On NFL Cuts, Tags and a ’Bag
That was quite the newsy Tuesday. Here are several of my thoughts on the NFL comings and goings as we head into the combine and free agency:
• Kirk Cousins stays put … probably. Washington designated Cousins as an exclusive-rights franchise player, meaning no other teams can negotiate with him and—likely but not certainly—he’ll stay in the nation’s capital for at least one more season. Was there even any other outcome possible? Except, perhaps, the team designating Cousins as a non-exclusive franchise quarterback, which would have allowed a team to sign him to a ridiculous deal giving Washington two first-round picks in return? What the exclusive designation shows is how worried Washington was that a QB-desperate team (particularly San Francisco, with Cousins’ early-career mentor Kyle Shanahan the new head coach) could steal Cousins, and leave Washington to pick from among a mediocre crop of passers in the draft this year.
I can tell you two things: Washington is not thrilled to commit Aaron Rodgers money to Cousins, and I don’t think it’s certain as we sit here right now that Cousins will stay in burgundy. This is why: I’ve sensed (in what Washington execs have said, and what they have not said) that the franchise thinks Cousins is a good to very good quarterback. So when it comes time in a climbing-cap era to pay Cousins a ridiculous contract in 2018 (maybe $28 million a year, with $60 million guaranteed), is GM Scot McCloughan going to bite his tongue and get the deal done? Or would he rather go with Colt McCoy and two first-round picks from some team we all assume is San Francisco?
• Adrian Peterson is free to sign elsewhere. This is a fairly momentous decision, the Vikings allowing Peterson to seek employment elsewhere. The team always said it wanted Peterson to be its cornerstone at least through the region’s Super Bowl-hosting season, 2017. Cutting him loose now indicates that GM Rick Spielman thinks the risk of Peterson playing a complete and impactful season at age 32 is just too high. So the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher will get to choose a new team. Or, if no new team wants to give him a starting job, Peterson could (unlikely, but could) return to Minnesota for one last hurrah. Man, it ended so fast, and with ignominy, for one of the great players we’ve ever seen.
Most likely landing spots? I hear the Giants are interested, and though I have not heard the same about the Packers, if the money’s realistic, Green Bay makes so much sense.
• The Jets are in full rebuilding mode. Previously whacked: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Mangold. Whacked on Tuesday night: the best player in recent franchise history, Darrelle Revis. He’s played eight of his 10 NFL seasons with the Jets, including some superb seasons when he was consistently a top-three NFL cornerback. But the Jets got sucked into the Revis ATM Vortex two years ago.
With Revis coming off most glorious season of his career—when he helped the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl victory—Woody Johnson’s Jets signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2015. Cruel. The Jets were there three times to make Revis one of the richest players of his day at any position. He was quarterback rich. And what do the Jets get for it? Revis enjoying his biggest moment in the NFL by winning a Super Bowl for the franchise every Jets fan hates with a passion. So Jets. How do you think Sal from Ronkokoma felt Tuesday night to read this quote from owner Woody Johnson about the guy who played very well as a Jet but won a Super Bowl for the archrivals and, as his last memory in New York, played horribly in 2016 and left the Jets with a cap burden? “Darrelle Revis is one of the greatest players ever to wear to a Jets uniform. His home will always be with the Jets,” Johnson said. Maybe the fans in section 322 at MetLife Stadium will be able to cheer Revis when he comes back to have No. 24 retired in 2020. But not right now.
As far as Revis’s future? Not bleak. But not bright either. He’ll play this season at 32, and he may have to transition to free safety. As you read in this space last week, I quoted a veteran personnel man on a team with a major cornerback need as saying: “People are going to look at his tape from last year. He looked heavy-legged and not the same competitive Revis for much of the year.”
• Dont’a Hightower could be lost by New England. A year ago you could have argued that the three most important players on the New England defense were linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and pass-rusher Chandler Jones. (Devin McCourty would have been in the discussion too, and to a lesser degree Malcolm Butler.) But you get the point. Jones got traded to Arizona before the draft, Collins got traded to Cleveland during the season, and now Hightower will not be franchised by New England. It’s thought New England certainly would like to keep Hightower, but the Patriots have a price in mind, and if he exceeds it on the open market, the Pats will let him go.
