Greg Schiano is a control freak. And that's the major explanation, at least in my mind, for why you trade a productive tight end like Kellen Winslow for something so paltry as a seventh-round draft choice, which the Bucs did Monday in dealing him to Seattle: The new coach doubted he was going to be able to control Winslow.
The Bucs are rewriting the rules of their program under Schiano. A friend of mine at Rutgers once told me Schiano was an acquired taste; he was insistent, for instance, that team meetings at road hotels be held with the room at a precise temperature. I forget what the temperature was. But that was the depth of his detail work. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. It's just that it's not for everyone.
The Bucs jettisoned Winslow and signed veteran Dallas Clark on Monday, which, obviously, is a calculated risk on their part. Clark, who will be 33 this season, played 48 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps in the last two seasons because of injuries. Winslow plays this year at 29; he played 82 percent of the Bucs' snaps in 2010 and '11. But I think the Bucs chose to go with Clark -- at half the price, but also with more of an injury risk -- because Clark will be more compliant. You won't see him jaw with Josh Freeman on the sidelines during games, which Winslow did.
I'm sure the Bucs view Clark as more of a mentor for young Luke Stocker. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs' new offensive coordinator -- Mike Sullivan, who came from the Giants -- had bad memories of Jeremy Shockey's at-times combative run with the Giants and didn't want to see history repeat itself, potentially, with Winslow in Tampa. Winslow's former coach, Butch Davis, on the Bucs' staff now, drafted Winslow in Cleveland in '04. He must have had some input with Schiano.
I give Winslow tremendous credit over the last three years in Tampa Bay. When he was dealt from Cleveland, I was convinced he'd end up missing big chunks of time because of his injury history. He didn't. Winslow was a plus for the Bucs, and he played well. But I just think Schiano looked at everything -- his contract, his occasional churlishness, and how he (Schiano) knew he'd be coaching this team -- and decided he'd like the alternative of Clark over Winslow.
Before I get to your e-mail, let me tell you what really surprised me in your batch of letters to me Monday: You -- or at least those of you who wrote in -- are more on the side of the Saints than Drew Brees' in the contract brouhaha keeping Brees away from the team in their offseason practices. Let's hear from you.
A CONTRACT HAS TO BE ABOUT THE FUTURE, NOT THE PAST. "I appreciate Drew Brees outplayed his contract, but not sure how that is relevant to the current negotiations. The Saints front office should be prepared to pay Brees what they believe his value is to the team in years 2012- 17 while simultaneously trying to maximize the team's chances of winning during that period.
Brees' total yards and completion percentage in '06 is irrelevant. If you start paying players for past performance it becomes very difficult to sustain success. Plus, I have a hard time looking at the facts that you [had in the chart] and arguing Brees has been "more productive" than Brady. Brady's TD/INT ratio is 3.6 versus Brees' 2.2. Brady's winning percentage is 81 percent vs. Brees' of 64 percent. That's not to say Brees may be more valuable than Brady at this point in their respective careers, but it's a debate worth having.
To say Brees has been "more productive" because he has thrown for more yards feels like a reporter interpreting certain stats to make his point and not the objective reporting we have become accustomed to from you."-- Mike, Quincy
Very well-reasoned points, Mike. My four points in response: 1. If you're not going to judge Brees based on his superior performance of the last six years, given the fact that he still seems to be in a quarterback's prime age at 33, what are you going to judge him on?
2. There is nothing to suggest his skills are declining, and the last time the Saints signed him, they got him for, relatively speaking, about 70 cents on the dollar compared to the other great quarterbacks of his day.
3. You forget one fact with the Brady comparison -- Brady missed a year, and Brees missed a game, over the last six years. So Brady, through no fault of his own, gave the Patriots five top seasons for $74 million. Brees gave the Saints six top years for $60 million.
4. Brees, along with Sean Payton, lifted a team coming off a 3-13 season in '05 to instant respectability and the NFC title game in his first season, and kept the Saints contenders. The Patriots and Colts were division champs entering '06 -- in large part due to the play of Brady and Peyton Manning -- but the point is New Orleans had a tougher road, immediately, to travel to get good.
You make a good point that you have to pay a player for what he will contribute, not what he has contributed. But history is the best measure of what the future holds with quarterback play (when quarterbacks still have prime years left), and I believe a younger Brees, signing 20 months after Brady should eclipse Brady's $18 million average, and not by a little bit. As far as me not being objective, well, I've been accused of being Brady's biggest cheerleader, which comes with the turf. But I'm calling this one the way I see it.
A NEW ORLEANS FAN IS FRUSTRATED WITH BREES. "While I believe that Brees is worth every penny he will be paid eventually, I can't help but be frustrated by the whole process yet again. Brees is an active member of the NFLPA, an NFLPA that signed the new CBA, yet here we go again with a holdout. If players are able to refuse the franchise tag again and again, why does it exist? I thought Brees was above all of this and someone I'd like my son to emulate; now I feel I've misjudged him."-- Jay Mussell, New Orleans
It's still the negotiation season, Jay. Nine weeks 'til training camp starts. The story's not final yet. Players don't have to sign the tender when they get it; that's always been the rule. But this story is a long way from being over. I would put the odds of Brees sitting out due to a contract dispute this year at about 20-1.
