So the NFL has essentially become a year round sport. Not in terms of how long the season itself lasts, but in terms of how the media coverage is now pretty much year-round at this point. With the big NFL media reporters like Adam Schefter and Ian Rappaport rattling off trade notifications and free agency pickups as if they’re permanently attached to their phones, it’s hard not to pay attention. This year’s free agency has been one of the most active in recent memory, mainly because of the number of big names that have been moved from one team to another. Of note, there were three absolutely stunning trades that occurred yesterday, and they have extreme implications for the teams which were involved. Below is a rundown:
The first swap of the three was major, involving arguably the most dangerous offensive receiving threat in the league. Jimmy Graham, the tight end that has effectively taken up the mantle of Tony Gonzalez as the most prolific tight end the game has seen, has left his long time home in New Orleans to go to the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson must be losing it.
Then news came via Adam Schefter, of course, and came with about zero warning that New Orleans was even shopping their star tight end in the first place. The details of the trade are: Jimmy Graham and a 4th round draft pick, for center Max Unger and Seattle’s 1st round pick, the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft. It’s no question at this point that; the Saints are rebuilding. When you actually look at how the draft picks shake out, it’s not all that dramatic from the Seahawks’ perspective, and by all accounts, they came away with a steal.
This isn’t the first time that Seattle has dealt a first round pick to acquire a receiving threat. Just two seasons ago, Seattle sent away a first round pick to Minnesota for Percy Harvin, which was a rare misstep for general manager John Schneider, since Harvin virtually missed his entire first season with Seattle due to injury. He ended up being dealt last season to the New York Jets before the trade deadline for a sixth round pick.
What problems Harvin had in Seattle, mainly being what amounted to “locker-room kyptonite”, likely won’t be shared with Graham. Graham’s background is somewhe unconventional in the context of Seattle’s offensive scheme, they don’t really need to make many adjustments for the All-Pro tight end. They’ll likely use him in many of the same ways that they’ve used other tight ends like Zach Miller and Luke Willson, mainly in under routes and seam passes, just more often and most likely with way more success. What makes Graham so dangerous is that he’s the size of a freight train and has the speed and quickness of a wide receiver, making him a matchup nightmare for both corners and safeties that he easily outsizes. Additionally, what makes Graham all the more dangerous is that there are only a handful of players that could cover Graham 1-on-1, and two of them play for Seattle already.
As dangerous as Graham can be in the red zone, it’s hard to say if he’s going to have as large of an impact in red zone conversions as many would expect. Seattle is already pretty fantastic as converting inside the 10-yard line, ranking 9th in 2014 in red zone passing offense. While every weapon does count, Seattle is still going to be a run-first team inside the 20-yard line, where it was the league’s best rushing attack in 2014.
The only sticking point about Graham is his lack of effectiveness in blocking. Graham is one of the worst blocking tight ends in the league, which means Seattle will have to account for cap space not only in terms of Graham, but also in terms of an additional one or two blocking tight ends, as well as a fullback. This all while Seattle will need to make a new deal for Wilson after this season as well as still owing a new deal for Bobby Wagner. Graham will cost the Seahawks $8 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016, and $10 million in 2017, assuming they keep the $5 million roster bonus Graham is due Thursday without converting it to a signing bonus. Converting the bonus would free up cap space in 2015, but it would cost the Seahawks if they decided down the line to part ways with Graham. Though, the 2016 and 2017 monies aren’t guaranteed, so the Seahawks could turn this deal in to a 1-season Super Bowl push if they choose to.
For Seattle, they now have an issue at the offensive line, being that I can’t name a single big-name player from that stout line that is remaining in Seattle, aside from Russell Okung, which is a big player to keep. For the Saints, it’s clear that they’ve abandoned their all-in philosophy from last year, putting Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis in a position of having to rebuild the organization. The Saints have cut key playmakers on both sides of the ball, losing Curtis Lofton and Pierre Thomas this offseason. To make serious changes to come, the big salary cut that had to go was necessarily Graham.
In another perplexing trade, the Rams and the Eagles made a QB switch, trading Sam Bradford and Nick Foles in a 1-for-1 deal. The move was incredibly unexpected, but with Chip Kelly treating his team as if nobody is irreplaceable, you can’t be all that surprised.
It’s really hard to tell who won on this trade, but I honestly believe the Rams are a far better team with a capable Nick Foles at the helm. I do believe he’s going to be an outstanding quarterback in the future, and the Rams have a fantastic offense with great talent. All they’ve really been lacking is a healthy quarterback, and from both a performance and financial perspective, getting rid of Bradford was the right move.
