NFL Free Agency: The Free-For-All Has Begun

Monday March 9th, 2015

The headlines this morning, on the eve of the explosive, money-burning-holes-in-NFL-pockets 2015 free market:

• THE DEVIN McCOURTY SIGNING MAY HAVE GIVEN AWAY THE PATRIOTS’ PLAN WITH DARRELLE REVIS. Can the Patriots afford to employ the game’s second-highest-paid safety (McCourty got $9.5 annually, according to Ian Rapoport) and the highest-paid cornerback if they re-sign Revis in the neighborhood of $15 million a year? Not likely, but you never know with New England.

GO EAST, YOUNG PROSPECT. It’s not the Wild West in the 2015 NFL marketplace. It’s actually the Wild East. The big players so far: Miami, Buffalo, Philadelphia. The big players come the opening of the free market on Tuesday: Jacksonville (likely), New England and the New York Jets (they pray).

MIAMI MAKES AN ANTI-BRADY MOVE. In agreeing to terms with the best defensive lineman in free agency in the past 20 years, Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins get the game’s best interior pocket-collapser—which they believe is the best strategy for facing Tom Brady. More about that on Page 2.

CHIP KELLY HAS DENUDED THE EAGLES. If wideout Jeremy Maclin signs with Kansas City on Tuesday, which appears likely (according to Chris Mortensen), that means in the span of 12 months the Eagles coach will have gotten rid of the three biggest offensive weapons on the team: Maclin, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. Imagine if Kelly uses Nick Foles in a gigantic package to move up from the 20th spot in the first round April 30 to pick Marcus Mariota. (Hmmmm. Trading up for Mariota. Where have I heard that before?)

• KAEPERNICK IS ON THE TRADING BLOCK? An eyebrow-raising report late Sunday night from the West Coast had the 49ers shopping around quarterback Colin Kaepernick. GM Trent Baalke quickly denied it. No idea what to believe, but if the Niners are nutty enough to trade Kaepernick with no QB currently behind him on the roster, it means 2015 truly is a bridge year. Coach Jim Tomsula could go 3-13 and there would be no heat on him—only on Baalke and Jed York.

Making Sense of Offseason
 
Trades, tags, salary caps, free agency. This can be a confusing time of year for NFL fans. Andrew Brandt breaks down the business of football in an easy-to-understand way.

FULL STORY
WHAT’S NEXT. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, the former Raven, likely headed to San Francisco for $9 million a year … Ditto tight end Julius Thomas from Denver to Jacksonville, for about the same money … The Raiders, with $59 million in cap room, begging any warm free-agency body to take some of it … Haven’t heard of any team willing to pay 2014 rushing champ DeMarco Murray $10 million a year … Terrance (Pot Roast) Knighton is likely leaving Denver for Washington or Oakland … The Patriots wouldn’t actually pay Darrelle Revis his $20 million option-year compensation, would they? I can’t see it.

Which brings us to where I think the biggest news should be made this week. And if it’s not, one owner in Florham Park, N.J., will be quite beside himself.

There are some sweaty palms in Jetland this morning. Owner Woody Johnson has gotten rid of two general managers and one coach in the past 26 months, and now he has neophyte rookies in both jobs who he expects should make major noise this week: GM Mike Maccagnan, who has never been in the spotlight in his life, and coach Todd Bowles, who got a little bit of fame last year in Arizona. Five weeks ago Johnson watched the division kingpin Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl since Johnson took over Jets ownership. In the past five days he’s seen the two other teams in the division get markedly better. The Bills have agreed to trade for the 2013 NFL rushing champion, LeSean McCoy, and hammered out a $40 million contract; acquired a hold-the-fort quarterback, Matt Cassel, from Minnesota; and moved close to signing one of the best two or three pass-rushers in the market, Jerry Hughes, to a new contract. (Hughes was at the Bills’ dinner celebrating the LeSean McCoy deal, with McCoy and team brass, Sunday night.) The Dolphins got the Suh deal done, tentatively.

