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The Art of Procrastination

The Elvis Dumervil fiasco highlights a wild end to the NFL’s first few days of free agency. Plus, the rest of the weekend deals.

Elvis Dumervil

There’s something truly momentous about the chaos produced when an agent screws up. It’s rare to see somebody try to both cover their ass and point the finger at somebody else at the same time, but that moment when an agent forgets about a deadline or gives terrible advice is just remarkable. You might remember that the saga that ended with Terrell Owens being dealt to the Eagles before the 2004 season came about as a result of his agent forgetting to send in a form that would have made him an unrestricted free agent, extending his contract with the 49ers by three seasons. To that incident we can now add Faxgate, the bizarre situation surrounding Elvis Dumervil that ended with the three-time Pro Bowler’s release by the Denver Broncos on Friday.

The circumstances leading into the incident are clear: The Broncos had no intention of paying Dumervil the $12 million he was due for this upcoming season, and they told Dumervil they would cut him if he didn’t agree to a restructured contract (with a pay cut) by March 15, the date on which Dumervil’s salary became guaranteed. Dumervil reportedly refused at first before either he or his agent, Marty Magid, realized his release would push Dumervil into the free-agent market well after the little money available around the league had been spent, at which point they began to negotiate a pay cut.

Here’s where it gets murky. The organization claims it set a deadline for Dumervil to decide on a deal by 3 p.m. EDT, one hour ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline at which Dumervil’s salary would be guaranteed for the upcoming season. It says Dumervil’s agent declined the deal at 3 p.m. only to change his mind 25 minutes later and then fail to get the paperwork for the new contract in before the final few minutes of the league-imposed deadline, at which point the Broncos were left with no choice but to release Dumervil.

Magid tells a different story. He claims the Broncos changed the terms of Dumervil’s deal on him shortly after 3 p.m., with new language that allowed Denver to cut him after 2013 without paying Dumervil another penny. Magid says he then had to discuss the new terms of the deal with Dumervil and have him approve the change, which occurred around 3:30 p.m. and led to published reports that Dumervil had agreed to restructure his deal to stay with the team. Various issues with fax machines and additional contract language caused the deal to stretch to the final minutes of the hour, at which point the Broncos panicked and cut Dumervil.

It’s impossible to suss out the entire truth from the two stories, but even given his side of affairs, it seems easy to blame Magid for leaving it until the last moment. (That Dumervil fired Magid over the weekend makes things pretty clear.) By Magid’s own admission, Dumervil had to drive to a Miami Kinko’s inside the final half hour of the deadline to try to fax his signed paperwork to the team. Why didn’t he have his client near a working fax machine at the time of the deadline just in case something went wrong? And more disconcertingly, why was this still being negotiated down to the wire? Even if the Broncos changed the terms, Magid should have been able to read the coming buyer’s market and realize far earlier in this process that his client didn’t want to become a free agent (and convinced Dumervil of that fact). The Broncos would undoubtedly have preferred a deal to be struck or planned before free agency began, freeing up cap space for them to pursue veterans as part of their win-now plan. As it seems, it looks like Magid tried to work the market to find a new long-term deal for his client that either fell through or never appeared, and a frantic attempt by both sides to produce a compromise didn’t work.

It’s unlikely the Broncos will now re-sign Dumervil. His release created just less than $9 million in cap space, but he now accounts for nearly $5 million in dead money on Denver’s 2013 cap. If the Broncos gave him the $8 million that his restructured deal promised for the 2013 season, his cap hold would be almost exactly what it was before this whole mess started. The Broncos will also be up against the cap in 2014, so Dumervil wouldn’t get to see a large base salary until the 2015 season, at which point the Broncos could very well choose to cut him again. And if you were Dumervil, would you go back to play for peanuts with an organization that just did this to you? The Broncos will instead likely turn to Dwight Freeney, who would take a pay cut and join his old quarterback in Denver on a short-term deal.

Instead, Dumervil will float late onto a market that never had much money to spend on pass rushers to begin with. Dumervil’s old contract came about as a result of a 17-sack season that sticks out on his record like a sore thumb; even if you don’t include the year Dumervil missed with a torn pectoral muscle, he’s averaged 9.3 sacks across his five other professional seasons. At 29, Dumervil wasn’t going to get Paul Kruger money, let alone his previous deal; now, with the likes of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Connor Barwin taking deals that came in well below expectations, Dumervil might need to take a one-year deal for $5 million or so from a contender to try to raise his stock before hitting free agency again in 2014.

Oh, and one more thing: Can it be time to move on from fax machines already, NFL? It’s incredible that a sport worth so many billions of dollars is incapable of employing some web-based solution to allow players and teams to process these sorts of things in moments as opposed to minutes. It’s 2013! PDFs are a thing! I mean, what are you, FIFA? Let’s hope that the Dumervil fiasco — a failure that might actually be enough to cost the Broncos a Super Bowl — serves as the impetus to push the NFL technologically into the late-’90s.

