It's not very easy for an NFL team to find a bargain in free agency. The vast majority of players who would be considered bargains on NFL rosters are guys who are still on their rookie deals, players whose salaries are artificially capped by the CBA. The fluid nature of contracts around the league and the high attrition rate inherent with football also dictate that the few veterans who are bargains don't stay that way for very long. Because contracts are nonguaranteed, teams are more likely to offer an undervalued player a new deal to keep him happy; you almost never see a situation like, say, Evan Longoria playing baseball for pennies on the dollar for six years in Tampa.
Of course, every year there are veterans who succeed and grossly outperform their contracts. They get misjudged by the market because they were injured or previously on a bad team or move to a place where they fit the scheme better, but for one reason or another, they become much more valuable. Today, let's celebrate those players by naming an NFL All-Bargain Team.
In case you were busy trying to understand why Skapoli and the Dustones' album, which dropped yesterday with no fanfare on iTunes, didn't instantly go platinum, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
LaMarcus Aldridge put up 31 points and 25 rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Houston Rockets 111-104. Oh, it looks like it's time for America's least-favorite onetime feature, in which we remind America that Rick Barnes did make the Elite Eight with LaMarcus Aldridge on his team, but really, since they lost to LSU, that still has to qualify as underachieving, "America, Rick Barnes Did Make the Elite Eight With LaMarcus Aldridge On His Team, But Really, Since They Lost To LSU, That Still Has To Qualify As Underachieving." Rick Barnes did make the Elite Eight with LaMarcus Aldridge on his team, but really, since they lost to LSU, that still has to qualify as underachieving. Thus concludes the first, and hopefully only installment of, "America, Rick Barnes Did Make the Elite Eight With LaMarcus Aldridge On His Team, But Really, Since They Lost To LSU, That Still Has To Qualify As Underachieving."
San Diego handed Denver its first home defeat of the season, as the Chargers' much-maligned defense kept Peyton Manning in check in their 27-20 win over the Broncos. When asked how he felt after the loss, Manning said, "Fine. No highs, no lows. That's what I always say. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to my happy place." Manning then, in a macabre display, retreated to the team's film room with a large Papa John's pizza, which he ate all of while watching himself throw the game-sealing interception on repeat.
I'm losing. It's happening in increments, but it's unmistakable. It's only Sunday and the week is slipping from my grasp. And I feel fine about it.
The Lords Disick are playing a team called the Waterfront Based Acolytes in fantasyland and the Waterfront Based Acolytes are slow-cooking us. The Waterfront Based Acolytes are Wolfgang Pauli's team. I've never met Wolfgang Pauli but it's pretty clear he's a trained fantasy assassin sent here by my enemies to for some reason shatter the Lords Disick's one-game winning streak. It's a bye week for both the Bengals (my usual defensive line) and Marshawn Lynch. Ryan Kuhlman told me to check the waiver wire. The waiver wire was all human driftwood. I tried every possible permutation of my starting lineup. No scenario ended with anything but me going down.
Yesterday Philip Rivers went all Philip Rivers on the Kansas City Chiefs, leading the Bolts to a 41-38 victory, on the road, at the cauldron that is Arrowhead Stadium. Rivers hit Seyi Ajirotutu for a glorious, waning-seconds touchdown. The play call sounds like it was designed during a psychedelic experiment, spent listening to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. According to Ajirotutu, "Philip said, 'Fly on the boundary.' So I knew that's a little code word that he usually says that the ball's coming to you." FLY ON THE BOUNDARY, SEYI!!!
In case you were busy bringing the ol' Rally Bear out of hibernation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Philip Rivers and a surprisingly effective San Diego rushing attack led the Chargers to a 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "Oh, I hope Ryan Mathews is still on waivers," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson after seeing that the perpetually inconsistent Chargers running back had his first 100-yard rushing game of the year. Pittson, who was checking his fantasy league from the cab of a tow truck after his Datsun 120Y finally gave out on him halfway home from his new job as the late-night fry cook at the Hardee's in Dover, then muttered to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have cut him after one bad game." The good news for Pittson was that Mathews was still available as a free agent in his league. The bad news for Pittson was that his cell phone was about to die, and Clem the tow truck driver had no intention of stopping his truck to let Pittson retrieve his charger. The worse news for Pittson is that in the time it would take him and Clem to reach his auto repair shop in Wilmington, where they would finally notice that the Datsun was actually on fire, world-class bassist and league commissioner Teddy Jackson would both pick up Mathews and offer him to Pittson in exchange for his first pick in next year's draft.
Rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven scoreless innings and Yasiel Puig broke out of a slump with a huge RBI triple as the Los Angeles Dodgers closed the gap in the NLCS with a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "You know I'd K'd five times in a row before that triple," Puig said after the game as he hung out with his entourage at the Chateau Marmont. "That's L.A., baby," said Puig's second cousin, Terry "Tortoise" Puig. "Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Rourke in The Wrestler, NPH in Starship Troopers. This town loves a comeback." Just then, a hand reached out from the darkness and tapped Puig on the shoulder. "You boys talking comebacks?" asked a deep voice from the darkness, "because I know something about coming back." Puig turned and looked up: the distinctive red hair, the pale face, the black suit. "Holy shit, David Caruso!" exclaimed Puig. "I'm a huge fan. CSI: Miami, Jade, NYPD Blue um, CSI: Miami." Caruso smiled, nodded, and said, "I've always been a fan of the Dodgers," before putting on a pair of sunglasses and adding, "but now it seems the Dodgers are a fan of me," while walking away. "Where else does something like that happen?" asked a starstruck Puig before exclaiming, "I love this town!"
Is Philip Rivers a good quarterback? About five years ago the answer was obviously “yes.” But more recently the answer was clearly “no.” Through three games this year, the answer seems to be “yes” again.
In case you were busy sitting on a 70 million pound war chest because it's just too heavy to move, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Matt Carpenter provided four hits and the game-winning run as the St. Louis Cardinals took the rubber match of their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in 12 innings. "We're still getting used to playoff atmosphere baseball," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "Obviously I have some experience with it, but a lot of guys on the team were terrified. Pedro Alvarez begged me to keep him out of the game. But I insisted that he had to learn what it was like sometime. And yeah, we sort of threw the guys in the deep end by coming to St. Louis. But that's the only way you learn. Not by dipping your toe into playoff baseball and then running back to the clubhouse like a child."
Quarterback Jay Cutler had a mixed outing, but the Bears' first-team defense was dominant in Chicago's 33-28 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers. Cutler, visibly pleased with his performance, said after the game, "This was perfect for me; I didn't want to show defenses the full Cutty Sark." When asked what he meant by that, Cutler said, "I mean the full Cutty Sark. The 19th-century British sailing vessel. What did you think I meant, you idiot? That thing has sails, and planks, and masts and stuff. That thing is a real boater's boat. Much like I'm a real boater's QB. But you gotta keep that bad boy in dry dock till the regular tea shipping season gets under way. Also, I've had a whiskey drink or two."
Urban Meyer was not impressed. It was winter 2003, and Meyer, then the head coach at Utah, sat in a living room in Rancho Cucamonga, California, where his defensive coordinator had dragged him, for reasons he couldn’t understand. Looking at the 5-foot-11, 185-pound high school senior seated on the other side of the guacamole, Meyer saw nothing remarkable, nothing that said he belonged in major college football. “There were probably 200 other guys at his high school that looked just like him,” says Kyle Whittingham, the defensive coordinator at the time and now Utah's head coach. As they made their way back to the car, Meyer turned to Whittingham and asked one question: “Are you sure?” Whittingham was.
That fall, as a freshman, Eric Weddle started nine games for Utah. By his junior year, he was the best defensive player in the Mountain West. And by the time Weddle was a senior, he was nearly a consensus All-American. But no matter how he has played, it seems like Meyer’s initial doubts have followed Weddle everywhere he has gone. Four safeties were taken before him in the 2007 draft, and even after he was named All-Pro two years ago, Weddle’s peers didn’t consider him one of the best 100 players in football when the NFL Network’s latest player poll was released earlier this year.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next two and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
A little more than three years ago, on a cloudy March day in Missouri, I learned most of what I needed to know about Danario Alexander. I’d spent the past month accompanying Alexander to the University of Missouri training room, where he was rehabbing his fourth knee surgery in the past four years. This one had come during Senior Bowl practices, on a nothing play during a nothing drill, and it would be responsible for keeping him out of the NFL combine and from hearing his name called during the NFL draft.
It wasn’t the worst one, though. For that, you’ve got some choices — really, any of the three ACL tears Alexander suffered during his time in college. For most of his time at school, Alexander was a 6-foot-5, little-recruited, ultratalented wide receiver continuously betrayed by his body. Then, as a senior, he caught 114 passes for more than 1,700 yards. He was, likely, the best wide receiver in the country. When it came time for him to prove it, in the run-up to that year’s draft, there was his body, betraying him again.
