With the 2010 season fizzling out, and the accompanying realization that all good things must come to an end, I thought I would clear out my notebook of league happenings.
I know some people in Derek's thread worried that I would be launching a 400 part series on the CBA. Not to fear. I am not a reporter, so I won't be breaking stories this off-season. What I can provide is a framework to consider as the off-season unfolds.
This will, of course, be the dominant discussion of the off-season. Owners and players are playing a game of chicken. I just don't understand why. I highly recommend reading this story. It says basically everything I have been wanting to write on this topic. Let me link it again because I really think this is everything you need to know about the state of the CBA right now.
In summary, the owners have opted out of the CBA and want the players to take a pay cut. What I don't understand is why. As the article (which I will link a third time for completeness) shows, there isn't much evidence that the owners have been harmed by the current deal or are suffering in terms of their businesses. Are they really going to go through the potential PR nightmare of a lockout in order to goose up what seem to be pretty solid margins?
Now, I have pointed out in the past that there is dead weight to cut in the salary cap. You could slice a pretty large amount off of the cap and player cash payout probably wouldn't be changed materially. The reality may well be that the current level of player compensation is at its natural point and that point is below the current cap. Certainly, the current cap isn't constraining salary growth in any way, but it also doesn't seem to artificially boosting it either. So if you are an owner, is this really worth risking the top line for?
The article I have repeatedly linked also has certain flaws. For instance, it measures rookie payout. That isn't the relevant measure. The relevant measure is payout on rookie contracts after the first year. That is when things blow up with guaranteed money and second-tier bonuses.
But the point is the same. Why is this happening? The owners don't seem to be losing money, or even making an inadequate profit. Are they really going to risk damaging the product by staging a lockout?
So the players think that the owners are bluffing. And the owners are trying to show they aren't. It makes no sense for a deal to not be reached. But with the high-ego people involved here, the most significant risk is that the owners follow through with their threats just to show the union that they can, and the union doesn't concede just to show the owners that they don't have to. And the end result makes everybody worse.
Right now, though, it is all posturing, just as it has been all along, each side trying to show the other side that they really aren't kidding. The NFL shows it is serious about short term pain for larger future margins. The players show they really think the NFL is bluffing, and won't harm the product and (what appear to be) the current attractive margins just to add a couple of percent more to its pockets.
At some point, they will start to negotiate, probably in the weeks following the Super Bowl, and then we will know. Right now, though, it is the same as it has been for the past 2 years: lots of noise, zero substance.
- The league seems close to signing a huge extension with ESPN, 65-70% over what they had received in the past. But remember that this is an increase in the average a 10 year deal over the previous 8 year deal. So it means that the NFL has become something between 6% and 7% more valuable per year. That's really good, if not as sexy as the 65-70% headline.
- I do think the emphasis on payout to rookies is misplaced. The problem is guarantees to rookies, not their total salaries, in my opinion. This problem has been created because the current rookie cap is too restrictive on what rookies can get, and the only way around it is to guarantee a ton of money. To me, easing restrictions on rookie base salaries while restricting the amount of guaranteed money (or virtually guaranteed money) that rookies can get seems to address everybody's main issue. Earn the dollars with your play. The players' current proposal (3 year deals max, then free agency) addresses this, as reduced pay in the short term would be offset by larger second contracts for guys who deserved them. Of course, the truth is that the owners just want everybody to make less overall, so that won't fly. But the players should be careful not to concede this issue for the sake of it.
- Similarly, guaranteed money seems to be increasing on the veteran front as well. But that is in part because the cap isn't constraining. There is no real consequence to dead money the way there was before the 2006 extension. Again, trimming the dead weight out of the cap can address this issue.
- The 18 game season may well be the way to bridge the gap here. Player safety is an issue, and the decline of the product by the end of a season, especially for a finesse team like the Eagles, is an issue. But as I have argued in the past, this is a more complex issue than just injuries, and as fans, we may wind up liking it better. It is the players' own health they are playing with, as they do for 16-20 games per year. We are just the beneficiaries.
Because of the looming collective bargaining issues, this off-season could result in a different paradigm than previous ones. If the owners and players haven't reached a deal by the start of the 2011 league year, there is a good chance that there will be no free agent movement before the draft. So, for the first time, the draft will come first. This matters a great deal, and it will be very interesting to see how it impacts the veteran trade market, as well as roster building in general. Let's say, for instance, you are trading a veteran QB around the time of the draft. A QB-needy team won't have been able to go get a veteran QB to fill it's position, and won't know whether it will be able to at all. That could seriously enhance the probability of making a deal.
On the other hand, draft picks are likely to become a lot more valuable under a new CBA, especially first round picks. So projections of multiple first round picks for your QB might wind up being a concept that is a construct of an older system.
Further, from a roster building perspective, teams will be tempted to use the draft to fill needs in a way they hadn't before, since they won't have been able to fill those needs in free agency. That could lead to some surprising drafting league-wide.
The Eagles have a bunch of free agents:
- Michael Vick
- Jerome Harrison*
- Max Jean-Gilles*
- Nick Cole*
- Reggie Wells
- Bobby McCray
- Victor Abiamiri*
- Stewart Bradley*
- Ernie Sims*
- Akeem Jordan*
- Omar Gaither*
- Dimitri Patterson*
- Ellis Hobbs
- Quintin Mikell
- Antoine Harris*
- David Akers
- Saverio Rocca*
Players marked with an asterisk have 4 or 5 years of experience, and so may or may not be free agents depending on the rules in place. There are a lot of those guys on this team, and on most teams. So it should be a plentiful year for free agent shopping. Want a solid starter? He should be out there. Teams haven't always been resigning their own quality players because of the rules, so an aggressive team could do well.
