After a week of whirlwind action in NFL free agency, I thought it would be a good time to pull from the notebook a few things that jumped out at me.
At the risk of offending my musically inclined friends who love 1980’s pop, NFL players have the right to change their prerogative at any point in a negotiating window and that includes right up until a deal is signed with ink.
As a General Manager who was in the business of acquiring talent, I never felt good about anything until a deal was signed and turned into the league office. Verbal agreements meant nothing to me. I once flew a kid to Seattle after a team leaked out that they had a verbal just to see if we could change his mind. Guess what? We did.
As we found out this week with former Dallas Cowboy Randy Gregory, current Washington Commander RB JD McKissic, and “in limbo” DE Za’ Darius Smith, things change fast in the business of team building. Not only can players change their mind, but clubs can do an about face as well by connecting their agreements to a player being able to pass a physical. Again, I never felt good until our doctor signed off on that as well.
Gregory was said to have changed his mind based on “wording of a clause” in an already agreed contract with Dallas. McKissic, because he had second thoughts about leaving his current team, went back on his word and signed the same deal with the Commanders that he had agreed to with the Buffalo Bills. In Smith’s case, he just didn’t feel comfortable and backed off his agreement with the Baltimore Ravens when he thought he might be leaving money on the table.
This is nothing new, I can recant several instances where a player changed his mind after agreeing to a deal verbally. I remember flying once from Seattle to Houston with a contract in my briefcase to get a signature by a player, in person, because I was nervous he would change his mind if we didn’t get it signed that day. Three hours after landing in Houston and ump-teen conversations with that player’s wife who was circling the airport waiting for her husband to disembark from a flight after visiting another team, I took a return flight to Seattle without my goal being accomplished. The player had eluded me in the airport, even though he (and his wife) plus his agent, had agreed to a deal with us. He had signed with the Miami Dolphins that day, and hadn’t told either his agent or his wife.
These are emotional decisions for real-life people and families. Fans think it's great to be a free agent and have multiple options to choose from. I’ll just say this, it truly is a chaotic time for all parties involved and some guys are wired better for the business of pro sports and handling their own business, than others.
Packers process gives me pause-
The Green Bay Packers trade of previously franchise tagged WR Davante Adams caught most of us off guard. Everyone expected the newly minted contract, given to MVP/GM/QB Aaron Rodgers, was going to allow for the team to keep the All-Pro Adams, at least for the short term. Not so fast…
From the Packers side, I actually understand their decision to move on from Adams. As a talent evaluator, I think his numbers and skill set CAN, in fact, be supplemented. Don’t get me wrong, Adams is very good, but his deal with Las Vegas was reported early on at $28M APY and for a WR, is a tough pill to swallow. More recent reports dispute the number and tell a slightly different story, but the fact that the Packers came out immediately to set the narrative that they were willing to pay more than he signed for, tell me- a different story. They were ready to move on from Adams and the timing was right- for them, to do so. They did not want anyone to think it was about money, least of all their newly signed QB. We know they have plenty of cash. The spins started early in this case.
In fact, they could have signed him for less in the last 18-month window, which obviously never happened. It’s not that they didn’t value Adams. It’s that they didn’t value his position and philosophically struggled with committing that amount of the salary cap pie to a WR, any WR.
The fact that they pulled the trigger on this deal that fast and without hesitation tells me they had other plans all along. They strung this deal out just so they could bail at the first opportunity that gave them compensation. I have very little doubt that the Packers could have gotten MORE in return if they were willing to play out the process of the franchise tag. They were not. The Packers simply wanted the picks this year so they could move ahead with a team build and an extra $20M in cap money to do so.
The Adams deal will carry a cap number north of $35M very soon (the $20-whatever million is the average). That might just prove the Packers to be smart like a fox. The fact that the Packers made it clear to all that they were willing to pay the money, but Adams wanted to play for the Raiders instead, is a predictable way to spin narrative so their fans know they are committed. In reality, they couldn’t wait to trade Adams and the Raiders couldn’t wait to take the bait.
These high stakes deals are all about choices and options and can never be viewed in a vacuum. The Packers clearly think they need more than the game’s highest paid receiver to move forward in their quest for another Super Bowl Championship. Initial reactions will all favor the Raiders but I’m willing to let it play out before declaring a winner.
STEELERS LEAD AT THE QUARTER POLE-
I love what the Pittsburgh Steelers have done in the early going of the free agent window. They have gained four players this week who should improve the core of a roster that frankly had diminished over the last year or two. The biggest headliner fell first when they got a commitment from QB Mitch Trubisky, the former Chicago Bear and Buffalo Bill. With the decision to sign Trubisky, the Steelers position was- we trust Mitch and developing his game and put the blame of his failure in Chicago on former Bears HC Matt Nagy and the prior Bears organization hierarchy. The Steelers think that Trubisky’s struggles with the Bears we’re not due to flaws of his own and they clearly think he’s fixable. I do too.
LB Myles Jack, if schemed the right way, can upgrade every part of their defense, no matter how he is used. Jack makes them better vs the run and pass and you can pencil in 100 tackles for him right now with his speed and explosive nature.
Former Bears offensive lineman James Daniels, a center at Iowa, (who I thought was the Bears best lineman) gives the Steelers versatility at all three interior O’line positions. His instincts and his football IQ, along with his initial push and ability to stay connected to defenders is a giant upgrade for a Steelers line that has been in flux.
The Steelers also signed another former Bill, DC Levi Wallace. In Wallace, they add a self-made, former walk on at Alabama to their roster. Wallace went from the intramural fields to the big time in what is a movie story in the making. He parlayed the teaching and coaching of the best DB coach I’ve ever been around, Nick Saban, into a career that proves hard work and listening are still critical factors in developing your trade in a time where talent carries the day in most cases.
HOW NOT TO LEAD A TEAM OF MEN
Baker, Baker, Baker! When you have the 26th best QBR in the NFL and are being questioned by everyone under the sun about your abilities and skill set, the worst thing for business is probably to draw attention to yourself and try to portray yourself as the victim. Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield’s week reads like a junior high journal that when you read it as an adult, you wonder what was he thinking?
We now know that the Browns did in fact become the destination for Deshaun Watson but the way Baker handled this situation did not help his reputation as a leader.
To send out a thank you/goodbye note to a city and team prematurely pointing out all you have done. Demand a trade without the cache needed to accompany it nor any guarantee that another team will want you and then get rebuffed by the Browns was similar to being sent to the corner in your room and being told- “you’re grounded” until we say different.
Better to be thought of without confirmation, then to continually open your mouth and remove all doubt. I’m sure the guys in the Browns locker room won’t have any fun with this stuff come mini-camp in April whether Baker is there or not.