The Jets re-signed linebacker David Harris, and dealt a fifth-round pick for 31-year-old wideout Brandon Marshall, and are in play for free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer. Not good enough, unless you’re competing with Tennessee and Jacksonville for 27th place in the NFL. The Jets enter free agency with at least $48 million to spend, and an owner fascinated with a Revis reunion. “The Jets can’t not be trying to make that happen," said a source with knowledge of the team’s inner workings.

As one opposing coach said Sunday, “Revis would be the obvious play for them, but at what cost? The hard part for the Jets is they’ve become an organization that has to overpay." That’s what happens when you go four straight years without a winning season.

This was floated to me Sunday night by someone with knowledge of the Jets’ ideal-world plan: a secondary with Revis and free-agent Antonio Cromartie. They started as a corner tandem for the Jets as recently as opening day 2012—and Cromartie played for Bowles in Arizona last year.

Nothing can happen with Revis until the Patriots cut him. That seems likely this week, because the Pats’ cap situation is precarious, and it was never an actual plan to keep Revis at $20 million for 2015. It was simply a place-holder deal, the two-year contract Revis signed last year that paid him $12 million in 2014. The prevailing wisdom has been that New England would cut Revis and the two sides would find a common ground for him to return. That’s certainly possible, but Revis has been a mercenary during his career (and who can blame a player for wanting to max out his value?), and if the Jets offer, say, four years and $60 million, mostly guaranteed, that’d be a hard deal for New England to compete with. Especially now that McCourty has signed just below Earl Thomas’ $10-million-a-year deal.

Revis has the one thing Johnson so desperately needs for his adrift-at-sea franchise. He’d bring legitimacy back to the team. Johnson could hold him up as an example of how the tide is turning and the talent is returning. Plus, Revis loves the lights and the pressure. It’d be a great marriage. Now we’ll see this week if the Jets can finally catch a break when it comes to dealing with their big, bad neighbor to the northeast.

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Just the facts.

The key times (Eastern Time) and dates for the NFL’s free market:

Saturday, noon: Teams could start negotiating with free agents. Contracts could not be signed, however, for 76 hours from that time (three days and four hours). But the NFL is going to realize soon—if it hasn’t already—that the only thing NOT getting done in this legal tampering period is teams getting signatures on contracts.

Tuesday, 4 p.m.: 2015 league year begins. Trades allowed. Free agency signing period begins. Will there be any, like, actual news when tomorrow afternoon rolls around?

Tuesday, 4 p.m.: Teams must be at cap number of $143.8 million (with some accounting for money carried over from what was unspent in 2014).

Tuesday, 4:01 p.m.: The first signing will be announced, certainly to be accompanied by words to this effect from the signee: “I left money on the table elsewhere.”

Ndamukong Suh's ability to pressure Tom Brady up the middle was a central reason the Dolphins broke the bank to land the prized free agent. (Winslow Townson for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) Ndamukong Suh's ability to pressure Tom Brady up the middle was a central reason the Dolphins broke the bank to land the prized free agent. (Winslow Townson for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

Stories of the week.

1. Suh will be the highest-paid defensive player ever, handily. His $19 million average (six years, $114 million, per Mortensen) beats J.J. Watt’s $16.7 million average (six years, $100 million). Silly, because Watt’s the best defensive player, hands down, in football. But Watt wasn’t a free agent, and he didn’t have the leverage Suh had as a free man in a year with no other front-seven player even close to his impact. Suh’s a huge factor for Miami, particularly against New England. Tom Brady has won 12 of his last 16 games against the Dolphins. Against strong edge rushers, Brady feels the rush and steps up in the pocket and makes things happen. Against strong up-the-middle rushers, Brady has to roam to either side to keep the play going, and he’d rather not do that. With Cameron Wake on the outside and Suh now rushing from inside, Brady and the Patriots have a new headache in the division.  

Talkback
Got a question for Peter King? Email him at talkback@themmbq.com and it might be included in this week Mailbag.
2. The Packers keep wideout Randall Cobb off the free market with a four-year, $40 million deal. Sensible move by Cobb, knowing he could catch 400 balls over the next four years from Aaron Rodgers, if both stay healthy. Certainly he could have made more in Oakland or Jacksonville, and if that’s what you want to do—max out your income while you’re in your prime—that’s fine. But Cobb has a chance to be part of the best passing game in football, now, for at least the first eight years of his career. Let’s say he could have made $48 million over four in Oakland. If maximizing his money is what he wants, it’s understandable. Personally, I’d rather make $40 million and contend for a title every year than make $2 million a year more and be in a place where you have no idea if you’ll ever win.

