Kevin Kolb headlines the crop of free agent signings in this second day of the league year. But he's not the only player making an impact in 2011.
Don't you love this?
I'm not sure if it's because I live in a bubble or a vacuum or a college house chock-full of unemployed 22-year-olds, but this young, NFL free-agent period gets me geeked out. This is fun. This is riveting.
This is charged like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet of excitement.
Maybe it's a media thing, but whether it's hammering away on deadline or furiously clicking for the latest buzz, I'm pretty sure we can mutually call these first three days the stuff of a future Bill Simmons book.
(Hell, maybe I'll write it...)
Straight to the business:
The biggest splashes thus far seem to be on the offense. Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins are teamless, and all of the signings to date—Charles Johnson (CAR), Eric Weddle (SD) and Ike Taylor (PIT)—seem catastrophic reaches or yawn-worthy re-signings.
Much more bubbly being popped in offensive meeting rooms (or Santonio Holmes' driveway).
So we'll go through the list, player by player and rate 'em and rave 'em. (Best stretch for a "bag 'em and tag 'em" alliterative pun. Forgive me...)
And on we go...
Don't confuse yourself with slideshows.
There very well could be some B/R FC plugging away at the most surprising or exciting or compelling or (descriptor of a signing of your choice) moves in this infant free-agency period. But that's not what this is.
I'm not saying what I, the fan, like. Or what I, the consumer of news, was moved by.
I'm saying what we, the informal football cognoscenti, should dub the most effective moves for each team.
It's All Relative with Resources
I'd like to take this opportunity to give the Glazer family a public lashing, for sitting on their hands for three days. When we meant reach for your back pocket for a wad of that $56.6 million of cap space, we didn't imply anything about planting yourself on said hand after, pinning it between your keister and your La-Z-Boy.
We meant making plays, padding the already buoyant hopes for your plucky roster and transforming it into a legitimate contender.
Hell, if nothing else, SIGN BARRETT RUUD ALREADY!
The Second-Coming Corollary
I give oodles more daps to a team that re-signs crucial pieces before looking to stretch its green. It's one thing if the Eagles decide to wave "happy trails" to all 14 of their unrestricted free agents. But when the Bucs, Broncos and Bengals let go of top-shelf (one) free agents and stand by? That's just unconscionable.
(OK. We'll call them "upper-middle shelf," given that this is something of a soft free-agent crop. Definitely more light than heat here.)
Teams are built through the draft, yes. But part of the genius of the Ravens and Patriots is their retention. Something like seven of the Colts' 2007 draft picks not only made that Super Bowl roster, but were key contributors! That's the watermark of a class organization.
So when I applaud teams for hanging onto familiar faces (assuming they're deserving and outwardly coveted), it doubles as an endorsement of the front office strategy that every franchise should have. (Truthfully, I'd settle for any strategy. Though recent history seems to back me when I say this one is best.)
Alright, alright. I'll cave.
Yes, I too enjoy fun, and concede that there's nothing like flipping through photos of a new signing dousing himself in Cristal when he hasn't even touched his fingers to pigskin yet. Though that seems to be the organizational culture in East Rutherford...
One quick thing: It's important to recognize the trend brought with this new CBA.
This isn't your older brother's NFL. Teams don't have the pockets they used to, with the salary cap dropping $9 million. Yes, teams are restructuring contracts, but this isn't the cash grab it used to be. Not anymore.
Roll in the mandatory salary floor, some $108 million, and you've created a multiplier effect. Not only are cash-rich teams tempered, but the NFL's stingiest front offices—San Diego, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Tampa Bay—have to dent in their checkbooks.
That narrows the money (and, you'd figure, competitive) parity league-wide. In other words: Every move counts, however unglamorous.
So while you'd normally scoff at an anonymous left tackle, creaky quarterback or not-so-touted right guard making a top list, remember two things:
One, it's Thursday.
Two, it's the NFL 2.0.
You'd figure this one to be a no-brainer.
