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We are days away from the NFL draft and with so much having gone on already I shall be taking a particularly personal swing through the offseason with no intention of preparing you for the draft, but I’ll come to that in a bit.

This season I’m going to mix things up a little and so in season I’m going to be moving the newsletter format into my regular Wednesday posts and try writing only one thing a day to make life easier on myself.

This is a little taste of what I’m planning.

I will email that out as a newsletter with modifications for those subscribed so do sign-up at here as there will be bonus bits, just not a whole second post!

So without further preamble let us get to the off-season so far, or the season of hope as I tend to call it.

What I Saw

There has been a swirl of news over the offseason and team activities have already started for the teams with new coaches, whilst there were plenty of free-agency moves.

Some of the things that caught my eye include:

  • The New York Giants trading Odell Beckham to the Cleveland Browns, who have very much won the off-season and are already being tipped to be the team to beat in the AFC North this year with the various talent they have acquired in recent years and this off-season.
  • Antonio Brown got his wish and was traded to the Oakland Raiders by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is somewhat at odds with the Raiders apparent drive to acquire youth and draft picks.
  • The Raiders also handed out a four-year contact with $36.25 million guaranteed at signing to left tackle Trenton Brown after his year-long stint with the Patriots and their famed O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. It is a very typical Patriots move to let another team overpay one of their players and I wonder how Brown will play outside of the Patriots structure as I’ve not heard him mentioned as the kind of player who should have the biggest on-signing contract guarantees for a left tackle in the league.
  • The three 2019 free-agent contracts with the largest guarantees at signing are:

    Nick Foles – who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars to give them a quarterback who presents a credible passing threat as he reunites with the Jags’ new offensive co-ordinator John DeFilippo
    CJ Mosely – who bucked the trend of inside line backers being devalued by getting a contract that guarantees him over $40 million from the New York Jets who have cap space to use whilst having a quarterback on rookie contract.

    Trey Flowers – whilst the Lions are trying to become the Detroit Patriots under ex-Patriots Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, they made the distinctly un-Patriots like move of paying top dollar for a pass rusher as they try to build their own version of the New England culture. The problem could be that you can’t just recreate Bill Belichick as several of his coaches have demonstrated in the past. I am curious to see how things develop for the Lions this second season of the new regime. Not many coaches get the old fashioned three seasons to turn things around; although I’m not sure that’s always a good thing.

  • It should surprise no one that the top five guaranteed at signing contracts all belong to quarterbacks. Now that Russell Wilson has signed an extension last week he becomes the player with the highest average salary in the league right now, which will last right up until the next franchise quarterback signs their new deal.
  • In case you were interested, the contract with the sixth largest guarantee at signing was the one that Khalil Mack signed last season after being traded to the Chicago Bears.
  • After the market was slow for safeties last season, we saw three 2019 free-agent safeties sign contracts that put them in the top ten for guaranteed money at signing this off-season.Earl Thomas – I like the individual signing for the Baltimore Ravens, but there has been so much turnover on defence that I’m not sure how good they will actually be. Certainly we have seen the effect not having Thomas has had on the Seahawks’ defence in previous seasons, he has amazing range and his broken leg shouldn’t be a hindrance but only time will tell. I’d quite like the other AFC North teams to stop acquiring big name talent though…

    Landon Collins – there was an implication from some that Collins picked up a huge contract because he was a big Washington fan, but they will be hoping he can recreate his form of 2017 rather than last year, although at twenty-five he is a good age to be signing such a big contract.

    Tyrann Mathieu – signs with the Kansas City Chiefs as they overhaul their defence. He will give them a flexible near the line player but doesn’t solve the lack of pass rushers on the roster after the Chiefs let go or trades their outside line-backers. As the Chiefs transition to a 4-3 defensive scheme we will have to see how much support they can give an impressive offence that almost has to take a step back from last year’s stellar performance since it will be nearly impossible to maintain.
    The will still be good and keeping a lot of defensive players and coaches up this Autumn.

What I Heard

Lots of offseason coverage.

There may not be any games to analyse, but NFL coverage has truly gone year round. We hadn’t even played the Super Bowl before teams started announcing new coaches and the game is barely over before we start the new cycles of new coaching staffs, free-agency, and preparation for the draft.

I have followed along in my usual ways, so I can hardly say I’m above paying attention to the season of hope but I am wary of it and if you’ll follow along to the next section I’ll explain why.

What I Think

One of the reasons that the NFL news cycle dominates nearly the entire year in the States is because of one of the strengths of the league. It is curious that for a society so distrustful of social democracy yet alone socialism, that one of the most conservative of American sports is almost actively socialist in how it is managed.

It is a league that features a regulated market place for labour with a salary cap to ensure fair competition, redistribution of wealth via revenue sharing and a young talent acquisition system that favours under-performing franchises by rewarding them with high draft picks.

What all this means is that it is not unusual for a team to jump from first to last in their division and so for all but a handful of franchises their fans can believe they can compete next year or at least be better.

This is why I call the off-season the season of hope.

However, I also think the season of hope is a big con.

The teams who have a strong off-season, particularly the high spenders in free-agency, often struggle when games are being played and it is rare for a team with a high pick to have their fortunes turn around with one player, even if getting the quarterback right can lift an entire city.

However, as much as the draft is a fascinating process, it is part science, part art, and whole dollop of luck. Even the best of franchises can only get so many of their draft picks right.

There’s a reason that only the Patriots have managed sustained success under the current CBA, and even then it is because they build their rosters round a specific profile of player that doesn’t rely on star talent but is built on a foundation of player development, trading down to acquire more picks and constantly churning the bottom of the roster. They also never overpay players and look to move players on a year early rather than a year too late.

I tend to prefer some teams’ approaches over others but that doesn’t guarantee success so by all means enjoy the season of hope, analyse rosters and players but don’t put too much faith in what this all means for the upcoming season.

We don’t know and really can’t tell who did well until games that mean something are being played.

I will mention one more team before I start to wrap up.

The Miami Dolphins are a team who are changing tack after years of being around 8-8 and not quite making the next step. They have shipped out older talent and now have a very young roster. I’m not sure tanking is the right word, more like building for the future, and certainly the coaching staff and players will be trying to win as much as they can. Things may get rough next season but for the first time I see a clear plan by the front office that meshes with the approach of the head coach. We don’t know if first time head coach Brian Flores will be any good, but there is at least an obvious cohesive plan in plan. It now just rests in the execution.

The last time I made such a statement about a franchise it was the Cleveland Browns, but I am also the one warning not to expect too much of them this season.

What I Know

That draft grades are the biggest waste of time ever.

By all means read analysis of the players and individual picks, there are valid opinions on all of that but we won’t know how well a team’s draft went for something like three years.

An A grade from a draft guru in April means nothing.

What I Hope

That the Bengals draft well.

More on them soon.

 

‘Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes.’
Walt Whitman