On Trades, Retirement and the Winston-Goodell Chat
Well, that was an interesting first few hours of a league year. So interesting, in fact, that I’ve decided to invent a column because of it, for this week only: Wednesday Morning Quarterback.
And I’m not going to lead the column with the Jimmy Graham trade, or the Sam Bradford trade (or was it the Nick Foles trade?), or the Haloti Ngata trade, or the aftermath of the LeSean McCoy trade, also announced Tuesday. Though, together, they have to constitute the most remarkable day of trades in NFL history. And we haven’t even mentioned the surprise retirements or the ratcheted-up border war between the Jets and Patriots, with the latest shot fired late Tuesday night. It goes something like this: Parcells/Belichick/Curtis Martin/Revis/re-Revis.
“Pretty crazy day,” said Seattle GM John Schneider early Wednesday morning. “It was a day of ‘Really? Wow.’ ”
But in the greatest example in recent journalism history of “burying the lead," I’m going to start this morning with the surprise meeting in New York City last week between commissioner Roger Goodell and a player whose name he’ll be announcing very early in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
* * *
Last Thursday, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the odds-on favorite to be the number one pick in the draft on April 30, spent five to six hours inside the NFL offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He wanted Goodell to hear the Jameis Winston story from Jameis Winston and not from anyone else. He didn’t spend all the time with Goodell. He also met with NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, and got a primer from league officials in several meetings about the resources he could use on and off the field once he’s drafted.
Winston was not summoned to see Goodell because of his checkered background off the field. In fact, it was Winston who initiated the meeting back in January.
The backstory: One of Winston’s agents, Greg Genske, told me Tuesday that once Winston declared for the draft he wanted to meet with Goodell, both to tell his own story and to get the lay of the land about his future in the league. Sometime in February, Goodell agreed to meet Winston. That meeting occurred last week. As Genske said, it was more of an informational/educational meeting than anything else—though Winston did get his chance to tell his story to Goodell.
"He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL," one league executive who participated in one of the series of meetings said Tuesday night.
Winston, of course, had several off-field issues at Florida State, including being accused but not charged with sexual assault; shoplifting; and yelling out an obscenity in the student union, which cost him a one-game suspension. But the league people I spoke with Tuesday made it clear that Winston made a smart decision in pushing to meet Goodell and establishing a relationship with him.
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Headlines, and interpretations, of the first day of the 2015 league year—and I stress that I could lead this with any of about six stunners of the day—while wondering whether the NFL, which opens the 2015 season six months from last night, will have the stones to make Revis-at-Belichick the Thursday night opener:
The Rams-Eagles trade will take a long time to figure out. The deal no one saw coming was Sam Bradford and a fifth-round pick in 2015 for Nick Foles, a fourth-round pick in 2015 and a second-round pick in 2016. The Rams had multiple trade options for Bradford, who has had two straight seasons ended with ACL tears to his left knee, but by Monday they were focused on Philadelphia because the Eagles had something that no other involved team would offer—a potential starting quarterback in Foles.
“Chip came hard after Bradford," an NFL insider said. "That’s why this happened.”
What I was told reliably Tuesday night: Philadelphia coach/power-czar Chip Kelly loves Bradford, feels Bradford’s the right guy to run his fast-paced offense, and this from an insider on the trade of the day: “Chip came hard after Bradford. That’s why this happened.” I know many of you think this is some sort of precursor to Kelly stockpiling weaponry to chase Marcus Mariota in the first round of the draft, but I don’t think so. There aren’t a lot of GMs in the league who would think Bradford is clearly better than Foles. So to trade up for Mariota, from where the Eagles sit at 20, would take first-round picks this year and next year, the second-round pick this year, Bradford, and probably more. That assumes the Titans or Jets actually want the risky Bradford and would sacrifice dealing down to number 20 this year in the process. I don’t see it. It’s far more likely that, as my source says, Kelly is smitten with Bradford, who ran a fast-paced offense at Oklahoma his final season even though he is more suited to a classic NFL scheme.