You'd think signing one of the league's most dynamic and versatile wide receivers would be a foregone conclusion for the New York Jets, as would coddling up-and-hopeful Mark Sanchez with as much talent as his SoCal-calm could stomach.
But the overwhelming sentiment about it, at least before the CBA sediment settled, was doubt. There were serious questions as to whether Holmes, as big a knucklehead as playmaker, was in the plans, with Holmes and Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith all on the market as of Tuesday.
Funny thing about that...
Holmes inked a five-year, $50 million deal and raked $24 million, the most guaranteed money ever for a wide receiver.
The immediate implications of the move are simple: The Jets are postured to make Rex Ryan's soon-to-come Super Bowl prediction look more luster than bluster.
First came former Peyton Manning sensei Tom Moore, and now this? Adding the guy who practically wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Gridiron, the gospel that made No. 18 half of what he is, immediately legitimizes your expectations of Sanchez progressing. Rolling in a former Super Bowl MVP and your 2010 Saab (born from Jets? Maybe...?) deepens Sanchez' options.
Look: If you want the spiel about Holmes possessing a unique fusion of DeSean Jackson quicks, Larry Fitzgerald presence and Andre Johnson physicality, rolled into a 5'10" bundle, I'll reach for the soap box. He plays out of his body, if not this world. We know this.
What remains to be seen: How far he'll take the Jets in this reformed business landscape.
Truthfully, I'm not sure how I feel about the Carolina Panthers' spending at this early juncture. They've addressed positions of need, and secured pretty highly sought-after in-house guys they didn't want to lose.
Still, they've done it with the fiscal responsibility of the Lehman Brothers' 16-year-old daughter. Like, parading around Tiffany's with daddy's credit card, only one that controls the monetary stability of a multibillion-dollar corporation.
First came the Charles Johnson deal, a near-absurd six-year, $76 million deal with a $30 million signing bonus. Actually, it might have broached absurd by definition, being that it completely defied conventional logic.
Sure, there's something to be said for including the economic cost/giant pain in the ass of replacing a guy you skimp out on. It's another entirely to shell out one of the heftiest contracts in defensive line history for one, above-average season in the left-tackle-less NFC South.
Sam Baker? Seriously?
Then was the Olindo Mare deal, worth $12 million over four years, which I totally would've backed—circa 2005. Dude was somewhat reliable in Seattle, landing 83.3 percent of his kicks despite weather as fickle as an indecisive Rottweiler in an open-air Qwest Field.
Still, you never know exactly what you're getting from him on a season-to-season basis: Between 1999 and 2008, he went 84.8 percent, 90.3, 90.5, 77.4, 75.9, 75, 83.3, 72.2, all the way down to 58.8 in his one year in New Orleans (a dome, with pristine conditions) and back up to 88.9 in his first year with Seattle. Given how he's been erratic in transitioning from one town to the next, it seems Jerry Richardson decided to leaf-blow a pile of green in Mare's direction, and say "screw it, we'll see what happens."
Seems the guy just likes to furnish his special teams backfields with relics (then again, who doesn't?).
But the Williams signing might have compensated somewhat. This a homegrown guy (check) familiar with the system (check), who, admittedly, was the catalyst of the run-heavy system (check) that identically mirrors the backfield your No. 1 overall pick flourished in as recently as January (check). Seriously.
I'll never forget banging out a long-winded endorsement for the team to go after Michael Vick to Colin Cowherd in 2009 (no, Herd didn't read it on-air...). You get that same wrinkle with Williams, James Stewart and Cameron Newton (1).
Plus, he was the best free-agent running back on the market. You can even throw the newest Miami Dolphin, Reggie Bush, into the mix and reclassify it as all available running backs. Williams was simply the best. Not sure I'd pay him—or any running back in the post-2002 era—$43 million over five years. But he was next to irreplaceable, at least for the short term.
Props to go around. Even for Jerry Richardson...
