Peter King’s news, rumors entering NFL free agency

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Things I’ve heard over the weekend about this legal-tampering period beginning today, and why I expect it to be more of a dud than electric free-agency period.

• Not sensing the verve out there for this class. Lots of things conspiring to make that happen. The two spots with mega-options in veteran free agents, the defensive line and safety, are overrun with strong prospects in the draft. One GM told me Sunday there would six to eight pass-rushers taken in the first round alone, and maybe six safeties picked in the top 50. When the number one guy in the class might be a guy who sat out the 2018 season (Le’Veon Bell) and plays a position that’s been severely devalued because of young guys after the first round becoming impact players early (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt), it’s a pretty meh season.

• Why are teams talking about trading their tagged players? I’ll put myself in Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s shoes. Kansas City has franchised pass-rusher Dee Ford (last 39 games: 26.5 sacks) but is listening to offers. My guess—just a guess—is the Chiefs would be open to taking a low second-round pick or high three for him. If they got, say, the 60th pick in a defensive-line rich draft, they’d be investing about four years and $4.8-million in cap dollars there (or in a pick somewhere in the first three rounds to replace Ford) instead of the four years and maybe $70-million in Ford … and they’d be able to use their money to go get a needed player at another position in free agency like C.J. Mosley or Earl Thomas. You know what this is, at least in part? It’s the Patriot Effect. You see New England let go of valuable vets every year and still win. I do believe there is some of that in play with teams dangling their franchise guys. Footnote on Dee Ford that should not be forgotten: He led all edge players in snaps (1,022) last year.

• I don’t see the Colts, with their treasure, breaking the bank in the next two weeks. No team has ever entered free-agency with this kind of loot. Indy, including the money carried over from 2018, has $134 million to spend if they desired. I doubt sincerely GM Chris Ballard will go freaky in free agency. It’s not his way. Of all the GMs in the league, Ballard’s not one to let cap money burn a hole in his pocket. Take running back. The Colts got 1,104 yards out of Marlon Mack in 12 games last year … and he costs $749,912 against the cap this year. Could they do better there? Probably. But when you’re coming off a season averaging 4.4 yards per rush with a young core in the backfield and up front, it’s not exactly a position crying out for help.

• Le’Veon to the Jets? New York, with $116 million in cap room and the motivation to spend with a GM who has to win this year, is the favorite to sign Bell. I can’t see Bell to the Colts except at a discount, and Bell will be motivated to make up what he lost last year (which he’ll never do). Smart football people think the Jets are the leaders in the Bell derby, with Washington and Miami possible too.

• Earl Thomas is a hot name. He’ll be 30 in May, and he’s missed 23 of 51 Seattle games in the last three years. But Thomas is a highly respected player with motivation to stick it to Seattle, with the ability to be a playmaking centerfielder and a good hitter too. Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City all could be players for Thomas, though I doubt the Chiefs would be a player in the $12-million-a-year range. They just don’t have that money.

• It’s an tepid QB market, to put it mildly. Nick Foles will likely be disappointed at the action and money his entry into free agency will trigger. Like everyone, I’m guessing Jacksonville. … Teddy Bridgewater has a tough call to make. Sean Payton would love to have him back for Drew Brees insurance at maybe $6 million for the year. But if you’re Bridgewater, sitting in 2019 would mean you wouldn’t have played for four seasons. And what would your worth be in 2020 after four years of inactivity? If the Dolphins or Jags offer him real money and the promise of a starting job in 2019, he might have to take it.

• The underrateds. Guys under the radar who will get paid: Washington edge player Preston Smith, Carolina right tackle Daryl Williams (trying to rebound from knee surgery), Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, big Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams, Oakland tight end Jared Cook (why in the world Gruden is letting him walk is beyond me), Bears safety Adrian Amos, and Chiefs center Mitch Morse.

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NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

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Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

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