You know what’s crazy about this? The Patriots could lose their three best defensive players in 11 months, and they’ll still be the odds-on favorite to win the AFC for the bazillionth time. Because Bill Belichick, should Hightower strike gold elsewhere, will find a linebacker plugger, a Lawrence Timmons type, and resuscitate him and give him a role with the rest of the inhabitants of the land of defensive misfit toys (Kyle Van Noy, Barkevious Mingo, Shea McClellin). Jones and Collins and Hightower will cash their ridiculously large checks, and New England will win the AFC East for the 15th time in 17 years.
• The Chiefs divorce one of the most prolific runners in NFL history. Battered by injuries for the past two years, Jamaal Charles’ future is uncertain. But they can never take this away from Charles:
|Historic RB||Career Yards||Yards Per Carry|
• The Chiefs marry one of the great defensive backs in the NFL. Safety Eric Berry gets six years and $78 million, according to Adam Schefter, as the safety position continues to rise in stature in today’s NFL. Berry deserves it; his game against Atlanta, his hometown team, was the best single game by a defensive back in the NFL this year (interception returned for a touchdown and another pick returned for a two-point defensive conversion to win a huge game). Good for him, and for a position becoming increasingly important. Watch the draft this year.
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Stat of the Day
The 2017 salary cap has been set at $167 million per team. Assuming that Tom Brady will not have his contract addressed before the start of the season (and he may) …
Kirk Cousins accounts for 14.93 percent of the Washington cap. Tom Brady accounts for 8.38 percent of New England’s cap.
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Tweet of the Day
Tag! I'm it!— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) February 28, 2017
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Quote of the Day
“I was affected overwhelmingly in a positive way. The honesty, how he writes, what he writes about. Some of my favorite quotes here: ‘How essential direct experience is to understanding something.’ ‘Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.’ It’s not about being perfect, it’s about searching and working for that perfection. The virtue. (It’s a) beautiful story and profoundly effective. I will in perpetuity recommend this book to everybody.”
—Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who in his spare time runs “The Andrew Luck Book Club,” on his February selection for the group, “When Breath Becomes Air,” a memoir by the late neurosurgeon (and fellow Stanford product) Paul Kalanithi.
Here is the cool thing: Luck loved this book so much that he recorded a podcast with the widow (Lucy Kalanithi) and brother (Jeevan Kalanithi) and put the podcast on the website of the book club. Listen to the podcast here, and buy the book here.
“I was very nervous,” Luck said about doing the podcast. “It was my first time being on this end of the podcast.”
I learned this about Luck listening to the podcast: He kind of likes Stanford.
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Now for your email...
BEING YOUNG IS NOT AN EXCUSE
I am frustrated. Continuously in sports journalism you will read of the mistakes, transgressions and socially unacceptable behavior made by an individual athlete who is simply “very young and in the spotlight,” or as you say about Winston, “... a very young, very green face of a franchise.” He's 23 years old. It seems to me that the idea of being young is an excuse. I am a teacher with Teach For America, and many of the comments, slurs and overall ignorant comments my students spit and spew can be excused by the the fact that they are indeed “young,” 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old. But at 22 years old I was a husband, graduated from Wake Forest a semester early with a B.A. and two minors, played football on a scholarship, developed a new coffee shop and was a father to a beautiful newborn. To excuse Winston's actions because he is merely 23 years old is an insult to all “young people” who have succeeded far beyond Winston's success in the face of adversity far greater than his own. This coddling sets a dangerous precedent.
—A 23 year old
Good points. Your life is different from Winston’s, and your service is to be applauded. Thank you. As I said in my comments about him, his chauvinistic words were a horrible message and he should be criticized. If you lived the life he lived growing up—an athletically privileged life in the Deep South, and you caught all kinds of breaks while in college as a superstar athlete—do you think you would be doing what you’re doing now? Do you think you’d be as educated and selfless as you are now? I wrote this only to say this is a kid who has been thrust into the face-of-a-franchise position, and he’s not quite ready to do it perfectly. Is this a reason to condemn him? Not in my eyes.