(1) Consider this the start of my official campaign to stretch out Newton's first name, kind of how Michael Vick and others have shortened theirs, however unsuccessfully. I'm kind of a ball-buster like that. Heretofore, "Cameron Newton," he shall be.
At first glance, I was totally unsold on Sidney Rice to the Seahawks. It seemed to make as little rational sense as signing Tarvaris Jackson, significantly more than targeting Matt Leinart and substantially less than signing Robert Gallery.
In other words: I figured the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime was toking something stanky in Seattle's war room. The moves seemed all over the place.
With Jackson, you get the seeming security of familiarity (Jackson and Darell Bevell worked together exhaustively in Minnesota, though he somehow hasn't grown tired of Jackson...), mobility (word on the street is that with the offensive line in shambles, they wanted someone who could escape the clutches of anyone threatening to pop his head off like a cork) and expendability.
Neither Whitehurst nor Jackson is the quarterback of the future, or even the after-this-year; pretty sure Carroll is purposely tanking the 2011 season in order to land the No. 1 overall pick and Andrew Luck, thus bottoming out a new low in the NFC West, winning the rat race with Jim Harbaugh for landing Andrew Luck and getting back at Harbaugh for the "What's your deal?" standoff in Carroll's last USC whupping of his college career (1).
Truthfully, you can sell that to a Seattle fanbase. If it was Pittsburgh, you'd be hung by your toenails over an open flame. But in the cool, coffee-sipping nook of northwestern sophistication (the city is perennially tapped for the country's the most intelligent residents and tourists; go figure...), they don't whine as much.
So, you figure, maintain bare-minimum watchability without overreaching on potential busts in a.) a soft draft class that b.) you couldn't trade in anyway or c.) a heel-deep free-agent talent pool, and then reset for the future.
That whole thing about "watchability" sort of went to hell with the Matt Leinart wooing. But fortunately for them, he decided he'd rather be Matt Schaub's private form analyst, taking notes on the stride length in his drop backs and how many taps per second he fires while shuffling in the pocket—or whatever reason his people are pushing for copping out of a potential spotlight opportunity in the most exclusive fraternity in sports, NFL quarterbacking (there's only 32).
Seems he's all "funned out" after living it up for four years in USC. You wanna talk about "shrinking" in the moment, LeBron haters. Well...Have I got a clown for you...
And, surprisingly, that wasn't Robert Gallery, who deserves mention on this list, himself. Any time you're a.) praising a lineman taken No. 2 overall pick by b.) Al Davis who c.) was the third-biggest train wreck in offensive linemen history, behind only Kyle Turley and the guy who vanished before the 2003 Super Bowl (Barrett Robbins), you're onto something peculiar (1)
But I can't bludgeon this move like you'd think. I'd go as far as to say that save for Carl Nicks (NO) and Davin Joseph (TB), Gallery was the best available guard in the field. Especially considering that the foremost decision in signing their quarterback was hedging against the overwhelming likelihood that anyone else might die, I'm totally down with this move.
That set the table for my impression of the Rice signing.
Here's a guy who, until Brett Favre played out of his mind in 2009, was a complete bust worth only 46 catches and 537 yards in his first two seasons as a former second-rounder out of South Carolina. I genuinely remember thinking during his 83-catch, 1,312-yard and eight-touchdown season, "You think that's good? Imagine if that guy they drafted all those years back panned out! Throw Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian into the mix?"
Damn, is right.
Except for, Sidney Rice was that guy. (3) That's how far from the face of the football planet he plummeted. But given the dearth of options—Steve Smith (NYG) is coming off microfracture surgery; Steve Smith (CAR) was the second "Steve Smith" mentioned, an inkling about my perception of his value; Braylon Edwards isn't worth the money he'd command; and Malcolm Floyd would make way too much sense for everyone involved—it was a laudable move as any.
Even if his hip did explode within the last 365 days...And even though he did absolutely diddly with Tavaris Jackson at quarterback (best game was three catches).
Still, if Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer doesn't sell you on the complete package, if you judge the moves outside of a vacuum and incorporate all the moving parts, you're more stubborn than the lovechild of Jonathan Papelbon and your mother-in-law.
