“We’re on the 1-yard line here!” 49ers GM John Lynch said late Saturday afternoon to the free-agent corner he was recruiting, Richard Sherman. “We can do this! We can put this in the end zone!”
Sherman smiled. “I’ve been at the 1-yard line before,” he said, “and it didn’t go so well.”
Lynch said: “I promise you, we won’t throw it this time.”
This was not your typical negotiation. Here, in the inner sanctum of the team Sherman kept out of the Super Bowl four years ago, the most hated rival in recent San Francisco history spent four hours on Saturday afternoon negotiating his own contract with no agent. Imagine David Ortiz negotiating with Brian Cashman. For four hours, the football version of that scenario happened in Santa Clara, Calif. Lynch and veteran Niners cap man Paraag Marathe on one side, Sherman and his fiancée, Ashley, on the other side.
And the specter of Super Bowl 49 reared its head. Lynch didn’t realize he was conjuring up a bad memory for Sherman—the three-year-old memory of the Seahawks passing on second-and-goal from the one instead of running Marshawn Lynch, down four points to New England in the final minute of the Super Bowl. The Russell Wilson pass, of course, was intercepted by New England’s Malcolm Butler at the goal line, and instead of being a two-time Super Bowl winner, the Seahawks suffered the bitterest last-second loss in Super Bowl history.
Now Sherman could smile about it. And very late in the talks, Sherman said for the second time that he wanted to sleep on the offer. He wanted to think. This was too big a deal to rush, and there were the Lions and the Raiders and, yes, the Seahawks he had to consider and get back to before making the deal.
“We are right there,” John Lynch said, having structured the three-year deal that Marathe called “one of the most complicated contracts on our team,” with much of it massaged by Sherman. “Let’s do it!”
Sherman, of course, hadn’t represented himself like this before, but he did know one thing: If the deal didn’t get done right now, and if he walked out and took a couple more free-agent trips, the Niners might not be there for him in a few days. “I would assume if I leave, some of the things in this deal would get walked back,” he said to Lynch. Could be, he was told.
So much at stake. Twenty-eight hours earlier, he’d been released by Seattle. Richard Sherman needed time to think.
You know the ending now. Sherman got the heavily incentivized deal, both sides recognizing that cornerbacks about to turn 30 and coming off Achilles surgery are no sure things. But let’s start at the beginning, when Sherman’s name appeared on the NFL waiver wire on Friday at 1:05 p.m. Pacific Time. In fact, let’s start a few days before.
“We did have a trade in place with Denver for a veteran cornerback,” Lynch told me late Sunday afternoon. “Aqib Talib. I think he didn’t like the idea of being traded—he wanted to be released. I think he felt, ‘If I’m going anywhere, I want to play for [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick or [Rams defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips.’ I talked to the Broncos at the scouting combine in Indy about it, and I thought we had a deal. Richard [Sherman] wasn’t available then. But we might have had to fight to make the trade for Aqib, so we just dropped it.”
Then, on Friday afternoon, Sherman got dumped by Seattle, which wanted to save $11 million on its tight salary cap. Lynch said it was like the Niners had Sherman on speed dial. They were the first to contact him. Sherman was in Las Vegas, at the annual NFLPA meetings, and the Niners wanted him to fly to San Jose on Friday afternoon to meet coach Kyle Shanahan for dinner at team hangout Nick’s Next Door in Los Gatos, Calif. Sherman said yes. Shanahan and his wife, and Sherman and his fiancée, met for a dinner that lasted four hours.
Lynch was at a charity function in San Diego on Friday night and went to sleep afterward. He missed an 11:43 p.m. call from Shanahan. When they spoke on Saturday at 7 a.m., Shanahan told him the dinner went well and he supported the idea of signing Sherman. Lynch and Marathe prepared to meet with Sherman and had to figure out the smartest way to structure a contract. Sherman on Saturday morning got some medical tests, including a scan on his healing Achilles. The meeting in Lynch’s office started after noon.
“Richard came into the meeting with us having read all the contracts for all the top cornerbacks past and present,” Marathe said. This was only the second time in 16 years as negotiator that Marathe faced off against a player advocating for himself. Defensive end Justin Smith was the first, in a late-career deal that took “two minutes,” Marathe said. Sherman, he said, “studied our contracts and knew who we’d given real guaranteed money to. He brought up an old Nnamdi Asomugha contract with massive acceleration in it. He’d done his research. Very impressive.”
Said Sherman: “I spent maybe 10, 12 hours reading all these contracts and studying the contract language. If I was going to represent myself, I was going to do the research.”