3. The Eagles did what you should never do with a decent player on a championship team: vastly overpay him. Cornerback Byron Maxwell agreed to a six-year, $63 million deal (a $10.5 million average). I get it, and free agency is good for the players, so good for Maxwell. But in paying Maxwell—the 45th-rated cornerback in the league last season by Pro Football Focusso much, the team and fans will expect him to be a shutdown corner, which he most decidedly is not. He’s a physical, tall, competitive corner, but not a great one. The Eagles will end up being disappointed, the same way Dallas was disappointed in Brandon Carr. I recall the words of the late Giants GM George Young: No player ever plays better because you pay him more money. Unfortunately, Philadelphia will be an unforgiving market if/when Maxwell gets beat a few times.

4. Buffalo did something it didn’t have to do—reward McCoy. Not sure this will end well, giving McCoy $26 million guaranteed and parceling out $16 million to him in the first year of the contract. I’m sure the Bills had to make McCoy feel vital and needed as he dealt with the shock of being traded from a contender to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs this century. But instantly, I’d make McCoy the odds-on choice to win the 2015 rushing title, because Rex Ryan will want to be a ground-oriented team and will run McCoy 320 times, minimum. But Ryan still wants to upgrade his receiving game. Look for the Bills to work hard to get free-agent Miami tight end Charles Clay to visit Buffalo and get a deal done in the early days of free agency. It’d be cute for Ryan to get involved with Darrelle Revis again, but just look at the Buffalo secondary. It’s good enough. Ryan needs more help elsewhere.  

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Jared Odrick's time in Miami appears to be over, and Jacksonville could be a good landing spot for the versatile defensive lineman. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Jared Odrick's time in Miami appears to be over, and Jacksonville could be a good landing spot for the versatile defensive lineman. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Shopping at Target for the good bargains.

You probably checked out our Greg Bedard’s Top 100 free-agent list. It’s chock-full of good information and rankings NFL people respect. I asked Andy Benoit of The MMQB to give you a preview of the guys who won’t generate the big headlines but will have strong markets in the first week of free agency. Benoit’s report, in his words:

Finding gems in free agency is every bit as important as—and given the financial savings, perhaps more important than—connecting on blockbuster deals. Here are 10 under-the-radar free agents who are still on the upswing and can provide great bang for the buck.

1. CB Davon House, Packers. Expect Packers GM Ted Thompson to re-sign the 25-year-old dime corner instead of six-year starter Tramon Williams, who turns 32 next week. House has flourished on the outside the past two seasons. He works in a man-based scheme (like Green Bay’s) or in a zone-based system.

The Bargains of Free Agency
 
Injuries, coaching changes, stuck behind stars—there are many reasons players will get overlooked when the market opens next week. Greg Bedard finds 12 with upside at a low cost.

FULL STORY
2. C Rodney Hudson, Chiefs. He’s not as low under the radar as other guys on this list, but he should be considered a top-10 free agent. The Chiefs were trying hard to get him re-signed over the weekend. Besides dependability in pass protect, Hudson has excellent movement skills in the running game, with an ability to work off of defensive tackles and up to linebackers when blocking inside, or to create perimeter angles for backs outside. This makes him another player capable of executing both man and zone concepts.

3. DL Jared Odrick, Dolphins. Now that Ndamukong Suh is headed for Miami, Odrick will have a solid market elsewhere. The 27-year-old can play any position in any scheme up front (save for nosetackle) and has a great mixture of lateral agility and strength, making him one of the best run defenders in football.

4. DT Stephen Paea, Bears. Meet the only Bears defender who didn’t decline or disappoint last season. Injuries have been a mild hindrance throughout the 2011 second-rounder’s career, but when healthy, Paea has the raw power to beat blockers in a phone booth and the initial quickness to get by them as a gap-shooter.