(1) At least, of course, until he gets canned from Seattle and crawls south to Oregon for when Chip Kelly gets the boot for recruitment allegations. Then, technically, it won't be his last NCAA gig. I'll give you that.
(2) Really: Guards and tackles never hit when they're taken that high. Save for obvis like Orlando Pace (No. 1 overall in 1997), Jonathan Ogden (No. 4 overall in 1996) and Walter Jones (No. 6 in 1997), hogs don't pan out when entire organizations are vested in them. Tony Mandarich—even Gallery, originally drafted as a left tackle, which lasted for all of 48 seconds or when then-head coach Lane Kiffin and then-offensive line coach Tom Cable felt sorry for Andrew Walter. Crazy...
(3) He wasn't. It was actually Troy Williamson, taken No. 7 overall in 2005. But for these intents and purposes, let's roll the same, tragic, South Carolina receivers into one bundle of bust for their early years.
Editor's Note on the photo: Thank God only one of those three is still on this team...
If you're a Dallas Cowboys fan and don't like this move, check your Star at the door. You're not worthy. Not like Wayne and Garth "not worthy." Like, legitimately a blind and tragic and bumbling excuse of a Dallas fan.
Not only was this move exactly what Dallas needed—it gives them the next-best up-and-coming left tackle in football, and a security blanket in case the guy they hope becomes the next-next-best up-and-coming left tackle in football, No. 8 overall pick Tyron Smith, takes a while—but it came at the perfect price.
The $34 million over four years was absolutely a discount considering the mass of teams needing legitimate left tackle help (Giants, Falcons, Cardinals, Bills, Steelers and Bengals) (1) and those with legitimate front offices you'd think would pull it off (Giants, Falcons and Steelers).
Not only does that solidify a glaring position of need for a team you'd like to think has Super Bowl chops, but it pays down-the-road returns in that it keeps Free out of the hands of a division rival (Giants), potential playoff hurdle (Falcons) and dancing partner (Steelers). That's huge, almost as big as Free's production a year ago—despite facing Mario Williams, Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney, all of whom net over $10 million, Free allowed only two tackles and a sack. I'll take that from anybody, let alone a 26-year-old.
Plus, it didn't dip too deeply into the nest egg brought on by the $15.6 million of savings from cutting Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis (2) —the second-latest of which has already been re-signed for a more than reasonable price, and the latest-latest of which is in negotiations with the team for a reworked deal.
So much for having a milk crate of an offensive line...and for concerns that Tony Romo's shoulder might explode again...despite a schedule that pits only two legitimate pass rushes (the scary Lions and still-unproven Bucs) against Dallas...
(1) I write that totally aware that a.) Flozell Adams and Andre Smith are still on those respective rosters and b.) are complete wastes of space.
(2) Though brace yourself for a tumultuous start to your 2012; with those cuts come $20.9 million in cap penalties that trigger with the start of next football year, meaning Dallas will have only that much less money to spend both then AND now. Remember: Even if you have the cap space to sign a guy, unless you completely vacate the second year of his contract, you're probably going to have to pay him in 2012. UNLESS Jerry Jones took up my advice and the "phantom clause" in the new collective bargaining agreement that got everyone so skittish was legalese OKing teams to compensate players in stock AND circumvent the cap in so doing... Genius...
Either way: THREE DAYS into the preseason and we're already perpetually screwed... COME ON!!!
Normally this slide would pay homage to the plethora of awesomely bad signings. That's what the slightest hum of free-agent activity and sliver of cap space does to Dan Snyder and the poor, deprived people of the District of Colombia. But this was actually a relatively heady move (gasp!).
Maybe the Redskins shouldn't have made all but $1 million of Moss' $6 million in guarantees a signing bonus—little too front-loaded for my taste, and for a 32-year-old whose entire worth is pegged to the speed he hasn't had in three years. But you can live with a deal that's only for three years ("light at the end of the tunnel" effect) and and worth $15 million (not buried so deeply you can't see said "light at the end of the tunnel" effect).
