Well, Peyton Manning's doing a terrific job of not telegraphing his intentions. And because we don't know his landing spot -- Denver, San Francisco or Tennessee (in alphabetical order, because believe me, I don't know) -- a ripple effect was felt Sunday from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Southeast.
One top official from one of the three teams told me Sunday night his team hadn't heard from Manning all day Sunday and, in his words, "We don't know if we're in or out. He told us he'd call when he knew what he was going to do, and we're taking him at his word. No pressure.''
I had one smart football official tell me Sunday Manning's going to San Francisco, and another tell me he's going to Tennessee and a third tell me: "His brain tells him San Francisco. His heart tells him Denver.''
So, folks, we're all guessing here. So let's not guess. Let's just say if all things were created equal, he'd probably rather go to the AFC, because that would take him away from playoff competition with his beloved brother Eli until the Super Bowl and because the AFC doesn't have as many good teams at the top as the NFC this year, from the looks of it. But all three contending teams have logic on their side.
Tennessee is in the division he knows intimately, and he loves familiarity. He knows offensive coordinator Chris Palmer from his brother; Palmer was Eli's quarterback coach from 2007 to 2009. Is it a factor that Tennessee is where Peyton went to college (Knoxville), where he loves to golf (Chattanooga) and where his wife is from (Memphis)? Probably not, but it can't hurt.
San Francisco may have the NFC disadvantage, but it also has the best team. Manning must love the fact that his workout with coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was kept quiet for 65 hours; the 49ers do a very good job of shutting up. And he must love the fact that he'd have enough offensive weapons to win with, and that the Niner defense will be a top-five defense (maybe top-one) for the next two years at least.
Denver has a good confidant, John Elway, running the show, a young franchise receiver in Demaryius Thomas and one of Manning's very good friends (Brandon Stokley) living in town. He could win at any of the three places. He'd win biggest in San Francisco, most likely. So there you go.
Manning is the father of young twins. His 11-year wedding anniversary was Saturday. So I'm assuming he had some significant family time over the weekend as he mulled over what to do. But that's an assumption. And make no mistake about this: The circle of information and influence is very small here. It may be a circle of one. Notice the lack of leaks over the weekend? There's a reason for that. Manning wants to control everything about this. And if the teams want to be involved, they have to play the game.
While Manning mulls, here's my read on who, and what, is being swept up in this story that may have 48 hours yet to wash over us all:
But the workout sent him on the road. After Smith met with the Dolphins Sunday morning, he went to the Fort Lauderdale airport to catch a flight to Seattle. But the Seahawks had him hold on for a bit, then told him not to come. They'd just agreed to terms with Matt Flynn. And Sunday night, Mike Klis of the
Miami looks like the worst team in the AFC East right now. Would Smith rather rub it in 49er GM Trent Baalke's face and run off to a bad team, and would he rather pray for Manning to pick Tennessee or Denver, enabling Smith to go back to where he has the best chance by far of making a Super Bowl run? Ireland may have to do what he loathes -- overspend for an OK player -- just to deodorize the stink of the last few years in Miami.
Kaepernick isn't ready for the job. Johnson's a free agent after being a bench player in Tampa Bay. Harbaugh coached him for three seasons at the University of San Diego before Harbaugh took the Stanford coaching job in 2007. The year after Harbaugh left San Diego, Johnson, running the same offense, threw 43 touchdowns with one interception. Needless to say, Harbaugh likes the 6-foot-3 Johnson more than most NFL head coaches do. Don't be surprised if the Niners, if suddenly desperate, take a shot at playing at least a bridge season with Johnson.
The three-year contract with Seattle will give him the edge in training camp competition with Tarvaris Jackson, but not a late-July lock on the job. It'll be interesting. Jackson will have the better arm, Flynn the better accuracy. And it may take time because Jackson knows the players and the plays better, obviously, than Flynn. But Flynn's strength is quickly transferring the tenets of every-second-counts quarterback play (what he learned during the week about individual players on defense, how to beat what the defense is showing him, how to know what play to check to when he has to audible), and you'd think that would show up in time.