5. OLB Jabaal Sheard, Browns. Recall that Sheard was a 4-3 defensive end early in his career, where he was very proficient taking on blocks and working down the line of scrimmage. In recent years he adequately applied these traits as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s not a game-changer, but he can be a stabilizing piece.

6. LB Nate Irving, Broncos. This might be a bit of a stretch given that Irving has only 12 career starts. But eight of those starts came in the first eight weeks last season, where he showed sharp play recognition and quickness as a three-down ’backer. He finished the year on IR with a torn MCL but should be 100 percent entering 2015.

7. S Da’Norris Searcy, Bills. More and more teams are playing a three-corner, three-safety dime package in lieu of nickel. That requires interchangeable safeties who can cover or work down in the box. Searcy fits the bill.

8. LB Malcolm Smith, Seahawks. Teams must be leery of falling into the trap of overpaying for Super Bowl MVPs. The previous four role players to win the award—WR Deion Branch, S Dexter Jackson, KR Desmond Howard and CB Larry Brown—all failed to live up to bigger contracts with new teams shortly after their Disney trips. But at the right price, Smith can bring speed and quickness to a linebacking corps.

9. LB Bruce Carter, Cowboys. Another “speed and quickness” linebacker. Carter, who, granted, has been wildly inconsistent throughout his four-year career, has a great understanding of the passing game, making him worth the risk.

10. OLB Brandon Graham, Eagles. He’s worthy of inclusion on this list if for no other reason than to make the point that he’s a better option than Jason Worilds, regardless of price. Graham plays with low, centralized strength that, combined with surprising quickness, allows him to bend the corner. 

Quotes of the Week

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"I’ll forever cherish being able to play with Reggie. It was an honor and a privilege to share a locker room with him. He taught me more about football than any other player I’ve ever been around."

— Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, in remarks to the Indianapolis Star, after the team cut Reggie Wayne. 

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"It’s a beautiful day for baseball. Let’s play two."

—Former Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, conjuring up the late Ernie Banks at Oakland A’s training camp on Saturday. He was invited to speak to the team by manager Bob Melvin.

The Weight of Free-Agency Expectations
 
Before he went on ’The Biggest Loser’ and dropped 124 pounds, Scott Mitchell was a big winner in the early days of NFL free agency. He retraces his journey from backing up an alltime great in Miami to battling expectations as a high-priced starter in Detroit to facing his greatest challenge in retirement—on national TV.

FULL STORY
III

“My dad passed away from complications of obesity about a year ago, and I watched him over the past six years die just this terrible death. It was awful. It was so hard. And I saw that was where I was headed. I was right there. I was 366 pounds, and I played quarterback in the NFL. You talk about humiliating. And I want to go on national TV and show people what’s become of me? Heavens no, I don’t want to do that. But I thought, I’m going to end up like my dad, and for whatever reason, I was able to find this show. It was an opportunity to get my life back, and I have. I lost all this weight, but I really learned why I gained it."

—Scott Mitchell, the former Detroit quarterback and “The Biggest Loser” contestant, to Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, on losing 124 pounds from his former weight of 366 pounds for the NBC TV show. 

IV

"How much more evidence do we need that the running back position is completely devalued? A healthy LeSean McCoy, one year removed from being the league’s leading rusher, was traded straight-up for a middle linebacker coming off knee surgery. With the degree to which a running back’s job is split up these days, no one really cares about having a top talent at the position in the NFL. Teams would rather spend that money elsewhere. One of these days the general public will come to accept this."

—An astute Greg Bedard of The MMQB, in the wake of the McCoy-for-Kiko Alonso trade, in his Friday column. 

Stat of the Week

So the Raiders must be disappointed this morning. Oakland wanted in on the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes, but with the news that Suh is Miami-bound, Oakland has to look elsewhere to spend. And that brings us to an issue no one but agents and financial planners and the free agents themselves talk about very much. The Miami franchise doesn’t have a state income tax in Florida. The Raiders do—and it’s fairly onerous.

For wage earners making more than $1 million in 2015, the California state tax rate is 13.3 percent. The Raiders play at least nine games in California each season (eight home; one at San Diego). For games out of state, it's a variable rate, depending on that state's laws, anywhere from 0 percent (example: Texas) to 6 percent (example: Georgia). So the average state rate, over 16 games, for a Raiders player could be estimated very roughly at 9-10 percent.

