FMIA: How The Odell Deal Got Done, and an NFL Free Agency Wet Blanket

What I know after this explosive week that I think you should know:

• A week ago this morning, there’d been no seeds planted for the Odell Beckham Jr.-to-Cleveland trade. Sources very close to both the Giants and Browns have told me there was no contact made about Beckham until last Tuesday morning—half a day before the deal was finalized shortly after 7 p.m. that night. So there was no talk of Beckham in the previous Olivier Vernon-for-Kevin Zeitler deal, as had been speculated.

• The Beckham trade would not have gotten done without the inclusion of Jabrill Peppers. Fact.

• Agent Drew Rosenhaus told me about a significant roadblock in negotiations for Antonio Brown the other day, which I confirmed with Raiders GM Mike Mayock on Saturday night. The impasse, on the night of Friday, March 8, nearly scuttled the deal. “I went to bed Friday night and the deal was off the table,” Raiders GM Mike Mayock told me Saturday night from his home in Oakland. [More detail in “What I Learned,” lower in the column.] Sticking points: guaranteed money and making Brown the highest-paid receiver in football.

• Of all the news of the past week, the most sobering was the report that Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill is being investigated for domestic battery in Overland Park, Kans. The Kansas City Star reports a source said the incident resulted in a broken arm for the 3-year-old son of Hill and his fiancée. The fallout here could be devastating for Hill and for his family, obviously. That is what must be considered above all else. But down the line, the football implications, on the heels of the Chiefs already jettisoning 2017 NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt after his assault incident last year, could be massive. “Tyreek Hill is the most dangerous player we face,” one rival GM told me.

Earl Thomas was prepared, with regrets, to accept a one-year guaranteed contract worth $12 million, with $1 million in likely-to-be-earned incentives, with an undisclosed team Wednesday morning. That team, I am told, was sure it had Thomas, whose market had never materialized the way safety markets developed for Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Adrian Amos. Then the Ravens swooped in, knowing they had to overpay to break up the other deal. “The Ravens were never in the picture,” Thomas told me Thursday. “I was shocked. I was blessed.” In the span of two hours and 10 minutes, the Ravens and Thomas’ agents worked out a four-year, $55-million deal. Moral of the story: It only takes one. And it doesn’t take long.

• The Miami Dolphins becoming the next Philadelphia 76ers? Or the next Cleveland Browns? I’ve got a theory, and it involves being patient with new coach Brian Flores. Very patient.

There’s something else that struck me in the past few days. It is not fun, and not exciting. It is just real, and it’s a wet blanket I think you all need to know. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s dive into the trade that rocked the week.

The Lead: Odell Trade

The Giants had this attitude about Odell Beckham entering last week: As long as he’s ours, he’s ours. If we get a good to very good offer for him, we’ll trade him. If not, we’ll cope with him and continue to wait for the right offer, and if he’s on the team, we’ll make it work. Not the best way to proceed, but that was their reality. From the Giants’ point of view, the reality was his talent made him un-cuttable, but the energy it took to corral his greatness was something they would have preferred to live without. The maddening thing about watching this happen in the last week is how polarizing this was. It was either, Beckham is ruining the team—dump him, or Are you crazy! You can’t trade this Hall of Fame player!

The reality is it was probably smart to trade him. That doesn’t, however, make the decision to sign him for $18 million a year less than seven months ago very smart.

So … last week. I believe GM Dave Gettleman thought it was a sign of desperation to reach out and try to scare up offers—that he learned under Ernie Accorsi, who played that kind of game with the Chargers in last-second Eli Manning trade during the 2004 draft. So Gettleman reached out first to only one team before dealing Beckham: Buffalo. When the Antonio Brown deal fell through, Gettleman called Bills GM Brandon Beane wondering if he was so interested in Antonio Brown, how about Beckham? Beane didn’t bite.

Hearing the persistent rumors, Cleveland GM John Dorsey reached out Tuesday morning. No harm, no foul, he figured. That began a back-and-forth over the next 10 hours, approximately, that featured about 12 ideas/offers/counter-offers. The Giants wanted two first-round picks for Beckham, but I believe Gettleman knew that bounty might be tough to get because Beckham had proven himself a difficult player to handle. The Browns discussed some other players. But Gettleman, smarting from the prospect of losing safety Landon Collins in free agency to Washington (still hard to fathom why the Giants didn’t franchise their unquestioned defensive leader, Collins, at $11 million for 2019), had studied one Cleveland player he wanted: the 25th pick in the 2017 draft, versatile if slightly disappointing safety Jabrill Peppers. And at some point during the day, my understanding is Gettleman made it clear that the trade would not get done without Peppers being in it.

That was okay with Cleveland. My read of Peppers—and when I asked a couple AFC people about him in recent days, the view was shared—is that he was a good and aggressive run-defender and okay but not very instinctive or disruptive against the pass. He allowed, per Pro Football Focus metrics, passer ratings of 128.4 and 116.5 in coverage in his first two NFL seasons. If that doesn’t get better, Peppers won’t be a long-term Giant. But in the Giants’ eyes, Peppers could replace Collins, and he’d be the second first-round pick Gettleman wanted. And the Giants had made an iffy pick in the 2018 Supplemental Draft last summer, using their 2019 third-rounder on Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal. Cleveland’s mid-first-round pick (17th overall), and the former first-rounder in Peppers, and the low third-rounder (95th overall) this year replacing the third-round pick they’d lost … all of that was compensation enough for Gettleman.