Normally, when teams talk to agents during negotiations, some negatives about players come up. Now there was no buffer. Lynch and Marathe had to make Sherman realize that with his age and recent surgery, he would be subject to significant clauses protecting the team. Sherman didn’t get ticked off, Lynch said. Sherman understood. “Sometimes contract offers sting the player,” Lynch said. “We said to him, ‘There are some realities here where you’re going to have to give.’ And he got it.”
Occasionally, Sherman stepped out to talk to other teams. Occasionally, Lynch and Marathe stepped out to massage their offer and clauses. Sherman got the Niners to budge on a few things. “This is how much Richard studied this,” Marathe said. “We had a clause in a bunch of our contracts saying players got an incentive for making the Pro Bowl, even if they were medically excused from playing in the Pro Bowl. Richard said, ‘What if I’m voted to the Pro Bowl and I can’t go because we’re in the Super Bowl?’ We thought, He’s right. Great observation. We changed the wording.”
Late in the process, when Sherman and the Niners agreed on most of the incentives in the deal, he got back to the three most interested teams. Seattle, interestingly enough, wanted the first right of refusal on any offer, and so Sherman called Seahawks GM John Schneider. Sherman said Schneider told him, “Incentives [are] a little rich for me.” Sherman called Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie, who said he wasn’t going to have the cap money to compete for him. And Sherman called Detroit coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn; incentive package too rich for Detroit’s blood.
So if Sherman wanted a deal today, and if he wanted a sure thing, he’d have to go with the 49ers. With the other contenders falling by the wayside, and with one final concession by the Niners, Sherman’s decision was made for him. He shook hands with Lynch, hugged him, and the deal was done.
Now, this isn’t the contract of Sherman’s dreams. As Mike Florio reported on Sunday, the deal includes $5 million before training camp in the form of a $3 million signing bonus and a $2 million roster bonus on the first day of camp. His base salary in 2018 is $2 million. He will have to be Sherman the All-Pro corner for three years to make what the contract originally was reported to be worth—$39 million. And turning 30 this year, coming off the Achilles injury, that’s highly unlikely, obviously. Could an agent have done better? Possibly. But all teams are looking at Richard Sherman, damaged goods, not Richard Sherman, sure All-Pro.
So Sherman is getting knocked for not getting a good-enough deal. That view may have some merit. But if he plays 90 percent of the snaps for San Francisco in 2018 and makes the Pro Bowl, he makes the same $11 million he was scheduled to make in Seattle this year … and his salary of $8 million for 2019 would be guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1, 2019.
That’s a complicated way of saying Sherman can be an $11- or $12-million-a-year player, but he’s going to have to play like the Richard Sherman of 2013 to get it.
Sherman came out firing on the players-shouldn’t-rep-themselves charge.
“I don’t think any agent in the business could have done a better job of negotiating this contract,” Sherman told me by phone on Sunday night. “As long as I’m content with what I’m making, nothing else matters to me.
“Once I make a Pro Bowl, $8 million the next year is guaranteed for me. It gives me the ability to control my destiny. The 49ers have skin in the game. I have skin in the game. In my former contract, no matter what I did this year, nothing would be guaranteed to me next year. I couldn’t feel secure in my contract. Now, if I play the way I know I’m capable of playing, I know I’m going to get paid.”
Now about the Seahawks’ part of things. While Seattle reconstructs its franchise, its heart-and-soul guy—its Ortiz, its LeBron—flies south. Lots of familiar things in the Bay Area for Sherman. That’s where he went to college, at Stanford. He fancies himself a Renaissance man full of interests outside of sports, and so the imagination of Silicon Valley interests him. He’s a California guy. But there’s something else about playing for the Niners.
“We had something no other team could offer,” Lynch said.
“The ability to play Seattle twice a year,” Lynch said.
When that was relayed to Sherman, he paused for a second.
Sherman said: “I’m vengeful in that way.”
That’s what it sounded like. But I wanted to make sure. I asked him to repeat that.
“Vengeful,” Sherman said. “I love the fan base to death, and I loved playing there. It was such a great opportunity. I helped the organization get to a great place and stay there. But now it’s like I abandoned them. People are out there burning my jersey. Come on. I’m not the one who let me go. They let me go. I didn’t abandon anybody.”
The story has only just begun. The man who personified the Seahawks and who hated everything about the Niners, and whose tipped pass in the end zone resulted in the turnover that sent Seattle—not the 49ers—to Super Bowl 48, will have so much more to say. More than any defensive back since Deion Sanders, Sherman will make America listen.
Seattle Is Changing
I was in Seattle over the weekend, and someone at my hotel asked: “Are the Seahawks done? Or is there more to come?” More? I asked. “Purging,” the guy said.
