Monday, March 05, 2007

NFL Hot Stove

There has been so much action over these first few days of free agency it reminds me of the NBA All Star Game, minus the strip club shooting and ready availability of hookers. As soon as you go to do a story on the latest deals, a whole new wave of signings & trades washes over the sportscape and litters the shore with myriad new agreements between overrated, overpaid players and overmonied teams.

Yes folks, the NFL is "making it rain" for its entire stable of, ahem, free agents.

In fact the action has been so fast & furious in my last NFL Hot Stove post I forgot to mention one deal that went down on Saturday. It was an easy oversight on my part; there was so much going on that day that you can understand how I could miss what just happened to be the biggest deal of all time involving a defensive player: Bills CB Nate Clements' 8-year, $80 million mega-deal from the San Franciso 49ers.

"I'm rich, beeyotch!"

Let's step back a second and examine what's going on here. The NFL has a surplus of cash due to the enormous popularity of its product, which is reflected in record merchandise, ticket and advertisement sales, not to mention the revenue generated by numerous 10-figure television contracts. All of this excess wealth has gone directly into the pockets of owners, with the intention being the owners will spend the extra cache on improving their teams.

In order to ensure the teams did spend more on improving their teams and not just their country club memberships the powers-that-be raised teams' salary cap figure to a record-high $109 million for next season. It doesn't take Mel Kiper to figure out that a surplus of cash plus a sky-high spending ceiling= a multitude of players who happen to be in the right place (free agency) at the right time (when the league is wallowing money.)

Thus the end result is you get a decent player (Clements had 2 tackles, 3 INTs and 20 passes defensed in 2006), who's not even the best at his own position receiving the biggest contract ever for a defender. Clements even pinpointed this year on his personal calendar, signing a one-year deal last season with Buffalo in hopes of breaking fellow cornerback Champ Bailey's 7-year, $63 million pact he inked with the Broncos in 2004. BTW, Bailey had 86 tackles, a league-leading 10 INTs and 21 passes defensed. And Clements just got $20 mil more than him (on paper.) Crazy.

You also get crazy situations where a boatload of guards, formerly the lunch ladies of the league (i.e. doing the slop work for minimal pay), signing deals that promise running back money. It started last year when Steve Hutchinson agreed to a then-mammoth 7-year, $49 million deal with the Vikings, and that ripple effect hit hard this season as Eric Steinbach (Cleveland, 7 years), Derrick Dockery (Buffalo, 7 years), and Kris Dielman (San Diego, 6 years) all reaped the benefits of Hutchinson's breakthrough contract.

Other signings that have taken place in the last 48 hours include:

-Green Bay running back Ahman Green signed a 5-year, $25 million deal with the Texans.

-The Cowboys signed massive offensive lineman Leonard Davis a massive contract- -years, $49.6 mil with $18 mil guaranteed to lure the 6-year vet away from Arizona.

-Denver quickly recovered from trading away leading rusher Tatum Bell by signing former Titan tailback Travis Henry to a 5-year, $22.5 million deal, making him the next in line at Running Back U- to be let go. (Denver has allowed its past 4 rushing leaders leave the following season: Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Rueben Droughns, and Bell.)

-Former Falcons DE Patrick Kearney agreed to a 6-year, $39 million deal ($19 mil guaranteed) to rush the passer for the sack-lacking Seahawks.

-The NFC Champion Bears alleviated their crowded backfield problem by dealing away disgruntled starter Thomas Jones to the Jets, paving the way for Cedric Just Gimme the Nights Benson to take over carrying the rock in Chi-Town. The deal also involved a swap of draft picks in April, with New York obtaining Chicago's #63rd pick in exchange for its #37. The move also allows New York to move past the Curtis Martin era by replacing the Hall of Fame-bound workhorse with another tough-nosed, hard runner.

-38-year-old Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson signed a 3-year deal with Dallas to become Tony Romo's backup after Johnson was unceremoniously dumped one year after making Duante Culpepper expendable in Minnesota. Fitting that one immobile, overage former starter turned clipboard holder replaces another in Big D.

-Wide receiver Wes Welker became a member of the Patriots when the Pats and Dolphins decided to forgo the offer sheet and just trade the 3-year vet. New England surrendered a 2nd & 7th round pick this year to Miami in order to obtain the promising receiver's services.

Miami was busy shedding players Monday; including Welker the Fins let RB Sammie Morris flee to New England, too, and released QB Joey Harrington and TE Randy McMichael. New coach, new players, same results for Miami in 2007?
I think that about covers everything, but I'm sure I missed something or another deal went down in the time it took me to type this outro. If so I'll cover that in tomorrows installment.

Perhaps a good way to sum up the wacky, wild world of the NFL off season, 2007, is to end on this rumor: New England is reportedly interested in bringing WR Randy Moss to Foxborough.

When it rains it pours.

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