So when the deal got to the one and the three and Peppers, Gettleman and Dorsey agreed. By my measure, the Giants got about 80 percent value for Beckham; I’m not as high on Peppers as Gettleman obviously is—or as Gettleman has to be. Gettleman had to decide whether he wanted to leverage the Cleveland offer with other teams. Because Beckham’s stock had been tarnished, it’s doubtful, for example, that he could have fetched better than 17-95-Peppers from the 49ers for picks and/or a player in the next two drafts. The Niners have been sniffing around Beckham for months. But they’re just not a good match right now. The Giants need high picks and/or productive players. The Niners wouldn’t have wanted to trade a high pick this year or next plus rising star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner … and the Giants might not have wanted to settle, say, for next year’s first-rounder and this year’s second-rounder (36th overall) plus a lesser player than Buckner (say safety Jaquiski Tartt). The Giants need help now. So Gettleman took the bird in the hand. He lanced the boil.

In the coming days, or at the NFL meetings in Phoenix, Gettleman will be pressed on why he said, “You don’t give up on talent,” and then he gave up on it. He’ll probably say he didn’t give up on talent—he used Beckham to get more talent, including Peppers and two picks in the first three rounds in a draft stocked on defense, where the Giants are woebegone. Gettleman’s history in Carolina was to build from the inside out, to build his lines first. The Giants now have picks 6, 17, 37, 95 and 108, and even if they pick a quarterback first, New York should pound the defensive side of the ball with at least three or four of those choices.

So now the Giants can approach 2019 and beyond without the distraction of Beckham—but also without his greatness. I do not buy that it’s a great move; I do not buy it’s a bad move. And I can tell you the Giants, absent a strong pitch by Cleveland, would still have Beckham on the team today.


One last Giants-related thing: the Aug. 28, 2018 signing of Beckham to the five-year, $90-million deal. Think back to last August. Beckham had a quiet offseason, mostly, and part of the allure of the Giants job for rookie coach Pat Shurmur was to coach him. If Gettleman did not sign him before the season, the Beckham contract would have been the Sword of Damocles over the Giants’ season. And so the deal got done. Six weeks later, Beckham appeared in the ill-fated ESPN interview alongside Lil Wayne (Non Sequitur of the NFL Season) and questioned Eli Manning’s ability. Josina Anderson asked Beckham, who signed the biggest contract for a receiver ever, and was playing in the media capital of the world, if he was happy. “That’s a tough question,” he said. Strange thing to say, and, inside the Giants and around New York, the answer went over like a fart in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Shurmur disciplined Beckham. But it didn’t get much better from there—and missing the last month of the season with a quad injury left some in the organization wondering how hurt he was.

Part of me says, “Good luck, Cleveland.” And maybe history will repeat itself and Beckham eventually will be a problem. Maybe he won’t. His best football friend and one of the only people who can tell him when he’s being an idiot, Jarvis Landry, is the leader in the receivers room. His LSU receivers coach (and two-year position coach with the Giants),
Adam Henry, coaches the wideouts in Cleveland. And there’s Freddie Kitchens, the head coach who appears to have some blunt-force trauma to his communications.

Kitchens is the big X factor. Some boom-or-bust players seem like tech stocks at the start of their careers. Patrick Mahomes and Saquon Barkley turned into Apple, John Ross and Reuben Foster into AOL. Kitchens, who took over offensive play-calling after Hue Jackson was fired last fall, helped the Browns to a stunning 5-2 finish, making Baker Mayfield look like a fledgling Favre. Kitchens had enough of the Midas Touch to land Cleveland’s head-coaching job. Amazing story. But can he handle being a first-year head coach, and the pressure that comes with coaching an ascending Cinderella, and the play-calling, and handling the incendiary Beckham?

“From a planning standpoint,” Dorsey told me Saturday, “you want to surround a first-year head coach with quality coaches at all levels. I think we’ve done that. Surround him with a strong coaching staff [veteran offensive coordinator Todd Monken, ex-head coach Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator]. And remember: This head coach is very direct, very honest. He’s going to tell it like it is, and he’ll tell Odell like it is. He will hold players accountable. He’ll let players express themselves, as he should do.

“We really like Odell. He’s passionate. He’s competitive. He wants to be great. You can’t have enough of those guys. He’s on time. Everything you hear is he’s a great teammate. We’re thrilled to have him.”

Dorsey has had one heck of a run these last 11 months. He drafted the franchise quarterback (Baker Mayfield) and a long-term very good running back in Nick Chubb; traded for two Pro Bowl receivers (Landry, Beckham); signed the tarnished 2017 NFL rushing champ (Kareem Hunt). Now Dorsey has to be sure his offensive line is good enough, and I’d watch for some fortifications there.

He was in full we-haven’t-done-anything-yet mode when we spoke Saturday, but he knows the expectations, locally and nationally, are through the roof. The Browns are already the Vegas favorites to win the AFC North. Last time they won the division: 30 years ago, in 1989, when Dorsey was a Packers linebacker and Bud Carson coached the Browns.

“You’re never happy till you get to the ultimate goal,” Dorsey said. “Right now we’re a third-place team, 7-8-1, building a team that can compete. That’s all.”

He’s right, technically. But for the first time in 1.5 generations, there’s the weight of expectations on the Browns. Odell Beckham has put them there.

Free Agency: Fool's Gold

10

So we’ve just had a week of all NFL, all the time, of two mega-New York stories (Odell Beckham Jr., being traded by the Giants and Le’Veon Bell signing with the Jets) breaking within five hours, and the New York media machine going as wild as it can. Fans of the Detroit Patriots are fired up. The Raiders are going to the playoffs. J-E-T-S! Jets Jets Jets!

I am here to dump cold water on this.

History Says Free Agency Is Often Fool’s Gold

Five very bad team stories of spending big in free agency:

• 1996: The Jets, 3-13 in 1995, signed Super Bowl QB Neil O’Donnell (to the third-highest quarterback contract ever) and tackles Jumbo Elliott and David Williams. O’Donnell started 0-6 and got yanked. New York finished 1-15 and fired the coaching staff.

