Free-for-All

A former front-office staffer and an X's-and-O's expert break down the NFL's off-season bazaar
March 23, 2015

We heard all week about the relatively new "legal tampering" window (starting three days before free agency, teams could negotiate with agents but not make offers) and how it created chaos (teams did make offers, which quickly leaked). Will anything come of the NFL's inquiry into the violations?

To this investigation, one of several ongoing, I respectfully say: Good luck with that. Whether or not there's a pre--free agency window, teams are too competitive (and distrustful) to wait for the opening bell. Deals will be in place beforehand. If investigated, teams and agents always have plausible deniability, citing unresolved contract terms. Even before this 72-hour "fake negotiating" window was introduced in 2013, agreements were reported within minutes of the official start of free agency. Does the NFL really believe such deals were actually negotiated in that time?

—A.B.

What about the deals that were reneged on?

Teams can be cutthroat. Coaches will call players who have committed to other teams and ask, "Did you actually sign?" When players reverse course, as running back Frank Gore did, jilting the Eagles for the Colts, teams can be livid. When I was the vice president for the Packers, free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams reneged on a contract I negotiated and signed the same deal with the Ravens. I was crestfallen and told the agent we would never work with him again. One year later he represented a player we liked, and I swallowed my pride before calling the agent. It's always about the player. Were a team to renege, however, it would lose some trust among agents and players, which could hurt its chances to sign others.

—A.B.

We saw an unusual number of player-for-player trades. Will this be a trend? Is the NFL the new NBA?

Teams have become better at cap and contract management. (There are cap consequences in a trade, just as if the player were released.) But I think this is more anecdotal than evidence of a trend. The Lions and the Seahawks—jilted by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Julius Thomas, respectively—responded with the replacement acquisitions of Haloti Ngata and Jimmy Graham from the cap-challenged Ravens and Saints. Eagles coach Chip Kelly locked in on quarterback Sam Bradford and used his QB, Nick Foles, as a logical trade piece. Tailback LeSean McCoy (now a Bill) and receiver Brandon Marshall (a Jet) were high-salaried veterans deemed expendable; once teams feel that way, they've already moved on. They'd accept a ham sandwich as compensation.

—A.B.

Suh: Was he worth the money?

His six-year, $114 million deal (with $60 million guaranteed) was the largest contract ever given to a defensive player, and it was a combination of need and market forces—he was going to get similar terms from someone. The Dolphins have gone 8--8 in each of the last two seasons; they finished 11th in scoring in 2014, up from 26th the year before. What probably kept them out of the playoffs was a rushing D that allowed an average of 165.3 yards over the final six games (when Miami went 2--4) after giving up 94.5 in the first 10. Suh is a transcendent talent against the run and the pass, and the Dolphins believe he makes them a playoff team. They may be right.

—D.F.

What about Jimmy Graham—how will he change Seattle's offense?

Graham is a receiver classified as a tight end, and he's exactly what Seattle needed on the decisive play of the Super Bowl. He has been Drew Brees's primary target since 2011, and he'll probably be the same for Russell Wilson. The Seahawks love to run two-tight-end packages, and Graham is a beast in the red zone—he led the league with 16 receiving touchdowns in 2013, and he's been targeted from the one-yard line nine times in his career. The result? Eight touchdowns.

—D.F.

So which running back has it better now—LeSean McCoy or DeMarco Murray?

On the surface it appears to be Murray. Kelly's offense creates natural openings through spacing and defensive confusion, similar to the one Murray excelled in at Oklahoma. In Buffalo, McCoy will operate in a different set of schemes while playing for a team so bereft of talent that the Bills are taking a flier on guard Richie Incognito, who would be a subpar option even without his bullying-scandal background.

—D.F.

Which sort of makes the Cowboys look like losers. What's going on with Dallas's newfound frugality?

After years of loose spending and a "worry about it later" mentality, there's a new Big D in Dallas: Discipline. That started last May when owner Jerry Jones resisted his impulse (or maybe someone stopped him) to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel and took offensive lineman Zack Martin instead. It also popped up in risk-averse contracts for ascending players such as linebacker Sean Lee and left tackle Tyron Smith. Whether through learning from past mistakes, allowing son Stephen more influence or charting a more proven path to success, there appears to be a new, levelheaded Cowboys owner impersonating the Jerry Jones we knew.

—A.B.

Tennis

Serena's Back

24

Extra Mustard

25

SI Edge

Evan Longoria

26

Faces in the Crowd

30

Dan Patrick

DeAndre Jordon

32

The Case for

Less Genius

34

GO FIGURE

2

50-point games this season for Cavaliers guard KYRIE IRVING, who scored 57 against the Spurs last Thursday after going for 55 against the Trail Blazers on Jan. 28—the two highest-scoring games in the NBA this season. The last player to have the two highest-scoring games in the same season was Kobe Bryant in 2007--08.

4,321 //

Pull-ups performed in one day by 54-year-old Mark Jordan of Corpus Christi, Texas, in November. On March 11, Jordan's total was certified as the most ever by the Guinness Book of World Records.

209

Soccer ranking of Bhutan, the worst in the world, which beat Sri Lanka 1--0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying last Thursday.

1,018.54

Pounds deadlifted by Eddie Hall of the U.K. at the 2015 Arnold Classic in Melbourne, Australia, last Friday, breaking the world record set by Iceland's Benedikt Magn√∫sson (1,016.33) last August.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONFLANNERY ALLISON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PAPER); PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DWAYNE BERNARD AND TREVOR LAZARUS PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IRVING) MAPNATASA TATARIN/GETTY IMAGES (BHUTAN MAP) PHOTOHAAG & KROPP GBR/GETTY IMAGES (WEIGHT)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)