Some of what has transpired since the NFL's free-agency period began three days ago makes perfect sense.
Bart Scott to the New York Jets comes to mind. He's the most critical piece to Rex Ryan's Raven-ization of the Jets' defense. Ryan expects to win as head coach in New York the same way he did as defensive coordinator in Baltimore -- with a dominant, play-making defense complementing an efficient, power-oriented offense. So the reported six-year, $48-million contract for Scott was money well spent because it's a perfect fit between a highly talented player and a coach with a scheme he has known his whole career.
As for some of the other moves during this frenzy of signings, trades, and proposed trades â¦ well, let's just say they leave you scratching your head.
Several league insiders with whom I've spoken have been a bit puzzled as well for the same reasons, whether it's the size and structure of a contract (the whopper defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received from the Washington Redskins) or a trade (the Kansas City Chiefs' fleecing of the New England Patriots for quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel) or seeing a team allow a key player to get away with no obvious replacement plan (the Philadelphia Eagles' giving safety Brian Dawkins the chance to jump to the Denver Broncos).
Here's a closer look at the five biggest head-scratchers in free agency so far:
1. Haynesworth's seven-year, $100-million contract from the Redskins: According to various media reports, the deal is structured so that it essentially will be a four-year agreement worth $48 million. But the most important part of the deal -- and the part that has more than a few people around the league questioning its wisdom -- is that $41 million (or 85 percent) is guaranteed, including $32 million in the first 13 months.
That just seems like a whole lot of commitment to a player who arrives from the Tennessee Titans with more than a few troubling question marks.
The biggest, as a general manager who requested anonymity pointed out, is his "reputation for picking spots when he wants to play hard." Haynesworth also once suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, kicked a helmetless Dallas Cowboy in the head during a game not long ago, and has had his share of off-field issues.
No NFL GMs or player agents with whom I spoke questioned Haynesworth's place atop this year's free-agent crop. They just wonder, as I do, whether a team with so many needs, especially on offense, should devote so much money to a defensive tackle. Haynesworth had the most dominant season of his career in 2008, yet it still wasn't good enough to allow the Titans to avoid going one and done in the playoffs.
For all of that guaranteed money the Redskins are paying him, his presence is expected to, at the very least, guarantee a playoff appearance -- and probably a lot more.
2. The Patriots shipping Cassel and Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round draft pick: I've heard all of the talk about the potential three-way deals involving the Patriots with the Detroit Lions and Broncos, or the Patriots with the Tampa Buccaneers and the Broncos. I've heard the Patriots could have come away with a first-round choice in either of those trades, both of which would have sent Cassel to Denver -- where he would be reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Broncos first-year coach Josh McDaniels -- and Cutler to either the Lions or Buccaneers.
Fine, but neither happened.
No matter how you slice it, the Patriots settled for too little for a franchise starter, which is what Cassel is to the Chiefs. Vrabel, whose best days are well behind him, was a throw-in. But he's still relatively important because he will serve as a coach on the field during Kansas City's expected and difficult transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
Besides being convinced Tom Brady is (or will be) fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, why did Patriots coach Bill Belichick feel the urgency to get the deal done with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, his former vice president of player personnel, rather than wait and see if he could have done better with another team?
"It could have been a discount (for a long-time former colleague), but things are never that simple and that just isn't Bill's style, no matter how well they worked together," said the player-personnel chief of an AFC team.
No, it isn't. The only plausible answer is that the Patriots were so eager to rid themselves of the one-year, $14.65-million contract resulting from their franchise-tag tender on Cassel, they accepted the first solid trade offer that came along. If that's true, then they will need to start making good use of their newly found cap space. And fast.
3. The Eagles letting Dawkins become a free agent, which resulted in his signing with the Broncos and created a gaping hole in Philadelphia's defense: This could not have been the way the Eagles planned it.
Although he is 35 and a 13-year veteran, Dawkins remains a highly effective player. And he was the most vital component to Jim Johnson's defense. His hard-hitting style set the tone for everyone else around him. He was a consistent playmaker. He was the best leader on the entire team.
The Eagles had no one else to step into that role. That includes another safety, Sean Considine, who also departed in free agency (to the Jacksonville Jaguars). The results could severely damage their chances of being a playoff contender.
"I get the feeling (the Eagles) got thrown a curve," an NFL GM said. "They didn't think there was a market (for Dawkins), and assumed they would be able to re-sign him. In my view, they violated the first rule of free agency: Don't let the guy get to free agency unless you're prepared to lose him. And they weren't."
Dawkins should have an enormously positive impact on the Broncos' defense. Some league insiders liken his role in Denver's new 3-4 scheme to the one that 15-year veteran Rodney Harrison had in the better and healthier of his past six seasons in New England.
Late last season, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank told me that Hall, one of his former players, had some maturing to do. That was after the Oakland Raiders sent the cornerback packing because they, too, had issues with his lack of maturity and generally poor attitude.
"Here's a guy that Atlanta didn't want because he was a cancer and Oakland didn't want because he was an even bigger cancer," said an NFL GM. "The Redskins know this â¦ and they're giving him that kind of money? It just doesn't make sense."
5. The Broncos putting Cutler on the trading block: Supposedly, Cutler is no longer available for trade. Supposedly, McDaniels' only interest in dealing him was to ultimately land Cassel.
It doesn't matter.
Now that word is out that the Broncos' new coach was willing to part with his young, Pro Bowl quarterback, their relationship will never be the same. There is nothing McDaniels can say to make Cutler feel any better about the fact that he is not the preferred choice of the new regime. That was a big part of the risk he took in attempting to swing a deal for the quarterback he really wanted.
To some league insiders, it was a rookie mistake -- McDaniels being a bit too bold and brash for his own good at a position where he presumably was far better off than many other teams in the league (and certainly better off than his fellow rookie coaches).
Cutler still has the burden of proving he can be the type of player McDaniels wants under center, but there's a good chance he won't buy into the new program and that it will reflect in his play. Although that would be damaging to Cutler's future with the Broncos (and perhaps other teams), it also would have a negative impact on McDaniels, who could very well be faced with finding a quarterback after one year on the job.
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