Two other points to be made here: I can tell you with certainty that this was not a trade made to punish Bradford for not re-doing his contract. Bradford was owed $13 million this year, and the Rams certainly wanted him to take a major pay cut to stay, after he gave them precious little in the past two seasons. I also can tell you that, even if Bradford had agreed to slash his salary before the weekend, the Rams still would have made this trade. They like this trade. They like Foles’ potential, they like the fact that they picked up a 2016 second-rounder, and through no fault of his own they’d lost faith in Bradford. No matter what they said, they just had no faith that Bradford could stay upright for 16 games.
As for Kelly, he now is under heavy, heavy pressure. No one truly buys that Bradford is a franchise quarterback. He may be, but he certainly isn’t now. He’s missed 39 of 80 possible NFL starts due to injury, he’s a 58.6 percent passer, and his passer rating is a feeble 79.3. He’s been hurt in fluky ways, but life for an NFL player starts with showing up, and Bradford hasn’t been good at that. If he either doesn’t play well or goes down by Columbus Day with another injury, it’s going to be very tough for Kelly to take the broadsides that will come his way in a tough NFL city.
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The retirees made news all day. And night.
Our Greg Bedard had 27-year-old Pittsburgh outside linebacker Jason Worilds his 11th-rated free agent this year, and who could argue? Worilds, a former second-round pick by Pittsburgh, was in Pro Football Focus’ top 10 in sacks/pressures/quarterbacks hits among 3-4 outside linebackers this year, and Tennessee wanted him badly, with new defensive maestro Dick LeBeau. “After much thought and consideration, I have chosen to step away from football," Worilds said through his agent, Jason Bernstein, early this morning. It is apparently to pursue a more spiritual career. All the power to Worilds for turning down $8 million a year, easy, to play football for three or four more years … because he could have faked the passion and taken the money, and walked away in a few years a rich man.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker also retired, stunningly, without warning. He said he didn’t have the passion to play football anymore. And the best player of the day to call it quits, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, 30, leaves the game because of ceaseless pain in his feet.
Willis accomplished the most as a player, and though he missed 12 games due to injury in the past two seasons, he was a rock-solid guy for most of seven years as the middle of the San Francisco defense. He was the keystone to the Niners when Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011, and though he and Harbaugh were never very close, they were like-minded in their relentless drive to be great.
Willis is going to have an interesting case for Canton when he comes up for eligibility in 2020. At first blush, his candidacy reminds me of center Dwight Stephenson, who played for Miami from 1980 to 1987 before injuries derailed his career, and who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. Each played eight years. Stephenson played 114 games, Willis 112. Stephenson made first-team All-Pro four times, Willis five. (There are two inside/middle linebackers on the All-Pro team, and one center.) It’s an interesting comparison, because I believe for much of Willis’s career, he and Ray Lewis were the two best inside linebackers in the game. So that’s going to be a good discussion down the line—particular with a strong short-career candidate like Terrell Davis sitting out there on the fringe of Canton.
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It was headed this way all along, Darrelle Revis, back to the New York Jets for ridiculous money for a cornerback—five years, $70 million, with $39 million guaranteed—and that last part is what made the Patriots blanch. I wouldn’t have if I were them; I’d have paid it. Think of it this way: The chances that Revis, 30, would suffer a career-ending injury in the first two years of the deal are what? Eight percent? Ten percent? The guarantees are in the first three years of the deal, so it’s highly likely you’d be paying him $14 million to $16 million a year anyway. Guaranteed or not, he’d earn it—most likely. I’d just pay the man, and then Bill Belichick would worry about one cornerback slot for the next three to five years. You wouldn’t have to worry about Revis.
But I’m not a dealmaker in New England. I thought Mike Reiss put it very well on ESPNBoston late Tuesday night:
“Just as Belichick often says he makes decisions in the best interests of the football team, Revis is doing the same for himself. He has earned that right and is a darn smart businessman in that respect; Robert Kraft-like, if you will … Revis is essentially the player's version of the Patriots—intelligent, ruthless and often cut-throat at the negotiating table. We often praise that approach when it works in favor of the team. It isn't often that the team has it turned on itself, which is what Revis did to the Patriots.”