Would Flynn have had a better shot at being assured the starting job in Miami? Probably. But in a conversation Sunday night, he kept talking about the feeling he got in Seattle's recently built training center in suburban Renton on Lake Washington. "I really enjoyed everyone there, and I got a chance to sit with [offensive coordinator] Darrell Bevell and felt really good about the offense, like it was something I knew very well,'' he said. "I just felt like it'd be a great fit.''
The deal is for three years, with $10 million guaranteed. Depending on his skill level and whether he starts, Flynn could earn between $19.5 and $24 million from the contract, or $26 million if he performs at a top-quarterback level. But chances are he'll play two years of the deal and then the Seahawks will make their decision for the future on him.
His minimum over two years is $13.25 million, a league source said, with that number rising to $15.5 million over two years if he starts in 2012, and $16 million if he starts and the Seahawks make the playoffs. The basic deal here: Flynn will make between $6.63 million and $8 million a year, depending on whether he beats out Jackson for the starting job and how well he plays.
Fair deal for Flynn because he has yet to prove himself; he had two starry starts in four Green Bay seasons. Smart job by his agent, Bill Johnson, getting as much guaranteed money as he did with such a lack of pro experience. But Seattle GM John Schneider didn't get taken here. He watched the tape of Flynn's two starts -- nine touchdowns, two interceptions against New England in 2010 and Detroit in 2011, combined -- and saw the decision-making and accuracy modern quarterbacks need.
Indulge me here, if you've already read this. It's from
When Schneider did his homework on Flynn, one of the players he was reminded of was Rich Gannon. So he called Gannon to see what he thought of Flynn. "He can play the game in his head,'' Gannon said. Like you just read.
Postscript: When Flynn was in Seattle, he asked Schneider if there was a chance he could get his favorite number, 15. In Green Bay, Bart Starr's number wasn't available; it had been retired. In Seattle, 15 belonged to wide receiver Doug Baldwin. So Schneider on Sunday contacted Baldwin and asked if he'd be OK giving up the number. Baldwin's favorite number, 89, had just come available with free agent tight end John Carlson leaving for Minnesota. Baldwin wanted 89. Schneider said sure.
"You sure I can have 89?'' Baldwin said.
"Doug,'' said Schneider, "I'm sort of the boss around here. Yeah, you can have it.''
The boss got his man Sunday, at the right money. Now we'll see if Flynn's the answer.
This is possibly the most over-covered week of anything we do in writing about the league, this first week of free agency. I knew it had gotten totally out of control on Saturday when Ralph Vacchiano of the
Reese is the general manager of the New York Giants. He has had the job five years. He is notoriously slow off the draw in free agency, and he is not alone. In recent years, noted GMs and personnel czars like Ted Thompson (Green Bay), Mickey Loomis (New Orleans), Kevin Colbert (Pittsburgh) and Bill Polian (Indianapolis) have let the free agency field settle down before going after players of moderate cost. In the last six seasons, those franchise architects -- Reese, Thompson, Loomis, Colbert, Polian -- have won every Super Bowl. Not saying the patient way is the only way to team-build, but come on. Reese did nothing big in 2007 and 2011 and won the Super Bowl both times.
First, the Mario Williams signing was no reprise of the Reggie White free agency bonanza in 1993, the first year of free agency. Though I might argue that Williams is the second-best defensive free agent ever, he's not a fair match to White. When White went from Philadelphia to Green Bay, he was 31 and he'd had 124 sacks in 121 career games. Williams is 27. He's played 82 games -- and had 53 sacks. A nice player, the best pass-rusher by far on the market this year, and one of the best rushers ever on the market. But White? No.
