The Stars May Align for Blockbuster Trades
With the draft fast approaching and the focus soon turning to prospects who will be future impact players—or so teams hope—it’s worth taking a moment to examine what’s going on with a couple of franchise stars whose status remains uncertain in Minnesota and San Diego. The result could be the status quo for both Adrian Peterson and Philip Rivers, but the upcoming draft presents an opportunity—through a trade for draft compensation—for changes that both players may desire.
The NFL reinstated Adrian Peterson last week, a move I clearly expected after closely following his situation over the past year. The NFL could have imposed additional discipline, but chose wiser in light of a recent court ruling that chastised the indefinite suspension previously given to Peterson (a case that continues both in arbitration and in appeals court). Peterson is now on the Vikings’ active list, which he appears to like only marginally better than being on the commissioner’s exempt list.
Peterson’s negativity toward a team that paid him millions last year for not playing—and a team that wants to pay him the $12.75 million he is due this year—is puzzling to many. But his lingering hard feelings built up over the long months that he was away from the team, and they haven’t subsided.
With sponsors and the public braying, the NFL removed the toxic Peterson from the field and put him on the exempt list, the NFL’s creative version of “leave with pay.” Although Peterson and his agent, Ben Dogra, agreed to this negotiated agreement, Peterson apparently stewed while on the shelf, feeling abandoned by the Vikings. Peterson’s anger then reached a new level in November. Following his plea bargain in Texas, he and Dogra expected swift disposition from the league, but the NFL handed him an indefinite suspension that set into motion a string of arbitration and litigation.
During this long-running dispute with the league—which included Peterson taping NFL vice president Troy Vincent’s promises about reinstatement—the Vikings were conspicuously silent. In Peterson’s mind, the nice things now being said by the Vikings were nowhere to be found when that support was needed most. In contrast, the Ravens’ investment of political capital on Ray Rice’s behalf during his initial disciplinary process was conspicuous. There was no such backing from the Vikings; team officials hid behind the league, and their recent comments come at a safer distance from the controversy.
The Vikings have Peterson under contract; his fate is ultimately up to them. However, I have experienced living with unhappy players. The key person to smooth the tension is usually the agent, but in this case it has gone beyond professional differences between Dogra and the Vikings’ management. It has become personal, and Dogra is doing everything he can to remove Peterson from the team.
These situations hang over a team like a dark cloud. At some point, I think the Vikings will look for an exit strategy. It is likely they already have. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating here: I don’t think Peterson will ever play another down for the Vikings.
Where, then, will he end up?
There are plenty of rumored suitors, including the Cardinals and Raiders, but the actions of the Cowboys lately seem almost too obvious to connect the dots. The team 1) created $12.8 million of cap room with the latest Tony Romo contract restructure, and Peterson would cost $12.75 million; 2) watched DeMarco Murray sign with their biggest rival while barely lifting a finger; and 3) discussed the potential of Peterson as a Cowboy on their website (there was a competing viewpoint, but approval had to come from above to allow this video). Adding the report of Peterson talking to Jerry Jones on the phone last year about his interest in playing for the team, the link seems apparent.
If the Cowboys do acquire Peterson, they will have two of the three players involved in high profile domestic violence cases in 2014. As I wrote in this space on the acquisition of Greg Hardy, the Cowboys (just like some other teams) will tolerate questionable past behavior if the talent warrants.
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The increasing chatter about the Chargers possibly trading Philip Rivers to the Titans in exchange for the right to draft Marcus Mariota appears a “win-win,” although there are some hurdles to overcome.
The genesis of the story stems from Rivers, who is in the last year of his contract, being unwilling to commit to an extension due to concerns about the Chargers relocating to Los Angeles in 2016. As with the Vikings and Peterson, the Chargers could simply do nothing and use a franchise tag to retain his 2016 rights. They should also have more clarity on the relocation issue as the year progresses, and could commence contract negotiations with Rivers if signs point to the team staying in San Diego.
Alternatively, the Chargers may have a grooved path to an enticing long-term option at a fraction of Rivers’ cost. The fact that the team sent a contingent to visit Marcus Mariota was telling; both the Chargers and Mariota’s camp are not going to waste each other’s time so close to the draft with a two-day visit. This has legs, but with some caveats.
First of all, Mariota would have to be available with the second pick in the draft. While most feel the Buccaneers will select Jameis Winston first overall, it would not surprise me—and I have no inside information—if Tampa selects Mariota.
The other major issue is Rivers’ expiring contract. The Titans would be foolish to trade the precious currency of the second overall pick (and perhaps even more) for a potential 16-game rental. The contract negotiation must happen on a parallel track with the trade negotiation, and with perhaps not knowing if Mariota is available until the Titans are on the clock. I would expect negotiations between the Titans and Rivers’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, who is also the agent for Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster, are “hypothetically” underway as we speak.
As to those negotiations, the leverage of the trade may push the numbers past the established market for elite quarterbacks: roughly $20-21 million per year, with $58-60 million guaranteed. While the Titans could argue for a lower rate, the fact that all of the relevant data points were negotiated more than two years ago (and the recent uptick of the cap) gives Sexton leverage.
As for the Chargers, the financial windfall of this trade cannot be overlooked. Rivers will make approximately $20 million per year going forward; Mariota will make approximately $20 million over four years. Further, the Chargers could join the Colts and Packers as teams (albeit through different circumstances) that seamlessly moved from one top echelon quarterback to another.
With Rivers and Peterson, we have a rarity in the NFL: two potential blockbuster trades that may make sense for all four teams. Stay tuned.
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Five Things I Think I Think About the Eagles signing Tim Tebow
1) It is still puzzling that no other team would sign Tebow to compete for a third-string position. At the very least, Tebow brings a positive and supportive attitude to the offseason workout program and can also show some different looks in training camp. As to whether he would make the Eagles, or any team, that is a much more difficult question to answer.
2) Signing Tebow is a negative endorsement of third-stringer Matt Barkley, whom the Eagles have openly shopped without success. It appears Barkley will eventually be offered up for a ham sandwich.
3) Speaking of Barkley, there must be some interesting conversations going on between Kelly and Barkley’s agent, David Dunn, who also happens to be Kelly’s agent (and Mark Sanchez’s).
4) The Eagles now have three former first-round quarterbacks—Sam Bradford, Sanchez and Tebow—and all were drafted when the prior CBA was in place with its disproportionately oversized rookie contracts. The good news for the Eagles is that other teams—the Rams, Jets and Broncos—paid those big bonuses.
5) The Tebow signing has once again brought out the Chip Kelly critics. I, for one, am a fan of his, and I’ll just say this: There is some room for questioning his recent moves, but many critics fall in the But that’s not the way it’s always been done! crowd. As I say all the time, Kelly is a refreshing change agent in a profession sorely in need of one.
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