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10 Lingering Questions From NFL Free Agency

Even as countless trades and signings became official Tuesday, the head-spinning news kept coming. Darrelle Revis is a Jet again? The Eagles are going with Sam Bradford? Jimmy Graham is a Seahawk and Andre Johnson is considering the Colts? The NFL is inventing its own holidays?

NFL free agency has been in full swing for a good five days now, and even as countless trades and signings became official Tuesday, the head-spinning news kept coming. Revis is a Jet again? The Eagles are going with Sam Bradford? Jimmy Graham is a Seahawk and Andre Johnson is considering the Colts? The NFL is inventing its own holidays?

It’s a lot to process. To help sort through this, here are 10 questions I’ve had all week. We begin with the most obvious.

1. Weren’t the Eagles Good Last Year?

One of the funniest subplots of free agency has been watching Eagles fans slowly lose their minds. First came the LeSean McCoy trade, and everyone said, “Hurts to lose Shady, but Kiko Alonso could be great, and that cap space will make the whole team better. I trust Chip.” Then Jeremy Maclin bounced to Kansas City. “Not worried. The system will survive. Chip knows what he’s doing.”

Then those moves turned into Tuesday’s trade for Sam Bradford and his papier-mâché ACLs, and all the pent-up anxiety from the first two moves turned into all-out panic.


There are two sides to this discussion now. First, the Eagles went 10-6 last year, and that was after the offensive line was torn apart by injuries and suspensions. Almost any other year, that team would still make the playoffs. It’s one thing if Chip saw last season happen and wanted to make a play for Marcus Mariota or move on from Nick Foles, but losing half the stars on offense seems a little drastic.

I say most of this as a Dallas fan who’s already convinced there’s no way Tony Romo can stay healthy for a full season again. The Eagles would have been the NFC East favorite if they’d just brought the exact same team back. Now Chip is betting on Bradford, there are no receivers other than Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, and a couple of ex–Oregon Ducks, and he just swapped LeSean McCoy for Ryan Mathews. It just … why?

That’s the second part of this discussion. Kelly is very smart, and he proved it when he succeeded in the face of massive skepticism that first year in Philly. Because of that first season, and because of how well the Eagles survived after losing DeSean Jackson last year, it seems like a bad idea to doubt his bold moves. He had the benefit of the doubt as recently as Monday. But the Bradford trade just takes everything over the edge.

Now this feels less like Belichick and more like Josh McDaniels. Yes, Chip has won before, but he’s still never won a playoff game. Yes, the best teams cut superstars all the time, but the best teams almost always have a great quarterback to stabilize everything. Yes, the Eagles were fine after cutting Jackson, but their season also ended with Jackson torching the secondary and knocking them out of the playoffs.

Yes, this was a joke:


But this is seriously what the rest of the league thinks:


It doesn’t matter whether Kelly is actually that crazy. That’s how he appears, and perception is half the battle. A week ago, Kelly was thought of as one of the two or three smartest coaches in the league, with one of the most talented teams. Now he’s got half the talent and he’s under twice the pressure to prove himself to Philly, the rest of the NFL, and maybe even his own locker room. And … why?

1.5. Who’s ready for Chip Kelly at Texas in 2017?


China Fire

(Also a real question I momentarily dreamed about on Tuesday.)

2. What the Hell Are the Bills Doing?

This question is one of the best traditions of the NFL offseason. Last year it came during the draft, when they traded up to grab Sammy Watkins, but this year we didn’t even have to wait that long. Even hiring Rex Ryan was a little bit insane. The team that’s had quarterback problems since Doug Flutie went and got the one great coach who’s never cared about coaching quarterbacks.

Then they spent huge money on LeSean McCoy and gave away one of the best young linebackers in football. Now they’re chasing Percy Harvin?


I love all of it.

For the second straight offseason, the Bills are building a football team exactly how I’d construct a Madden roster, right down to the crappy scrambling quarterback with terrible accuracy. Accuracy doesn’t matter as much in video games, so it’s fine. And if coaches did matter in video games, I’d hire Ryan every time. Go Bills. It doesn’t matter whether they start Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel. I’m in.

This will either be a disaster or the most enjoyable 7-9 season ever. Or there’s always a chance everything will work, and Rex, Percy, and Shady will all get their revenge, while Watkins shreds the NFL. No matter what happens, I am in.

Having said that …

3. How Many Superstars Would the AFC East Have to Sign Before Anyone Picked Against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?

It’s not that Ndamukong Suh is even a little bit overrated. Same with Darrelle Revis. Even Brandon Marshall is great. But I feel like every year we hear about AFC East teams “loading up” to go after the Patriots, whether it’s Buffalo with Mario Williams, Miami cashing out Mike Wallace, or the Jets changing offensive coordinators. Actually, it’s almost always the Jets changing offensive coordinators.

None of it ever works.

Maybe it’s because the Patriots are just that good, maybe it’s because they play in a division with the most snakebitten franchises in football. Something always goes wrong. The biggest splash always turns into a mess. If Suh had signed with the Ravens this weekend, I would have been like, “Oh my god! The Ravens defense is going to break people in half until 2020!”

With the Dolphins, it feels more like this is his $60 million reward for being great the past five years, and now he gets to relax and enjoy Miami. There are real, Barnwell reasons to be dubious of this deal, but that’s my reason. This never works. These three teams could sign an entire Pro Bowl roster and I’d still have trouble picking anyone but the Patriots to win the AFC East. It’s not because I don’t want it to happen; it’s because I’ve gotten older and learned to stop dreaming. There is no hope in this world. Just Belichick.