Is he worth even considering at all? Truthfully, I'm not sure. All I know is that he absolutely torches the Cowboys—990 yards in 11 games for six touchdowns (1)—and actually saw an upswing in his production in 2010, despite the rest of the organization's measures going straight to hell.
Who knows? Maybe Moss can make it 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in three of the last four, instead of just two-for-three...
Either way, the addition of Donte' Stallworth makes the Redskins actually seem like they're trying to bear some semblance to an NFL football team—even though Brandon Stokely backed out of a deal last-minute. Hey, I'll take those if I haven't already packed up and moved to Baltimore to be immediately reclassified as a Ravens fan on the basis of location.
True, they went the other way tapping John Beck as their starter. But I guess Washington had to sentence somebody to peeling themselves from the FedEx Field 80 snaps per game.
So yeah, even if only in the conditional, backhanded-compliment sense, this was a pretty solid pickup...for the armpit of the NFC East.
(1) Though Dallas got the last laugh in six times...that one playoff-clinching, two-touchdown, fourth-quarter comeback from Dec. 2008 notwithstanding. Damn you, Todd Collins...
What wasn't there to like about this move?
Here you have a publicly endeared veteran quarterback (check) who felt somewhat slighted by the organization (check) he battled for despite injuries and abysmal supporting casts (check), and immediately makes you viable in an up-for-grabs AFC South (check), inflates the value of your otherworldly running back (check) and doubles (if not quintuples, or whatever the word is for the number of perks we're listing here...) as a pick-me-up for an altogether emotionally exhausted fanbase (check).
That's Matt Hasselbeck for you, in 75 words or fewer (thank you, word count tool on Microsoft Word 2010).
This was a perfect match. He's worked out with Locker in Washington and knows three Titan higher-ups who all spent time in Seattle. It wasn't seamless—it was like the cloth was never cut in order to be stitched.
Listen: Maybe we're overvaluing his potential to raise Tennessee's 2011 ceiling. But he's a helluva lot better than the alternative; throwing a buoyant rookie like Jake Locker to a doghouse chock-full of foamy-mouthed Dwight Freeneys, Robert Mathises, Mario Williamses, Terrance Knightons, Tyson Alualus and the rest of a particularly frightening division of pass-rushers is a patently bad idea.
The list goes on (Joey Harrington) and on (David Carr) and on; quarterbacks who get rattled early don't always bounce back.
So, really, this doubles as a stopgap for a potentially 8-8 team (give or take 1.5 games) for one year. You can sell that. It's such an easy sell, apparently, that it worked on Hasselbeck himself. Believe me: Dude knows he's only there for the immediate-, short-, "only so long as it takes Locker to blossom"-term. And he knew he couldn't argue; not because owner Bud Adams and GM Mike Reinfeldt wouldn't hear it, but because his body wouldn't take anything more.
Hasselbeck knows he's on his last leg—and knee (2006) and vertebra (2008) and knee again (2008) and head (2008) and rib (2009) and wrist (2010). Jesus...How couldn't he?
In any event, this also proves the swift transition from the Vince Young era as needed. He won't have the efficacy that Matt Ryan did, but that's not his job. That's on Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in 2011 and the soon-to-be savior of that franchise. The fanbase needs that, as does your franchise player whose paid a disgraceful $550,000 and very likely to hold out of camp until that changes. I think if nothing else, Hasselbeck mitigates the organizational tension that the wake of Young gashed.
What Hasselbeck is, or can be, is Kerry Collins, the guy brought in initially to mentor VY (and for almost the same price: $21 million for three years). You expect less, but if he gives you half of 13-3 (which my spotty, simple math skills tell me is 9.45 and 6.54) Tennesseans (newspaper included) will be ecstatic.
This deal actually hadn't yet been struck when I started writing, which pays me the most coveted, backhanded compliment in journalism:
For someone who vests far too much time in a single piece, you have great adaptability and news conscious.