Perfect. Don’t be mad at Revis for doing the common-sense thing and making what a player can make. The Jets had a desperate need to stay relevant. The Patriots couldn’t, or wouldn’t, continue to make Revis the richest, and market-smartest, cornerback in history. And that led, in the end, to a very logical decision—Revis going for the money, which he’s done almost always in his career.
I thought a couple of things after this happened:
1. Rex Ryan must be stark raving mad, figuring that if Woody Johnson had been so desperate to keep Revis either before the 2013 draft or after the 2013 season, he (Ryan) would still be the coach of the Jets right now. That might not be true, because Revis might not have helped the Jets win enough games to save Ryan’s job. But last year especially, GM John Idzik denuded the New York cornerback depth chart when the Jets could have made a deal for Revis. And we’ll never know how much difference good cornerbacks could have made for the Jets in 2014.
“There are a million things that can be said," Revis told Bedard. “The only thing I look at is, you get paid for what you do on the field. Everybody. It’s the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, and it goes down the line. That’s all I ask for. At the end of the day it’s negotiations. You go back and forth, we come to a common ground, and everybody’s happy. That’s how you look at it. I just focus on what I need to do and not worry about it … You get paid for how you perform, and that’s how you look at it. And it’s leverage. You have to use your leverage when you have it because that window is going to close sooner or later.”
* * *
And the rest (incredible that the Graham trade simply leads “the rest”).
• The Jimmy Graham deal. Over the weekend, this simple conversation between Seattle GM John Schneider and New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis took place:
Schneider: “Anything off limits?”
Loomis had brought up the names of a couple of Saints receivers, but Schneider thought it was fair game—with the severely cap-strapped and offensive-line-needy Loomis—to raise the name of tight end Jimmy Graham, the touchdown and red zone machine. To make the deal, Schneider, who learned bold trading from Ron Wolf, was willing to part with a first-round pick this year. The decision to do so didn’t come easy, though. It took Schneider until Tuesday morning to come to the conclusion that it was worth it. But because he has only 16 first-round grades on this year’s class and the Seahawks pick 31st, he thought Graham plus a four for center Max Unger and what was to Schneider essentially a “two” was fair. Moves like this come when you’re not afraid to create one hole in your team (the Seahawks love Unger) to fill a crater (no Seahawks tight end caught more than 22 passes last season; Graham has averaged 89 catches over the last four years), and when you know you’ve got the draft to help fill that hole.
• The Haloti Ngata deal. This one was painful, but simple. The Lions needed to replace Ndamukong Suh. The Ravens couldn’t get a deal done with nose man Ngata, who was primed to leave in free agency after the 2015 season. The Lions were willing to give two mid-round picks, and no other team was interested in making a reasonable trade, so Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome pulled the trigger. As we learned two years ago with Anquan Boldin, Newsome doesn’t get intimidated by contract disputes; he simply cuts the cord. With Timmy Jernigan playing well down the stretch for Baltimore during Ngata’s ill-timed four-game suspension, the Ravens thought they could afford to lose Ngata.
• The running back market. Adrian Peterson hasn’t changed his mind about wanting out of Minnesota, I’m told. And if a certain domino falls—Jacksonville or Oakland overpaying DeMarco Murray and pulling him out of Dallas—then Jerry Jones might be willing to deal a good pick for Peterson … Baltimore really wants Justin Forsett back but won’t overpay … The LeSean McCoy contract ($16 million in year one in Buffalo) is having a chilling effect on Dallas’s effort to keep Murray.
Quotes of the Day
“If I had anything left in these feet … You all have seen me have surgery, break my hand on a Sunday, have surgery on a Monday and play on a Thursday with a cast on. Not one time, but I’ve done it numerous times, and you all have seen it. But it’s something about these feet … I no longer have that in these feet to go out there and to give you guys that kind of ‘wow.’ I came in with it, and I feel like I’ve done my best to go out with it. And I know for me that I don’t have too much more left in these toes, and honestly I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around and they’ve got no hips or they can’t play with their kids or they can’t play a pickup basketball game or they can barely walk or their fingers are all like this and people see that and feel sorry then, but nobody knows it’s because you played those few extra years. And for me, I just feel like my life, there’s more to football than this."