There very well could be. But let me start by quoting Pete Carroll. “The central theme in this program is competition,” he said to the media on the Wednesday before Super Bowl 49. “It’s not about the opponent. We compete against each other. There will be a lot of one-on-ones, offense against defense, right off the bat, to get the tempo and the speed and the feel we want. It’s about make it a great practice day, and we compete against each other as hard as we can. We keep score. Somebody’s gonna win, somebody’s gonna lose today.”
I always wondered this: Carroll and GM John Schneider emphasize nothing but competition, almost daily. But at that time, the days Carroll spoke, he had 14 starters who, honestly, could have been relative no-shows at a given practice and they wouldn’t have lost their jobs. So what were the consequences for Marshawn Lynch or Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman if, say, they dogged it and didn’t have a good practice on Wednesday? Nothing.
Now, I think, that changes. I think the Seahawks have a couple of nucleus players on both sides of the ball. Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin on offense. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on defense—and Earl Thomas, if he stays. That’s a big “if.” There are several “ifs.” Because the Seahawks don’t know if a team out there is going to come hard after safety Earl Thomas, who probably can be had in this post-Legion of Boom era for Seattle, but only for a significant package. It seems likely that pass-rusher Cliff Avril will retire because of a neck injury, and strong safety Kam Chancellor’s future is uncertain too, for the same reasons. So I don’t think the transition from this generational defense is necessarily done with the Richard Sherman defection to San Francisco.
When Carroll and Schneider had their arranged marriage in January 2010—Carroll was hired first, and Schneider, the road scout, followed from Green Bay—they reveled in the fact that they both loved change, and they both loved trusting young players. So what’s happened in growing relatively old with Sherman and Thomas and Chancellor and the like is probably not who Carroll and Schneider are. Carroll loved the constant turnover of college football, pitting the new recruit against the established starter through competition. He may not say it publicly, but he really has missed that through the last five or six seasons, since the Seahawks got really good and became Super Bowl contenders. But at some point, to be true to yourself, you’ve got to go back to your ethos. And the Carroll/Schneider ethos is finding Sherman in the fifth round and plugging him in and discovering gold, and finding Wilson in the third round and plugging him in and finding the same kind of gold.
I heard a story about the Seahawks last season. A young player got to the team, and looked around the locker room, and told one of the veterans, “I played you with Madden when I was in high school.” You’ve got to be peers when you go play an NFL game. Should young players be little puppy dogs, in awe of the guys in their own room?
The next big thing in Seattle may not come this week. But look for teams to sniff around Thomas, due to make $8.5 million in the last year of his current deal. He turns 29 in May. The deal would have to be sizable for Seattle to give him up, but 29-year-old safeties are not usually long-termers. And Seattle is in the market for a new breed of Seahawk. So that bears watching.
Why all the trades?
According to the GMs and front-office people on the front lines, three reasons why we’ve seen a spate of trades (11 in the last two weeks, and that doesn’t count Alex Smith-to-Washington on Jan. 30) before free agency, when in most years we’d see none:
1. The paranoia to trade is gone. A few of the more conservative team czars have faded away—Ted Thompson, Trent Baalke, Jerry Reese—and the ethos of mega-value for draft choices has lessened. As one club official told me over the weekend, it used to be that second- and third-round picks were solid gold, and now if you really need to use them, you figure you can recoup them if you’re imaginative enough. There have been 12 second- and third-round picks traded already, and the draft is six-and-a-half weeks away; by March 12, 2016, only three picks in the second or third round of that year’s draft had been traded. I also notice there’s less of a desire to “win” trades. There’s much less of a desire to say, You’re not touching my high picks. If you really need something—legitimacy and a bridge quarterback, for instance, with the Browns; a new set of corners for the Rams—you do it, and don’t get paranoid about the consequences.
2. Familiarity among GMs. Hang in the Indiana Convention Center with Eagles GM Howie Roseman during the combine, with the full roster of NFL coaches and GMs walking by, and your conversation won’t last long. Roseman keeps getting interrupted. He’s the mayor of the combine, talking to everyone. There’s more camaraderie among fierce competitors than I remember in the past. Roseman, Seattle’s John Schneider, Les Snead of the Rams, Indy’s Chris Ballard, Minnesota’s Rick Spielman, San Francisco’s John Lynch, Tom Telesco of the Chargers and Cleveland’s John Dorsey (and his new Browns staff) are young franchise czars who seem, mostly, to genuinely like and respect each other. “I think we all feel we want trades to be win-win,” Roseman said. “It’s not a case of trying get over on someone. This is a fraternity. We don’t want to see our friends in the business lose their jobs.”
