A week from Saturday, NFL teams and agents for players who will become unrestricted free agents are allowed to begin negotiating. But they can’t sign off on a deal until 3 p.m. CT on March 10, three days later.
This, of course, causes concern among those of us who need official NFL-approved COUNTDOWN CLOCKS!! to get through our year. While we figure out whether to set ours to March 7 or 3:00.00 on March 10, we’ll toss out over the next two days one person’s list of three do’s and three don’ts for free agency. (And, yes, there are always going to be exceptions to every do or don’t.)
There should be more don’ts than do’s in free agency (see: 2014 Free Agency “Winner” Tampa Bay), so we’ll start with the don’ts today and finish with the do’s on Thursday:
Free agency DON’T No. 1: NO ONE OVER 28.
Don’t fall in love with the past. Players are either getting better or getting old. The league’s great personnel men have no rear view mirrors and a keen sense for Father Time’s tipping point.
Generally, 30 is the frowned-upon age in free agency. The frown here is directed at anyone not coming off his rookie contract. Twenty-seven tends to be the perfect intersection for necessary youth, experience, hunger, upside and reliable durability.
Free agency DON’T No. 2: NO RUNNING BACKS.
I’m not devaluing the position. I think it remains an important position in a league that’s not only pass-happy, but pass-rusher-happy. If nothing else, someone has to keep the pass rushers honest and the extra DBs from flooding the field and staring down the QB.
However, I just think, as a general rule of thumb (Note: General rules of thumb don’t apply to a certain 2012 league MVP), there are too many other avenues to acquire younger running backs who can make an immediate and acceptable impact, and are less likely to break down during a long season.
It’s an unfortunate “don’t” for a guy such as Demarco Murray, but that’s just how it is. His great season in 2014 included too many touches for it to work in his favor in 2015. At least not from this vantage point.
As I said earlier, there are exceptions. Peterson would be a classic exception to the first two “don’ts.” In a risk/reward scenario, I’d push the chips toward Peterson’s talent and determination.
Darren Sproles was another good exception a year ago. He was a running back turning 30, but he also was still very much the toughest and most unique matchup at running back in the league.
Free agency DON’T No. 3: NO KNUCKLEHEADS OR INJURED PLAYERS.
Building a roster is difficult enough without having to count on knuckleheads not to be knuckleheads for seven months. Just ask the Browns.
Last fall, the Vikings needed a no-name receiver — Charles Johnson — to come out of nowhere to help them fill out a pro-caliber receiving corps. We all bundled up the fault for this and dumped it at the feet of Cordarrelle Patterson, who was slow to understand the mental commitment needed to succeed at this level.
What we all should have done was take a big chunk of that finger-pointing and direct it toward Jerome Simpson, a classic knucklehead who couldn’t graduate from Knucklehead U.
Simpson seemed like a good dude, but he came to the Vikings via free agency with a proven track record as a knucklehead. He even had the jail time and the impending NFL suspension to prove it.
He messed up again. Got another suspension. Messed up while on that suspension and was tossed aside quietly while the team dealt with the Peterson fiasco last season.
When the roster was put together, Simpson was counted on to help out. But, predictably, he did what knuckleheads tend to do: he wasted a precious roster spot and left his team scrambling to fill a hole that’s not easy to fill during the season.
The Chicago Bulls went 62-20 in 2010-11, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Heat. The unquestioned catalyst and leader of the team was Derrick Rose, who averaged 25 ppg and won the NBA MVP Award in just his third season and at the tender age of 23.
Chicago and Rose seemed primed for years of greatness, with an NBA title (or more than one) a very reasonable and attainable goal. What has happened since is a tale of sports cruelty that those of us in Minnesota probably can’t fully comprehend.
Rose tore his left ACL during the first game of the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs after another great regular season. The Bulls, who went 50-16 in the lockout-shortened regular-season, lost their opening playoff series to Philadelphia (yes, before the 76ers committed full-time to tanking they were pretty decent).
Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season; the Bulls won 45 games without him, but again came up short in the playoffs. He came back for the 2013-14 season, but he ended up playing just 10 games because of season-ending torn meniscus in his right knee. The Bulls still won 48 games, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, Rose came back again and had the Bulls looking like a contender. They are 36-21 … but now, again, they will be without Rose for the rest of the year because of more damage to his right meniscus. The Bulls will probably again make the playoffs, and probably again make a quick exit.
If so, that will be four consecutive seasons derailed by an injuries to the same superstar — not just a great player, but an MVP when fully healthy. We’ve tried to fathom that and put it into Minnesota sports terms, but there really isn’t any comparison.
For all the bad luck Minnesota teams have had (self-inflicted and otherwise), their star players have been remarkably durable during good times.
Kevin Garnett in his first go-round with the Wolves was an iron man. Randy Moss missed just three games in seven seasons with the Vikings in his first go-round. Johan Santana averaged 228 innings pitched from 2004-07, his prime with the Twins. Justin Morneau, pre-concussion, was extremely durable — averaging 151 games played from 2005-09. Even Joe Mauer, who has the reputation for missing games, averaged 576 plate appearances per year from 2005-10.
Adrian Peterson? He missed just seven games in his first seven seasons and famously came back from a shredded knee to destroy teams in 2012. Even Percy Harvin, for all his problems, only missed three games in his first three seasons with Minnesota and was never to blame for derailing an entire season with an injury. The Lynx, during their run of prominence the past four seasons, have been gifted with generally good healthy among their top players.
We really only have one-season “what-ifs” here when it comes to injuries. What if Sam Cassell hadn’t hurt his back in the 2004 NBA playoffs. Could the Wolves have won an NBA title? What if Francisco Liriano had stayed healthy in 2006 — could the Twins have done some major damage in the playoffs? What if Morneau hadn’t been injured in 2010? Would the Twins have gone further in the playoffs? (Granted, that was more than a one-year issue, but even a fully healthy Morneau couldn’t have stopped the slide from 2011-present). What if Brett Favre’s ankle wasn’t 50 shades of purple after an illegal hit from the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game? Would he have run for yards instead of throwing an INT in the closing moments of regulation?
But imagine having a star player, with a very good supporting cast around him, getting hurt year after year after year after year. Imagine KG, Moss or Peterson in their primes, leading championship contenders … only to have each year end in shambles because of an injury.
That’s the cruelty in Chicago right now.