The Denver Broncos thought that they'd dodged a bullet, that by getting defensive end Elvis Dumervil to agree to a pay cut just before the 4 P.M. EDT deadline, they had kept one of their premier pass-rushers in the fold at a reduced rate.
Well, so much for that thought.
As Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports, the feet dragging on both sides of this impasse led to Dumervil not returning his signed copy of the contract to the Broncos until 4:07 P.M. EDT.
By then, it was too late. The Broncos had released the six-year veteran several minutes prior to avoid his entire $12 million salary for 2013 becoming guaranteed.
This staggering turn of events not only means that Dumervil will now hit the open market, but, as Klis points out, the terms of Dumervil's release severely hinders the team's chances of being able to bring the 29-year-old back.
The team could still re-sign Dumervil, but there are salary cap implications. Dumervil's release gives the Broncos a huge dead money hit and limits their ability to bring him back with a new deal.
Suffice it to say that this sudden plot twist sent the Twitterverse into a frenzy of both shock and snark.
Now, plenty of the blame for this gaffe should fall squarely on the shoulders of Dumervil and his agent.
Mike Garafolo @MikeGarafolo
Holy moly....... RT @MikeKlis: Hold on, contract not filed in time. Elvis Dumervil has been officially released2013-3-15 20:10:24
Adam Kramer @KegsnEggs
Elvis Dumervil has decommitted from the Broncos; his mom refused to sign the LOI. Will now sign with Ole Miss.2013-3-15 20:23:00
According to Klis, the team and Dumervil reached an agreement on the pay cut with about 35 minutes to spare before the deadline. Granted, you certainly want to read a document like that before you sign it, but knowing full well that the clock is ticking, you had better turn into Evelyn Wood herself and make it quick.
However, Dumervil's agent told Mike Garafalo of USA Today Sports that part of the hold-up was a result of the Broncos changing the contract's terms at the last second.
Magid claims the team changed the terms of the contract the sides had been negotiating all week and didn't send him a correct copy of the final deal until after 3:30 p.m. EDT — less than a half hour before the deadline to submit the new contract to the league office in New York before his full salary of $12 million for 2013 became guaranteed.
Whatever the reason, as Albert Breer of the NFL Network pointed out, this is a clerical error that's going to be very expensive for Dumervil, especially in a soft market for pass-rushers this season.
Albert Breer @AlbertBreer
Whether it was the player, the agent or the fax machine, that was a mistake that potentially just cost Elvis Dumervil millions of dollars.2013-3-15 20:21:48
However, the Broncos are hardly absolved of blame in this mess.
It never should have gotten to this point.
The team knew just as well as Dumervil did that this deadline was coming. Just yesterday John Elway told Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post that while Dumervil's contract was "out of whack," he hated the idea of potentially letting him go.
"These are the deals that wrench your gut. As an ex-player, I hate to see that. I hated to see that happen to a teammate. And I hate having to do it, in the position I'm in. But I've got to do what's best for this football team," Elway said.
OK, so what was the hold up?
The team had to know by yesterday what they were really willing to offer Dumervil, and after watching both Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril sign deals that were relatively modest, Dumervil had to know what this year's market at defensive end would bear.
Both sides should have been burning the midnight oil. There's no reason why this thing shouldn't have been signed, sealed and delivered first thing this morning.
Any changes the Broncos wanted to make to the deal should have been made with enough time for Dumervil and his agent to at least look at them, unless the plan was to try to force those changes through at the 11th hour.
Now Dumervil is potentially out of millions of dollars, and the Broncos have potentially lost their second-best pass-rusher.
And I've got news for you. If you think the Broncos can just plug a Dwight Freeney or a John Abraham into Dumervil's spot and not miss a beat, you're setting up yourself for an unpleasant surprise.
Never mind the second surprise that's coming when we see what the loss of Dumervil does to Von Miller's production. Think Aldon Smith without Justin Smith and you'll be in the ballpark.
Unfortunately, these games of chicken are far too common among teams and NFL players. Usually one car swerves in time.
This time one car swerved, but it was a little too late, and a week of free agency that began with a bang for the Denver Broncos just ended with a thud.
Elvis has left the building.