Lack of excitement is a good thing
Mailbag: Negotiating period quietly helps teams gauge market, retain free agents
The NFL's first venture into a three-day negotiating period prior to free agency is lacking excitement.
While agents could talk to all teams, commissioner Roger Goodell put up a strong warning to teams and agents Friday night. Though he legalized tampering, he threatened to have a tampering investigation if teams or agents announce deals for players leaving teams before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
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The idea of putting in this three-day negotiating period was to give more guidance to teams hoping to keep their players, not speed their exits. As much as fans want to see their teams sign players from other teams, the system has to be set so teams have a chance to keep their own players.
For the next three years, teams will have a tough time navigating around a tight salary cap. The cap isn't expected to grow much in 2014 and 2015. Just to get the cap to $123 million, the NFLPA had to borrow from future caps to pump more money into free agency and re-signings.
Even with the cap at $123 million, it's hard for teams to have more than eight players with contracts worth $6 million a year or more. Good starters cost at least $6 million a year to keep. That's why it helps teams to have agents report back to them what they think their client can get.
The Atlanta Falcons were able to keep Pro Bowl safety William Moore and guard Garrett Reynolds this weekend. The Washington Redskins re-signed guard Kory Lichtensteiger. The Bills kept cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Getting feedback from agents has allowed several teams to re-sign kickers, punters and long snappers.
The window also helped teams and agents find out what the middle class of starters can get. Starting Tuesday, when players can officially sign with teams, we will have plenty of excitement.
The negotiating window was a good exercise in shopping.
From the inbox
Q: I am a Colts fan first and foremost. My question is, how serious a pursuit do you think the Colts will make for Paul Kruger? I'm hearing quite a pursuit. With his familiarity with Coach Pagano, I'm seeing a real nice fit.
Joe in Tracy City, Tenn.
A: I agree. The Colts and the Cleveland Browns will be the main teams in on Kruger. Chuck Pagano can target Kruger to replace Dwight Freeney at outside linebacker. With both teams having more than $40 million in cap room, the competition should be pretty good. That's why the Baltimore Ravens feel as though they don't have much of a chance of keeping him. The Colts have been smart about how they have spent money in free agency, but they have the room to get the players they want. Pagano is going to want Kruger because he knows him and the defense needs him.
Jonathan in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Barry in Batesville, Miss., suggests the Jets sign David Carr to compete against Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback's job. He notes Carr completed 60 percent of his passes on some bad Houston Texans teams. I offer Jason Campbell as a better solution. A Matt Flynn trade could be even better. ... Jackson in Los Angeles hates seeing Hall of Fame players going to other teams. He wonders if it would make sense for the NFL to create a salary cap exception so that these type of players stay with a team for 10 or more years. The NFL would love it. Players wouldn't. Hall of Fame-caliber players have the leverage to drive up the price. If they weren't locked into teams without the ability to leave in free agency, teams would have all the leverage and salaries wouldn't go up. The league did provide a way to keep top players with the franchise tags. They can franchise a player for three years if they wish, but the price often makes that tough. ... Steve C. in Mankato, Minn., wants to know what his Vikings should spend money on in free agency. General manager Rick Spielman isn't afraid to dabble in free agency, but he knows it's better to get players out of the draft. They need help at receiver. I think they should make a run at Mike Wallace. Percy Harvin could be a holdout and is in the last year of his contract. If the team doesn't think it could sign Harvin long-term, then Wallace could fill that role on the outside. Greg Jennings is a consideration, too. Wouldn't hurt to look at a cornerback. ... Justin in Memphis, Ind., is a Dolphins fan and knows the team has a need at wide receiver. But he says there is a glaring weakness at cornerback. I couldn't agree more. The Dolphins created the need for a receiver when they traded away Brandon Marshall. They followed the same path by trading away Vontae Davis when they knew Sean Smith was in the last year of his contract. If Smith leaves, the Dolphins are down two corners. ... Josh in Bowie, Md., notes the Chicago Bears have only five draft choices but have needs along the offensive line and at tight end and wide receiver. He wonders if it would be wise for the Bears to trade back in the first round to get more picks. That only helps if they can get a second-rounder or a third. They need to get quality picks, not just numbers. ... Kreits in Passaic, N.J., acknowledges Rex Ryan is in a tough spot as a coach and he fears this season will look bad on his resume. He thinks Ryan should go into announcing for a year or two and then come back to coach the New York Giants. I'm not sold the Giants would hire him, but you have to understand Ryan. Even if things looks tough, he believes in himself as a coach and he believes in his players. He'll go down fighting. ... Stuart in Langley, British Columbia, wants to know whom the Kansas City Chiefs will choose with the first pick in the draft. All signs point to tackle Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M. ... Nick in Olathe, Kan., didn't understand why the Chiefs cut tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Breaston. Boss has a concussion issue and might not play. Breaston was making $4.55 million a year and the team has to clear out room to fit in Dwayne Bowe's $12 million-a-year contract.
A: They are studying options. If they can't re-sign Wes Welker, they could get into the mix for Wallace. Woodson could be a help in the secondary at the right price. No chance on Revis. The Jets can't trade him within the division. The Pats appear to be set at running back, but Jackson could be intriguing at the right price. The Pats had great success when they acquired Corey Dillon. Jackson has Dillon-like ability.