How much do we have under the cap? I did a post that touched on that a bit ago. I don't think my estimate has changed. It also touches on resigning Mike Vick. I don't think that will wind up being a problem, and suspect that Vick and DeSean Jackson will get extensions pretty quickly after a new CBA agreement is reached.
Touching on Tommy's post from earlier, I think it would be a bad decision to go after Asomugha. Yes, our defense would be sick with great players at each corner, but we aren't the Redskins. His age is a BIG DEAL. And he doesn't make a lick of sense as a safety because he isn't a playmaker. Finally, we are going to be entering a capped era again, people, with some expensive contracts that will be needed to be handed out internally. This is the kind of deal that sinks a franchise. It just a horrible idea, and I hope that Howie isn't even considering it. It was a much different situation with Peppers.
I know Andy Reid said that he doesn't expect to make coaching changes, but it wouldn't surprise me to see some, especially on offense with coaches getting hired away. Marty Mornhinweg is a potential head coaching candidate. I think David Culley or James Urban may be someone of interest as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland or St. Louis or even Carolina, especially if Mornhinweg doesn't get a job elsewhere. And I wonder if TE coach Tom Melvin wouldn't take an OL coaching job if it were offered, and if Reid wouldn't allow him to go get it out of loyalty.
If there are offensive changes, remember that one of the first places he looks is at his personalassistants, who are currently Corey Matthei, a collegiate OL, and former AFL QB Matt Nagy. He also looks at his former players, and Duce Staley was ubitquitous this year as a coaching intern. Finally, he often looks at ex-colleagues, like Dick Jauron and Mornhinweg. Brad Childress is the obvious person there, though I personally don't think it is in Childress's best long-term interest to return here, and I think he knows that. I'd expect him to wind up in Cleveland or St. Louis.
On the defensive side, there have been calls for the heads of Sean McDermott and Rory Segrest. I understand that, and frankly, I wouldn't be sorry to see either go. I have lost faith in McDermott's ability to scheme to the talent he does have (if the players can't execute the scheme, that's a scheme problem or a coaching problem as much as a talent problem, in my opinion). I know Tommy is cheerleadig for him in his earlier post, but I think the guy is overmatched, and more importantly, I worry that the players are losing faith as well, which is a cancerous situation.
And if the DL is so important to this team, we should be able to afford a top tier DL coach, and I haven't seen much evidence that Segrest is that. Reid doesn't seem inclined to make any change ... yet. But intentions change as opportunities crop up. And Reid has been more trigger happy on his coaching staff the past couple of years than he ever had been in the past.
Now, if a change were made, who replaces them? I don't know. A lot of 3-4 schemes had head coaching changes, so the unemployed experienced NFL 4-3 coaches on the street are few.
Dick Jauron seems like an obvious successor as a defensive coordinator. Someone in the comments asked if we could look at his prior experience to know if he was any good. However, his record is a bit hard to parse easily. His experience from 1995-1998 as the first DC of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, where he really had little talent to start with, as Jacksonville had an offensive emphasis initially, and indeed the top offense in the league by 1997. During that time, the team had defensive DVOAs ranked 30, 21, 22 and 19. Further, by way of comparison, Jim Johnson had defensive DVOAs ranked 24 and 25 in 1996 and 1997 with the Colts. So it isn't necessarily the best indicator. Later, with the horrible Detroit Lions, another talent-starved team, Jauron had DVOAs ranked of 20 and 19 in 2004-2005, which wasn't too far off of where they had been in 2003.
Like I said, I don't think we can say that much about Jauron based on DVOA. He seems to be popular with his players in his coaching career. He knows secondary play. It is hard for me to blame (or credit) him for any part of the secondary's performance this year, and other than an injured Ellis Hobbs in Tennessee and an over-matched guy who should be limited to STs in Dimitri Patterson, the biggest liabilities in coverage were often linebackers and dropping linemen, an issue I blame on scheme.
That said, I'd be surprised if Reid replaces McDermott, and thought so even before he announced that he wouldn't, with the only caveat being if John Fox decides to be our DC for a couple of years (don't know why he'd do that, but you never know). The advantage of promoting Jauron is that he is 61, not going to get another head coaching offer in his career, and can develop some continuity in a system. Fox would probably be a prime head coaching candidate right away, so we'd have to start developing his replacement immediately. So even if Fox is available, I don't know if you can make a change.
Who knows who is out there on the DL, though? I think the big issue is whether we still love the gap system we run. If we were to make a change, to me it would have to be for a strong teacher and a good schemer who can help tailor the entire defensive scheme to handle a different way of attacking the offensive line. If we are going to keep Pete Jenkins's system, we can't just ditch Rory Segrest, because there just aren't a lot of guys out there who understand and can teach the way we play gaps.
Now, that said, I would probably advocate for making just that sort of change. Derek has often made the point in the past that our DTs have to do a better job of pressuring the QB, and the scheme has something to do with that. I would really like to see a strong, experienced line coach come in and mix things up. Karl Dunbar appears headed to Tampa, which is a shame, because he seems like the right type.