TOM THINKS I'M MISSING THE POINT ON BREES. "I think you are missing the point on the Brees contract. The NFL is a hard salary cap league, and everything you pay one player, you cannot pay another. As such, paying Brees $21 million instead of, say, $15 million, costs the team $6 million/year in budget for other potentially valuable players, Said another way, the Saints have to consider which potentially valuable players they need to cut loose to afford the extra money for Brees.
How much to pay the QB is part of a larger decision on how much needs to be budgeted to build out the team. If this were baseball, everyone, I imagine, would agree with you -- Brees is a great player, a classy guy and has brought a lot to New Orleans and should be paid as much as Manning and Brady. But in a hard cap system, teams have to make harder decisions in the context of the cap. Frankly, it sounds to me like Brees is being a little selfish."-- Tom, Rumson, N.J.
Tom, it's a logical argument, except when you say a quarterback who is every bit the peer of Manning and Brady should be paid $3 million less per year than they are. Brady took less than the market after winning two Super Bowls. But he's been the exception. You're paid relative to the other players at your position. Jahri Evans didn't take 30 percent less than the best guards make when he was deemed the best guard in football a couple of years ago.
THE SYSTEM HELPED BREES. "So the Saints' success has everything to do with Brees, and nothing to do with Sean Payton's system? What were Brees' numbers on the Chargers? You seem dismissive of the fact that the Saints paid a guy $10 million after he had failed a physical for the Dolphins. The more important point: if Brees is worth $21 million/year, what are Eli Manning and Rodgers worth when their current contracts expire?''-- John, Hoboken, N.J.
Amazing how so many people don't believe Brees should get his fair-market value. Stuns me. Do you think Brady's success is due so much to the system that he shouldn't be paid $18 million a year? Or that Peyton Manning wasn't helped by the system he played in? Since the beginning of time in modern sports, the contracts of players at a certain position are based, in large part, by what the other players at their positions have made. By that measure, Brees deserves to be paid more than the Patriots paid Brady almost two years ago, and more than what the Broncos are paying a medically questionable Manning this year. As for Rodgers and Eli Manning, we'll see what they deserve. They haven't accomplished, statistically, what Brees has yet. But they might.
JIM DOESN'T TRUST VILMA. "Jonathan Vilma's statement to the media was notable not for what it said, but for what it did not say. His statement was: 'I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player out of the 2009 Divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game or any other game. I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner.'
As I recall, he was [accused] of offering $10,000 to knock Favre out of the game. His defense, according to his statement, is, 'I never paid or intended to pay.'' Curious how he never says that he did not offer to pay. I wonder if his teammates knew he never really meant it and that he would not have paid if they had complied?''-- Jim, Orlando
I look forward to hearing some definitive evidence about what the league has on Vilma, which I believe will come during this appeals process. Then we can all make judgments about whether we're playing word games with Vilma, or whether there's a real evidential story there. I've said from the start that the league knew when it put Vilma's name out there in the first place that it would be a saber-rattling blow to his career and his reputation, and the league has to have some pretty damning evidence to have done that. I'd just like to know what the evidence is.
HOLLER ALL YOU WANT AT GRADUATION, SAYS THIS TEACHER. "About whooping and hollering at commencement; I've taught college for 30 years and read the names at our commencement, and (unless it's the people with the airhorns) I say, 'Let them celebrate!' A number of our students are first-generation college graduates, and it took all those parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents in the stands to get the student to and through college, and that student's success stands for the dreams and aspiration and work ethic of the entire family. Let them enjoy the moment, as long as they don't drown out someone else's celebration.''-- Jo Koster, Rock Hill, S.C.
Thanks, Jo. I guess I've been to a few of these ceremonies -- going back to middle school in New Jersey -- and I don't know why, but I grit my teeth at parents losing their minds. Not my cup of tea. But I trust you to have a more qualified opinion on this than I, having been in the field for a long time and seeing the accomplishments of so many.
ANDY THINKS WE'RE TOO SOFT ON NFL RETIREES. "I'm probably not the first to write/tweet to you on this, but the amount and type of coverage that you (and many other NFL writers) are giving to 'the plight' of retired players is getting outrageous. I know it's the issue du jour in the NFL world at the moment because of Junior Seau's suicide and all of the lawsuits recently filed, but being bludgeoned over the head with stories about these players having to 'cope with retirement' is getting more and more insulting.
Retirees with serious brain issues (ALS, dementia, etc) and of other eras aside, these players get a minimum of 15-20 times what your average teacher/social worker/police officer/average Joe makes. For you and your colleagues to be pressing us to feel for players who go broke two years after they retire or players who have to handle not being in the spotlight anymore is insulting to people who work for $50,000 a year and don't get national media attention when they are forced out of their profession.''-- Andy, Naples, Fla.
Consider your voice heard, Andy. This is a tough topic. Fans get attached to players, and when they struggle in retirement, fans feel for them. But I understand your sentiment. We're going to have to cover this topic a good bit over the next couple of years, I assume, because of the fact that more than 2,000 former players are suing the NFL as we speak.
NICE WORDS FROM JAKE. "Thank you for including the thought-provoking and motivating commencement material. MMQB has long departed from being just a football article. I think that's a large reason so many are devoted to reading. Our days are choices, character and life lessons, how we interact with each other ... etc. Football just happens to be the medium used here. I appreciate you looking out for your readers, whoever and wherever they are, with intelligent, rounded journalism. I looked up Ted Koppel's full address and posted it on Facebook, by the way.''-- Jake, Waldorf, Md.
I really appreciate that, Jake. The column is a labor of love. Thanks so much for reading.