The reverse is true for the Dolphins. Miami plays at least eight games in Florida each season, so its players pay 0 percent state income tax for half the season. If you apply the same rough estimated math above, it nets out to an average of about 4-5 percent over 16 games.

That estimated 4-6 percent difference is a pretty big one. It's a lot to try to understand—except if you're the one being told you'll clear $1.5 million to $2 million more per year, on average, playing in Florida versus playing in California. 

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

Now that Randall Cobb has signed for four years with the Packers, Green Bay GM Ted Thompson has cost certainty with the team’s prime weapons in the passing game for the next four seasons. Thompson will be paying his Big Three—quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wideouts Jordy Nelson and Cobb—an average cap number of $41.75 million through the end of the 2018 season. That’ll average about 27 percent of the Packers’ cap over the next four years.

There’s no book on this stuff. It’s almost as though you’ve got to have a feel for what’s important to your team, and where the biggest money has to be spent. But Rodgers’ deal averages $22 million a year. The combined deals of Nelson and Cobb average $19.75 million. Seems very sensible to me. 

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week

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Iceland seems like a really cool place—no pun intended. And the 320,000 people who live there are pretty cool too—based on those I met on airplanes last week. Let me explain.

In Iceland (Ann King for The MMQB) In Iceland (Ann King for The MMQB)

Many of you who follow this column will recall that nearly a year ago, my brother Ken died in England. My wife and I spent four days last week in England with my sister-in-law and the family, and to save a couple of bucks plus have a fun experience, we traveled on Icelandair, the national airline of the island nation near the Arctic Circle. (Great thing about Icelandair: You can do a connecting flight through Reykjavik to many cities in Europe, stay up to a week, and not pay an additional fee. We didn’t have a chance to spend extra time in Iceland on this trip, but we wanted to see it briefly anyway.) So the trip was New York to London, JFK to Heathrow, through Reykjavik, on Tuesday evening. We had a fairly quick connection, 45 minutes, on the way over, and so we had to hustle off the plane to make the connection. One problem: I’d fallen asleep after finishing the LeSean McCoy-to-Buffalo column top for my Wednesday column with my cell phone in my lap, and so when we landed, my cell phone had disappeared. “You have to find it!" said one of the flight attendants, on her knees, looking for it under the seats. “The cell phone, it is your life!” After a few minutes of looking, two of the flight attendants said we’d better go, because we’d miss our plane, and I quickly figured, painfully, that the 787 phone numbers in the memory could be replaced (I need to save them daily, not semi-monthly), and I’d get going. “If we find it, we’ll get it to you on your connection!’’ one of the women said. All the flight attendants were from Iceland. Quite accommodating and friendly, as it turned out.

Dejected, I walked to the gate for Heathrow. The London flight was leaving in 20 minutes. I hate replacing cell phones. Monstrous pain. We were second in line for the connection when one of the flight attendants rushed up and said, “We found it! So happy we found you!”

Thanks, Icelandair. I’ll be back.

II


Skip this section if you don't care, but for those who wonder what Iceland is like, I was outside for about three minutes on Saturday. Three minutes in March, anywhere, is an absurd period of time to judge any place, but here was my snapshot: The sleet pelted my face sideways, the wind whipped at 30 mph minimum, and the darkened sky look menacing. An hour later, as we taxied to leave, the sun was out, and it was setting. I loved it. A totally different world.

III

I met a businessman from Denver on one of the Iceland legs. He does a lot of business in Iceland. We talked about the Broncos (he is a big Broncos fan, and is not confident in Peyton Manning), and he pulled out his cell phone at one point. He showed me a photo from 3:13 a.m. from a date last June, at the airport in Reykjavik. It was bright, a lovely morning. Or evening. I couldn’t tell. But in June near the Arctic Circle, it’s light for most of the day and night.

Tweets of the Week

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The veteran agent, as the legal tampering period was in full swing Sunday. That $123 million was the 2013 NFL cap number. It’s $20 million more this year.

III

Chappell, who covered the Colts for every one of those seasons for the Indianapolis Star, on Friday regarding the end of the 19-year Harrison/Wayne streak with the franchise. 