• 2000: Washington, 8-8 in 1999, went wild in free agency, signing Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Jeff George to deals totaling $99 million on paper. Sanders lasted one sub-par year and retired, coach Norv Turner was canned in December, and Washington went 8-8, 8-8, 7-9 and 5-11 in the four years after the gold rush.

• 2009: Washington, which likes to win March, replayed its free-agent follies of a decade earlier, making the worst signing in free-agency history (Albert Haynesworth, seven years, $100 million, and he lasted two disastrous years) and a few others. Washington crashed to 4-12. Coach and GM: fired.

Albert Haynesworth in 2009. (Getty Images)

• 2011: Philadelphia, NFC East champs in 2010, worked the free market like no team in the 26-year history of free agency, led by president Joe Banner and GM Howie Roseman. ”They came out of the gate like wild men,” coach Andy Reid said. “Dream Team,” quarterback Vince Young christened the newbies—Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, Cullen Jenkins, Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and others. “Dream Team” went 8-8 and 4-12. Reid got fired.

• 2016: Jacksonville spent $199 million on good but not great players (Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Chris Ivory, Kelvin Beachum). The reward: The Jags regressed from 5-11 in 2015 to 3-13 in 2016, and coach Gus Bradley got whacked in December.

I sense a trend.

“There are lots of mistakes made in free agency,” Cleveland GM John Dorsey said Saturday. “And lots of mistakes made early in free agency—when there are 32 teams competing for the best players, and you’re going to pay probably 20 percent more than makes sense.”

Sometimes high-priced imports work, and they improve a team mightily. Reggie White had great defensive impact as the first big free agent in 1993, and made it cool for free agents to work in Green Bay. Drew Brees (2006, San Diego to New Orleans) became one of the best quarterbacks ever. Andrew Whitworth (2017, Cincinnati to the Rams) has been one of the best left tackles of football for a growing and starry team. The Giants got a one-year pop out of Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon in 2016, and made the playoffs that year … but it was like a 5-Hour Energy jolt. The Giants crashed. And there are a lot more Haynesworths and Asomughas and ’96 Jets than there are even one-year success stories.

Just Look At 2018

While getting excited about the new class of free agents, remember these Pro Football Focus ratings of some of the richest players who changed teams in the 2018 free-agency class.

Kirk Cousins ($28 million per year) was PFF’s 11th-rated quarterback.
Case Keenum ($18 million per) was the 28th-rated quarterback.
Sammy Watkins ($16 million per) was the 38th-rated wide receiver.
Nate Solder ($15.5 million per) was the 38th-rated tackle.
Trumaine Johnson ($14.5 million per) was the 43rd-rated cornerback.
Allen Robinson ($14 million per) was the 35th-rated wide receiver.
Andrew Norwell ($13.3 million per) was the 13th-rated guard.
Malcolm Butler ($12.2 million per) was the 73rd-rated cornerback.
Ryan Jensen ($10.5 million per) was the 36th-rated center.

Seriously: How many GMs who signed those players, 12 months later, wish they hadn’t? Keenum in Denver, Watkins in Kansas City, Johnson in New York and Butler in Tennessee … Those would be the top on my list.

The Contracts Are Phony

Some insightful work done by Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap. I asked him for the total number of contracts of three years or longer in the last few free-agency periods. Let’s isolate on 2015 and 2016. Of the 197 lengthy (three years or more) free-agent contracts signed in those two years, 121 of the players never made it to the third years of their deals. That’s 61.4 percent of big free-agents, gone after one or two years. The clear majority of free-agent contracts beyond two years: window-dressing.

The Belichick Way

You saw the pictures, I assume, of Bill Belichick and girlfriend Linda Holliday in Barbados on the weekend before free-agency began. They have phones there, and Belichick was using them. “Don’t let those photos fool you,” Rosenhaus the agent told me Sunday. “We talked one morning at 4:30 about Trent Brown. They wanted to keep him.” Brown, of course, went to Oakland. As Mike Reiss reported, the Patriots were heavily into the Adam Humphries bidding before the slot receiver went to the Titans. But as usual, New England was mostly a Triple-A player in free agency, willing to play the long game while Trey Flowers and Brown left for gigantic contracts. New England will be content to use their six picks in the first three rounds (32, 56, 64, 73, 97, 101) and at least five in the first three rounds next year as currency. It’s easy to wonder why other teams don’t copy this model, but I wonder: Why don’t other teams copy this model?

On Tyreek Hill

I have no news about the domestic-abuse investigation involving Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill that the Kansas City Star reported about Friday. The paper quoted a source saying the abuse resulted in a broken arm suffered by the son of Hill and his fiancée.

So until we know more, we have no idea about Hill’s involvement, or his potential fault in the matter, or anything other than there was an incident, and police are investigating. The facts must surface. If Hill has something to do with whatever happened to the child, there must be serious consequences, obviously. I cannot and do not want to speculate on what might happen. It is unfair to the purported crime, if one occurred. There is just too much we don’t know.

Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill. (Getty Images)

Having said that, there could be a point when there will be a football consequence to the story. Last year, playing with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill became the NFL’s most impactful non-quarterback. With 1,630 scrimmage yards, and touchdowns receiving and rushing and returning, Hill was a threat to make an explosive play every time he touched the ball. I’m not alone in thinking that. I was in New Orleans in November and shared my opinion with Sean Payton. Drew Brees was nearby. Payton looked around to find Brees. “Hey Drew, tell Peter who’s the most dangerous player in football right now,” Payton said.