Long View

The longest physical in the history of football wasn’t for naught! After spending a full day getting an extensive workout from St. Louis’s doctors and a couple more days deciding his future at home in Miami, offensive tackle Jake Long finally came to terms with the Rams on a four-year, $36 million contract on Sunday night. The deal gives St. Louis its third left tackle of the future in five years, but Long should be a proper successor to the legacy of Orlando Pace in St. Louis.

Long’s contract probably represents a first for the league: a second contract with a productive, prominent player that is actually for less money than his initial rookie contract. Long’s deal as the first overall pick in 2008 was a five-year, $57.8 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. Long’s new contract — after he’s proven himself — comes in well below those figures. And that’s what explains the longest physical ever.

If the Rams get the Jake Long who dominated in Miami from 2008 to 2010, they’ve acquired a true franchise player at a critical position without having to use a draft pick, which is the dream of any team that decides to delve into the free-agent market. You know, this guy. If he’s healthy, Long improves the offense in every way. He assists in the continuing development of Sam Bradford by eliminating an opposing pass rusher from Bradford’s blind side, which will reduce Bradford’s jitteriness in the pocket and allow him to comfortably look downfield for the likes of Brian Quick and Jared Cook. Perhaps even more important is Long’s impact on the running game, where the Rams will be auditioning replacements for longtime star Steven Jackson and need every bit of great offensive line play they can get. Long can help make the likes of Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson look a lot better very quickly.

The limited Long who wasn’t the same guy in 2011 and 2012, though? It would be tough for him to be worth $9 million per year. You would love to see an injury-scarred player like Long end up with a team that has a great medical track record, but the Rams are perennially one of the most injured teams in football. The torn triceps that ended Long’s season shouldn’t be a concern in 2013, but the injuries to Long’s back and knees are more disconcerting. Long will probably say something during training camp about how this is the best he’s felt in a long time, but, well, that’s exactly what he said before the 2012 season, too, and it didn’t go all that well.

The Dolphins obviously missed their chance to enjoy their favorite activity and spend more money, a disappointment that could make one of their other offseason signings fall short. Miami will now turn to the unheralded Jonathan Martin at left tackle, and if he fails, the Dolphins will find it hard to get as much out of Mike Wallace as they might have hoped. If your quarterback doesn’t have time to hold on to the football and let a pattern develop, it’s tough for a guy to get open downfield for a big play. Ben Roethlisberger made it work with a bad offensive line and Wallace in Pittsburgh, but his specific strength is extending plays while hanging in the pocket longer than anybody else. That’s not a clear strength for Ryan Tannehill, and if there’s a turnstile at left tackle, it could be a nightmare for the Miami offense. They might end up trying to outbid the Patriots for Sebastian Vollmer, but Miami would have to move Vollmer from right tackle to left tackle, where Vollmer was not particularly effective for the Patriots. The same problem would arise if Miami went after Andre Smith, leaving Bryant McKinnie out there as the best “true” left tackle left in free agency. And even compared to Andre Smith, Bryant McKinnie is crazy.

The Power of Patience

The Patriots had the busiest weekend of anybody, adding no fewer than seven players while releasing last year’s big free-agent signing, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Some of those players were minor pickups — Will Svitek is a passable backup tackle, Niko Koutouvides will be a special-teamer if he makes the 53-man roster, and Donald Jones seems destined to join the likes of Joseph Addai and Torry Holt on the list of Patriots who seemed more interesting in March than they did in July — but they made a number of notable moves that stand out as interesting and different from the usual.

Begin with Lloyd, whom the Patriots cut after one year on the roster. The cap savings in releasing Lloyd weren’t significant; the Patriots will eat $2 million in dead money as opposed to paying Lloyd $1 million in cash with a $4.5 million cap hit, so it’s a $2.5 million discount by cutting Lloyd over the weekend. The reality is that the Patriots didn’t get what they were hoping for when they gave Lloyd a three-year, $12 million deal before the season. Lloyd simply doesn’t have the speed to be a real downfield threat, and with the other Patriots receivers occupying space in the middle of the field while running routes underneath the safeties, he didn’t offer much to the offense beyond the back-shoulder throw. Lloyd was worth trying at such a cheap price after his success with Josh McDaniels in Denver, but at 31, he wasn’t getting any faster.

His replacement on the roster, if not necessarily in style, could be Steelers restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots were reportedly close to agreeing to an offer sheet with Sanders over the weekend, a move that would force the Steelers to either match the agreed-upon contractual terms or accept a third-round pick from the Patriots as compensation. Sanders is worth more than a third-rounder, but the cap-strapped Steelers undoubtedly wanted to save some cash by not tendering him as a first-round pick and probably hoped that the league’s consistent disinterest in restricted free agents would fall in their favor. The Patriots, however, are one of the few teams in the league that actually go after restricted free agents; in addition to acquiring Wes Welker (as part of a trade that came about so the Patriots and Dolphins could avoid the waiting period associated with restricted free agency), the Patriots also signed RFA Rodney Bailey away from the Steelers in 2004, only for Bailey to get injured before he could suit up for the team.