3. Texting. So there’s not a lot of offers flying back and forth on Twitter. But it’s pretty easy to feel out your peers by sending out exploratory fishing lines via text-messaging. “The ability to text is huge,” Rams GM Les Snead told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “You can shoot off a proposal, an idea, to 10 or 15 general managers in less than two minutes. In the days when you had to call, and let's just say the other person says, ‘OK, I'll get back to you.’ And then when you make your second call, here comes the GM you called first. Now, you're playing phone tag.”
Cleveland Has Been Busy
My biggest takeaway is that Cleveland is still likely to take a quarterback with the first or fourth pick in the draft, and that Tyrod Taylor is more likely than not a bridge quarterback to the next guy. Taylor, of course, controls that with how he plays this year. He’s a significant upgrade over DeShone Kizer, certainly. And by committing $16 million to Taylor, the Browns are saying, You’ve got a chance to be our quarterback of the future, and you control that, plus your next contract, with how you play in 2018. But I have believed since the hiring of John Dorsey that the Browns fully intended to get a veteran quarterback (Alex Smith? A.J. McCarron? Sam Bradford? Tyrod Taylor?) this off-season, and a rookie quarterback likely to be the long-term quarterback for the franchise. Nothing’s changed. I believe this is the way the Browns still feel.
Regarding the $1.30 on the dollar: Cleveland did what other teams wouldn’t do Friday, which was to ensure Taylor and wideout Jarvis Landry that they would both make $16 million in 2018. The Browns sent a third-round pick to Buffalo for Taylor, and fourth- and seventh-round picks to Miami for Landry. Steep, if you consider 2018 is a one-year trial for each player.
I like acquiring safety Demarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer (plus swapping draft spots in the fourth and fifth rounds) for Cleveland; the Browns will likely play Randall at his college position, free safety, instead of trying to convert him into a corner, as the Packers did for part of his tenure in Green Bay. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could play Randall in the one-high-safety look he likes to play, and Randall should be a good fit in that rangy spot. And dealing nosetackle Danny Shelton to New England for a 2019 third-rounder is smart if the Browns consider Williams’ scheme—a 4-3 look that doesn’t need a pure nosetackle—to be their long-term defense.
The Browns improved on Friday, no doubt. But they’ll need Taylor to win some games, or they’ll need to get good play out of Landry and a new contract for him, for the day to be a winner beyond 2018.
So what are the Rams doing?
For the record, in the past two weeks, the Rams have made four trades, all involving veteran players, and this is the collective result:
|Rams Traded||Rams Received|
|DE Robert Quinn||CB Marcus Peters|
|LB Alec Ogletree||CB Aqib Talib|
|2018 fourth-round pick||2018 fourth-round pick|
|2018 sixth-round pick||2018 fourth-round pick|
|2019 second-round pick||2018 sixth-round pick|
|2019 seventh-round pick||2018 sixth-round pick|
(Note: I eliminated the sixth-round pick obtained from the Chiefs in the Peters trade, because the Rams traded it away in the Quinn deal.)
The Rams now own in this draft 10 choices—one pick in the first, third, and fifth rounds, two in the fourth round, none in the second and seventh rounds … and five in the sixth round (overall picks 176, 183, 194, 195, 198).
The Rams’ plan, coordinated by GM Les Snead with the full agreement of coach Sean McVay, was to fix the cornerback position for the next two years (that’s how long they can contractually hold onto Peters, and the best guess for how long Talib will play) without affecting the base of the young talent in L.A.—namely Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley. With defensive coordinator Wade Phillips craving shutdown corners, and quite possibly no assistant coach in the league better equipped to handle the firestorms the mercurial Peters and Talib could bring, the risk of those two players is mitigated. Plus, the Rams may get a handle on Peters and may be able to sign one of the best young corners in the game long-term.
Quotes of the Week
“Find out what team did it and ban them from the combine.”
—NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, asked about the unknown team official who asked LSU running back Derrick Guice—according to Guice—if he liked men.
Good for Smith. That should not be considered angry rhetoric between the league and the union. It’s outrageous that a team would consider that a question of fair game. I would love to see the league come down hard—whether it be a year’s ban from the combine, or a hefty fine, with the proceeds going to some LGBT cause.
Two words for the idiot who asked: Grow up.
“So I’m a very conservative guy. It’s going straight in the bank. I do want to make one investment. And that’s going to be one of those fancy toilets that requires no toilet paper. I don’t care how much money I’ve got to spend on it. That’s going to be something I’m gonna spend some money on.’’