—San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, a wise man, who retired at 30 on Tuesday rather than press his aching feet into a year or two more of lucrative but injury-addled football.
"Man, one day I’m going to be special. All of those lights are going to be shining on me like that. I’m going to be special."
—Willis, remembering what he thought as a youth when he watched the Dallas Cowboys on TV in his tiny southern town.
Special is exactly what Willis was.
“Football has always played a pivotal role in my life, and I love the game, but I no longer have the burning desire necessary to play the game for a living; to continue to do so would be unfair to the next organization with whom I would eventually sign. I realize this decision is surprising to many, but I know in my heart that it is the right decision."
—Jake Locker, to The Tennesseean, on his stunning decision to retire at 26, four years after being selected eighth overll in the 2011 draft.
“It’s ironic that we’re sitting here in free agency, the opening of free agency, because it was four years ago when I became the GM of the 49ers, and we were going through the free-agent period. Pat came up to me and he said, very respectful, he said, ‘Hey Trent, do you realize that free agency has started?’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘Yes.’ And he looks at me again very sincere and he says, ‘Do you realize we were 6-10 last year?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he looks at me one more time and he goes, ‘Don’t you think we should be doing something?’ I looked at Pat and I said, ‘Pat, how about you play middle linebacker and you let me do the rest?’ And we laughed, and we still laugh about that moment.”
—Niners general manager Trent Baalke, on his early interaction with Patrick Willis.
“That isn’t nothing but the good Lord. I’m going into my eighth season and I haven’t missed a game on any level, little league, high school, college, professional. I guess you could call me durable.”
—New Indianapolis defensive lineman Kendall Langford, who has played in all 112 games he’s been eligible to play in his NFL career.
Factoids of the Day That May Interest Only Me
A shame Seattle (and Jimmy Graham) doesn’t play New Orleans this year, and too bad we won’t see Philadelphia (and Sam Bradford) play St. Louis (and Nick Foles). But on the NFL schedule in 2015:
- Buffalo (with LeSean McCoy) at Philadelphia.
- The New York Jets (with Darrelle Revis) hosting New England and at New England.
- The New York Giants (with Shane Vereen) hosting New England.
- Arizona (with Mike Iupati) hosting San Francisco (with Darnell Dockett), and at San Francisco.
- Chicago (with John Fox) hosting Denver.
The NFL schedule dates typically are released in April. (Here's a behind-the-scenes story of how it comes together.)
Stats of the Day
Think the money being thrown around Tuesday was preposterous? Well, it was. But let’s consider one thing: The salary cap has gone up 16.5 percent over the past two years (from $123 million in 2013 to $143.3 million this year). So let’s look at two of the best interior offensive linemen to sign in those two years:
|Year||Player||Signing team||Terms||Average per year|
|2013||G Andy Levitre||Tennessee||6 years, $46.8M||$7.8M|
|2015||C Rodney Hudson||Oakland||5 years, $44.5M||$8.9M|
Salary-cap increase from 2013 to 2015: 16.5 percent.
Per-year increase from Levitre to Hudson deal: 12.8 percent.
Darrelle Revis has earned, and is scheduled to earn, $76 million between 2013 and 2017.
Tom Brady has earned, and is scheduled to earn, $73.6 million between 2013 and 2017.
We can all faint now: Over a five-year period, a cornerback will earn more (providing Bob Kraft doesn’t re-do Brady’s contract again, which is possible) than one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
Tweets of the Day
As a baseball writer and NFL fan, it amazes and angers me how these arrogant GMs/coaches don't publicly explain major moves. What a joke.
— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) March 11, 2015
The esteemed New York Times baseball writer, early this morning, after the spate of gigantic moves in the NFL went down—and very few decision-makers were made available to explain them.
