Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Le'Veon Bell Gambled and Lost, but the Jets Win

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 13, 2019

Pittsburgh Steelers Le'Veon Bell arrives at the EA Sports Bowl at The Armory on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in Minneapolis. (Photo by Omar Vega/Invision/AP)
Omar Vega/Associated Press

It's shopping season in the NFL, and players are cashing in, but Le'Veon Bell lost. There were also big losses in Baltimore and the different standards players and owners are held to by fans and the media. All this and more in the latest 10-Point Stance.

    

1. The Bell tolled, and he lost

Le'Veon Bell was the best running back in football. No one was smarter, more complete, more slippery, more devastating and more relied upon. Some people may have forgotten all that since he's been gone for a year. Let former player and current NFL analyst Brian Baldinger remind you how much of a weapon Bell is.

That talent is what Bell was counting on when he held out last season. He figured there would be a bevy of teams trying to sign him. He was wrong.

Bell's new contract with the Jets is a good one. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the four-year, $52.5 million deal included a $35 million signing bonus. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Steelers weren't offering "substantial guarantees."

But from everything I heard from teams Tuesday and in the early hours Wednesday, Bell was expecting more. He was also expecting more teams to be interested. In reality, there were only a handful of legitimate suitors, according to several teams.

What happened to Bell was a case of revenge on a leaguewide scale.

"He's a pain in the ass," one NFC West team executive said.

That's the view more than a handful of teams shared of Bell. That's why the interest in him was tepid. Teams despise when players have lengthy holdouts, and as a league, teams tend to back off players who do. It's pseudo-collusion-y.

There are other reasons why the interest was low: the declining value of the running back, his two suspensions, and the belief a team can find a cheaper back in the draft with much less mileage.

But above all, teams hated Bell's decision to hold out, and because of it, they didn't trust him.

While Bell may have lost the financial battle he waged, the Jets definitely won. They got him at a reasonable price, didn't give up draft picks and now have one of the greatest game-changing players of the past 10 to 20 years.

He's that good, and the Jets should be that happy.

And while Bell may be happy he can get back on the field again, it cost him a lot more than many expected.

       

2. Secure that bag

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 02:  C.J. Mosley #57 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after a defensive stop against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every year, when free agency hits, we say the same thing...

The money free agents are getting is insane.

This is another one of those years, and it may be the wildest yet. The cash players are getting is almost inexplicable. So many bags are being secured.

Take, for example, the deal Washington gave safety Landon Collins. Multiple reports say he received a six-year, $84 million deal. Now, there's no way he'll see all of that money, but an astounding $45 million of it is guaranteed.

Forty-five million guaranteed.

For a safety.

While the position is important, it's become extremely devalued. As the NFL has emphasized the passing game, it has severely hampered the ability of defensive players to slow their offensive counterparts. And with so much of a safety's value tied up in a team's scheme, the going rate for the position has been declining in recent years.

Collins was far from the only player to get Mark Zuckerberg-esque money during the start of free agency. (Technically, the legal tampering period began Monday and Tuesday before free agency officially begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.) 

Defensive end Trey Flowers, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, will be getting $18 million a season in a five-year deal.

Flowers is a talented and versatile player, but is he that good?

Another safety, Tyrann Mathieu, got $42 million over three years, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Bills gave a center, Mitch Morse, $11 million a season. It's the richest contract a center has ever received. Even receiver Devin Funchess, who's never registered more than 840 yards receiving in a season, got a one-year deal that could pay him up to $13 million. The problem with Funchess is he's one of the few guys that when trying to secure the bag, he'd drop it.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Just Tuesday morning, C.J. Mosley set a new contractual standard for inside linebackers by committing to the Jets on a five-year, $85 million deal with $51 million guaranteed.

And then there is quarterback Nick Foles, who will get $50 million guaranteed from the Jaguars as part of a four-year, $88 million deal. Was that necessary? Maybe not, as several NFC and AFC team sources told me the Jaguars weren't bidding against other teams. In fact, I've heard that no one was bidding for Foles except the Jaguars.

The players deserve all this cash (and more). Secure the bag. Secure the vault. Secure the Porsche. Secure the private jet. Secure the new pool, too.

But it doesn't make all of these deals wise investments.

So why are so many teams doing it? There are a few reasons:

The increased salary cap space. The cap has increased about $10 million a season every year since 2013. It now stands at around $188 million. According to OvertheCap.com, every team had at least $6 million to spend when free agency began, and 12 teams had at least $30 million waiting to be handed out. That is a lot of room and money. If managed properly, that kind of space could allow teams to sign one or two star free agents a year.

