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Mr. Laz
03-04-2005, 05:10 PM
Notebook: Some sanity, some madness in early free agency
March 3, 2005
By Pete Prisco
SportsLine.com Senior Writer

Notebook: Some sanity, some madness in early free agency

There's an early buzzword making its way through the league's opening days of free-agency.

"The $10 million men," said one coach. "That's where all the early deals start. The agents all say they want $10 million as a signing bonus. It's crazy."

Scary thing: Players are getting it.

Lessons of past years are being kicked to the curb as teams jump on players early in hopes of making the big splash. Jacksonville, which only recently got a get-out-of-cap-jail card, gave Denver defensive end Reggie Hayward a five-year deal that averages $5 million a season -- including $10 million in guaranteed money.

The biggest eye-opening deal was the seven years and $36 million the 49ers gave to Buffalo left tackle Jonas Jennings. It included $12 million to $14 million in bonuses, which is amazing considering Jennings is a decent player whose value is up because he happens to be one of the few left tackles available. That had to drive his price up. He certainly isn't worth that kind of money.

"Worst deal I've seen," said one personnel director. "But hold on. I'm sure there's more to follow."

If the $10 million-men club continues to grow, you can count on it.

Now here's a quick look at some of the early free-agent moves.

WR Derrick Mason to the Baltimore Ravens: This one surprises me a bit. Mason is a good receiver, but he is more quick than fast. And he's 31, which means the slowdown time is coming. He's also not very big at 5-feet-11. Age and size are two things that worry me when signing a free-agent receiver. How much does he have left? The Ravens were in desperate need of a wideout, but they might have been better off spending their money on Plaxico Burress or waiting until the draft. If the rumored numbers are true -- $11 million over the first two years with a $7 million signing bonus -- they paid way too much for a former kick returner on the down slope of his career. That's nothing against Mason. It's just this move bucks my beliefs about free agency.

LB Dexter Coakley to the St. Louis Rams: Indications are they didn't sell the farm to get Coakley, but is he really what this defense needs? At 32, he's starting to slow down. He's small at 5-11, but he once ran well. That's what the Rams love from their linebackers, but you have to wonder again about paying a guy this age decent money. Is he an upgrade from Tommy Polley, a free agent the Rams probably won't bring back? Not really. Strange move. Then again, this is the Rams and a personnel staff that has made some bad moves the past couple of years.

DE Reggie Hayward to the Jacksonville Jaguars: How good this move is depends on the contract. Early indications were that Hayward signed a five-year deal that will average $5 million per year. That's big money. But he is the only real pass rusher available on the market. And at 25, he's a rising player. Hayward had 19 sacks the past two years for Denver. He should get even more because he'll see single blocking a lot more with the Jaguars' power tandem of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson inside. At least the Jaguars got the age thing right here. Hayward was in the top 10 of the CBS SportsLine.com top 50 free agents.

C Casey Rabach to the Washington Redskins: The Redskins had major problems in the middle of their line last year, so Rabach gives them a solid center who can also play guard. Some teams actually felt he'd be a better guard. The Redskins never got any consistent play from their center last year, with Lennie Friedman and Cory Raymer both struggling to get push. Rabach is a battler who will mix it up in the run game and do well enough in pass protection. In Baltimore, he was better blocking for the run. The Redskins get him for a decent price, especially for a first-day signing. This is a good move.

G Mike Wahle to the Carolina Panthers: This is a heck of a move for the Panthers. Wahle can play any of the line positions with the exception of center. The Panthers will likely play him at right tackle to go with Jordan Gross on the left side. Although he played primarily guard for the Green Bay Packers, he came into the league as a tackle. Wahle is a definite upgrade along the Carolina front.

G Marco Rivera to the Dallas Cowboys: This is a player the Cowboys had targeted, so they have to be thrilled to get him. He went to the Pro Bowl last year, although he didn't play as well as Wahle, who didn't. He is certainly an upgrade for the Cowboys, who will play him at right guard, opposite Larry Allen. That's a heck of a guard combination. But paying guards is not something condoned here. They should be developed. That's the difference between Wahle and Rivera. The Panthers got a tackle. The Cowboys got a guard. That's an edge to the Panthers.

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DT Jason Ferguson to the Dallas Cowboys: Ferguson is a guy the Cowboys touted a while ago as a possibility. He is coming off a solid year, but has he ever been dominant? He's a good run player who will help the Cowboys run defense as they transition to the 3-4. He will play some nose. Ferguson is a quality player, just not an elite one -- and it looks like he's getting elite money. He also turns 32 in November.

CB Anthony Henry to the Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys brass loved this kid, but you can't tell me he's better than Samari Rolle or Fred Smoot. He has been a playmaker at times -- getting 10 interceptions as a rookie four years ago -- but he is not a pure man cover player in the mold of Rolle and Smoot. He's an upgrade for the Cowboys, but they would have been better off going after Smoot.

LB Antonio Pierce to the New York Giants: This is one of the best moves so far in free-agency. Pierce is a 26-year-old player who is on the way up. That's key. He played every snap last year for the Redskins at middle linebacker, which means he stays on the field in passing situations. Pierce is a big-time upgrade in terms of speed in the middle of the Giants defense. Love this move.