“Tyreek Hill,’’ Brees answered.

Right now, the Chiefs have lost one game-breaker, Kareem Hunt, and replaced him with an effective running back, Damien Williams. If Hill is missing for any period of time, the only Hill-type threat on the roster is Sammy Watkins, the former first-round pick who has been plagued by injuries as a pro. He has missed 15 of his last 51 games, with the Bills and Rams and Chiefs. Hill, in his two transcendent seasons with the Chiefs, has missed one game and played 35, and caught 178 passes for a 16.1-yard average. Hill is not just fast and quick; he is sudden, more sudden than any player in football. Can the Chiefs win without him? With Mahomes, all is possible. But if you ask me, the specter of Hill not playing for the Chiefs was a bigger story last week than the specter of Odell Beckham playing for the Browns.

The Week That Was

20

Earl Thomas, Baltimore Leader

One of the lasting memories I have of the 2018 season is Thomas, with a broken leg in Week 4, getting wheeled off the field in Arizona, and flipping a middle finger to the Seattle sideline. Frustration. Anger. A 29-year-old safety, one of football’s best, who tried in vain to negotiate a new contract in the last year of his four-year deal, failed, bitterly reported to the team, and saw his free-angry dream crash with the busted leg.

“A lot of frustration that day,” Thomas told me the other day from Baltimore. “I was in a battle with the team, and I chose to play, and I was betting on myself. So when it happened, it just added to my frustration. I did what I did, and I saw Pete Carroll, and I just was like, ‘You won. You won.’ Just a very disappointing day.”

So the hurt and the bitterness lasted till a three-way call he had with his agents last week, after Thomas thought the big-money deals for safeties were over. “I thought I was signing for one year somewhere else,” Thomas said, “and my agent [David Mulugheta] said, ‘I think you’re going to like this.’“ The deal: four years, $55 million, $22 million in the first year, $35 guaranteed—all in the first two years.

As with many of the free-agent deals, this one is good, basically, for two years. That’s how long the Ravens are counting on Thomas. If he doesn’t play at least two seasons, Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta screwed up, and I’m sure he knows it. This first major decision of DeCosta’s—after taking over for the retired Ozzie Newsome—is a risky one. Thomas missed 21 of Seattle’s last 51 games with broken legs. No one doesn’t like Earl Thomas. He’s one of the best safeties of this generation, the card-carrying leader and playmaker of the Legion of Boom. But now, playing at 30 for the first time and coming off two injuries in the last three years, he has to prove he can stay on the field and lead a new team he doesn’t know.

Baltimore has lost its two Alpha males on defense—Terrell Suggs (to Arizona) and C.J. Mosley (to the Jets). The Ravens need Thomas to be that leader, and to stay on the field for the next two years. “You look at Ed Reed, Ray Lewis,” Thomas said. “I feel like that’s my style of play.”

Mike Mayock, Ready To Compete

So I’ve known Mayock for some time, and when we spoke Saturday night, he sounded like the same driven prospect-knower I’ve come to rely on in the last few years. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I never believed in big spending in free agency. For years, that is not where my head was. But Jon Gruden and I spent a long, long time examining our team. We had so many team needs. We figured, we can go out and spend a little money on several positions. Or this year, we can look at three, four, five, six guys who can make a difference on the field and, as importantly, in the locker room. If we can get the guys we want, we should do it. We find a way to get Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson at receiver. We get a tackle, Trent Brown, 25 years old, who doesn’t even know how good he can be, who was lock-down, shutout in the playoffs for New England. We got Rodney Hudson at center, with a good young tackle, Kolton Miller, as the other tackle. We can line up and compete right now offensively.”

As for how the tempestuous talent, Antonio Brown, will fit: “AB got off the plane with a nutritionist and a trainer. They go everywhere with him. He wants to break Jerry Rice’s all-time record. Trust me: me and Jon are all in with that. I just think what happened in Pittsburgh was there were some lines drawn on both sides, and it was hard to get past that. He is primed to show everyone how good he is.”

Le’Veon Bell To The Jets

I like the signing by the Jets, because I don’t think a man who was the best all-around back in football at 25 and who sat out the season at 26 and returns to football at 27 will be hurt much by sitting. In fact, he might be better for the lack of hits last year. Two things I worry about with Bell.

One: Pittsburgh had a top-five offensive line. The Jets have a poor offensive line, and failed at one of the most important offseason jobs GM Mike Maccagnan had. He got neither of the top two free-agent centers—Mitch Morse, who signed with Buffalo, or Matt Paradis, who signed with Carolina. The Jets did improve the line with a deal for a former star guard, Kelechi Osemele, who needs to return to his Baltimore form, but it’s an average unit at best. Two: Without the kind of receiving weapons he benefited from in Pittsburgh, will foes load the box to stop Bell and risk less coverage on outside receivers?

Finally, we could debate all day whether it was smart for Bell to sit in 2018—and miss out on the $14.5-million franchise number he’d have made in a place with a medium cost of living, Pittsburgh—but how about his four-year, $52.5-million deal with the Jets, with $25 million fully guaranteed? Assuming Bell is a resident of tax-advantaged Florida, he’ll still have to pay a heftier state tax in New Jersey than he did in Pennsylvania: 10.75 percent in New Jersey versus 4.07 percent state and local tax in Pennsylvania, according to Robert Raiola, a CPA and director of the Sports and Entertainment Group at PKF O’Connor Davies. So not only will Bell never make back the money he lost last year—he won’t be able to keep as much of what he makes this year in New Jersey.

Are the Dolphins Tanking?