—UTEP guard Will Hernandez, to Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network, on what he would buy with his first NFL paycheck.
I did not know what said “fancy toilet” is. But Slate does, and wrote about it, and said toilet actually includes a remote-control device.
Stat of the Week
I have beaten the drum on this quite a bit, but let me do it one more time before the dawn of free agency at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. Over the past three years, Josh McCown has proven on three bad teams (2015 Cleveland, 2016 Cleveland, the 2017 Jets) that he: A) can play, and B) should be some team’s strong option as either a top backup or a good bridge quarterback to a bright-prospect rookie. McCown’s a selfless guy who will support whatever decision the coach makes—ask any coach he’s played for—and will tutor the young guy well. And here’s how he ranks versus some NFL quarterbacks with at least 20 starts over the past three seasons, collectively. (Some quarterbacks here have not played in every one of the last three years, but I’m picking and choosing quarterbacks who have started at least 20 games since opening day 2015 just as a means of comparison with McCown.)
|QB (Age)||Teams||W-L||Comp. Pct.||TD/INT Diff.||Rating|
|J. McCown (38)||CLE, NYJ||6-18||.636||+17||89.8|
|C. Keenum (30)||LAR, MIN||18-10||.643||+16||89.3|
|A. Luck (28)||IND||10-12||.606||+21||88.9|
|C. Wentz (25)||PHI||18-11||.615||+28||88.8|
|M. Mariota (24)||TEN||20-22||.618||+24||88.6|
|J. Winston (24)||TB||18-27||.608||+25||87.2|
|E. Manning (37)||NYG||20-27||.625||+37||86.8|
|C. Newton (28)||CAR||32-14||.573||+36||85.2|
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Happy 50th birthday, Merton Hanks.
Happy 60th birthday, Matt Millen.
Happy 70th birthday, Mark Moseley.
You may need a history lesson on Moseley. In the 58 years the NFL has recognized a Most Valuable Player, Moseley is the only kicker to win it. It happened in 1982. Moseley, of Washington, was 20 of 21 in field goals in the strike-shortened nine-game NFL regular season, when Washington had an NFC-best 8-1 record.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Went to Seattle over the weekend for a mini-family-reunion to see daughter Mary Beth (Laura, Kim and Freddy came up from San Francisco for the fun), and on Saturday afternoon we stopped into a lunch spot, Bounty Kitchen, in the Queen Anne neighborhood. (Love that area.) There, at the end of our long table, were three women having lunch, including Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.
So as a Nutmegger, I’m a little bit of a fan boy for UConn women’s basketball, and my sister and brother-in-law had women’s season tickets for years, and they love Sue Bird. So I approached, excused myself, and chatted for a few minutes. We talked about the loss of Richard Sherman—Rapinoe, in particular, was highly bummed about the Seahawks parting ways with him—which has evoked different reactions from Seahawks fans all over the area. I know; I asked a lot of them. Some said it’s time. The bellman at my hotel said he’ll be back. Anyway, Bird and Rapinoe were quite pleasant, and Rapinoe said she’s looking forward to playing with one-time Montclair (N.J.) Kangaroo forward (and ex-Mary Beth King youth soccer teammate) Yael Averbuch this season with the Seattle Reign.
They asked me where I thought Sherman was headed. “Niners,” I said. “Just a guess.” And it was—because all I knew then was he’d had dinner with their people on Friday night. Two hours later it was real, and @S10Bird acknowledged it thusly:
So now you’re all current on my Saturday-afternoon-in-Seattle happenings.
Tweets of the Week
It really is amazing what stability at QB can do for an organization. The Niners were 0-9 four months ago today. Now they're a free-agent destination.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 11, 2018
Legion of Whom— Steve Frederick (@SportsGuyTweets) March 9, 2018
Rams have converted a secondary into a primary.— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) March 9, 2018
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Detroit coach Matt Patricia, Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, Cleveland Plain Dealer Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot.
• Patricia on his dual love of engineering and football: “Originally, my love besides football was planes; I wanted to be a pilot, a military pilot, you know, a child of the ’80s, so Top Gun, like Maverick, like throw me in an F-14 Tomcat and I thought I’d be good to go. An as I got older, my career in high school, a couple lower level schools started recruiting me, and I just really still wanted to play, so I went to RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute]. Extremely difficult academics, obviously. The hard work, the ethics really kicked in there, you know, everything that I had to do to balance football, school, everything else with college. But the guys that we played with in college, the teams that we had, you know that bond that you have when you’re a young guy, 18-21 years old—most of those guys I’m still extremely close with, even today.