Williams signed a six-year, $96 million deal with the Bills on Friday, but as ProFootballTalk.com pointed out, the deal is really a two-year, $40 million contract -- with a $10.6 million roster bonus set to activate the final four years of the contract, similar to the way the $28 million option bonus would have activated Peyton Manning's final four contracted years with the Colts had they chosen to exercise the option. If Williams plays well in the first two years, Buffalo would almost certainly exercise the roster bonus in 2014. Four years and $56 million for a premier defensive end will be a good investment in two years, and that's what Williams will have left on his deal.
But I thought the most compelling part of this deal was that Williams never left Buffalo once he got there Tuesday night. He never visited Chicago or Seattle or any of the other franchises that wanted him. Certainly part of that is because the Bills paid him through the roof, but Buffalo GM Buddy Nix thought it was something else -- that Williams wasn't looking to be the big star in the big city.
"I'll tell you exactly how it happened,'' Nix told me Saturday. "When you're a rookie, you're bright-eyed, and you're excited, and you've never had this kind of money. Mario went through that before as the No. 1 overall pick in 2006. And he's a country boy who wasn't into the bells and whistles. In fact, he sold me on the plane ride back to Buffalo. He told me, 'I'm not a vocal leader. I'm not gonna make a lot of speeches. I'm not gonna dance before the game. If I come, I'm here to play as hard as I can and to make this team better.' I really liked that.
"The next day, he wanted to see the area. This kid likes open space. We took him to Jim Kelly's home, and Jim and his wife, Jill, have been wonderful to our team over the years. Mario loved it. He wanted country, like what Jim's got -- woods, wildlife, a big lot. When we were leaving Jim's neighborhood, Mario saw a big house with no sign in front of it and said, 'That house is for sale.' I don't know how he knew it, but he did.
"Turns out it was owned by the bank. So Mario said, 'I'd like to have the realtor there tomorrow at 9 in the morning.' I thought that was a good sign. He had his fiancée come in -- it was real important to him that she see everything and she like the area. They see the house the next morning, and they loved it. They made an offer. I think they're going to get it.''
Said Williams: "When I saw Jim's house, and the deer and turkey out there, it felt like really a country, home-type feeling. At least that's home to me. It was really important to me that I see the town, because I didn't know it. I'd never been here before. I like the small-town atmosphere. Plus, I knew Toronto was just a short trip over [the U.S.-Canada border]. New York's close by plane, Boston's close. The cold doesn't bother me. I just wanted to find the right fit for me, and from the beginning, they showed me love.''
I asked him if he traded the chance to win long-term for more money than he'd have been able to make elsewhere.
"If I'm not mistaken,'' Williams said, not angrily but stridently, "this team beat New England last year. This team almost beat the Giants. This is an any-given-Sunday league. I don't buy that we can't win. This is the NFL. New teams win every year. If that wasn't the case, teams in the big cities, the better cities, would win all the time. And you see that's not true.''
It didn't hurt that it was 70 degrees and sunny when his fiancée came in and they toured the city. "Almost like it was destined that he come here,'' said Nix. "A couple times during the process I thought, Why'd we get into this? The downside was huge. If we lose him, I don't know how long it'd take for our fans to recover. They wanted him so bad. But you know, you've got to step up to the plate to have a chance to get a hit. Buffalo's got an inferiority complex. That's why it was so important we get Mario.''
Now it's up to defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt to put Williams in position to get to the quarterback. The Bills will play a 4-3, with Williams at left end and two disruptive tackles, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, as part of a tackle rotation beside Williams. The right end could be Chris Kelsay or a newbie from the draft.
"We're going to put him on the left side and turn him loose,'' said Wannstedt. "You can see now in this league how important it is to get to the quarterback. Look at Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. A quarterback starts throwing on rhythm and he'll destroy you. But the Giants kept disrupting him -- not necessarily sacking him all the time, but just getting in his face and not allowing him to get into rhythm. When a quarterback knows what's coming and where it's coming from, the defense is in trouble.''