I’m not suggesting the Dolphins are tanking. At all. I am simply asking this question, in the wake of Miami trading Ryan Tannehill to Tennessee and failing to sign Teddy Bridgewater in free agency, and apparently having no interest in prying Josh Roen from Arizona, and instead signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to fill the last starting-QB void in the NFL on Sunday: What is the goal of the Miami Dolphins this year?

What should be the goal be? If I were owner Stephen Ross, I would want to be absolutely sure that everything my franchise did in 2019 was to set up the team to have my long-term starting quarterback in place in 2020. That, plus establishing coach Brian Flores’ culture, is what matters in 2019. In other words, if my scouts and GM and coach say the best guy for our team for the long term is Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, then figure out a way to get in position to jump from 13 in the first round (Miami’s pick) to however high it takes, using 2019 and 2020 draft currency, to do it. If that isn’t possible, or Haskins isn’t the guy, then you put it off till the Justin Herbert/Tua Tagovailoa draft year, 2020, and do the same thing next year. But if you don’t solve the QB question this year, it makes no sense to scratch and claw to win seven games this year. Picking 14th next year just makes it next-to-impossible to get the dream quarterback in 2020.

It’s a tough way to live, but everyone in the building—coaches, owner, staff—has to be on board with the quarterback quest. It’s all that matters right now. Which is why signing a stopgap like Fitzpatrick is smart. As long as he doesn’t recreate Fitzmagic too often in 2019.

Quotes of the Week

I

“We love New York, but Seattle is home for us. I won a Super Bowl, been to two [Super Bowls], won a lot of playoff games. I love being there.”

—Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, whose contract expires at the end of next season, on whether he’d be interested in quarterbacking the Giants one day.

Hard for me to imagine the Seattle GM John Schneider wouldn’t put the franchise tag of approximately $27 million (a rough figure that could change in the next year) on Wilson in 2020 if the two sides can’t reach a long-term deal sometime in the next 12 months. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson accepted playing year-to-year potentially, because he would make about $60 million for two years if the Seahawks had to tag him in 2020 and 2021. Let’s say Wilson hits true free agency in March 2022 at 33. By then, a franchise quarterback might average $43 million a year. So actually delaying his foray into the free market could conceivably make Wilson significantly more money than if he signed long-term in 2019.

I doubt the Seahawks will ever let Wilson walk, as long as Schneider and/or Carroll run the franchise. It makes far more sense for Seattle do a Wilson deal now, because even one averaging, say, $35-million-a-year now would be less costly than one signed for five years in 2022. I also think Wilson’s trusted agent, Mark Rodgers, has a different view of negotiating than many football agents do. Though he respects the impact a major injury could have on Wilson’s earning potential, Rodgers doesn’t fear going year-to-year for a couple of seasons and then cashing in at the top of the market in two or three years.

II

“He loves football. But at the same time, the amount of pain and punishment he’s had to endure … Rob has so many opportunities. It’s a tough decision to make. I’m sure he would love to play football but at the same time he’s gotta consider where he is from a physical standpoint. So I can’t really tell you what I think is gonna happen.”

—Agent Drew Rosenhaus, on “The Peter King Podcast,” on whether New England tight end Rob Gronkowski will play football in 2019

III

“The economics will have nothing to do with it.”

—Rosenhaus, on Gronkowski’s decision.

IV

“People that have been here, I can’t tell you how many players commented ‘This is amazing. This is awesome. What a facility. What a place. What a culture.’ All that stuff that we have going here. We love it. All I’m gonna say is anybody that says that doesn’t know Buffalo and really is just speaking out of ignorance. That pissed me off, to be candid.”

—Bills GM Brandon Beane, after a signing streak of free agents, on the perceptions that players don’t want to play in Buffalo.

V

“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion—a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.

We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy. And secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this.”

—New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, after shootings at two mosques left more than 50 dead in her country Thursday. A man suspected of being a white supremacist was arrested in the attacks. Ardern stressed two things: New Zealand would work aggressively on some form of gun control, and the country would continue to welcome all peoples.

VI

“He’s a rock star that never won a Grammy.”

—Kyle Brandt of “Good Morning Football” on Odell Beckham Jr.

VII

“There’s no one more distracting than Odell, even on his best day.”

—Marc Ross, the Giants’ former director of college scouting, on NFL Network, on the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns.

VIII

“The Giants are the Miami Marlins.”

—Longtime New York sportswriter Gary Myers, after Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Browns.

What I Learned

30

Rookie Oakland GM Mike Mayock, on making the Antonio Brown deal, and on making deals in general, and on the background he believes serves him well in negotiating with other teams … and, in this case, with veteran agent Drew Rosenhaus:

“So Drew and I negotiated on Friday [March 8], but we were apart. It was not getting done. Actually, I went to bed Friday night and the deal was off the table. Our trade with Pittsburgh was contingent on us reaching a deal with Drew for Antonio, but that was very much in doubt last Friday night.

“If you want to get a deal done, Drew will stay at it with tenacity. But we woke up on Saturday without a deal. He had a position and I had a position. We had some issues with the amount of guaranteed money they wanted, and how far we were willing to go. Plus, AB wanted to be the highest-paid receiver in football. Those were issues we had to address. Those respective positions cost us a deal on Friday night.

Left to right: Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown, Mike Mayock. (Twitter: @Raiders)

“But what I knew was AB wanted to play for Jon Gruden. Drew and I were willing to keep chipping away.”

Seems like a lot of pressure in your first major negotiation as a GM, I said to Mayock.

“Well, I would disagree. I spent 18 years in commercial real estate [in New Jersey, while developing his second career as a football analyst]. I was negotiating major deals every day of the week. What I learned over the years about deal-making that applies to any business is this: If your intention is to win the deal, that is rarely going to work and it’ll piss people off. But if your intention is making deals and not caring about the winner or the loser, you can make a lot of deals. And both sides can walk away feeling good. And that’s what happened here.”