We’d talked a lot about the first three injuries, how as he sat waiting for his third surgery he wondered if football was for him, and on that March day, as sweat dripped from his forehead as he worked out in the pool, I asked him whether he ever found this all unfair. He shook his head. “That’s just how it is,” he said. “I’ll fight however long. However long I have to fight, I’ll keep fighting.”
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
Dwight Freeney’s 107.5 career sacks have included more than 50 quarterbacks, but there’s one name noticeably absent from that list — Peyton Manning. Teammates for 10 seasons in Indianapolis, Freeney and Manning will play against each other for the first time this year after the former elected to sign with the Chargers. And it’d be safe to say that Freeney is looking forward to it.
According to Pro Football Talk, Freeney said on sports radio in San Diego that all those practices against Manning tended to stir the imagination: “How many times have I envisioned hitting him during practice, when he had that five-yard halo around him and you couldn’t go in that circle? Millions of times.”
In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In case you were busy preparing to confess your sins to Oprah for some reason, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Wisconsin notched their 11th straight win against Indiana, upsetting the no. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, in Bloomington. After the game, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said, "Oh, those rascals got us again, but wait until next time when we deploy our secret weapon," gesturing at a large wooden crate labeled "Acme Explosive Basketballs." Crean then picked up one of the basketballs and started to cackle, only to have it explode in his hands, leaving his grimacing face covered in soot.
Despite missing Chris Paul for a second straight game, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their torrid play, beating the Houston Rockets on the road, 117-109. Though the Clippers' captain told the media "I'm really happy for those guys, and I'm glad they're able to get some W's without me" after the game, a visibly downtrodden Paul was seen making a Spotify playlist called "Better Off Without Me," featuring both "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
Kentucky avoided a second straight SEC defeat, notching a 75-65 home win against Tennessee. Kentucky head coach John Calipari remained upset with his team after the game, telling the media, "With what those guys get paid, avoiding losing streaks is not good enough." When asked to elaborate, Calipari declined, saying, "Nice try, but I'm not going to incriminate myself wait, what did I say just a second ago? Like right before this?" A particularly sweaty Calipari then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire press conference was off the record, and if they told anyone about it, he would totally deny everything.
The Lakers won their second straight game, topping Milwaukee, 104-88, at Staples Center with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant scoring 31 points apiece. "Point brothers," Howard said after the game, slapping his teammate Bryant on the back. "Pretty neat, huh Kob-meister?" Bryant did not respond to Howard at the time, but was later seen disdainfully muttering "Kob-meister" as he watched the first half-hour of a bootlegged copy of Zero Dark Thirty on repeat.
The Chicago Bears took their head coaching search north, hiring Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman, considered a quarterbacks guru, prepared Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, and current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for quarterbacking in the NFL. "Wait, are you serious?" said Bears General Manager Phil Emery after being shown the list. "Oh, no. I swear he only mentioned Jay. He didn't say anything about those other guys. I really should've done my due diligence on this one."
The San Diego Chargers introduced former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as their new head coach. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers responded to the news by saying, "Oh, man, I never thought I'd escape being coached by Norv Turner. It's like I'm Fantine and this McCoy guy is Jean Valjean, you know? Here, I'll show you." Rivers then proceeded to sing a mournful rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, before laboriously drawing out the parallels between the lyrics of the song and his plight as a famous athlete playing for an underachieving team. A particularly hoarse Rivers then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire song was off the record, and if they told anyone he sang it, he would totally deny hitting that high E.
Australian Sam Stosur crashed out of the Australian Open, losing her second-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. "Lemme guess," said golfer Greg Norman when approached by a reporter on his way to his car Wednesday morning, "you want to know what I'd say to Samantha. I'd say, 'Get deeper in the tournament before you choke next time, so maybe The Shark won't be the Australian on call anytime one of his countrymen blows chunks under pressure.'" Sadly for Norman, the reporter had been there to profile his charity work, but after the unpleasant encounter, ran with the unexpected Norman-Stosur feud angle instead.
Former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. "To all the Washington fans out there, I'm here to earn my contract, and not be another Jayson Werth," said Soriano upon his introduction. Werth, who was watching the press conference alone from his palatial estate, hung his head upon hearing Soriano's words. "I wasn't that bad last year when I played … eh, who am I kidding? No one wants to be another Jayson Werth. Not even me." A single tear then trickled down Werth's cheek, which a servant wiped off his face before Werth had a chance to launch into his own mournful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."
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.