Q: Shouldn't the Jets simply ask for a 2014 first-rounder in any Darrelle Revis trade? Future picks are worthless, and there just isn't any player or players in this draft worth trading the star CB for. That could change in 2014 with some great QBs such as Johnny Manziel poised to make the jump to the NFL. Should the Jets think about trading up to get Manziel in 2014 much like the Redskins did in 2012 for Robert Griffin III?
Tim in Knoxville, Tenn.
A: They really need more than just a No. 1 for him. They would need a No. 1 this year and something next year, which makes this a difficult trade. Picks in the future are usually devalued by a round. For example, a 2014 No. 1 would be considered like a second-round pick in such a trade. Revis for a No. 2 isn't enough. Plus, the Jets need starters now. They have only 10 starters under contract. Rex Ryan needs to win this year, and that's going to be tough even with Revis on the roster.
Q: I know this isn't going to happen, but what are the odds of Dallas acquiring Darrelle Revis and Oshiomogho Atogwe? You would have Brandon Carr and Revis as No. 1 and No. 2, you move Claiborne to cover the slot, and move Mike Jenkins to safety to pair with Otagwe. You then trade Orlando Scandrick for some picks in this year's draft. Far-fetched, but what do you think?
Layne in Mobile, Ala.
A: Very far-fetched. The Cowboys have a combined $19 million a year tied up at cornerback with Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick. Plus, they have major cap problems. Revis is going to ask for $13 million to $16 million a year. Jerry Jones considers his cornerback position a strength. Why change that? Mike Jenkins will leave in free agency. No chance for Revis.
Q: Must disagree with your assessment of Wes Welker's performance in Super Bowl XLVI. I recently re-watched that game. The Welker "drop" in the fourth quarter has become a sore spot with many critics, however I can't buy it. Now perhaps he made some error, or received some defense that prevented him from being where he was supposed to be, and Brady hit the spot perfectly. However, what is very clear in the replay was that Welker was trying for the ball with all his skill; he was already airborne, far more horizontal than vertical, and his body was twisted as he interacted with defenders when that ball hit his hands. For any receiver in his body position to catch any ball is far less than 1 in 100. There were two later drops by Patriots receivers (Aaron Hernandez and Deion Branch) that were more crucial in preventing the Patriots from catching up in that game.
Ron in Portland, Ore.
A: I can't remember making any critical assessment of Welker's performance, but let's review the Welker situation in New England. The Patriots need to re-sign him, but they have to watch the price. I'm sure it has to drive Welker crazy that he might have to take less than Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez, but that's the price of working out of the slot. Anquan Boldin has the best long-term deal for a slot receiver and he's been asked to take a cut from his $8.3 million-a-year contract. That might lead to his release. The receivers who get paid the megabucks are the outside receivers like Megatron, Calvin Johnson. Inside receivers take a lot of hits and make a lot of catches. Somehow, though, you have to think Brady can help work out the situation so he doesn't lose Welker.
Q: I feel like the media is really blowing the Joe Flacco deal up, and the fact that he is currently the highest-paid player. First, it seems pretty obvious the deal will be worked out in Year 4, but more important is that Flacco is the highest-paid player for the moment. Now that he has signed, Matt Ryan's agent has a number to go by for Ryan to sign a new deal. Sure, Ryan doesn't have a Super Bowl, but the constant comparisons between the two have always been there. Aaron Rodgers is also due for a new contract, I'm sure their contracts will include a larger signing bonus than even Drew Brees' $60 million guarantee.
Jonathan in Lake Charles, La.
A: Good read on your part. The price of top quarterbacks is now $20.1 million, and it's going up. Now that the deal is done, I'm sure the Ravens aren't looking back. They were hoping to get him in the $17 million a year range, but they got a Super Bowl ring out of the 2012 experience, and that's what it is all about. Flacco earned every dime of his contract. He's been to the playoffs in five consecutive years and he has nine playoff wins.
Q: With the value of speed backs like Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller, Felix Jones, and Jahvid Best (before he was injured), it seems that Denard Robinson would be a better value as a running back. He is the same size and weight as Best, Spiller and Bush, and when you consider his troubles catching the ball and his proven ability to read blocks and make good hard cuts, would he be valued higher as a running back rather than a wide receiver?
Jay in Bowling Green, Ohio
A: I'm sure the team that drafts him will use him in the backfield along with using him at receiver. He can be used much like Josh Cribbs in Cleveland. His value will be his versatility. He needs to spend more time at receiver so he can learn the routes and get in sync with his quarterback.
Q: Does the signing of William Gay mark the end of the Steelers' interest in retaining Keenan Lewis? Is there a scenario where they can keep both Lewis and Cortez Allen long term by cutting Ike Taylor, who is still very good but aging?
Jody in Punxsutawney, Pa.
A: I think there is no doubt about that. Allen has the ability to be a starting cornerback. He's got good man-to-man skills and has the appearance of being a cornerback on the rise. Gay is an insurance policy. He cost only $1.5 million a year. Lewis probably will get more than that on the market. The Steelers are tight against the cap, but they don't want to make too many concessions.
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