“So when I left school, finished my four years, my aeronautical degree, and started my MBA, and I GA’ed [graduate assisted] that one year. And I distinctly remember, at RPI, that transition, because when you first stop playing, I don’t care what level its at, you look at the game and you’re like ‘I could still do that,’ or ‘I could…’ But, you know, it ends, the game ends. But I remember making that transition, and having a guy that was younger than I was coaching, and I was trying to help understand concepts and blocking schemes, and he executed it perfectly. We scored, won the game, and watching his joy, and the way that he felt, and the pride that he had, it just, it flipped, right there. It was like, I never dreamt about playing again. I was the assistant line coach … I remember the whole deal: It was an ace block, and he was going backside to the linebacker, and it was on the 1-yard line, and we had to score. He makes the block, we score, and we win. I just right then and there knew, I was like, ‘Wow, this is great.’ … You know, there’s just something about the fall, when it comes around, and you smell the fresh-cut grass.”
• Patricia on the influence of his parents: “So when I completely switched [from an engineering career to football coaching], I was still doing engineering and balancing the whole football part of it. And I had an opportunity to interview for a company and was offered a job, a pretty awesome job. It was in the nuclear field, nuclear engineering, which was pretty awesome, and at the same time my old offensive coordinator from college called—he was at Amherst College at the time—and said, ‘Hey, I got a $5,000-a-year defensive line job. Do you want it?’ And I just remember, I got these two extremes—this unbelievable nuclear field in engineering, and my parents who had been teaching for 25 years, it was probably more than both of their salaries combined. So when I called my mom, she was like, ‘How’d the interview go?’ And I was like, ‘It went great. I got the job.’ And she was like ‘Oh, that’s awesome, congratulations.’ And I said, ‘I didn’t take it.’ She’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m gonna work three times as much, you’re never gonna see me, and I’m gonna get $5,000. It’s gonna be great.’ And she just—you know, the silence on the other end was deafening. It was a little bit of a struggle, I think, at first for them to understand, but my parents are great. They were super supportive.”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the best non-quarterback in free agency is New England left tackle Nate Solder. After quarterback, in some order, the most valuable positions to fill on the football field are edge-rusher, cornerback and left tackle. There is no top-10 NFL pass-rusher on the unrestricted free-agent market. There is no top-10 NFL cornerback on the unrestricted free-agent market. But there is a top-10 NFL left tackle on the market—it’s borderline, but I’d include him after his tremendous Super Bowl performance—and it’s Solder.
I figured the Patriots would have Solder singled against the Eagles’ right-side edge rushers because of New England’s respect for Fletcher Cox, and that’s what happened. Of 75 snaps in the Super Bowl, I counted Solder getting help on five snaps, and I counted Solder giving up one quarterback hit and two significant pressures. That’s a terrific job against a strong front. The Patriots want him back, but Bill Belichick’s history is to not pay vets of a certain age. (Solder will play at 30 this season.)
I bet Houston will be all over Solder. The Texans haven’t replaced a solid left tackle, Duane Brown, after dealing him to Seattle at the trade deadline last October, and don’t have a pick until 68th overall in the third round, and so will have to make some hay in free agency. Bill O’Brien and Solder overlapped on the Patriots during Solder’s rookie season of 2011, and the Texans coach has high regard for him, I’m told. There’s one other X factor: Solder’s son Hudson, 2, is undergoing treatment for kidney cancer, and his treatment base is in Boston now. So that could play a role too—although other NFL cities have pediatric cancer units, to be sure.
I’m told Solder is wide open and will consider all options. But I’m also told the Patriots are being quite aggressive in their attempt to keep him. Gut feeling: Barring a crazy-money offer from the Giants or Texans (or a mystery team), which could happen, Solder returns to the Patriots. They know they need him more than any of their significant free agents, like Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis.
2. I think what the Rams did is risky, but I like it, even if the Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib marriage lasts just two years. I trust defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to get the best out of them with his scheme and his coaching personality.
3. I think I don’t know which rookie quarterback Bills GM Brandon Beane likes, but I’ll tell you why the Tyrod Taylor trade makes so much sense for the Bills’ attempt to get one in the draft 45 days from now. There are three teams at the top of the draft—Browns at one and four, Giants at two, Colts at three—with GMs who see holes all over their roster. And with GMs, I might add, who are not afraid. As I wrote earlier in the column, I expect the Browns to take a quarterback at one or four. The Bills, now with five picks in the top 65 (21, 22, 53, 56, 65), can offer those three teams the chance to get three or four starter-caliber players this year or this year and next.
