Thursday, March 14, 2013
The Real March Madness: Free Agency
If you ever wanted a microcosm of how crazy the NFL is with its player value system, this is the week for you.
We got it started on Monday with two trades involving NFC West rivals Seattle and San Francisco. The Seahawks picked up Percy Harvin from Minnesota in exchange for picks in the first and sixth rounds this year, plus a reported third-round pick next year. Not a few hours later, word leaked that the 49ers had picked up Anquan Boldin from Baltimore in exchange for just a sixth-round pick in next month's draft.
Now Harvin and Boldin are clearly at different stages of their careers. Boldin will turn 33 next season, while Harvin will be just 25. Also, Harvin's deal came contingent on an extension with Seattle, while it looks like Boldin will just play out the final year of his contract for $6 million. Boldin is more reliable and a better run blocker; Harvin is more explosive and provides special teams value. So two different players, but is that worth the extreme disparity in the compensation received by the Vikings and Ravens?
Think about how much Boldin meant to Baltimore's Super Bowl run last year. It goes well beyond just the catches and yards. He's the best run blocker this side of Hines Ward (remember his crushing block on the 4th-and-29 conversion at San Diego)? He destroyed the Patriots in the Red Zone in the AFC Championship Game. I know Ray Lewis got all the face time on TV, but Boldin was the heart of that offense, and Baltimore doesn't win a thing without him on the field. But he's not worth $6 million for the repeat run? You give your QB a $120 million-plus contract and then trade away the guy who has led the team in targets each of the past three years to save $6 million? This makes sense?
Harvin, on the other hand, has never cracked 1,000 yards or 6 touchdowns receiving in any of his four seasons. He's played all 16 games just once in those four years. He's been ... enigmatic off the field (to put it politely). And all of a sudden he's worth three draft picks, including a first rounder, and huge contract ($67 million over six years, though only $14.5 million guaranteed) for a team that passed an NFL-low 405 times last season and already had one of the best special teams in the league? I don't get it.
And this WR value craziness is far from limited to Monday's trades:
* With the signing of Mike Wallace added to the re-signing of Brian Hartline, the Dolphins have now committed over $90 million (more than $40 million guaranteed) over the next five years for the wide receiver position. All the while, they are letting Jake Long walk away and leaving a pile of steaming dog junk for an offensive line. How exactly is Ryan Tannehill supposed to get Wallace the deep ball when he's on his ass the whole time?
* Somebody is going to give Danny Amendola a lot of money, and I'm not sure why. Is he good? Sure he is. But he's good because he's cheap. Do you know who else is cheap? Rookies. If I'm the Rams, I thank Amendola for his time, let some other saps pay him $6 million a year, then draft T.J. Moe from Missouri with a late-round pick. Plug and play.
(Don't like Moe? How about Conner Vernon from Duke or Ryan Swope from Texas A&M or Ace Sanders from South Carolina? Point is, there are a number of guys who can step in and play, and for a heck of a lot less money.)
* And then there's Wes Welker. He's in a class all his own, primarily because of his ability to keep getting up. But he's not fast, and I don't think his game translates nearly as well to any offense that isn't spread based with a great QB (Saints, Broncos, Packers). The fact is, none of those teams are going anywhere near $10 million a year for a guy who will almost always get you the big first down, but will rarely get you the huge game-changing play. And yet Welker has continued to insist he's worth more than the reported $7 million or so the Pats have been offering on a longer-term deal.
The Patriots would be better off retaining Julian Edelman at a third of that price, spending a draft pick on one of the aforementioned rookies-to-be, and using the leftovers to beef up their offers in a free-agent cornerback pool so packed with talent (Aqib Talib, Antoine Cason, Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Antoine Winfield, etc.), it's bound to drive down prices.
The NFL fixed the major flaw in its value system with the last Collective Bargaining Agreement that finally put a stop to ridiculous rookie contracts that put chumps like JaMarcus Russell in the same tax bracket as Tom Brady (pre-billionaire model wife).
But this part of the value lunacy is going to be much harder to fix. NFL GM's can't wait for the commissioner to brow beat the players out of this one. They're going to have to stand at the podium while their fans cry on talk radio and tell the hard truth: your favorite player wasn't worth what he/you thought he was, and we're replacing him with a guy you've never heard of. Get over it. You'll be fine. (Note: Baltimore may try this with Boldin, but they're wrong. He is worth $6 million.)
Of course that's not going to happen, so get ready for some more ridiculous contracts given out to ego-driven stars who will never live up to them. And when all the dust settles, it's probably going to be the team that made the most quite moves whose fans will be pounding its chests come next February.