Sanders isn’t a true scorcher like former teammate Mike Wallace, but he’s a versatile receiver capable of working anywhere on the field, which would allow him to serve both as a traditional split end and as a possible fill-in for Danny Amendola if the ex-Rams wideout suffers another injury. He could also serve simultaneously with Amendola in the slot, a situation that seems more likely after it was reported that Amendola actually signed his deal with the Patriots one day before the Welker situation occurred. That the Patriots still made Welker an offer suggests they thought about employing both Amendola and Welker, so it’s not impossible to believe they might consider using Amendola and Sanders at the same time.

New England also went and shored up its secondary. On Friday, it signed recently released Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson to a deal, a move that undoubtedly made Grantland’s Wilson-obsessed editor-in-chief very happy. I still think Kerry Rhodes was the better safety in Arizona last year, but Wilson should be able to chip in as an in-the-box safety capable of slowing down opposing running games, even if he’s not capable of playing center field.

More notable was how New England managed to bring back two of its top three cornerbacks. The curious decision of the two saw it sign benched corner Kyle Arrington to a four-year, $16 million contract with $8.5 million guaranteed. Arrington is a competent cornerback in the slot, but it’s a lot of money for a guy who gets consistently toasted if he plays outside. Much more promisingly for the Patriots, they successfully waited out the market and got starter Aqib Talib on very friendly terms: a one-year, $5 million deal that doesn’t force them to commit to a player with Talib’s off-field track record on a multiyear contract. A naive team would have panicked at the beginning of free agency and locked up Talib, the best cornerback on the market, to a five-year deal with $15 million or so guaranteed. Knowing that the market would be deep, the Patriots waited and got their man at a fraction of the price. Put it this way: Aqib Talib is a Pro Bowl–caliber corner when he’s on the field and healthy. Greg Toler on his best day isn’t as good as Talib is on most Sundays, and Toler got $15 million for three years from the Colts because he signed on the opening day of free agency.

The Patriots had one impact free agent left on the market Monday morning, and they’re following the same path with him as they did with Talib. Sebastian Vollmer is one of the better right tackles in football, but his market has yet to appear. New England runs the risk of losing him if some team decides to blow him away with money — and it always only takes just one team to get desperate — but unless somebody suddenly does that, the Patriots are going to get Vollmer back on either a one-year deal for moderate cash or a multiyear contract without an enormous guarantee. For a guy with a history of back and knee problems, avoiding a mega-extension is a must, and the Patriots are both smart enough and disciplined enough to wait on Vollmer, just as they did with Talib.

JenningsCam

While most contracts these days are coming in without publicly released terms, Arrington was one player in a very small group to receive a contract with more than $10 million listed as a maximum payout.1 Friday’s biggest deal was a genuine monster for this year’s group of free agents: The Vikings signed Greg Jennings to a five-year, $47.5 million contract that guarantees the former Packers wideout $18 million. It’s a roughly comparable contract to the five-year, $42.5 million deal given to Pierre Garcon by the Redskins last year, with Garcon getting a smaller max payout but $2.5 million more in guaranteed cash.


1.

Why aren’t the terms of more contracts being leaked? Well, because a fair amount of the contract details that get leaked at the time of a signing are by agents who are looking to show off what they’ve accomplished on behalf of their client. There aren’t many agents right now who are bragging about the terms they’ve managed to grab for their clients.

Should Vikings fans be excited about this move? Yes and no. On one hand, it’s pretty clear that Minnesota had to do something to upgrade at wideout, both in terms of looking like a real NFL depth chart at wide receiver and continuing to develop Christian Ponder at quarterback. Jennings wasn’t a one-trick pony in Green Bay, either, as he played multiple roles in the offense and regularly ran every route the Packers employed during the course of his time with the team. The bumps and bruises that have bothered Jennings over the past couple of seasons are also less likely to reoccur in Minnesota, as the Vikings have one of the best training staffs in all of football.

On the other, there are warning signs attached to Jennings. He’s already 29, so the Vikings are paying for Jennings’s post-prime seasons. There’s very little chance of him being a worthwhile contributor over the final year or two of this deal. He was also playing with a star quarterback (Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers) for the entirety of his career in Green Bay as one of a bevy of options. He never had to be the man in Green Bay that he will need to be in Minnesota, and there are some guys who simply don’t take well to that new reality with their new teams. Being double-teamed a fair amount of the time is one thing, but teams will shade their coverages and slide their best corner toward Jennings far more frequently in Minnesota.

In the end, the Vikings swapped one more year of Percy Harvin for a player five years his senior, Jennings, while acquiring first-, third-, and seventh-round picks in the process. That’s not a terrible trade on the surface, and once you know that Harvin isn’t going to re-sign with you, it’s actually a very good trade. The Vikings can still choose to use one of their two late first-round picks on a wide receiver in a class where they wouldn’t be reaching for an impact contributor at nos. 23 or 25. It would be wrong to say that Jennings is a sure thing to succeed in Minnesota, but it’s hard to fault the Vikings for what they’re thinking with this set of moves.