The Taylor trade netted Buffalo the first pick in the third round, 65th overall, with a value of 265 points on the Draft Trade Value Chart (hackneyed, but still a point of reference). Let’s say the Bills wanted to move up to number four. Value of the fourth overall choice on the chart, invented by the Cowboys 30 years ago: 1,800 points. The 21st and 22nd picks, together (1,580 points), are likely not enough, at least in the eyes of Browns GM John Dorsey, to make that jump. But adding the 65th pick (265 points) puts the Bills at 1,845 points, and 21, 22 and 65 seems like a pretty fair swap.
4. I think Arizona makes the most sense for A.J. McCarron now, unless the Broncos or Jets get desperate if they lose out in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. But I’d bet the Broncos would go harder for Case Keenum than for McCarron.
5. I think I keep thinking about how crazy it is that, two weeks from now, the two highest-paid players in football will be Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo.
6. I think the Giants have to be more than concerned (petrified?) at the prospect of making Odell Beckham Jr., an $18- or $20-million-a-year player. I sure would be.
7. I think, for you students of Super Bowl history—or for you still-angry Seattle fans who can’t led the end of Super Bowl 49 go—I learned something interesting from the aforementioned conversation with Matt Patricia on this week’s podcast. We always figured that if the Seahawks scored on the ill-fated Russell Wilson interception in the final minute of the game, Bill Belichick would never live it down. Belichick could have used a timeout with 59 seconds left, and, if Seattle scored from the 1-yard line on the next play, Tom Brady would have had about 50 seconds or so to drive New England into field-goal position to try to tie the game and send it to overtime. This is why Belichick let the clock run, according to Patricia:
The Patriots, for the first time all game, played all four defensive tackles straight across the front: 335-pound Vince Wilfork, 325-pound Sealver Siliga, 324-pound Alan Branch and 309-pound Chris Jones. Also, 260-pound Rob Ninkovich set up outside the left end and 265-pound Chandler Jones outside the right end. On the three previous short-yardage Seattle running plays in the game, New England had two defensive tackles on the front—and twice ran for zero yards. Now the Patriots had four men totaling 1,093 pounds up front. And if you count the two wide rushers, Jones and Ninkovich, the six men up front averaged 306 pounds. That’s not a front you run against, particularly when Seattle had passing people on the field.
Belichick knew the Seahawks, had they had enough time to dissect the front New England was fielding on the play, likely would have gone with a heavy goal-line front and three tight ends. Seattle played three wides, a back (Marshawn Lynch) and a tight end, not an ideal formation against the biggest possible Patriots defense.
Patricia said he asked Belichick a couple of times if he wanted him to use the four-DT formation. Belichick didn’t answer. Finally, when Belichick knew Seattle wouldn’t have time to change the play-call and sub in adjustments, he told Patricia through the headset: “Run it.”
Patricia stressed the importance of Seattle not being able to sub and/or react to the monster front New England was using. That, he said, made all the difference. The 40-second clock began with exactly one minute to play, after Lynch was tackled at the New England 1. With 37 seconds to play (and 17 seconds left on the play clock), Seattle went to the line, with Wilson in the shotgun, and by the time he surveyed the defense, he was on his own. Communication from the sideline into the quarterback’s helmet ceases with 15 seconds left on the play clock. So offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell couldn’t give Wilson any last-minute advice once they both saw the huge New England front. A fast clock, with the front New England played, and Belichick knowing that Seattle did not want to stop the clock here, was a huge Patriots’ edge.
Seattle had one timeout left. And the reason the Seahawks did not use it (we can second-guess this all day) is because if they were stopped on second-and-goal from the 1, they’d have needed the timeout, theoretically, to get set for a third-down attempt for the touchdown.
This is clearly second-guessing on my part, but once I saw that front, if I were Bevell or Carroll, I’d have burned my last timeout. Say you call time with 35 seconds left. You have no timeouts left. Say you get stopped on second down. Then you either play hurry-up to run the third-down play, so if you’re stopped, you’ve got the fourth-down call to try to win. Or Wilson spikes it after a failed second down, and you’ve got a chance to win on fourth down. Either way, you’d have had the chance to match up better against a New England front you were clearly not ready for.
Really interesting to listen to Patricia go through the process, step by step, as to the reasons for Belichick’s gamble. “You learn he has a plan, even if sometimes at that exact moment you don’t know what it is,” Patricia said. It doesn’t always work, obviously, as we saw on the play (which I discuss with Patricia on the podcast) when the Patriots wanted to double-team Zach Ertz on the winning touchdown of the Super Bowl and left him inexplicably singled. But that’s football.
8. I think Aldon Smith’s descent into a ruined life—he turned himself into police in California last week on suspicions of domestic violence—is the latest cautionary tale about the homework teams must do before the draft. Players the Niners bypassed by drafting Smith seventh overall in 2011: Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan, Nate Solder, Cam Jordan, Cam Heyward.