Reminds me what Texans owner Bob McNair said to me before the '06 draft -- Houston was drafting Williams over Reggie Bush and Vince Young because there was no way they could consistently beat Indianapolis without pressuring Peyton Manning. Nix knows Buffalo won't challenge the Patriots without getting in Brady's face and forcing turnovers and/or incompletions. The difference here may be that Kyle Williams and Dareus both have Pro Bowl potential (Williams has made it twice) and could prevent the consistent double teams Super Mario might see without interior help from his teammates.
Maybe Williams will be in a sinkhole. But I think if the interior defensive line stays healthy, Buffalo finally has a chance to be competitive enough on defense to play good offenses head-to-head.
In Miami, I mean.
In the last 10 years this franchise has been the most luckless, clueless, hapless club. To wit:
Head coaches (seven): Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles and now Joe Philbin.
Starting quarterbacks, minimum four starts (13): Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon(!), Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne and now, evidently, Matt Moore. Unless they sign Alex Smith this morning, and if so, Smith would be in line to be the 14th starting quarterback in the last 11 seasons.
Offensive coordinators (seven): Norv Turner, Chris Foerster, Scott Linehan, Mike Mularkey, Dan Henning, Brian Daboll and now Mike Sherman.
Defensive coordinators (six): Jim Bates, Richard Smith, Dom Capers, Paul Pasqualoni, Mike Nolan and now Kevin Coyle.
The most bizarre moves, and aftermaths, of the last decade of Miami Dolphins football -- actually, decade plus 11 days, considering that the Dolphins traded for Ricky Williams 10 years and 11 days ago:
Clearly, when Huizenga brought in Bill Parcells, who imported Jeff Ireland from the Cowboys, he didn't expect the disastrous personnel run that has ensued. (And the man who bought the Dolphins from Huizenga, Stephen Ross, didn't expect Ireland to ask Dez Bryant the sordid question about his mother's occupation in the run-up to the 2010 draft either.) The Ross-Ireland daily double has failed to lure Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher, and has failed to land Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn either.
When I was talking to Flynn Sunday night about why he chose the Seahawks, he must have repeated three or four times how much he liked the feeling he got from the Seahawks' coaches and front office people when he was in Seattle. He wouldn't say anything negative about Miami; he is very fond of his former offensive coordinator in Green Bay, Philbin. But clearly Flynn felt the love more in Seattle than in Miami.
It's absolutely amazing how much failure the Dolphins have endured in the last 10 years. And the way this year is beginning -- losing out on Fisher, Manning and Flynn -- I'm amazed that Ross is putting up with it without blowing a gasket.
The other day, Browns president Mike Holmgren inferred strongly to his season ticket holders in a conference call that he felt the trade St. Louis made with Washington was influenced by the relationship between the two coaches involved -- good friend Mike Shanahan of the Redskins and Jeff Fisher of the Rams. What Holmgren said: "What we had offered for the pick was every bit the offer that was chosen. There are reasons I can't go into right now why it didn't happen, but there's a very close relationship between the people that were involved in getting the deal done, and the people eventually got it done. I'm not sure if any offer we made at the end of the day was going to be quite good enough."
But according to Rams GM Les Snead, that's not the whole story. He confirmed to me Sunday what I'd heard the night the trade broke. Snead said he told all teams interested on March 8 that he was going to have the trade done by the end of that day, and he was going to ask each team to give its best offer for the trade. At that point, he said, after listening to all the proposals, he was going to take the best offer -- unless the offer was not anywhere near what the Rams wanted for the pick.
Those were the rules, Snead said Sunday, that he made clear to each team. Snead asked for everyone's best offer in individual phone calls. It's unclear what Cleveland's offer was, but Washington offered three first-round picks and one second-round pick. That offer, Snead said, was better than Cleveland's offer. So he told Washington officials that they'd won the bidding and told the Browns they'd lost. At that point, Snead said, Cleveland tried to make another offer, and Snead said the window was closed; the Rams were taking Washington's offer.