The lack of fear. Overall, teams aren't afraid to spend big money in free agency the way they were just five or 10 years ago. They know the salary cap will go up, and most of the team's mistakes can be corrected with cap maneuverings or releasing players.

There's also not as much apprehension over signing older players. Teams figure that veterans can retain their skills far longer than in the past because of advanced training methods now in use. Just look at the active leaders in career rushing touchdowns: Adrian Peterson (fifth with 106), Marshawn Lynch (16th with 84) and Frank Gore (22nd with 77).

All of them are over 30, and each is still productive; Gore will be 36 years old next season (his 15th), and he just signed a one-year deal with Buffalo for $2 million

Aggression is key. There's a feeling now—and this is also something that's changed recently—that you cannot win unless you invest heavily in free agency. Draft picks take time to develop. Trades are not easy to execute. Fans expect shiny new toys in the offseason. Free agency is often the answer to many of those issues.

Look at Green Bay. The Packers have traditionally despised free agency. This year, they jumped into the free-agent volcano with both feet, coming to terms with defensive end Preston Smith on a four-year, $52 million deal and linebacker Za'Darius Smith on a four-year, $66 million contract, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

No deal is more emblematic of the changing free-agent times than the Mosley signing. In 2002, as ESPN's Jamison Hensley remembered:

The money is pouring in and will keep doing so. Bags are being secured left, right and center

We have never seen anything like this.

(Until next year.)

    

3. An enlightened pairing

Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

One of the most interesting stories from free agency thus far is what Michael Bennett says he told the Patriots about his plans regarding the national anthem.

In a remarkably candid interview with ESPN.com's William C. Rhoden, the outspoken veteran defensive end, who is joining the Patriots, said he was surprised the team signed him. Owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady all have backed Donald Trump over the past few years. Bennett has been open about his frustration with Trump and was one of the first players to support the protests of Colin Kaepernick.

Bennett told ESPN he let the Patriots know he would continue to protest during the national anthem by staying in the locker room. They were fine with it.

"I explained to them that my integrity means everything. I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual."

Bennett's words offer a rare peek behind the free-agent curtain, and it's all the more remarkable given it sheds light on the notoriously secret Patriots. But yet again, here's an example of what sets New England apart in the league. People can have differences, and so long as they respect each other, they can still work together. The Pats, unlike many, get it.

    

4. Flying away

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Baltimore is undergoing the type of wholesale remaking often unseen on a voluntary basis.

As ESPN's Field Yates noted, in addition to losing Ozzie Newsome, one of the best general managers of all time, the team has lost a bevy of players, many of them talented ones from a fierce defense. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, safety Eric Weddle, linebacker Terrell Suggs, quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Michael Crabtree all are moving on.

That's a lot of lost firepower (especially on defense). Losing Newsome, however, could be the biggest loss. He was that good at his job.

These next few years in Baltimore will be interesting to watch.

    

5. Still waiting on Gronk

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 23:  Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots looks on prior to the game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on February 23, 2019 in Syracuse, New York. Duke defeated Syracuse 75-65. (Photo by
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Drew Rosenhaus, Rob Gronkowski's agent, said on ESPN's NFL Live this week that the longtime Patriots tight end still hasn't made a decision about his future.

Just as important, Rosenhaus also mentioned Gronkowski was healthy and fully recovered from a quadriceps injury he played through in the Super Bowl.

I could be wrong, but those declarations of good health felt a lot like a sales pitch to other teams: I'm not sure what Gronk is going to do, but if any teams are considering trading for him, well, he's healthy.

The guess remains that Gronkowski will return to New England, but a year after he was almost traded to the Lions, his future as a Patriot has never been more tenuous.

    

6. The Patriot way

Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Patriots suffered some big losses in free agency.

That is a sentence that has been written dozens of times during the Bill Belichick era.

This time, it was offensive tackle Trent Brown, who reportedly will sign with Oakland, and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who's headed to the Lions. Brown is one of the best offensive linemen in football, and Flowers was one of the top defensive players in free agency. There's no question losing these two will hurt the Patriots.

Well, at least in theory. The most impressive part of the Patriots dynasty has been its resilience and how it has withstood significant free-agent losses and still dominated. That's the Belichick/Brady effect. Belichick can coach anyone, and Brady can turn any offense into a great one.

There's no reason to think this will change as long as both men are still there. 

          

7. Don't hate the players; hate the game

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 17: NFL player, Antonio Brown smiles and laughs during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game on February 17, 2019 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Tom O'Connor/Getty Images

When I tweeted this about the hypocrisy of those calling Antonio Brown disloyal for wanting a richer contract in light of the Chiefs' decision to cut Justin Houston and avoid a $15 million payout, well, my goodness gracious, did some people get upset. Plenty agreed, but there also were plenty of folks who wanted to punch me in the face (get in line).

