Friday, February 29, 2008

Free Agency - Kick Off

It’s the silly season in the NFL, while not as satisfying as watching actual games, as a fan its intriguing to say the least. We are less than 12 hours into the official start of free agency and things are already getting ridiculous. As a Raider fan I’ll concentrate most of my attention on the Silver and Black, but rest assured I’ll have thoughts on just about everything that happens, and will share some of them here.

So lets delve into what’s occurred so far.

The Raiders make Tommy Kelly the highest paid DT in the league.

Its not easy being a Raider fan these days. You turn on a sportscast these days and you are almost guaranteed that the Raiders are going to get lambasted for one thing or another. Whether it is the perceived instability of the front office or the contracts they offer.

Last night was no different. The NFL network kicked off their free agency special with Solomon Wilcotts blasting the Raiders for their signing of Tommy Kelly, and for the rest of the show both he and Adam Schefter took turns taking pot shots at the Raiders for what they perceived as a bad deal. Now I’m not going to defend the deal…yet. However lets take a look back at recent deals and how they were initially perceived.

Last year Nate Clemmens was reportedly given a HUGE 7 year deal to sign with San Francisco. Now Nate was the premier CB on the market and the deal didn’t get lampooned like the Kelly deal, but more than one outlet wondered aloud if the Niners had overspent. Well a couple of weeks later the real details leaked out and it was hardly the blockbuster that had been reported.

Later in the year, Cleveland endured lengthy negotiations with Brady Quinn. After Quinn missed some training Camp he finally reached a deal and reported. Initial reports were that Quinn broke the Browns and that his agent had gotten him a deal commiserate with a top 10 pick, not a mid 20’s pick. Once again the smoke cleared a week later and the deal was nowhere near what originally was reported.

So what is the point? The teams are not releasing this contract information, the agents are. Drew Rosenhaus was on the free agency preview show last night and said that he has a great working relationship with Schefter and that Adam would be the 1st to know about any deal. There is a very simple reason for this. Media outlets like Schefter are these agent’s best marketing tools. All Drew has to do is call up Adam, give him the best case numbers, based on his client making every unreachable incentive, and Adam runs to NFLnetwork studios to break the story. From their every media outlet runs with the numbers Drew wants published and Rosenhaus collects the press clippings to show to potential clients.

(Edit – hey look who just broke the news of Corey Williams signing blockbuster deal with Cleveland…Adam Schefter, looks like Mitch Frankel also uses the marketing firm of Adam Schefter Inc.)

This is made all the easier when dealing with an organization like Oakland. The Raiders are extremely tight lipped when it comes to negotiations. They are not going to issue a press release stating, no we didn’t get screwed in the deal, and here are the real numbers. Media outlets have to wait for the actual information to go through the NFL and NFLPA leading to the week delay in actual numbers being known. By that time there is a shiny new story making the rounds and the Raiders deal is yesterday’s news. Sure an outlet like PFT may publish the actual numbers, but for the most part they fall through the cracks, and the agent’s purposes have already been served.

So I’m going to withhold judgment on the Kelly deal until such time the actual numbers are released. Sure right now it looks like the Raiders overspent. Kelly is not a top tier DT. However it is not clear how the Raiders plan to utilize Kelly this year or in the future. Sure there are reports that Kelly is being moved to DT to replace Sapp. But once again, where are these reports originating? Not from the tight lipped Raiders. More likely from Kelly’s agent, who know that it makes a bigger splash if his client gets a round of coverage as the highest paid DT in NFL history, than if he gets a quick note as a highly paid DE.

So remember, in the coming days, as blockbuster deal after blockbuster deal is announced, most of these numbers are incredibly inflated. Take them with a grain of salt.

The Cleveland Anderson / Quinn mess

I’m just going to come right out and say it. Cleveland wants someone to make Anderson an offer that he can’t refuse and they can pass on. They have spent too much money and resources on bringing in Quinn and his backup of choice to not put him on the field and sink or swim with him. They would be more than happy to be able to go to their fans and say, “we did all we could, it was Anderson who betrayed you, but at least we got these two picks out of the deal”.

And there will be some team out there who is willing to play their game. If NFL teams are willing to pay tens of millions of dollars in the draft for players who haven’t seen a down of action, they will be more than willing to give up those draft picks and put the money into a player like Anderson who has shown he can succeed if given the right tools.

If I were the Bears, I’d be on the phone with Anderson’s agent right now. They are stuck in the middle of round 1, no QB in this years draft is worth the slot they have, and chances are no option that will instantly upgrade their team as much as Anderson will be there. The same goes for the Lions, Vikings and Bucs. Are any of those three really sold on the fact they have a long-term solution at QB? The Ravens, Chiefs and Falcons all would also make sense, but draft too high to just sign Anderson to an offer sheet, they would need to work out a sign and trade deal with Cleveland, which may be a deal breaker as it would destroy the illusion that Cleveland is trying to create.

Are the Chickens finally coming home to roost in New England?

As football fans we have been regaled with stories of how nobody manages the cap as well as New England, how they are the model franchise in the free agent / salary cap era.
Well Scott Pioli now faces his biggest challenge since turning New England into a perennial contender.

At wide receiver the Pats made a huge splash last year bringing in Moss, Stallworth and Welker. They now are looking at the very real possibility that Welker is the only one who returns for a 2nd year in New England, and if Moss does return he will not be returning for the chump change that he received last year, no he is going to command the kind of deal that makes resigning all their other vets all the harder. Brady may find it very hard to repeat last year’s success with Wes Welker and Kelly Washington being his two main targets.

At linebacker the Pats have continually made due with older Vets. Well as Raider fans know, eventually old vets become just old. Colvin is gone; Bruschi is resigned, but noticeably lost a step as last year progressed. Seau most likely is done, and if he does come back is a one-year stopgap. For years NFL observers have said that the Pats need to address this core through the draft, then the Pats have taken another TE, and it has been dismissed, as Pioli and Bellichick know all. Well they had better know something we don’t this year, or that defense that started to look old towards the end of last season may have real problem from the get-go this year.

In the Secondary the Pats are also looking at the very real possibility of major turnover. This has seemingly been a plug and play group for Bellichick, as Law was let go and Brown played both ways. But things are looking very thin again. Samuel is most likely going to follow the money elsewhere. Harrison is on his last legs, and is starting to be a step slow on plays he used to make. And someone is going to overpay for Randell Gay, either the Pats to retain, or another team that will be looking to add a winner to their squad. And lets not forget Eugene Wilson is also a free agent.

Now don’t get me wrong, even with all this potential turnover, the Pats are still the team to beat in the AFC east. Both Buffalo and the Jets are most likely a year away from competing for the division, and Miami is Miami. And the Pats are still solid up front on both sides and have Brady. But the mantle of best-run organization could be handed to another team this year if Pioli cannot work his magic again.

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