Rosenhaus got enough new money—mostly in the last two years of the three years remaining on Brown’s contract, to take advantage of lower taxes when the Raiders move to Nevada—to move Brown past Odell Beckham Jr., as the highest-paid receiver in football in per-year compensation. And he and Mayock settled on $30 million guarantees, which are likely not consequential because it’s unlikely Brown will be cut in Oakland.

Numbers Game

• Draft choices in the top 40 overall picks of the last five drafts for Cleveland: 14.

• Draft choices in the top 40 overall picks of the 2019 draft for Cleveland: 0.

Cleveland has had, in order, the eighth, 22nd, 35th picks (2014); the 12th and 19th picks (2015); the 15th and 32nd picks (2016); the first, 25th and 29th picks (2017); and the first, fourth, 33rd and 35th picks (2018).

This year, barring a trade, the Browns will be off the clock all night Thursday on day one of the draft, and off for about the first 90 minutes of night two in Nashville, site of the draft. They are scheduled to choose only twice in the first two days of the three-day draft: 49th and 80th overall. 

Factoidness

40

I

Players, and agents, have gotten wise about pushing as much guaranteed money as possible into the first two years of contracts, knowing that teams can quickly fall out of love with their new stars. Per Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, of the 126 contracts of three years or more signed since the end of the season, only three have guaranteed money beyond the second year. They are:

Trey Flowers, Detroit. A $10-million guarantee in 2021.
C.J., Mosley, Jets. An $8-million guarantee in 2021.
Landon Collins, Washington. A $5-million guarantee in 2021.

II

Life so often is about opportunity, and being in the right place at the right time.

Pro Football Focus grades every player on every snap in every game. In the 2018 regular season, New England left tackle Trent Brown was graded the 29th-rated left tackle in football by PFF. (Minimum 10 games started.) He allowed three sacks, 12 hits on Tom Brady, and 20 significant pressures. Essentially, Brown was brought in (a pretty painless deal for New England, dropping 48 slots midway through the 2018 draft) from San Francisco to be a fireman and maybe a short-term starter at tackle. When first-round tackle Isaiah Wynn suffered a torn Achilles in August, Brown morphed by need into the left tackle. At best, you’d call his regular-season performance serviceable.

Then the playoffs came. Brown played all 251 offensive snaps of New England’s Super Bowl championship run … and allowed zero sacks and zero hits.

Then free agency came about, and the tackle market was thin. No left tackle in the NFL last year allowed more quarterback disruptions (sacks/hits/pressures) than Raider rookie Kolton Miller’s 65. The Raiders had cap room. The Raiders had a desperate need. They signed Brown to the highest-paid contract of an offensive lineman in the 99-year history of the NFL: four years, $66 million, with $36.3 million guaranteed.

Tweets of the Week

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

Newman!

50

To comment on the column, or to say anything about anything, you can reach me by email.

I was thinking the exact same thing. From Stephan G. of Plano, Texas: “Is new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens suddenly on the hottest coaching seat? Folks’ expectations on Cleveland’s season seem to be going through the roof. Looks like a tough role for a first-time NFL head coach.”

Terrific question. I referred to this in my Browns item above, and I agree with you. Think of the Kitchens path: A year ago, he was a few weeks into being the last guy on the Browns coaching staff—a running backs coach hired at the recommendation of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Kitchens ascended to offensive coordinator and play-caller midway through the season, and then stunning got the head-coaching job, and then the Browns made the shocking trade for Odell Beckham Jr. I said to someone the other day: “How crazy is this—if the Browns win 10 games and are a wild-card team, and lose in the first playoff game, fans will think it’s a disappointing year.” THE BROWNS. The pressure is clearly on Kitchens and his staff to make the playoffs, win a playoff game or two (for the first time in 25 years), and keep peace with Odell and company. It’s not going to be easy.

Thank you. From David K., of Virginia Beach, Va.: “I have been reading you in MMQB and FMIA for about 20 years. I love reading your columns not just for the football, but also because you discuss other facets of the world. I enjoyed reading the stories about Mary Beth and Laura as teenagers back in the day. Sometimes we can relate to them more so than the football stories because they are real life. Those stories just made you and all of us a little more human. I read the section on Mary Beth’s and Nick’s wedding and welled up with tears. Congratulations to the two of them! All of you deserve the happiness in your lives because you bring so much enjoyment to me and your readers’ lives.”

I really appreciate that, David—and I appreciate the sentiments of all of you who took the time to write with heartfelt well-wishes for Mary Beth in her new life. It’s a heck of a milepost, to see both of your kids out in the world with partners who love them and happiness in their lives.

Norm quit fantasy football because it was making him obsessive. From Norman S.: “Love your column. Thanks for the weekly nourishment. If you ever do something on fantasy football, here’s this—not from a sore loser, but from a soured winner, taking stock a little too late on the spiritual cost of success. I wrote this to the guys in my league:

“It’s time I retired. I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been over these past 20 years. My favorite day of the whole season was always draft day when a bunch of guys I would otherwise not have known gather to drink, eat, joke, laugh, and oh yeah, pick a few favorite players to the good natured scorn and ridicule of the rest. That still goes on, but not so much. In fact, fantasy then and now is about as different as is Grbac from Mahomes. Then we picked our players from a few printed publications and our favorite teams. Now we subscribe to one or more of hundreds of websites dedicated to fantasy football, and watch 24-hour sports channels. Then we checked the stat line on Monday to see how our players did. Now the numbers roll across the bottom of the screen and ding our phones as they happen. Then we decided on starters by where we selected them in the draft. Now we factor weather, venue, injury, and police reports. Now it’s work. To win you have to be a shark. And that’s why I have to get out. I don’t like what it’s done to me. I’ve taken it and myself way too seriously, dedicating more and more time, using the waiver wire for a home screen, challenging rules, whining about apparent unfairness, yet picking your pockets with early add-drops and shady trades whenever possible. I’m sorry, guys. I’ve let it get the better of me.”