9. I think one of the byproducts of changing coaching staffs and personnel staffs is the talent drain because one staff values players differently than another staff does. Take Buffalo, and the wide receiver position. In early March 2016, just two years ago, the Bills had Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Chris Hogan on their team. All are gone now. In their place, in 2017, the top four Buffalo receivers were Deonte Thompson, Zay Jones, Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin. Now, some of the increased production for the departed players surely has to do with the circumstances where they landed: Tom Brady as quarterback for Hogan, and the offensive style of play Woods and Watkins experienced with the Rams and Goodwin with the 49ers. But the difference in 2017 production for the Bills’ alums, compared to the current Bills, was striking. Check out the combined 2017 numbers of both foursomes, and see if you’re struck by the same thing that struck me: Tyrod Taylor had a heck of a group in Buffalo formerly, and didn’t take advantage of it. It’s not all him, of course. But that did occur to me.
• Watkins-Woods-Goodwin-Hogan: 185 catches, 2,775 yards, 15.0 per catch, 20 touchdowns.
• Thompson-Jones-Matthews-Benjamin: 95 catches, 1,245 yards, 13.1 per catch, five touchdowns.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Column of the Week: by Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, opening a vein and bleeding about his battles with depression.
b. Read this from the Kravitz column: “I had everything I wanted, and yet I felt like I had absolutely nothing, like I was completely empty, incapable of anything resembling joy. At the risk of overstating things, from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, I wanted to die.”
c. You know the guts it must have taken to write that?
d. Public service, wake-up-America column of the week, from Juliet Macur of the New York Times, a stunning piece about drug use and suicide in an idyllic Indiana town.
e. Radio story of the week: from WNYC, the public radio station in New York, a heartbreaking slap-in-the-face piece about how the cost of treating diabetes is actually putting lives at risk.
f. Spend six minutes listening to that story and answer this question: This is who we are as a people? Forcing people to ration medication vital to their survival because Big Pharma has put costs of insulin (in this case) through the roof?
g. Cool way to raise money for a very worthy cause, the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation. You pay $15 (or more), and you compete against Coughlin’s bracket in March Madness.
h. Yo, Mike Greenberg! Where are you? We need you out here.
i. I need to understand why a guy who hits 38 home runs, Mike Moustakas, signs back with the Royals for $6.5 million on a one-year deal. Am I wrong? That seems like a ridiculously low contract for a very good third baseman.
j. Coffeenerdness: Passing through the Minneapolis airport the other day—a marvel of modern airports, by the way—I got a Caribou coffee. And the vessel, I believe, is the Paper Cup of the Year. I have not seen a better cup, with regional highlights, than this one.
k. Beernerdness: Nothing like a sunny March afternoon, temperatures rising into the 60s, with the beer culture that thrives in Seattle, to discover a new craft-beer pub, Peddler Brewing, in a transitioning/industrial area about four miles from downtown. My recommendation: the Tangerine Hefeweizen, just the right touch of fruit in an excellent hef.
l. Watched All the President’s Men the other night. Wow. Wow. Wow. What a movie. Robert Redford is great, Dustin Hoffman so good as a chain-smoking reporter … but the actor who rang the most true to me, as a newspaperman? Jason Robards, as Ben Bradlee.
m. I forgot how great that movie was. Truly the best movie I’ve ever seen about the newspaper business.
n. You want to see what drive is, in any business? Watch All the President’s Men, and see what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did to get at the truth, against all odds. Whatever walk of life you choose, if you want to be great, there’s a lesson in the work ethic of Woodward and Bernstein.
o. RIP Chris Gedney, the beloved former Syracuse player and radio color man, and former NFL tight end.
p. Dumb Baseball Scheduling Quirk of the Year: The Rays and Red Sox play 10 times in the first month of the season.
q. New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler will consider batting the pitcher eighth at times this season, he says. I will never understand the science of planning to get a lesser hitter more at-bats (if this is something you do more times than just a one-off) than a better hitter, which in essence is what you’re doing when you bat the pitcher eighth and a position player ninth.
r. On the other hand … the Phils are evidently fairly serious about baseball this year. They gave Jake Arrieta (14-10, 3.53 ERA last year) $55 million guaranteed over the first two years of his new deal with Philadelphia. What a country.
s. Don't ask me anything about the NCAA bracket. I know less than nothing. I'll be picking my bracket based on cute nicknames.
The Adieu Haiku
The Legion of Boom
is no more. What a bummer.
Kam next? Whither Earl?
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