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.