Great letter, Norm. Excellent points about obsessive behavior here, even when it seems harmless enough. As happens in so many things in life, we go too far sometimes, and it’s great you realize it and are returning to a saner Sunday existence.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think it was cool to hear Mike Mayock say something Saturday night when we spoke by phone, because he was anxious to put it out there. The subject was his relationship with Jon Gruden, who is, occasionally, a mercurial guy. Many in Gruden’s past would say he could be tough to work with. “I’ll say this on the record,” Mayock said. “Jon and I are awesome. Love working with him. Tied at the hip philosophically. Professionally, I have never had a better time.”

2. I think the eight-week NFL suspension for Kareem Hunt is just. That means his inexcusable act of abuse against a women in the wee hours of a night gone awry in Cleveland will have cost him, essentially, a year of employment: the last seven Chiefs games of 2018, and the first seven Browns games of 2019. Along with the treatment Hunt is rumored to be getting for what ailed him, the 11 months away from games strikes me as the kind of early-career warning siren that will give Hunt the chance to prove he is the good person he claims to be.

3. I think I’m dubious that Odell Beckham ever used the F-word against coach Pat Shurmur during the season last year. I’m not positive about it, but I would guess if Shurmur is asked about it at the league meetings, he will say it did not happen.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. (Getty Images)

4. I think I’m not a big fan of everyone who ever crossed paths with Ben Roethlisberger trashing him, or of this narrative that the Steelers are ruined now because Roethlisberger can somehow run amok, without a teammate-governor to keep him from ruining the team. Roethlisberger will never be considered a great leader, and I agree with those who say it’s not cool to go on local radio and announce Antonio Brown ran a bad route in a game. But let’s keep this in perspective. It’s not Roethlisberger who went AWOL the last week of the season in a game with major playoff implications, and it’s not Roethlisberger who chose to forgo playing football last year for $14.5 million. He did lead the NFL with 5,129 passing yards, however, in the midst of the Steeler mayhem. That counts.

5. I think this will get lost in the news blizzard of the week, but it’s interesting because of the perspective it forces us to have. Think back to four years last week, when New Orleans traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. Seattle, thinking it got a quasi-steal, was happy to deal center Max Unger—a good player but not a star—and a first-round pick, the 31st overall in 2015, to New Orleans. In the last four years, we’ve waited for Graham to be the just-below-Gronk tight end he’d been with Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Graham hasn’t had a 70-catch season. He hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season. He’s been a nice player for Seattle for three years and Green Bay in 2018. But he’ll always be thought of only as a good player post-Saints, not a great one. We viewed the trade, even with the first-rounder, as a bit of an ex parte deal for the Seahawks. But it actually turned out one-sided the other way—even with the draft pick (linebacker Stephone Anthony) being a disappointment in Neaw Orleans. Unger has been an above-average center, and he started 67 of 68 games in New Orleans over the past four years.

I bring this up because you may have missed the fact that Unger retired on Saturday. Kudos to Unger—decent guy, quiet guy, workaday guy—who was symphonic with Brees.

6. I think if I ran a network, one of the first things I would do is give women anchors and reporters and commentators the option of making their on-screen dress business attire, not cocktail attire.

7. I think (and I realize this is a touchy topic and I’m about to sound like an old codger and father of two daughters), but men wear suits in high-profile TV jobs while the majority of women, in sports and news, dress in cocktail-type clothing. Do these women want to? Or do they feel forced to dress in cocktail-type attire because they feel they need to have a certain look?

I don’t know why this has become the norm. I know TV trends have waxed and waned over the years, but in watching sports and the daily cable news shows, I see quite a bit of skin on women, and I just wonder if this is how they want to dress on TV. To me, I would rather have women delivering sports news and real news dress the way they truly want to dress, not the way they think they need to dress to be appealing or to keep their jobs. To be clear, not every female anchor or reporter dresses for air like it’s a night on the town, and if that’s her personal preference, it’s fine. I would hope we could get to a place where women dress in the way they prefer, not in the clothing they feel forced for whatever reason to wear.

You might feel that’s an oddity to interject in this column, but I feel strongly about it. If you raise daughters who would like to report in sports or politics on air—I didn’t, but they loved sports and such a choice would not have surprised me—you shouldn’t have to say success or failure in the business depends on how you look, or what you are willing to wear on-air.

8. I think this just seems too weird: In the same week the 12th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Odell Beckham Jr., was the story of the week in a trade from the Giants to Cleveland, the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland quarterback, got signed as the third quarterback on the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football.

9. I think the last week was not kind to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At all. The Bucs wanted to hold serve, basically, and keep Kwon Alexander and Adam Humphries, and, if he could be happy, DeSean Jackson. The Bucs went 0-for-3. The Humphries loss, even though slot receiver is not the most important weapon in a Bruce Arians offense, is hard because he’s a tough over-achiever, very productive, egoless, and just 25. Check out how his 2018 regular season compared to Julian Edelman’s:

Humphries: 781 snaps, 76 receptions, 10.7 per catch, 5.7 yards after catch (very good for a slot guy), three drops.
Edelman: 748 snaps, 74 receptions, 11.5 yards per catch, 4.7 yards after catch, eight drops.