DT Pat Williams to the Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings wanted a bigger run-stuffer next to Kevin Williams in the middle of their defense, and Williams gives them that and more. At 335 pounds -- on a good day -- Williams is a force against the run. The Buffalo Bills didn't want to let him go, so he's a tough loss. The Vikings had to get bigger inside, and Williams gives them that. His ability to occupy blockers will help free up Kevin Williams and middle linebacker Napoleon Harris to make plays. This is a good move.

T Jonas Jennings to the San Francisco 49ers: As we said, this is the worst move in free agency so far. Why in the heck the 49ers would pay a so-so tackle a contract that includes $14 million in bonus money is beyond imagination. Jennings is a decent player, but he isn't worth that kind of money. Agent Todd France should be put in the Agent Hall of Fame for getting that kind of deal. We know the 49ers have money to burn, but is signing an average player on the line a good move? It isn't in this space.

RB LaMont Jordan to the Oakland Raiders: With the addition of Randy Moss and now Jordan, the Raiders are having an A-plus offseason. Jordan is the back we would have targeted in free-agency -- even if Edgerrin James had come free. He's 26, he doesn't have a lot of carries on his body and his best years are ahead of him. The Raiders offense is going to be explosive. And this guy is going to be a 1,400-yard rusher. Oakland is a playoff team now. Wait and see.

LB Morlon Greenwood to the Houston Texans: The Texans made no secret about their plans to upgrade their linebackers, but giving Greenwood a five-year deal worth $22 million is too much. Greenwood is a smallish linebacker who played on the weak side in Miami, but the Texans will play him inside. The question there is whether he is big enough to handle the pounding in there. At 6-feet, 230 pounds, he does have speed. But that big a deal for Greenwood is a bit much.

