The first few days of NFL free agency are a jumble of names, rumors, and fan delusion (mostly the fan delusion). No matter how many times we see a team win a Super Bowl on the back of solid drafting and player development, early March always becomes a time when the next big name is going to put that offseason champion over the top. After a week or so, the big prizes are gone, and attention turns to the next set of saviors — that year’s crop of first-round picks.
Moves that go down in May never come with the same fanfare, but especially with the current salary-cap landscape in the NFL (with player salaries outpacing the cap), there are still bargains to be had. There are still more than a handful of players out there who can make a difference for a team, this year and beyond, and to help sift through them, we put together what we hope is a helpful primer.
2012 team: Kansas City Chiefs
Winston was the most notable casualty during the regime change in Kansas City (aside from Matt Cassel, I guess, but c’mon). He signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Chiefs last offseason after being cut by the Texans, but with John Dorsey and Andy Reid coming to town and two franchise left tackles sitting there with the no. 1 pick, Winston was shown the door. Kansas City seems to have a better plan in place than Houston did a year ago. The right side of the Texans’ offensive line was a shuffling mess last season without their former right tackle, but now that the Branden Albert trade with Miami has fallen through, Kansas City will likely have no. 1 pick Eric Fisher on the left side and the franchised Albert on the right.
The Brooklyn Nets took care of business at home, beating the Chicago Bulls, 110-91, to force a return trip to Chicago. Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 28 points and added 10 rebounds, said after the game, "I dedicated my game to fellow tall Stanford alumnus and twin, Jason Collins, for his bravery today. I have nothing but love." Lopez then hung his head and added, "Unfortunately, I let him down by amassing a large number of points and rebounds. If you're listening, Jason, I'm sorry. But also, I'm really proud of you. I'll try to contribute in fewer tangible ways next game."
With the NFL offseason trudging along, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The Mike Tannenbaum era for the New York Jets will, justly, be remembered for two things. The first is the freewheeling 2008 offseason that saw the Jets bring in a massive free-agent class designed to retool a team that went 4-12 a season earlier. Before ascending to his role as general manager, Tannenbaum had earned a reputation as a cap master, and the complications that come with several huge veteran contracts seemed to be ones he was leaving to Future Mike. Well, putting his franchise against the cap with a bunch of misplaced free-agency money was enough to ensure that we never actually got to Future Mike, and instead, it was new GM John Idzik who inherited a roster more than $20 million over the limit.
The second is actually the more telling, and also what’s made the past 24 hours a sign of a new start in New York. In the 2009 draft, the Jets picked three times. Their first selection was the fifth overall, a pick they’d gotten by trading first- and second-round picks to Cleveland in an effort to secure USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. That Sanchez hasn’t worked out — and that the Jets compounded that problem by giving him heaps of guaranteed money anyway — matters, but it isn’t the point here. Now with no picks left in the top 75, the Jets sent third- and fourth-round choices to Detroit in exchange for the first pick in the third round. That pick was Shonn Greene. Finally, the Jets picked in the sixth round, where they took Nebraska guard Matt Slauson — the best player of the three, and also one who was allowed to leave town this offseason to sign for close to the minimum in Chicago.
"Did they get a fair price for Rickey Henderson? It's kind of like if you're an art collector and you have the Mona Lisa, what's a fair price for it? The idea in building a championship team is to acquire players like Rickey Henderson. It's a sad day when you have to give one away."
Bill James wrote that about the Oakland A's after they traded Henderson to the Yankees before the 1985 season. As the Jets and Buccaneers negotiated terms for a possible Darrelle Revis deal for weeks (almost entirely through leaks from "unnamed sources" in New York newspapers), I kept coming back to that paragraph from James. I don't know whether this trade will end up being what any of the parties involved hope it will be. I just know that it's depressing to have something as wonderful as Darrelle Revis and then give it away for some unknown quantity. It's just too difficult to get another Darrelle Revis.
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The most fitting game of the 2012 Buccaneers season came in Week 2. Tampa Bay was visiting MetLife Stadium, where the Eli-era Giants have been known to give one or two away over the years, and it looked to be happening again. Early in the second half, the Bucs’ lead grew to 14 with a Connor Barth field goal, and the margin stayed that way until the final minute of the third quarter. That’s about when the wheels came off.
Eli Manning put together 21 unanswered points in less than 12 minutes, and when Tampa Bay did manage to tie things back up late, it took him less than 90 seconds to reclaim the lead and seal the win. There were games further down the schedule that better showed the promise for many of the young Bucs (Doug Martin had only 66 yards against New York), but none was a better way to understand their biggest shortcoming. Tampa Bay’s pass defense was a horror show.
When the news came out last week that the New York Jets might explore a trade for Darrelle Revis, it was easy to dismiss the idea as typical new-regime fodder. Whenever a new coach or GM steps in, there’s an obligation to let everyone know that “all parts of our football team” are being evaluated. It’s a reminder to both the media and fans that there’s a reason someone was just fired, and that they shouldn’t worry — change is coming. But that change doesn’t usually include trading one of the 10 best players in football.