IV

 

Out of the mouths of rookies … 

Percy Harvin (16) will be free to sign with any team after the Jets release him this week. (Leon Halip/Getty Images) Percy Harvin (16) will be free to sign with any team after the Jets release him this week. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think I’m not in the Chip Kelly’s-an-idiot camp, the same way I wasn’t in the Jimmy Johnson’s-an-idiot camp 25 years ago.

Draft Projections
 
 
NFL film breakdown maven Andy Benoit and college football expert Andy Staples combine their knowledge to peg which prospects fit best with which teams.
 
AFC East: A QB to Gang Green? A new Wilfork in New England?
 
AFC North: A new target for Flacco? A pass-rusher joins the Steel Curtain?
 
AFC South: New QBs for Houston, Tennessee?
 
2. I think Percy Harvin has fallen to earth with a thud, first with the trade for nothing (Seattle will get the Jets’ sixth-round pick in 2015 for giving New York the 2.5-month rental of Harvin last fall) and now with his imminent release by the Jets. Amazing to me that a man who was in contention for the 2012 MVP midway through that season has fallen so far that two receiver-needy teams tossed him away in the span of six months.

3. I think it’s stunning to me that eight challengers will go to Hawaii next weekend to run against De Smith for the executive director post of the NFL Players Association. Eight foes had to be nominated by at least three player reps, which says everything you need to know about the current level of satisfaction or lack thereof with Smith’s performance. I’ll just say this: I think it’s wrong-headed to say Smith made a bad deal with the 2011 CBA. Maybe it was a bad deal, making a pact for a decade. But the gains in off-field lives for players are always minimized when players discuss the fruits of the new labor deal, and Smith’s group did a tremendous job in giving players more of an off-season and in making practices in training camp and during the season significantly less taxing. I’m not advocating for Smith. I’m simply saying the last deal isn’t a bad one for players—which is a platform each one of the candidates will try to espouse next weekend at the player rep meeting.  

4. I think Vince Wilfork to Houston (with Romeo Crennel and Bill O’Brien, his former Patriot pals) makes the most sense to me.

5. I think we’ve got a good series going at The MMQB—doing a long read about an interesting draft prospect each Wednesday. We’ve done the famous (Marcus Mariota) and the unfamous (Norfolk State’s Lynden Trail) over the past two weeks, and I think you’re really going to like this week’s story. It’s by Jenny Vrentas, who visited Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff in Iowa City and then went to his small western Iowa hometown last week. A sneak preview:

One NFL team’s director of security recently paid a visit to Denison, a town of about 8,000 in western Iowa, where the biggest industry is now beef and pork meat-packing plants. Brandon Scherff, widely considered the best offensive lineman in this year’s draft, grew up here, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Iowa City. He’ll be paid a lot of money as an expected first-round draft pick this spring, so this team was doing a thorough vetting. Dave Wiebers, Scherff’s high school football coach, had gotten about a half-dozen questionnaires in the mail from NFL teams in December and January, but this was his first in-person visit. The director of security sat in his office for about 45 minutes, tape-recording the conversation. What positions did he play? How many sports? What was his disciplinary record? He told Wiebers his next stop was the town’s police station, so he asked him again, “You really have no dirt on this guy?"

Wiebers thought for a second, and came up with something. Scherff used to work on the high school grounds in the summertime, trimming weeds and mowing the lawns, his 6-foot-5, 290-pound frame spilling off the riding mower. “We had just bought a new batting cage," Wiebers told the director of security, “and he got too close to it. Cut a big ol’ hole through our batting cage net."

6. I think it will be fashionable around Philadelphia to believe that a 32-year-old running back is a poor substitute for LeSean McCoy. But Frank Gore, in my opinion, will be a superb signing because:

a. Gore is a north-south physical runner, more of what Chip Kelly likes in a back.

b. Gore, in his past four years, at 28, 29, 30 and 31, missed zero games playing this bruising style.

c. Gore is consistent to a fault. He has rushed for between 1,106 yards and 1,214 yards per season in the past four years. In the past eight years, he’s averaged between 4.1 and 4.9 yards per carry.

d. Gore will lead by example. Kelly’s not much for the holler guys. Gore will be the perfect kind of locker-room guy for Kelly.