Good signing by GM Jon Robinson in Tennessee.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Sports Column of the Week: by Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, on the sordid tale of the coaching of U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka on the courts of south Florida. Really terrific reporting by Hyde.

b. TV Story of the Week: by Steve Hartman of CBS News, on a veteran named Ernie Andrus, who has found an incredible way to live his life in his nineties—incredible and oh so admirable.

c. His current run, from the Atlantic coast in Georgia (begun over the weekend) to San Diego, will take him four years, he figures. He’ll be close to 100 then. What a man.

d. The college admissions scandal, for those of a certain age (say, 40 to 65), rings so harrowing.

e. Story of the Week: How on God’s green earth so many red flags were missed in this scandal, by Joe Rubin, Matthew Ormseth and Suhauna Hussain of the Los Angeles Times.

f. “This process was set up to be exploited by unscrupulous people.” Nice summation, Villanova counselor.

g. News item: Carlos Gonzalez agrees to minor-league deal with Cleveland. My God! Cargo! It’s come to Triple-A for the once-great Cargo.

h. Holy crap, Aaron Judge: six homers and four doubles in your first 30 spring-training at-bats? Yikes!

i. My AL MVP pick this year might be pretty easy.

j. NFL Meetings next week in Phoenix. Spring training is going to be just about kaput by the time I arrive. I mean, who schedules these things? You didn’t check with me first?

k. “Veep” is almost back on TV. There is a God.

l. You did what, Bradley University? Luckily, an apology was forthcoming.

m. One thing in my employment career, however long it lasts, that I will be eminently pleased about—that I never have worked or will work for James Dolan, and that I never have covered or will cover a sporting entity owned by James Dolan.

n. A fan at a Knicks game yells at Dolan, “Sell the team!” And the Knicks owner has him banned from the arena.

o. There is being thin-skinned. And there is having skin as thin as one-ply toilet paper. Dolan is the latter. The Knicks have won one playoff series since the 2000-01 season, and it will likely be the worst team in the NBA this season. The only thing the franchise is good at is tanking, and the owner bans someone from Madison Square Garden for yelling at him, “Sell the team!”

p. Beernerdness: For the two-plus years we lived in Boston a few years back, I tried a bunch of Jack’s Abby (Jack’s Abby Brewing, Framingham, Mass.) beer and loved most everything. Last week, at the Dive Bar on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I spotted Jack’s Abby Red Tape Lager. I had to try it. It’s an amber lager, though not so amber in color, and exceedingly tasty. Maltier than a normal lager, and excellent in taste and finish. Really liked it. Miss you, Jack’s Abby.

q. Take a bow for the prediction of the Odell trade, Jay Glazer.

r. Take a bow for breaking the Odell story, Mike Garafolo. 

s. So you’re down on the media? Think we don’t need the watchdogs of the local press? Read this in the Seattle Times.

The Adieu Haiku

40

One thing I have learned.
Reinforced this week: Two sides
to every story.

10 responses to “FMIA: How The Odell Deal Got Done, and an NFL Free Agency Wet Blanket

  1. Do you honestly think the Browns’ fan base would be disappointed with a 10 win, wild card season losing in the first round? Would we enjoy the early loss in the playoffs? No. Would it be disappointing? Absolutely not. They are still a very young team with a first year head coach. We are not stupid fans expecting to get to the Super Bowl or even thinking the division will be handed to us. Completely off base with that remark.

  2. “1996: The Jets, 3-13 in 1995, signed Super Bowl QB Neil O’Donnell (to the third-highest quarterback contract ever)”
    ———————-

    But what were the alternatives at QB though?

    – Keep a fading and ineffective Boomer Esiason?
    – Draft? Tony Banks, Bobby Hoying, Jeff Lewis, Danny Kanell, Spence Fischer?
    – Free Agency? Jeff George, Jeff Hostetler, O’Donnell, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, etc?

    O’Donnell was easily the best option in 1996.

  3. “The Belichick Way – It’s easy to wonder why other teams don’t copy this model, but I wonder: Why don’t other teams copy this model?”
    ———————————

    This model only works because they’ve got the greatest QB to cover up many of the flaws.

    Look at Trent Brown. As you said during the Super Bowl championship run – allowed zero sacks and zero hits. We all know he’s not that good. But Brady’s quick decisions and quick release makes Brown look fantastic. That’s why Joey Bosa called him ridiculous and said “Every time you win a rush and you look up and the ball is gone, it’s a little demoralizing.”

  4. I agree, for the most part, with your Beckham trade assessment. Except for this: There is no way on earth that Gettleman moved Beckham on his own; John Mara traded Beckham. Mara traded him because he knew that Beckham would pull the Antonio Brown deal and wanted to get rid of him before that noise started and Beckham’s value dropped.

  5. So because Ben played last year and threw the ball a lot he is a leader? Or just that it should count for something? I’m pretty sure he got game checks every week. Don’t remember him being suspended again. Oh and Bell was so overused in that offense I’m glad he got to take a year off, but he did lose almost 15 million dollars. That’s worth something.

  6. I think O’Donnell got hurt at 0-6, not benched, and missed the rest of the season with the injury (this was also the legendary Rich Kotite reign).

  7. “…and quick release makes Brown look fantastic.” I have to agree with this; if he were covering Daryle Lamonica, Drew Bledsoe or Dan Fouts (all wind up motion releases, I think), he would suffer. The good thing is that Derek Carr also has a quick release, so Brown should thrive also with the Raiders.

    GO RAIDERS!!!

  8. I agree with you, Peter, on the issue of women’s wardrobe in TV journalism. One network in particular seems to be the biggest offender, but I see it across the board in both news and sports.
    Interesting how Rachel Maddow, a no-nonsense journalist who always backs herself up with facts, seems to wear the same black suit jacket every night she’s on- for years now. Makes a great point about style vs. substance.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!