Now, the Jeff Fisher Leverage Game is moving toward its climax.
Friday’s announcement that Fisher will pick either the Rams or the Dolphins narrowed his options, but necessarily publicly pitted two franchises against each other. Last night’s report from Howard Balzer of 101espn.com that Fisher is on the verge of picking the Rams over the Dolphins likely will prompt the Dolphins to accelerate their efforts to make it rain over Fisher in the hopes of getting him to choose South Beach over St. Louis.
In the end, the question becomes how much money Fisher is willing to leave on the table, if he’s inclined to coach the Rams.
Fisher is wise, or at least shrewd, to make it known at this point that he’s leaning toward the Rams. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross seems to be more desperate than Rams owner Stan Kroenke to hire a guy with a recognizable name, and it already has been reported that Ross won’t be outbid for Fisher.
So if Ross ups the ante, Kroenke may feel compelled to sweeten the deal. And Ross could then throw some more cash onto the pile. With each step in this waltz, Fisher wins.
Even though Ross seems to be willing to overpay for the biggest name on this year’s market in lieu of finding the next Sean Payton or Mike McCarthy or Mike Tomlin from the ranks of assistant coaches, there’s a certain point where the money gap should get Fisher’s attention. Sure, picking Miami would put Fisher in the same division with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But the AFC currently has only three teams that can be regarded as elite: the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers. In the NFC, Fisher would have to deal with a crowded two tiers of teams (Packers, 49ers, Saints, Falcons, Giants, Lions, Eagles, Cowboys) that could take turns dominating the conference over the next five years.
Besides, the NFC West no longer consists of a four-pack of Twinkies. The Niners will be competitive for as long as Jim Harbaugh is the coach. The Seahawks and Cardinals finished strong in 2011. As a result, 7-9 went from being good enough for first place to good enough for third place in only one year.
And so, while Balzer’s report is surely based on legitimate information originating with Fisher’s camp, it’s the flip side of Mike Silver’s report from earlier in the week, which pointed to Fisher picking the Fins. The carefully orchestrated dance will continue, until Fisher has coaxed the maximum offer out of both owners. Then, and only then, will we know what Fisher definitely will do.