The Business of Football season never really stops, but free agency and the draft always puts roster building right on the forefront for all to see. Here are my thoughts on a few of the headlines right now.
Bad business for Cardinals, great value for Dolphins
While plenty can debate the on-field value of Josh Rosen, there is no debate as to his off-field, business of football value to the Dolphins and the negative value received by the Cardinals, largely their own doing.
The Cardinals’ 2018 quarterback spending represents a textbook example of how not to spend on quarterbacks. They paid Sam Bradford $16 million as a placeholder quarterback, one that ended up playing in three games. They traded up into the top ten of the 2018 draft to nab Rosen, their erstwhile quarterback of the future, and paid him $11.5 million in 2018, when the majority of his front-loaded rookie contract became due. And they weren’t done there, also paying quarterback Mike Glennon $5 million for his efforts last year. Thus, the 2018 Cardinals, the NFL’s worst team, shelled out $32.5 million to quarterbacks, all of whom are no longer part of their team. Cap-wise, the situation is just as bad. The 2019 cap now has charges of $16.2 million for Rosen ($8.2 million), Bradford ($5 million) and Glennon ($3 million). The Cardinals’ handling of quarterbacks in 2018 and 2019 represents a case study in how to not manage the business of football.
The Cardinals’ decision to fire coach Steve Wilks after one year and hire Kliff Kingsbury (for those who think the Cardinals didn’t know they were taking Kyler Murray from the moment they interviewed Kingsbury, please) had dramatic cash and cap consequences at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins inherit one of the best bargains in the NFL. With the bonus fully paid by the Cardinals, here is what the Dolphins owe Rosen for the next three years (followed by a team option for a fourth year):
2019: $1.28 million
2020: $2 million
2021: $2.9 million
Thus, while the Cardinals paid Rosen $11.5 million for one year, the Dolphins will pay him under $6.2 million total for three years. Rosen becomes an incredible value as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick and, if he becomes a productive starter, will be the best bargain in the NFL.
The Cardinals were basking in the glow of the Rosen pick at this time last year. Now out $11.5 million with a shiny new rookie quarterback, it is the Dolphins who are the beneficiaries of the Cardinals’ falling out of love with Rosen.
Five Thoughts on the Draft
1. The universal negative reaction to the Giants’ selection of Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick can only mean one thing: Jones will be great.
2. For what it is worth, I got to know him and his father a bit during the draft process (for a reason I can share at another time) and found him extremely diligent, respectful and having a healthy intellectually curiosity.
3. Remarks by Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman and Broncos’ general manager John Elway suggesting their drafted quarterbacks would sit behind the starters in ways that may even be similar to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay are ludicrous. Last season, all five first-round quarterbacks were playing by midseason; that could happen this year with Jones, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock. I will stake a claim here that that no quarterback-in-waiting sits for three seasons.
4. Although many undrafted free agents were signing large guarantees this year, don’t be fooled. Most of those guarantees were part of first year salary up to the amount of a practice squad player and, of course, with offset. There is little to no risk for teams in doing this. If an undrafted player really wanted to leverage teams, he would have asked for—and received—guarantees in years two or three of his deal, not year one.
5. An unfortunate reminder for veteran players: Teams drafted players last weekend with an eye toward replacing certain veterans on their roster in the next year or two. The circle of NFL life continues.
The Kansas City Chiefs have been sending some mixed messages about tolerance for past and present domestic violence, testing my longtime maxim that greater talent equals greater tolerance.
Last season, in the firestorm following the release of a video showing Kareem Hunt kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel, the team summarily released Hunt and apparently staked some moral ground about lack of tolerance for domestic violence—despite the fact they had Tyreek Hill, with an incident in his past, still on the team. Hunt was a good, yet not indispensible, player; the Chiefs were in a comfortable place moving on from him. Now, with greater talent involved, the moral high ground they claimed in releasing Hunt is under attack.
Last week, an investigation into allegations against Hill for abusing his son was reopened. Thankfully for the Chiefs, there is no video of Hill’s actions toward his son. However, there is audio of him talking to his fiancée about it, and it is quite disturbing. At the moment, the Chiefs have told Hill to stand down for the offseason workout program, but the tougher decision is ahead. Hill is a unique talent—and a two-time All-Pro—but, if the Chiefs stand for what they claim in releasing Hunt, they will also release Hill. Greater talent equals greater tolerance, but even Hill’s unique talents cannot spare him here.
Even if the Chiefs cut ties with Hill, there is still a matter that will not be undone, the team’s recent doubling down, both in terms of trade compensation and financial compensation, to a player with domestic violence in his past.
Frank Clark had a troubling domestic violence incident while in college, yet the Seahawks invested a 2015 second-rick pick in him and he played well for them for four years. Now, after buying low on Clark, they have sold high, with the Chiefs as the buyer. Not only did the Chiefs give up first- and second-round picks to acquire Clark, but they also invested a reported $105 million with $63 million guaranteed to make Clark one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league. Ironically, Clark replaces a player who was one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league in Justin Houston, cut by the Chiefs once the guaranteed portion of his contract ran out.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has a history of showing tolerance for players with issues in their past (and present). When in Philadelphia, Reid tolerated two players—DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy—that Chip Kelly, Reid’s replacement, moved out almost as soon as could. He also famously brought Michael Vick back into the league after his time in prison. Reid’s tolerance for Hunt, and perhaps Hill, may be overruled by organizational and league concerns. As for Clark, he’s not going anywhere.
Finally, the Clark trade was another example of a franchise tag player being traded without even the appearance of contract negotiations, something the tag rules require. The spirit of the tag is for bona fide, arms length negotiations to happen—not for a team to take a player off the market so it can trade him. Yet that still happens, and it happened here. The reality, however, is that the player is happy, the agent is happy, the union is happy and no one is carping about the intent of the franchise tag. Did the Seahawks violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the franchise tag law? Certainly. But if no one’s complaining, no one’s explaining.
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