Anyway, the Kevin Kolb sign-and-trade cracks this list because of its instant, season-altering implications for two teams.
You can't say that about the Bush-to-Dolphins deal, because it was a horrendous move for Miami, for vesting two years and $10 million in a running back who's shown no one anything to justify that consideration (or compensation).
Seriously: I gushed over the prospect of getting Bush the same way I did of Vick—contingent upon there being a next-to-nothing investment. How Bush swapped for more than Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb (even lifetime backup safety Jonathan Amaya is worth more than a fifth-rounder, or two sixths) is more than baffling. My computer just coughed a spark the second I typed that. One is the most dominant defensive player in the league (when he feels like it) and the other is a proven commodity (though it's widely disputed how valuable said commodity is; are we talking gold or cattle?).
Plus, this trade can't earn distinction here because it did nothing for the Saints. Worst-case scenario (which would be everyone including GM Jeff Ireland realizing Bush wasn't worth more than league minimum): they cut him. Just like that. Poof. Deal done. Problem solved.
Oh no, the Kevin Kolb deal had far greater implications than that. Not only does it make one team a near-lock for the NFC West's knock-knock-joke of a playoff bid (really, it's neither that funny nor tough to conjure), but it spares the other from the most awkward training camp since the Terrell Owens days.
With Kolb, the Cardinals are poised for the same renaissance they enjoyed when Kurt Warner defibrillated them from the coma Matt Leinart lulled them into. I'm not saying Kolb is going to be the future Hall of Famer I think you're goofy to think Warner isn't. But they're very much in position to make a legitimate push for, we'll go as far as to say, the NFC Divisional playoff. I'll give that team, with Kolb and Fitzgerald and...
Steve Breaston signed with Kansas City? And Beanie Wells is still No. 1 on the depth chart? But his foot isn't?
In any event:
The biggest knock on Kolb in Philadelphia was his incompetence in the West Coast passing game. Well guess what? That's not what Ken Wisenhunt does. Wisenhunt doesn't implement Todd Haley's old system to a T, sending every eligible receiver (and occasionally a fat guy, just to sell tickets; it is Missouri, people—those folks need all the flair they can get..) 90 yards down the field and chucking it to them. But it's eerily similar.
Arizona very much warms to stretching the field, and Fitzgerald very much warms to quarterbacks not named Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall or John Skelton. Seems like the perfect match, and terror for a division that just lost its only legitimate cornerback when Nate Clements was cut from San Francisco. Have fun, kiddies...
Plus, I'm not so sure we're selling the positive effects of Kolb's 2010 from hell. This guy sat watching Donovan McNabb for a year. Then he was shuttled in and out a few times in 2008, before going back to his seemingly eternal sitting and watching. Then came the Baltimore game, and McNabb's third-most trademark faceplant of his career (1), and a few more games of playing.
That, of course, was followed by more indecisive Belgian waffling by the front office, who ultimately anointed him starter before the 2010 season. In case you spent August 2010 through January 2011 in a hole, that didn't go so well for Kolb. Everybody stumbles sometimes, but when your brutal concussion makes way for the greatest revival in city history, if not the greatest redemption narrative in United States history, that can be tough to swallow.
For most, I think that crumbles you from the inside. But there's something about Kolb, a sort of southern nonchalant air that made Brett Favre so collected and Roy Oswalt seem like it. It's not exactly that South Beach blase—sort of its southeastern cousin—but it's comparable.
Since this seems as good a time as any to prognosticate Kolb's future as an NFL QB, I say somewhere between Matt Hasselbeck and Jon Kitna (both of whom, by the way, are far better players than they're given credit for). In Arizona, that's good enough for perennial competitiveness.
On the flip side, this epitomizes the "addition by subtraction" effect for the Eagles. There's no question that Kolb compounds the catastrophic distraction of DeSean Jackson's holdout. Now that the Eagles have two of four major offseason problems squared away (trading Kolb and landing a cornerback), and are working on another, according to reports that the team has opened long-term contract talks with Michael Vick, the only hiccup on the road to the Super Bowl Google Map is negotiating with Jackson.