Many of you have wondered why Snead did it that way. Wouldn't St. Louis have gotten a better return if it had let two or more teams play off against one another? Possibly. But I can see a scenario that would net a smaller haul. Suppose Cleveland and Washington go back and forth, back and forth. Cleveland, which had been been playing poker and saying it would never give a third first-round pick, finally relents and says, "That's it. We're not adding one ounce of value to the three ones we've offered. That's it.'' Washington hears that and says, "OK, we'll give you three ones and a fifth-round pick.'' Cleveland says fine, the pick's yours.
My point is simple: The Redskins knew the rules of the game -- that they'd have to blow St. Louis out of the water with one of the best trade offers in NFL history. They did. No team had ever bid three first-round picks for a draft choice before, and Washington threw in a second-rounder as well.
Looks like Snead got max value for the pick. And had he gone back on his word to take the best offer from each team by telling the Redskins he was re-opening the game, both teams would know they could never trust Snead in a trade again, and that reputation would spread.
Coming in Tuesday's column (barring a Manning decision or other big news): A one-week review of free agency hits and misses.
"I think he has his stuff together better than 90 percent of this room.''
The lengths athletes will go just to stick up for each other.
"We passed on him.''
Surrrrrrrrre you did.
"Short-term memory is not good. I won't remember a hell of a lot about this interview in 10 minutes.''
The beneficiary of the first real free agency period in two seasons: the backup quarterback. Three (Kyle Orton, Chad Henne, Charlie Whitehurst) signed deals for at least $4 million a year in the first four days of free agency.
I'm amazed that the Dallas Cowboys paid Orton -- who I consider the best of the available backups, and not by a small amount -- a $5 million signing bonus for a five-year deal that will likely void to three years. I understand sleeping better at night, which the Cowboys will do now that they have maybe the best backup quarterback in football as insurance for Tony Romo instead of the iffy Stephen McGee. But I've never heard of paying a guy you hope will never play a $5 million signing bonus.
The cast of newly minted backups, and the paydays they've agreed to since last Wednesday:
How much did Brady Quinn want out of the Denver quarterback-go-round? So much, I hear, that he turned down an offer of $2 million from the Broncos and accepted a one-year, $1.5 million deal in Kansas City.
I didn't travel anywhere in the past seven days, but I did have a bit of an odd New York experience. Saturday was the first St. Patrick's Day I have experienced as a Manhattan resident. I just figured, OK, big St. Patty's parade up Fifth Avenue, lots of people, everybody in green, whatever.
On Sunday morning, when Bailey and I went out for her morning spin through the neighborhood (and you know how dogs are -- they like to eat whatever their tongues can scrape off the sidewalk), I had to, in the span of six blocks, tug her past three areas of, shall we say, human sickness. Aaah, the benefits of living in the center of the universe.
"I am on flight right now (red eye) from San Francisco to Miami -- QB Alex Smith is sitting in first class -- you connect the dots.''
-- @DavisHsuSeattle, realtor and Seahawks blogger Davis Hsu, who broke the Smith-to-Miami-for-a-visit story in the middle of the night on a Virgin America redeye from San Francisco to Florida. From row 14, apparently -- with Smith sleeping in row one.
"Icing my shoulder from continuous fist pumping.''
"Congrats to Mario Williams signing in Buffalo... far away from the NFC North, thanks big guy''
Meaning: Thank God he'll be in the AFC and not signing with the Bears.
Meaning: Thank God he'll be in the AFC and not signing with the Bears.
Teams didn't know for sure that there'd be a salary cap in 2010 until the year was on top of them. When the cap was in place, the league figured Washington and Dallas had dumped unamortized signing bonuses into the 2010 year, and that dumping of bad contracts gave them an advantage over teams that didn't do it. The league figured Washington and Dallas gained an edge by this contract-dumping in future cap seasons, which the Redskins and Cowboys did.