Brown's Pittsburgh departure has become more than a football story. It's a referendum on the expectations surrounding how teams are supposed to treat players versus the responsibility of players to teams.

Brown's fiercest critics claim he quit on the team. My response to that is teams quit on players all the time. They cut them. If players get hurt, often they're released. The Chiefs cut Houston with two years left on his contract because they didn't want to pay him the money he was due.

Both teams and players make business decisions, but it seems the players often face a lot more vitriol when they make their choices as opposed to the criticism owners get when, say, they move a team and abandon a city.

This debate won't go away anytime soon, especially with the rising tide of money in the league and the rising willingness of players to flex their contractual muscles. Given how Brown has been treated this offseason, it's unlikely the fans' reactions will change, either.

    

8. For the want of a QB

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders speaks with head coach Jon Gruden in the first quarter during their NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 10, 2018 in Oakland, California.  (
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Adding Brown may be just the beginning of a Raiders run on acquiring talent as they attempt to rebuild the franchise Jon Gruden tore down last season.

But there is one thing that could cause massive problems in Gruden's plans: quarterback Derek Carr.

Carr has steadily declined since 2016, as Pro Football Focus notes.

Can Carr get better? Of course he could. Will he? He hasn't demonstrated that he can.

Beyond the cap hold Carr's contract represents, his inconsistency leaves the Raiders in search of a franchise QB, and as the majority of 32 fanbases can attest, those are not easy to find.

So the Raiders should feel free to add all the talent they want, but until they determine who's throwing the ball, it's all window dressing.

   

9. "I've still got a chip on my shoulder"

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Linebacker Josh Allen of Kentucky works out during day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen was named the recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award from the Maxwell Football Club as the nation's top defensive player. Allen is likely a top-five draft pick, according to B/R's Matt Miller. I asked a spokesperson from the Maxwell Football Club to ask Allen a few questions on my behalf. Pay particular attention to his second answer, which says a lot of good things about Allen's attitude.

B/R: Any questions at the combine make you squirm?

Josh Allen: No, no, I'm pretty good in those situations.

B/R: How does it feel to go from being under-recruited in high school, which meant you had to play with a chip on your shoulder, to now being hyped up, one of the top guys? How does that change your mentality?

JA: I mean, it probably will fuel me even more that now I'm here, now I've got to solidify myself as the best guy in this draft, and as deserving of a No. 1 spot, or a top-five pick, anyway. I've still got a chip on my shoulder. Nothing is ever going to...I could be a Hall of Famer; I'll still have a chip on my shoulder, you know what I mean? So I'm always going to live with that and use that.

B/R: You're from Montclair, New Jersey. Would it be important to you to play for the Jets or Giants so your family could see you play?

JA: I'll play anywhere. Family, they'll come see me anywhere I go. It would be cool to be back in Jersey, but I don't care.

      

10. Lamar Jackson has a Ravens legend in his corner

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JANUARY 06: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 06, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patric
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

One more note from the Maxwell Football Club: Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who received the Tropicana Legends Award from the organization, was asked by the club's spokesperson on my behalf to give his thoughts on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

"The kid is dynamic," Lewis said. "He has what I call an 'it' factor. That means when he steps on the field, he makes everybody better just by his presence alone. I think it was kind of a good move for them to make a transition out, and I think they had well over a decade with Joe [Flacco], and Joe brought us a Super Bowl, and so those are good times.

"But I think to draft that kid in the first round, they were looking for a bright future with him. And I think what they're doing with him now, you're going to have to get him a No. 1 receiver, you're going to have to get him a consistent running back to really help him out, as well, but I think he will be one of the special ones."

      

BONUS (thanks to the free agency frenzy)

11. Strange days, indeed

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

So it appears the president once joked that his daughter should have married Tom Brady.

Yes, correct, that is right, you read that right.

The New York Times obtained a copy of a book on Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. And while there is a lot in it about the political machinations of the president's daughter and son-in-law, there is one passage in the book that had me, like, What the hell?

The Times recounts a story in the book about how Trump joked that his daughter could have married Brady. Which, by the way, is a question many parents have asked their kids.

My mom asks me every day: Why didn't you marry Tom Brady?

The anecdote is another illustration of how close Trump has been to the Patriots hierarchy. I've heard for years how much Brady and Trump like each other. Not saying that's good or bad. But it is a thing.

Sometimes, it's a weird thing, but there are a lot of weird things going on nowadays. 

                 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL


Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown joins Adam Lefkoe to talk about the Antonio Brown trade, playing for Jon Gruden and what Tim Brown told Antonio Brown when the newest Raiders receiver called for advice.

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