectar of the dark-beer gods.
n. This Cuban baseball player stuff is really crazy. Crazier than NFL free-agent money. Boston paid $133 million to sign Rusney Castillo and 19-year-old Yoan Moncada, with limited scouting opportunities of them. It’s got to be sports’ version of Russian Roulette.
The Adieu Haiku
I like lots of trades.
The NFL's not like that.
Kudos, Chip Kelly.