As I wrote the other day, the worst thing about this is the timing -- Dallas and Washington had one day to amend their free agency plans when they found out they were getting slapped with major cap penalties. That's just unfair. I hope what ProFootballTalk.com reported over the weekend is correct -- that the two teams will challenge the league's ruling however they can.
When he last played, in 2010, the Patriots gave up on him and traded him to Minnesota, and the Vikings gave up on him and let him go, and the Titans signed him, and he was listless and indifferent there. Folks, players don't play the same at 35 (which Moss is now) as they did at 30 (which Moss was when he caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes for the Patriots).
a. I had Bobcat Fever over the weekend. Yes, I'm an Ohio U. alum, and there's a good chance this column would have been up sooner this morning if I hadn't been so totally wound up by my alma mater's win over South Florida Sunday night. To think OU would beat Big Ten and Big East teams in the span of 48 hours in Nashville is a bit heady. To think the Bobcats would be in the Sweet Sixteen against top-seeded North Carolina Friday night ... headier.
Two years ago, Ohio beat Georgetown in Providence in the first game of the regional, then laid an egg two days later, losing to Tennessee. The guard who led them two years ago as a freshman, D.J. Cooper, understood what he had to do Friday night after the stunner over Michigan, according to coach John Groce.
"Looking back on it now,'' Groce said Sunday night, "I do think it feels different from two years ago. It felt different when we walked off the floor on Friday night. D.J. grabbed a couple guys and said, 'Hey, act like you've been there before. We're here to get two.' ''
They got two. Now they'll be greedy and unafraid, I expect. All they have on the horizon is North Carolina. And then maybe Kansas.
b. Thanks for the cool bet, Rich Eisen. Eisen's a Michigan man, and we bet a change of Twitter avatars on the Bobcats-Wolverines tilt Friday night. That's why when you go to
c. OK, all you Tar Heel grads. I'm open for bets on OU-UNC Friday night.
d. My late brother, Bob, was a Tar Heel. We'd have a case of Allegash White on this game -- or more -- if he were around to watch it with me.
e. Now to get a little more serious ...
f. I don't understand how it is fair for a member of our military to be accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in cold blood and then trying to burn some of them to destroy the evidence ... and then having him flown to the United States to stand trial here. I mean, imagine the outrage if a citizen from a foreign country murdered 16 Americans in this country, and his government spirited him back to his homeland, somehow, to stand trial. We'd be outraged. It's just wrong.
g. Speaking of wrong,
h. I saw
i. Cool to see Marty Brodeur and J.S. Giguere, the two best goalies in the 2003 season and the two guys who dueled to win the Stanley Cup in the Devils' seven-game Cup triumph, go 60 scoreless minutes the other night in the Jersey-Colorado game. Devils won it in the shootout.
j. A Pittsburgh-St. Louis Cup final this year would be loads of fun.
k. Coffeenerdness: Memo to restaurants everywhere: Why do you not respect espresso and coffee drinkers? I've almost given up on finding good coffee after a meal.
l. Beernerdness: Had my first glass of Estrella Damm pilsener from Barcelona the other night. A little too mild for me, like Stella Artois, but pleasant enough.
m. Same thing every year: I watch 10 seconds of college basketball all season, and then I can't wait for the tournament to come on. I think it's the sudden-death component of it all, and the glee from teams like Norfolk State and Lehigh. Fantastic.
n. Somehow, I think the NIT wanted to get rid of Bucknell. First game: at Arizona. A win. Second game: at Nevada. A loss. Then there's UMass: at Mississippi State, at Seton Hall, and now at Drexel. I understand you want the high seeds to have an edge, but play fair, NIT.
o. Happy 14th birthday, Emma Pacifico.
p. And rest in peace, Furman Bisher. One of the finest sports columnists in America, Bisher, 93, died of a heart attack Sunday, and his peers gushed with praise. Former