A GOOD COACH
Phil Jackson without Kobe in LA? Phil Jackson without Michael Jordan in Chicago? Bill Belichick without Brady in New England? Very good, not the greatest.
Okay, Brad. Paul Brown without Otto Graham and Jim Brown? Chuck Noll without nine Hall of Famers? Bill Walsh without Joe Montana and Jerry Rice? Very good, not the greatest. Tell me who are the great coaches who did it without outstanding players?
BELICHICK’S BEST INTEREST
Totally disagree with you on the Pats keeping Garoppolo. First they have another QB in the system they like in Jacoby Brissett. When Bill Parcells compares a young player to Curtis Martin, Willie McGinest and Troy Brown, that says something in Foxboro. Brissett will be more experienced next year than Garoppolo was when he was the primary backup as a rookie. More important, you cash in on the asset. What do the Pats get by holding him another year other than an experienced backup? You've previously written that you don't think he’s worth a first-round pick this year. What would make him worth more next year? Best case is he walks and the Patriots get a third-round compensatory pick next year. Let him walk to a team like the Jets in free agency? Not the way Belichick operates!
—Don D., Mansfield, Mass.
I don’t believe I’ve said Garoppolo is not worth a first-round pick this year. I think the Patriots would be foolish to trade him for less than a first-round pick, or a first-round pick plus something.
You could be right. Smart team managers get the most they can for the players they know will be expendable, as Belichick did with Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Belichick could get a great offer and do this. I believe he won’t pull the trigger, because he highly values Garoppolo.
Tom Brady turns 40 this year. Though he’s played every game he’d been eligible to play for the past eight seasons, I’d like the best possible insurance for a 40-year-old quarterback. This is a team, obviously, in position to make a strong run to win another Super Bowl. I’d rather rely on a guy I’ve seen play at a high level than one I hope can.
On the most important drive of the 2016 season, the Patriots used one player picked higher than the third round (Nate Solder) out of the 11 who either comprised the offensive line or who touched the ball. Belichick’s not a slave to high picks.
But we’ll see. I’ve been wrong before, quite often.
ON THE OVERHYPED COMBINE WORKOUT
Love the column, and totally agree with you about how the combine has become a beast out of control. But when teams fall in love with a 40 time or a bench press (I’m an Eagles fan; Mike Mamula still resonates), isn't it just another way of separating the elite organizations from the rest of the pack? Rarely do the perennial contenders (New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle) reach for a player based on an overhyped/televised workout. Bash the combine for focusing on non-football intangibles, but teams like the Jets will continue to evaluate talent poorly.
—Bob, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
I’m not sure how many people today get blown away by a great combine workout. Most teams have learned the Stephen Hill lesson, the combine workout warrior who didn’t have a great college career and got picked too high and was a disappointing pro. But it’s always worth a reminder this time of year.
JOE MIXON AND RAY RICE
I have to admit that I’m not well-versed on the details of either situation, but in general you have two men who knocked a lady unconscious. One (Ray Rice) has essentially been blackballed from the NFL, while the other (Joe Mixon) has as his punishment falling draft stock, and honestly, we won't know about the latter until the draft plays out. Other than age, how does this make any sense? And what I mean is that why hasn't Ray Rice been given a second chance? It seems like for every other offense, there are second (and third and so on) chances given in the NFL.
—Tim O., Douglassville, Pa.
Good question, Tim. I’ve always felt Ray Rice should have gotten another chance, and I do believe if he hadn’t been in decline at the time of the incident, he would have gotten it. But his yards-per-carry declined from 4.4 to 3.1 in the season preceding his physical altercation with his then-fiancée, and that made it justifiable for teams to shut the door on him.
VINCE YOUNG IN CANADA
As a NFL fan and CFL fan living here in Regina, Saskatchewan, there is a lot of debate and divide between fans concerning the possibility of Vince Young signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Do you think this is a waste of everyone’s time in the Rider organization, or is there a remote possibility Vince Young has matured and has a enough left in the tank (although some conclude there wasn’t much in the tank to begin) to actually come to camp and be a solid prospect?
I don’t think anyone will know how much Young has left until he lines up in camp and tries to play. He never was a particularly accurate NFL passer, and so I would think with the wider field that’s the biggest tell coming up.
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