4. Are You a Revis or a Brady?

I didn’t realize quite how much money Tom Brady had given up over the years until last night, when I saw the list of career earnings across the NFL. Brady is 80 million dollars behind Peyton. That’s not a discount, that’s a franchise running back’s entire career. And I’m sure Brady has no regrets.

On the other hand:


As Revis told Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard in January:

The only thing I look at is, you get paid for what you do on the field. Everybody. It’s the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, and it goes down the line. That’s all I ask for. At the end of the day it’s negotiations. You go back and forth, we come to a common ground, and everybody’s happy. That’s how you look at it. I just focus on what I need to do and not worry about it … Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league, and he gets a huge paycheck, and that’s great, he should. I mean, the dude is 6-5, runs a 4.32 40, nobody cannot watch him. He’s usually getting double-teamed, he’s still coming down with balls. You get paid for how you perform, and that’s how you look at it. And it’s leverage. You have to use your leverage when you have it because that window is going to close sooner or later.

It’s a fair point, and in Revis’s defense, he’s got far less longevity than someone like Brady, so maximizing his earning potential makes more sense. Criticizing any athlete for taking the most money is ridiculous.

But it’s also fair to wonder what it’s like to live life on the other side, where money is the only thing that ever matters. It’s less about legacy and more about security. There’s value in peace of mind, right? That might outweigh the difference in salary sometimes. Between uprooting your life and inheriting dysfunction in exchange for extra money, being a mercenary probably isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

All of which is to say, it’s great that Revis is cashing in again, and I like to think that I could be that cutthroat in my own life, but I really don’t think I could live like that. No amount of money in the world could ever convince me to move to Tampa.

5. Are the 49ers Just Bad Now?

No more Jim Harbaugh. No more Patrick Willis. Frank Gore is in Indianapolis. They replaced Harbaugh with a defensive line coach who’s drawn comparisons to Chris Farley’s motivational speaker. They may have been trying to trade Colin Kaepernick, which became public speculation.

It’s too early to write the obituary for Kelly’s Eagles, and it’s too early to say things are falling apart in San Francisco … but it’s not too early to say that the Niners have to be grateful for this Eagles offseason, because Chip is distracting everyone from how crazy things have gotten in San Francisco.

6. Why Does the NFL Hold Free Agency Four Months Before the Draft?

Why is the NFL draft in late April and early May? Why does every free-agency contract have to be parsed for several hours before we can tell what any player is really getting? Why do the players in the most profitable sport in America have less security than pro hockey players? Some of these questions will never have good answers.

7. Who?


Schefter is overheating and making up names again … UNPLUG AND RESTART, UNPLUG AND RESTART.

8. What Will Happen to Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson?

Peterson is still under contract in Minnesota, but his future is very much uncertain, and that’s understandable after what happened last season. The question is, how many other teams would be interested, after that scandal, and how long will it take before one of those teams makes a move?

Peterson’s actual crimes were impossible to defend, but it’s also hard to argue they should end his career. So while teams like the Eagles reach out to Ryan Mathews and the Bills bet big on LeSean McCoy, one of the best running backs of all time is quite possibly available for the right price. This would be a bigger story if it weren’t so uncomfortable to discuss.

That goes double for Greg Hardy. He’s one of the two or three best defensive ends in football, and his domestic abuse case was recently dismissed because the accuser couldn’t be located. This set off rumors that she was paid off, which only made the situation murkier. In terms of ability, he’s not that much different from Suh, and given everything that’s happened in the past 12 months, he’d likely be available at a fraction of the cost.

The NFL seems serious about setting new standards (or at least protecting its image), but it’ll be interesting to see players as good as Hardy and Peterson test that commitment around the league.

9. What About the Patriots?

It’s probably telling that the most successful organization of the past 15 years was dead silent for the first few days of free agency.

The best teams almost never break the bank for the best players. It’s why NFL free agency can be so frustrating. Anyone who’s been successful enough to become a big name is now probably on the downside of his career, and it’s less exciting to imagine where he ends up. Who wants to see which team murders its cap to invest in that superstar it’ll probably regret signing?!

Suh was an exception, but that just meant he commanded so much money that the Dolphins will be desperate everywhere else. Meanwhile, the Patriots remain quiet and as flexible as ever, and they’ll probably sign that guy Schefter invented and he’ll rejuvenate the whole defense. Losing Revis hurts, but nobody’s panicking.

Of course, this is also one more reason to be amazed by Malcolm Butler. If he hadn’t made that interception to seal the Super Bowl, the Patriots would have gone 10 years without a championship, and the Patriot Way during free agency would have looked less like omnipotent wisdom and more like the stubborn philosophy that Belichick will ride right into the end of Tom Brady’s career. Instead, the Patriots are the gold standard again, and everyone else looks desperate.

Except …

10. Can someone call Najeh Davenport?


Nothing in free agency makes me happier than the Old Man Miami reunion in Central Indiana. Andre Johnson is joining Andrew Luck, and that alone is cause for celebration. Andre Johnson hasn’t played for a real, great quarterback since he had Ken Dorsey in college. He deserves to end his career like this, and it’s a low-risk move for the Colts that makes them better immediately.

But what if that’s just the beginning?

The idea of several Miami players conspiring to reunite in the pros is so good that the details don’t even matter.


Do it, Wilfork.

Come to Indiana, Antrel Rolle.

Someone text Shockey. Dig Ed Reed out of the railroad car he lives in.

And go dominate, Frank Gore. After two years of Trent Richardson, there’s no way you could possibly disappoint Colts fans.

Pairing Old Man Miami with the best young quarterback in football might be enough to make them favorites in the AFC, and it would definitely be enough to make them my favorites in the AFC. And it’s all possible if you dream hard enough. The spirit of Al Blades is alive and well and pulsating through the streets of Indianapolis this week. Someone teach Luck the chant. This is going to be great.