Let's get silly
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 09, 2007
By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Jonathan Comey
In addition to having a high number of attractive female fans and a cabinet full of Fritos (two things we admire), NASCAR nuts have a great term for their downtime between seasons.
Say it out loud with a Southern accent if you'd like: "see-lee say-zin." It's quite fun.
The term is as good as any to describe the disorienting whoosh of off-field transactions, rumors and speculations that go on in NASCAR, and it translates well to the wonderful world of pro football.
Of course, we don't deal with rumors (or endless left-hand turns), we deal in Cold, Hard Football Facts. So we've been mostly silent about the comings and goings of free agency. But with the market starting to settle, were wading in with our fashionable grey nose plugs and swimming caps, taking a look at the free-agent traffic from last year and this year and coming up with five solid conclusions.
1. A team can get crushed in the offseason veteran exchange and still make improvements. And vice versa.
Exhibit A: the Indianapolis Colts. All you need to know about NFL free agency is probably this: the team that seemed to be hit hardest in the 2005-06 offseason ended up winning the Super Bowl. All-time franchise leading rusher Edgerrin James, gone. Stout DT Larry Tripplett, gone. Run-stopping team leader LB David Thornton, gone. The only addition was K Adam Vinatieri, and he was replacing another lost sometime standout, Mike Vanderjagt. How would they cope? By drinking champagne out of their Super Bowl rings. OK, that doesn't make sense. But you get the idea.
Exhibit B: the Minnesota Vikings. All of their offseason pickups were good ones – guard Steve Hutchinson anchored the offensive line, RB Chester Taylor had a good season (1,214 yards, 4.0 avg.), LB Ben Leber started all season, K Ryan Longwell missed just four field goals all year.Not a bust in the bunch. And what did it get them? A drop in the standings from 9-7 to 6-10.
Exhbit C: the New York Jets. The Jets lost three Pro Bowlers to free agency and/or trades – DE John Abraham, C Kevin Mawae and CB Ty Law, as well as solid starter T Jason Fabini. On the incoming side were guys like Patrick Ramsey, Kimo vonOelhoffen and Kevan Barlow. Ouch. But the Mangenius worked his magic, and the Jets overcame, going from 4-12 to 10-6.
2. Pro Bowlers aren't bought, they're drafted.
In a league of some 1,800 players, approximately 300 become free agents each year. Some stay put, some find themselves out of the league, most find new homes.
What these players don't find – or at least they didn't in 2006 – are tickets to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl.
Of the 98 players that were on the Pro Bowl roster for the 2006 season (voted in or replacing injured guys), an amazing 87 of them made it representing the team that picked them in the draft or signed them as a rookie free agent.
Five members of the free-agent class of 2006 made it – Hutchinson, Drew Brees, Larry Allen, Walt Harris and Julian Peterson. Five others from previous free agencies – Brendon Ayanbadejo, Lorenzo Neal, John Lynch, Pat Williams and Antonio Pierce – joined them. Champ Bailey was acquired in a trade from Washington.
Other than that, it was all guys on their original teams. And while there are some good players changing hands this winter, it's worth noting that only one Pro Bowler from 2006, Adalius Thomas, hit the free-agent market in 2007, signing with the Patriots.
3. There is life after 30.
The NFL isn't really big on players in their 30s, but many of the best free agents of the Class of 2006 were over 30. (And don't forget, perhaps the all-time best free agent signing was Reggie White, who was 32 when he went to Green Bay in 1993).
Of the five Pro Bowlers from the Class of 2006, Walt Harris and Larry Allen were both over 30.
Steve McNair wasn't perfect, but he did lead the Ravens to a 13-3 season at 33. Trevor Pryce of the Ravens should have been comeback player of the year at 32. Ty Law led the Chiefs in interceptions at 34. Kevin Mawae brought new life to Tennessee's offensive line at 35.
There were some veteran flops as well. LaRoi Glover was brought in to boost the St. Louis run defense at 32 years old – nope, they were 30th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.80), 32nd in TDs allowed (21) and 31st in yards (2,327 allowed). LB Willie McGinest was hurt in Cleveland and DE Darren Howard was a bust in Philly.
But more of the notable busts – guys like Nate Burleson, Antwaan Randle-El, Adam Archuleta, John Abraham, LaVar Arrington – were on the good side of 30.
So overall, you'd have to say that age is just a number in free agency.
4. Yeah, it's all about the money.
Sure, file this right up there with "beer is good" on the list of obvious observations we've made here in the distinguished cyber-pages of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Proof that it's all about the money here in the 2007 free-agency period comes from Dominic Rhodes. He's fresh off a Super Bowl victory and a trip to Disney World (and jail, on a DWI). Yet he signs with? Yep, the Oakland Raiders, coming off a 2-14 season that was as bad as any expansion team ever put forth.
"I just want to come in and help this team win," Rhodes said, according to The Associated Press. "It's an honor to be here and an awesome experience to play for the Raiders. The whole history of the Raiders, I love it."
You tell em, Dom.
It's no surprise that NFL players would go for the money, but it's not really a great comment on their character. They preach winning, but live by the dollar.
Using the free-agent rankings from ESPN.com as a reference, 37 players that are rated as NFL starters have switched teams so far in 2007.
Of those 37 free agents to switch teams in 2k7:
- 22 went from a better team to a worse team (based upon 2006 records)
- 2 went to a team with the same record
- 13 went to a better team
Only 10 of the 37 free agents have taken a job with a team that had a winning record in 2006. Of course, desperate teams take desperate measures. So part of the problem here might be the penchant for bad teams to wave big checks in front of players in the hopes of finding a quick-fix to their problems.
Still, sounds like Cuba Gooding we hear screaming in the background.
5. No matter how it all ends up looking in August, it doesn't mean shit.
In researching last year's free agents, we happened across ESPN.com's preseason Power Rankings. (This is slightly off topic, but it was so good we had to include it.)
With the entire offseason and preseason in the books, their team of experts weighed in, ranking the NFL from 1 to 32. Their top five teams –- Seattle, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Denver and Indy -– went a combined 46-34, with two playoff berths. (Our top five was substantially similar).
Meanwhile, their bottom five – San Francisco, the Jets, Buffalo, New Orleans and Green Bay – went 42-38, just four games worse, also with two playoff berths. (Our bottom five was a respectably bad 32-48).
So the top five in August and the bottom five and August could end up being just about a wash.
Which just goes to show, for the 1,045,559th time, why games are played on grass or turf, not on paper or on the Web..
It also shows why real sports are played with a ball, not a car.
Sorry, NASCAR. The love ends here.
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