Around the league
Why is Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress not getting more play on the free-agent market? Burress is 6-5, has the ability to get deep and he's only 27. That adds up to a good combination. But word has it that some teams are scared off by his attitude. The reality is Burress is not a bad guy. Plus, if a coach is secure enough in his own skin, shouldn't he be secure enough to think he can handle any little problem there could be with Burress? The Giants are interested in Burress, which means a possible marriage with Tom Coughlin. If Burress were a problem, Coughlin probably wouldn't take him on -- that much I know. There is some chatter that his off-the-field friends don't exactly attract teams to Burress. Someone even mentioned he hangs out with Snoop Dog, as if that's a bad thing. I'll say this about Burress: He's good friends with Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, who just might be the nicest guy in the entire league. He can't be a bad guy if he's a friend of Taylor. Teams are missing the boat on Burress, particularly teams like San Diego.
The Chicago Bears were jacked up about the signing of receiver Muhsin Muhammad last week, but the feeling here -- and among some league insiders -- is that it wasn't a great move. Yes, Muhammad played well last year for the Panthers. But he's 32, and he doesn't run well. As one coach said, "His speed meant he was only a threat in the red zone." He did catch 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but he is entering his 10th season. That's when receivers start to slow down a bunch. And when you're a receiver who wasn't fast to begin with, it's even more glaring. The Panthers tried to bring Muhammad back, but when he balked at their contract offer, they had no choice but to release him instead of paying a $10 million roster bonus. He signed the next day with the Bears. The Panthers will be happy about this. General manager Marty Hurney was torn about letting Muhammad leave, but in the long run, he did the prudent thing. The Bears will regret this move. They gave Muhammad a six-year deal with a $6 million signing bonus. The deal also includes roster bonuses of $2 million in 2005 and $4 million in 2006. He has a cap number of $3.871 million this year, but it spikes to $6.2 million next season. Then again, the Bears could opt not to pay the roster bonus next spring, which would mean a 1-year deal. But that's unlikely since $4.8 million in amortized bonus money would accelerate onto their cap in that scenario.
One of the many things mentioned by team personnel directors and scouts at last week's scouting combine was how polished the players all seemed in the interview sessions. There's a reason. Many are prepped for them with the help of interview coaches. So what's the NFL to do? Heed the advice of one scout. Go to the school, talk to the many people around the player, including down at the local bar and around campus. "That's where you'll get the real stuff on a player," said the scout. "Not this interview talk they've prepared to deal with. Go ask people around campus if the guy is a jerk. They'll tell you. He might come off as an altar boy in the interview, but the reality is the kids at the bar might know him as a big bully." Despite the prep work being done, many teams still think the interview process is a good thing. "The interviews are the main reason to come," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
The Colts are changing the surface at the RCA Dome, going from AstroTurf to something else. The Colts are built for speed, and the AstroTurf gave them a leg up. It will be interesting to see if the change in the surface has an impact on their offense. It's doubtful since that offense has rolled up plenty of huge numbers on grass, too. Plus, they're be going to another type of fake turf, which won't be as slow as grass.
We respect agent Drew Rosenhaus a bunch. But he's in an interesting situation taking over as the representative for Edgerrin James. The Colts put the franchise tag on James, and he has said publicly he's not happy about it. James would like to play elsewhere, but the Colts did the right thing tagging him. They have to protect their interests. Now if a blockbuster deal came their way, they'd certainly be open to trading him. If not, the plan would be to get a long-term deal done. If either of those doesn't happen, look for James to play for the franchise number, and then the Colts might look to go in another direction the following season. They will almost certainly draft a back in April at some point. James has more value to the Colts than just running the ball. He's good in the passing game, and president Bill Polian said last week that James is the best blocking back in the league. That's important in the Colts' pass-happy offense. But in a year, a second-year player should know how to do all that well. That's why James for a year makes sense, and then let him walk in 2006. The one thing people have to understand about James is that he isn't a breakaway threat. In the final five regular-season games he played -- we won't count his one-carry game in the regular-season finale -- he didn't have a carry longer than 17 yards. In the two playoff games, his longest carry was 11 yards. For the season, he had five runs longer than 20 yards. That's not good enough.
We have more copycat league proof. The New England Patriots won their second consecutive Super Bowl last season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had the league's best regular-season record before losing to the Pats in the AFC title game. What do both have in common? They play the 3-4 defense. Now more and more teams are talking about using that style. The Browns will play it, while the Broncos and Cowboys are moving that way. Word of warning to those copycat teams: Don't make the move without the personnel. It takes a special group on defense to make it work. You can't force it. That's why what the Ravens are doing with new coordinator Rex Ryan is interesting. Ryan is a 4-3 proponent, so he's switching from the 3-4 to that style. That will put Ray Lewis in the middle again -- where he belongs -- and will force Terrell Suggs to play with his hand down. He was an end in college, so it shouldn't be much of a transition. I prefer the 4-3, but then again, it's not in vogue now.
Did you see where Jaguars safety Donovin Darius had a meeting with owner Wayne Weaver demanding a trade? Guess what, Donovin? Before that meeting, you were already on the block. The Jaguars have been shopping him around for the past couple of weeks, which is the main reason they placed the franchise label on him in the first place. They didn't want to lose him without compensation. Now comes the tricky part. No team will trade for Darius unless they can work out a long-term deal first. The Lions, along with some other teams, love him and would be willing to give up a draft pick. One personnel director said Darius is among the four best safeties in the league. That might be a reach, but he did play better in coverage last year than he did the previous couple of years, although he's still not that strong. He's also a big hitter in the run game. There's a chance the Jaguars would trade him head up for another franchise player -- such as Darren Howard of the Saints -- but the problem there is that both players would have to agree to new contracts first. Darius is a good man off the football field, a devoted family man. But don't for a minute think he will be missed inside the Jags locker room. He has never been close with his teammates. There are those who believe he spells his name DarIu$.
With more and more teams trying to get faster at free safety, leave it to the Rams to move a linebacker into that position. They plan on putting Pisa Tinoisamoa to that spot next season. That's part of the reason they signed Coakley on Wednesday. With the way the game is going, the safeties should be more like bigger corners than linebackers. If any quarterback looks out next season and sees Tinoisamoa and Adam Archuleta on the field at the same time, he will be licking his chops.
One of the best quotes coming out of last week's combine came from Billick when he said, "Every year we tell ourselves not to get crazy and move guys up or down our draft board based on the way they ran around in shorts. Then we go crazy and push guys way up or way down based on the way they ran around in shorts." That remains one of the great mysteries of the combine, how three or four years of football tape can go out the window based on one combine workout.
A reason the Colts felt comfortable in releasing veteran tight end Marcus Pollard this week is they love two of the young kids that played behind him last year. One is Ben Hartsock, who did see time as a rookie and actually had four catches. But the guy the Colts are really excited about is Ben Utecht, a second-year player from Minnesota. Utecht missed last season after having groin surgery in the spring. He is a pass-catching threat who should help the Colts offense in the middle of the field. With Dallas Clark, Hartsock and Utecht, the Colts should be fine at tight end. Plus, there's a chance they could re-sign Pollard.
Tight End Note II: One of the things that came out of the combine was how bad the tight end class is. "None of those guys are any good," said an NFC personnel director. Virginia's Heath Miller, who didn't work out, is a potential first-round pick, but there is a major dropoff after him. The lack of quality tight ends could help Bubba Franks, who was designated a transition player by the Packers. With Green Bay having to let players go for cap reasons, a team looking for a tight end might be wise to try to sign Franks to a long-term deal that the Packers would have a tough time matching. If they didn't match, Franks would come without compensation. He isn't a great tight end, but he's good enough to be a quality starter. And after seeing what this year's draft class had to offer, it makes some sense for a team in need to pursue giving Franks an offer sheet.

Donger
03-04-2005, 05:13 PM
Holy sh*t. Is that really Portman?

keg in kc
03-04-2005, 05:32 PM
Holy sh*t. Is that really Portman?Yep, in Closer.

Err, not that I'd know that kind of thing.

tomahawk kid
03-04-2005, 05:34 PM
I'm really glad the Raiders are doing so well while we sit on Lamar's $3.5 billion dollar wallet and cry, "no money".

God I literally want to puke right now.

Donger
03-04-2005, 05:36 PM
Yep, in Closer.

Err, not that I'd know that kind of thing.

Spank you.