Which, if you've heard him speak, might take a while. I genuinely don't know if there's a functioning synapse in that man's head.
Still, whenever Starship Seven is walking the straight and narrow, and all the way to the film room, your team's dancing shoes look all that much more usable.
So in short: This might be the biggest, most mutually benefiting transaction to date.
Coming in at No. 2, though...
(1) No. 1 faceplant was the Super Bowl "phantom puke" in 2004, and No. 2 was the quotable from the tie with Cincy in 2008. Seriously, I don't beat you up for not knowing the rule. But telling the free world, which transitively includes the fanbase whose eyes rest on your jugular and whose lips lick themselves when they daydream, that you didn't know was unforgivable. You genuinely must love punishment.
Please: I'm actually a fan of yours. But when in doubt, make fun of all the convicts on the opposing team. Or say nothing. I guess "no comment" is as effective...
(2) And no, that's not taking a shot at a guy with a violent concussion history. If anything, it's an observation accentuated by the fact that there's not much a disparity between the pre- and post-Duanta Robinson DeSean Jacksons. He might be that hollow-headed.
I'm truthfully shocked that it took the Patriots so long to make this deal.
Here you have an elite athlete (check) well-versed in the misery of perpetual losing (check), who's more dedicated than he lets on (check) and would be giddy at the thought of catching passes from a quarterback who isn't planning on retiring in 37 seconds (check) and beside a short-yardage guy that lets him stretch his legs some (check).
How wouldn't a Chad Ochocinco-to-New England deal be the first move made?
Listen: I know about the track record, even with scooping malcontents from Ochocinco's own Cincinnati (Corey Dillon). And yes, New England has a certain knack for making all-but-certain mushroom clouds explode with league-wide applause instead.
But truthfully, I'm not that wowed by the move, nor am I over the Haynesworth trade.
Are you? You didn't see that coming 12 months ago? Like, the second Haynesworth took that $21 million signing bonus and stepped into focus of an ESPN camera wearing maroon and yellow?
And I'd totally package next to nothing, the fifth-round pick they traded the Redskins and some likely comparable compensation—details have yet to be released—for proven commodities. For sure things. For guys you know would fit like they should, round pegs that only potato-chip crummy situations can disfigure.
Remember: The only off years Ocho's ever played have coincided with either injuries to Carson Palmer, or a mid-life crisis after the 2008 season he did next to nothing to prepare up for. Yeah, a complete and sudden disinterest robbed him three games and whatever incentives triggered if he had actually caught more than 53 balls and for more than 540 yards and four touchdowns.
But he also bounced back the next year, solely because he felt like it, to pull 72 down for 1,047 and nine TDs in 2009, and he wrestled T.O. for 67 grabs and 831 and four TDs in an offense that had clearly since passed by him.
Isn't that worth the chance?
Look: Don't laud the Patriots for being a class organization, or master motivators, or immune to the shenanigans that the sources of half their payroll weren't. Rave about their uncanny ability to isolate laser-precise needs based on their unique schemes, and find players who mesh. It's classic talent evaluation 101. It shouldn't be this difficult, given that teams are (you'd hope) the architects of their own systems (1).
But it is for most.
Just not New England.
As for Ochocinco's production: He won't be Randy Moss (who is?) but he's got at least two 1,000-yard seasons in him. The way that team throws, and how it didn't have anyone to stretch that tweener area between the safeties and linebackers—what you know Ocho is good for—he immediately vaults that offense to a whole other level. It's one thing to spackle with Julian Edelmans; it's the stuff of beauty to land someone as skilled as Ocho.
(1) Though I could totally see Chan Gailey outsourcing scheme formation to a few interns from a Buffalo-area accounting firm. Has absolutely no football conscious, but somehow rolls in the nerdiness and attention to detail to pull off halfway decent numbers.