Over the weekend, the idea of Revis leaving town went from exploratory to seemingly imminent. Because Revis has a clause in his contract prohibiting New York from using the franchise tag on him when his deal is up at the end of this season, the hope is that the Jets can get something for their star cornerback rather than watching him walk away. For a team living life near the top of the cap and void of young talent on both sides of the ball, it’s a notion that might seem crazy but is actually worth exploring. One question that comes with this possibility isn’t whether Revis should be traded, but if he is, where he would fall among the best players ever dealt.
In case you were out pretending like you've seen and have an opinion about Oscar nominee Amour, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Cleveland Browns have filled their vacant head coaching position, hiring Rob Chudzinski away from the Carolina Panthers. It has also been reported that Chudzinski is targeting former San Diego head coach Norv Turner to be his new offensive coordinator. "I can't imagine a more Cleveland set of hirings than Chud and Norv," said longtime Browns fan Milt Johnson. When asked to try harder and really push his imagination, Johnson let out an exasperated sigh, saying, "Fine, I guess that they could have hired like Chan Gailey and an old, overweight Golden Retriever named Honey, but I don't really know how having a dog as an offensive coordinator would work."
Black Monday delivered. The first morning of the offseason for 20 of the league's 32 teams brought a stunning wave of pink slips, as more than half of those 20 teams responded to their disappointing campaigns by firing at least one prominent member of their front offices or coaching staffs. Most handled it with class. Bud Adams of the Titans fired his COO, former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, by noting "I think we’d be better off without him," which is a total disregard for tact that you can only possess by being 90 years old and an NFL owner. It's like sending a telegram whose entire contents read "IDGAF." By the end of the day, seven head coaches and five general managers had hit the street, despite the continued employment of embattled candidates like Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, and Jeff Ireland. Somehow, though, the only move that seemed truly surprising came out of Chicago, where Lovie Smith was sacrificed for the Bears' second-half collapse.
It's much easier to figure out which coaches and general managers are likely to be fired than fill those same holes with available candidates, so I'm going to avoid prognosticating here. My rule of thumb is that teams tend to notice their personnel's weaknesses as they fire them and replace them with personnel of the opposite persuasion. If they've just fired an offensive-minded leader with a reputation for being a player's coach, teams often look for a defensive coordinator with a disciplinarian streak. I don't know that the pattern I'm describing is necessarily what teams should follow, but I think it's a path that a fair amount of the league's teams do, in fact, take.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine why these 12 men didn't make it into 2013 with their jobs. Understanding what went wrong (or what was perceived to have gone wrong) should give us some insight into whether the moves made any sense and if the teams in question are actually going to improve by making a switch.
There's no clear-cut smoking gun in every case, but there is one factor that plays an obvious role in many of these firings: disappointing quarterback play. By my count, the only firings on Monday that weren't directly preceded by a failed season from the sacked employee's quarterbacks were with Smith in Chicago and the combination of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner in San Diego. You can make a case that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers didn't quite meet expectations, but consider that each of the nine other candidates oversaw quarterbacks who will either lose their job or be in a battle for their previously secure starting job in 2013, and you have an idea of just how closely quarterback play and coach/GM job security are related.
Let's start with the most surprising firing of Black Monday and work our way down.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Lakers came back from an 18-point third quarter deficit to top the Bobcats, 101-100, and avoid what would have been the most embarrassing moment of their already difficult season. It was a Pyrrhic victory for some Lakers, including Pau Gasol, who suffered his latest humiliation when Kobe Bryant shoved him into the scorer's table to create a distraction just before hitting the winning bucket. "Make sure you whimper," Kobe hissed. "Really Gasol it up."
NFL teams don't often get the chance to rebuild on their own terms. In most cases, they're the last people to find out that it's time. A team that can scratch some credible way to contention in August finds themselves wasting away at the bottom of the league by November and realizes, after all, that it's time to make wholesale changes. Other teams see the writing on the wall and battle against the truth for a couple of years, desperately clinging to shreds of relevancy as they lose the leverage they'll never regain. The latter explanation, as you probably suspect, aptly characterizes the New York Jets, whose miserable loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football eliminated Gang Green from playoff contention, while crystallizing the need to make a change in their three-man core of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Mark Sanchez finished with five turnovers, including three on the final three possessions, as the Jets lost to the Titans, 14-10, and were eliminated from playoff contention. "So many asses," said Sanchez ruefully. "Just so many asses out there, getting in the way of good football. This sport used to mean something. Now they just put you out there like a Christian in the lion's den, attacked by a thousand asses."
Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s BQBL Bowl is over. It wasn't the BQBL points scored in the Jets-Cardinals game that made it special. There's no way to appropriately quantify this brand of failure, no stat that captures how terrified each quarterback was, and no metric for embarrassment to measure what happened in New Jersey on Sunday. There is just the film. Let’s go to the tape.
Jets (Sanchize and Greg McElroy) 84 points, and Cardinals (Ryan Lindley) 65 points
In anticipation of this column, I rewatched this entire game. I had my eye on it and everything Sunday, but when a game like this is played in front of cameras and microphones, and it's your job to bask in the ineptitude of quarterbacking failure, you would be a fool not to savor these performances. Also, as I mentioned, there's no number that can capture the experience of watching these men attempt to move the football forward. The most dynamic part of this adventure from kickoff to final kneel-down was tracking the tortured reactions of both the play-by-play team of Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick and the Jets fans in the stadium. I now present to you a running diary, of sorts, of the 2012 BQBL Bowl. No lie — I might go back and watch it again.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.