Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Patriots

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. There was a lot to like in the Patriots’ signing of cornerback Darrelle Revis, which was detailed here. Those thoughts still hold true, but after getting a closer look at the details of the contract, there were two things that stood out to me as un-Patriot-like.

  • One year after owner Robert Kraft said the team doesn’t do “fake” deals, which was a response to those questioning if a contract extension for quarterback Tom Brady would simply be renegotiated in a few years, the team did a “fake” deal with Revis. The reason it’s a “fake” deal is that the second year of the contract almost certainly won’t be executed because it includes a whopping $25 million salary cap charge.

  • The two-year deal seems to be structured, in part, so that Revis can still claim he earns an average annual salary of $16 million. That appears to be important to him because that’s the figure he held firm on when previously negotiating with the Jets, and that’s also what he received from the Buccaneers after last year’s trade. That the Patriots would acquiesce to that, albeit with a “fake” year, surprises me a bit because I can’t think of another time they’ve placated a free-agent from another team in that type of contract/perception standpoint.

Revis is obviously an exceptional talent, and if that was the cost of closing a deal, it’s well worth it. I’m not debating that as much as pointing out that these details deviated from what I perceive to be some of the core philosophies of the organization.

2. When details of Revis’ deal were revealed, with the presence of a “fake” second year, some expressed disappointment the structure of the contract made it more of a one-year rental, in part because the team lost any leverage to assign the franchise tag on Revis in 2015. That might be the way it turns out, but I don’t think the second year decisively alters the picture when it comes to a potential long-term agreement. The 2014 season will be about both sides getting a better feel for each other to see if it’s a fit in the long run, and there’s nothing that says the Patriots and Revis can’t extend the deal at this time next year if they hit it off. A lot can happen between now and then.

3a. Similar to Revis, the details of cornerback Aqib Talib's contract with the Broncos reveal a few things that somewhat alter our initial impression of the pact. It was a reported six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million in guarantees when Talib signed it. But that’s a bit misleading because $8.5 million of the “guarantee” is his 2016 base salary, and that’s only guaranteed in the event of injury. So if the Broncos decide Talib isn’t playing up to the desired level after two years, they can cut him and Talib wouldn’t see the $8.5 million or any remaining money in the deal. That’s why I’d more accurately describe the contract as a two-year, $18 million pact. When looking at it that way, it’s much more reasonable.

3b. One other part of Talib’s deal to pass along: He gets $31,250 for each game he’s on the 46-man game-day roster in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons, which when added up is $1.5 million of his reported $26 million “guarantee.” Given Talib’s injury history, I don’t think it’s any guarantee he sees all of that money.

3c. This is one reason why football consumers should always demand/seek deeper analysis of contract information once the official contract becomes available (it sometimes takes a few days after the initial agreement is announced). Many of the initial reported numbers are either inflated by agents to make them look better, or simply don’t go into enough detail to provide important context.

3d. Final thought on Talib: My favorite Patriots cornerback to watch play since Ty Law (1995-2004).

4. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and the Patriots, and on Friday, I shared the viewpoint that it’s a conflict between legacy and principle for Wilfork. One could also debate if the Patriots should even be pursuing an altered contract at all. Marrying up those two thoughts, veteran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor’s remarks on PFT Live from Friday serve as a reminder that some players have an easier time accepting this type of situation, as it happens across the NFL every year. Taylor recently agreed to slash his salary from $7 million to $2.75 million. “Later on in my career, I understand it’s a business. When you get around my age (turns 34 in May), they’re going to ask you for pay cuts or you’re going to wind up getting cut. I understood that and I kind of prepared myself for that,” said Taylor, now in his 12th year, all spent in Pittsburgh. “That pride is a fall for a lot of people. Understanding the business side of being a Steeler, understanding the business side of the NFL, it’s a young man’s sport. I’m just happy I’ve been in the NFL long enough to say ‘I can take a pay cut.’ Some guys don’t even get paid.”

5. After analyzing what the signing of cornerback Brandon Browner might bring the Patriots, which included re-watching the 2012 Patriots-Seahawks game to get a better feel for his style of play, the following thought occurred to me: Should there be more concern the Seahawks, whose personnel acumen has been widely praised as they’ve built a Super Bowl championship roster, didn’t make a more aggressive pitch to keep him? I think Browner can help the Patriots with physical play at the line of scrimmage, but if it’s at a legitimate $17 million over three years as has been reported, that seems like a lot to pay for a scheme-specific player who will be 30 when the season begins.

6a. From the light-hearted department: When linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted this picture this past January, which came on the day he didn’t show up for practice and contributed to the decision to place him on injured reserve, did anyone else have the same thought that maybe he should have considered signing with a different team than the Buffalo Bills?

6b. On a more serious note, the Spikes’ signing looks like a solid one for the Bills. The last time we saw that team, the Patriots were running through them for 267 rushing yards in the season finale. Spikes might be a liability in coverage, but he’s still an explosive hitter when playing downhill in the running game. His presence should help the Bills’ run defense and add some sizzle to Patriots-Bills games this year.

7a. With receiver Julian Edelman agreeing to terms with the Patriots on Saturday (financials unknown) for what can safely be assumed to be the richest contract of his career, it had me thinking back to the grass-roots beginnings of his time with the team in 2009 and how he’s truly earned everything that has come his way. After playing quarterback at Kent State, the Patriots were transitioning him to receiver/punt returner, and the punt returning didn’t go so smoothly in the early going. One day, in front of thousands of fans at training camp, Edelman was muffing punts, fumbling others, to the point that fans started to boo him. I’ll never forget that, just as I remember vividly Bill Belichick’s resolve Edelman was going to help the team in a big way at some point.

7b. Leftover Edelman note: While he took a free-agent visit with his hometown 49ers on Friday, he used his Facebook page to relay his feelings about what truly was a homecoming for him.

8. Given the run of injuries the Patriots had at defensive tackle last season, one can’t blame them for trading a 2014 fifth-round draft choice for veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and a 2014 sixth-round draft choice last October. The cost to see if Sopoaga could plug a significant void was a minimal move down the draft board in addition to assuming a contract that included $1 million in guaranteed money in 2014. Worth a shot. As is turns out, it didn’t work out, as Sopoaga wasn’t a scheme fit in a reminder that the nose tackle position varies in each defense and it’s a challenge to project how a player might adapt. That made the Eagles the big winner in the trade, especially considering they turned around and traded that fifth-rounder to the Saints for running back Darren Sproles a few days ago.

9. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton seemed to make great strides last year, but one wonders how much he'll be affected by the team losing its top three receivers this offseason -- Steve Smith (Ravens), Ted Ginn Jr. (Cardinals) and Brandon LaFell (Patriots). Hard to believe that's the way general manager Dave Gettleman envisioned it unfolding.

10. When news first broke the Patriots had agreed to terms with Revis (reported by Adam Schefter, who else?), one of the first questions followers had was when the Patriots might hold an introductory news conference. The answer: Most likely never. Unlike some other teams who hold a news conference to introduce new players as a way of generating excitement among the fan base and more television coverage, the Patriots generally take a different approach and, if anything, have their players on more low-key conference calls. Specific to Revis, the reason that hasn’t happened yet is that his contract actually has yet to be signed. That’s considered a formality, possibly as early as Monday.