Eagles fans might have preferred Foles to Bradford in a vauum, and it’s the right opinion. Bradford has what amounts to no knees, having torn both of his ACLs in two seasons. While he’s definitely shown himself to be both talented and smart on the field, the fact that he can’t play a full season is problematic. Of course, Philadelphia has a backstop in Mark Sanchez, who they resigned to a two year contract. But, is Sanchez really something that they are comfortable resorting to in a scenario where he could potentially play for an entire season? Bradford did go down last season pre-season after all.
Then there’s the financial perspective. Bradford will occupy almost $13 million in cap space for the Eagles in 2015, the final year of his enormous rookie contract. Foles, meanwhile, will cost the Rams a mere $1.4 million. in the final year of his rookie deal. The Rams are eating $3.6 million in dead money for unloading Bradford’s deal, but they still net over $9 million in cap space by making this trade. Of course, the Eagles freed up about $8.6 million in cap space by unloading LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, which is great since Kiko is a beast and it was clear that Shady wasn’t happy – but, still, it’s going to Sam Bradford.
It’s clear that Pat Shurmur, the Philadelphia OC who was with Bradford in St. Louis in 2010, his rookie season. That season was his high-water mark as a pro in terms of promise, though there is an interesting article about how those stats aren’t as good as they look on paper. You can make your own judgements about whether or not that duo will thrive in Chip Kelly’s system, but it’s null when the quarterback can’t stay on the field.
There are arguments that Bradford is good for Philly. Bradford is experienced in running an up-tempo spread offense, having played at Oklahoma. He’s got a low interception rate, and was posting solid numbers in his abbreviated 2013 season. Bradford has good physicality, and can read the field, but, again, this is judgements of a guy that had one knee when he was performing last. Now he has no knees.
Whatever Chip’s master plan is, it doesn’t appear to involve Marcus Mariota. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles trading a key draft pick to acquire Bradford when they could have used the same pick in a package to acquire Mariota. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine them trading for Mariota with Bradford on a one-year deal and Sanchez on a two-year deal. They would have to find very specific trade partners with very specific needs, making the entire situation more and more implausible. You could point to Tennessee with the retirement of Jake Locker, but if that’s the case, why acquire Bradford at all? Why not just make the trade system a three-team deal?
Chip’s taking big gambles, and that will characterize the era of his management of personnel. Coaches tend to make wild gambles when given this kind of control. They obsess over players that they love and contextualize the market around them instead of thinking objectively. Is Chip suffering from this thought process? Sure looks like it…
The simplest of the three trades is the straightforward trade between the Lions and the Ravens. Haloti Ngata got his salary dumped by the Ravens and was sent to Detroit to fill the void left by Ndamukong Suh. The Ravens also sent a seventh-round pick along with Ngata in exchange for Detroit’s fourth-and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft, which amounts to around an average third-rounder.
There’s no question that Ngata is worth more than that. Your typical third-rounder won’t have nearly as much impact in a game as Ngata does, even at the ripe age of 31. But, all things considered, the Ravens were right up against the salary cap with Ngata on the roster, with no room to even sign their seven assigned picks in this year’s draft, which doesn’t include their compensatory picks.
They had to clear cap space to improve the secondary, and even after letting Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith leave without meaningful offers, they would have to restructure Ngata’s deal, which would have taken a $16 million hit against their cap this season. Baltimore is saving about $9 million in cap space by sending Ngata to the Lions, leaving around $7.5 million in dead money its 2015 cap.
Reports are that the Ravens wanted Ngata to restructure, but there’s no restructuring when you have one year remaining on your deal. The Ravens would have had to extend out his contract to have any relief against their cap.
For the Lions, this is as good a gift as they can get. This allows them to not have to resort to fetching a defensive lineman from the middle of the marketplace or have to pursue a defensive tackle in the draft, places where you wouldn’t find a player with an impact like Suh or Nick Fairly, who also became a free agent. Ngata can definitely be that player, and they would only have to pay him $8.5 million – less than a third of what they would have to have shelled out by franchising Suh for 2015.
Ngata is used to the 3-4 defensive structure, as that’s what he’s played in for a majority of his career. However, Detroit utilizes a 4-3, and will be unleashed as an interior disrupter. Sacks aren’t a purely reasonable way to judge Ngata as he’s mainly played as a nose tackle, but he’ll likely improve on those numbers in the new formation. He’s not Suh, but Ngata is a fair consolation prize.
from Douglas MacFaddin’s Sports Page http://ift.tt/1NKUUAx