What Do Pro Days Prove?
 
Didn’t we just do this at the combine? Sort of, but not really. With big-time pro days starting up this week, Robert Klemko explains what players need to prove. Plus, the five prospects who have the most to gain or lose when they show off on campus.

FULL STORY
7. I think by Thursday, everyone will be very familiar with free-agent cornerback Buster Skrine. He’s the Cleveland corner, a middle-class player at a vital position who won’t cost what a premier player costs. He’s also the type of player—maybe the fifth or sixth cornerback in the pool—who will make more than he should.

8. I think the two players incumbent teams are undervaluing are Bryan Bulaga and Julius Thomas. I am surprised Green Bay GM Ted Thompson apparently believes $7 million a year (or so) is too much for Bulaga. You can be sure Bulaga’s agent, Tom Condon, will end up with a higher offer than $7 million a year for Bulaga, the best tackle in free-agency in a weak candidate pool. I get Thompson’s skepticism, after Bulaga has missed half the Green Bay games over the past three years. But he’ll be 26 on opening day, and I’d think a contract with significant incentives could hit the target for Bulaga. I also understand Broncos boss John Elway being wary of Thomas because he misses time with injuries, but that is Peyton Manning’s security blanket right there. Virgil Green had better be good—and Elway will need to strike gold with a mid-round tight end in the draft.

9. I think the Titans and Jaguars are going to make a lot of noise in the next four days … or they’re going to throw out some very big offers that good players turn down. And don't forget: Neither Tennessee nor Florida has a state income tax, an attractive incentive for players. 

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. The time away allowed me to finish a really good book: “Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite,” by Suki Kim (Crown). I love books about hidden lives and secret societies, and the 2011 view into North Korea, by a journalist embedded as a teacher/missionary, is painful and vivid and wonderfully real. Suki Kim is a hero for risking her life and writing it. I plan to have a further review when I write about books for my annual Fathers Day book review column in early June, but if you have a curiosity about a world you simply cannot know, I’d get it.

b. Welcome to the world, my new great-niece, Eva Walters. May we be around to toast your child a generation from now.

c. The British do love their Indian food. As do I.

d. And so I saw a couple of good movies while on my time away.

e. “Whiplash." Wow. What a job by Miles Teller. Never heard of him before this movie. So many people who figure, “I will survive anything, even the most abusive stuff you could imagine, that is put in my way on the road to success," will love this movie. Because very often, it’s about what you have to overcome to make it in the big time. It can be awful. It can be abusive. It can be hurtful. That is what you see in this movie. And Miles Teller's character, somehow, makes it. It’s a terrific movie.

f. J.K. Simmons reminds me of Bill Parcells. He really does. The music teacher in “Whiplash" is an abusive type. And so many of you out there will recognize someone you have known in Simmons—which is why he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

g. “Birdman.” Wow. Michael Keaton needs to win awards, multiple, for his portrayal of a fading actor trying to remake his life on the stage—while trying to make up for being an absentee dad to his daughter, Emma Stone (who is wonderful as a disaffected stoner). And the way this movie is made—as if it’s a continuum, one film, one continual reel—is so interesting and so captivating. I am not a big fan of cinematography, but the way the camera follows Keaton through the theater to the streets of Broadway, and Edward Norton through the theater, is just brilliant. I was left wishing this film was an hour longer.

iceland-beerh. Beernerdness: If you have a chance to try Einstok Icelandic White Ale, do it. It’s a classic white ale, the kind with coriander and spices you’d pay $3 for a bottle of in America, and you do not have to pay $3 for many beers in the store in America. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

i. Coffeenerdness: The flat white at Costa Coffee in England is darned near close in quality to the flat white at Starbucks. Not quite as intense an espresso experience.

j. Daniel Von Bargen, Kruger on “Seinfeld,” is dead at 64. Best scene with him: at the Costanza home, on Festivus.

k. In Von Bargen’s honor, I believe we all should make a donation to The Human Fund.

The Adieu Haiku

Free Agency’s here!

False hope. Dan Snyder. Haynesworth.

Big winners draft well.


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