Revis has maximized his earning potential like no other player in the history of football. It's crazy his uncle (Sean Gilbert) hates the CBA
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) March 11, 2015
Former and new Jet Darrelle Revis has earned $85 million in eight NFL seasons—and will pocket guaranteed money of more than $40 million (according to Adam Schefter) in his new contract with New York. Former NFL defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, Revis’s uncle, is running for executive director of the NFL Players Association this weekend in Hawaii, and Gilbert has been an outspoken critic of the current collective bargaining agreement, which has helped facilitate Revis’s riches.
#LAAngels still hold rights to just-retired QB Jake locker but don't plan to pursue him.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) March 11, 2015
Locker, a highly touted pitcher and centerfielder in high school, was selected in the 10th round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Angels, while he was quarterback at the University of Washington.
.@STLouisRams I'm excited for this new chapter and looking forward to what's ahead in St. Louis. Go Rams!
— Nick Foles (@NFoles_9) March 11, 2015
Rams won the Bradford- Foles trade big time
— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) March 11, 2015
Whether agree/disagree w/Chip Kelly moves, since Day One he's been a refreshing change agent in a profession in need of one...
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) March 11, 2015
* * *
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the most underrated signing Tuesday was Atlanta’s deal with linebacker Justin Durant, a rangy, attacking, highly instinctive sideline-to-sideline player … when healthy. In October last year, I remember Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli singing Durant’s praises; he said he thought that if Durant continued on the path he was headed he’d be a defensive player of the year candidate. But Durant missed the final 10 games last year with a torn right biceps, after missing six with Dallas in 2013 because of a nagging hamstring, and so his market value, at 29, was tarnished. It’s a big “if” whether he stays healthy, of course, but if so, new coach Dan Quinn’s got himself a terrific defensive leader and player.
2. I think Colin Kaepernick will be San Francisco’s quarterback this year. The Niners simply cannot take any more mayhem.
3. I think the next move for Indianapolis should be swapping out Reggie Wayne/Hakeem Nicks for Andre Johnson. A supremely motivated Andre Johnson. The way Johnson is feeling about being slighted by the Texans, I think he’d play like the 25-year-old version of himself, at least for one year in Indianapolis.
4. I think the real story of the day is my second factoid, the incredible ATM football player named Darrelle Revis. And the fact Revis can be paid $950,000 a game as a cornerback over a five-year period (you can look it up; it’s true) is a tribute not just to his greatness but to the negotiating skills of his two agents—Neil Schwartz and Jon Feinsod. They have jobs for life repping players.
5. I think Bryan Bulaga signing with Green Bay will make Aaron Rodgers very, very happy. Rodgers went to management advocating for Bulaga’s return—though the tackle had missed half of the past three seasons due to injury. And the Packers getting Bulaga for less than $7 million a year is a good deal for them.
6. I think one of the interesting things about the Patriots pursuing Cleveland front-seven ace Jabaal Sheard is that there are those inside the Patriots who were sure Bill Belichick was going to pull the trigger and pick Sheard early in the second round of the 2011 draft. Nope. Belichick shocked many on the inside by taking injury-prone Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who turned out to be a disastrous pick. The scouts thought the pick would be Sheard or linebacker Brooks Reed—and ironically, both were looking for new homes, out of Cleveland and Houston, respectively, as free agency dawned Tuesday.
7. I think the Niners overpaid Torrey Smith, even with 2015 inflation taken into account. He’s a good speed receiver. He’s not a great receiver. And paying him $8 million to $9 million, average, even with cap inflation, is not a deal he can live up to.
8. I think the league is concerned, but not fuming, over the leaked deals before the start of free agency. I don’t think you’ll see much more than an angry finger-wag at GMs over it at the league meetings in two weeks.
9. I think there’s going to be pressure on the league to look into Jets owner Woody Johnson’s comments—harmless or inviting, depending which side of the argument you come down on—back in January regarding how much he wanted Darrelle Revis. Goodell will be pressured to consider taking a draft choice away from the Jets this year so that more teams don’t say as a matter of course how much they like and want Player X.
10. I think I’ll be processing Jake Locker retiring after four years for a long time.
The Adieu Haiku
NEW YORK—This just in:
Revis Island is open.
New England’s ticked off.
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