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Franchise players summary

Earlier this offseason, we analyzed the 14 NFL franchise players using a Football Relativity comparison. Yesterday was a deadline for those guys to sign long-term deals, and I thought we’d do a summary of what happened with them.

(Credit to Mike Sando of ESPN.com for compiling all this info.)

Of the 14 franchise players:

One was traded – Matt Cassel. He was dealt from the Patriots to the Chiefs, along with Mike Vrabel, for a second-round draft pick. Cassel signed a six-yera, $63 million deal with $28 million guaranteed just before the deadline, replacing his $14 million franchise tender.

One had the tag removed – Leroy Hill. After drafting Aaron Curry, the Seahawks took the $8 million tag off of Hill. They then signed Hill to a more cost-effective deal, six years and $38 million with $15 million guaranteed.

Three franchise players signed long-term deals – Max Starks, Brandon Jacobs, and Terrell Suggs. Suggs (whose T-Sizzle nickname we should have included in this post) signed just before the deadline, inking a 6-year, $63 million deal with $38 million guaranteed. Starks, who wasn’t a full-time starter in ’08 but should be in ’09, got a four-year, $26 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. And Jacobs got a four-year, $25 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. All of these players, plus Cassel and even Hill, ended up with more guaranteed money than they would have had if they had played under the franchise tender in ’09.

Eight players signed their franchise tenders. They are guaranteed their tender amounts for the year no matter what, and they are not under contract for 2010. They are:

DE Julius Peppers, Carolina ($16.683 million)
LB Karlos Dansby, Arizona ($8.3 million)
WR Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay ($9.844 million)
RB Darren Sproles, San Diego ($6.6 million)
S O.J. Atogwe, St. Louis ($6.3 million)
TE Bo Scaife, Tennessee ($4.46 million)
P Michael Koenen, Atlanta ($2.483 million)
PK Shayne Graham, Cincinnati ($2.483 million)

One player, Dunta Robinson, has not yet signed his tender. He can’t negotiate a long-term contract, so his only option to play in ’09 is to sign a one-year, $9.957 million deal and play for the Texans.

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FR: Strangest Sights

We’re in the dead part of the offseason, between organized team activities and training camp, which leaves few newsy items to blog about. (I actually updated this post today with a long-snapper who got released. Seriously.) But that does leave us time to start reflecting on the coming season. Here are some of the changes that will lead to the strangest sights on NFL fields come fall. 10 is the sight that will look the strangest; 1 is the sight that’s the least surprising. As always, feel free to add your own ideas via comments.

 10 – QB Brett Favre as a Viking – OK, this isn’t final yet, but it will be weird to see Favre wearing purple. Even his one-year dalliance as a Jet won’t lessen the shock of this sight, because at least the Jets wore a shade of green close to Green Bay’s. That sight will be almost as weird as seeing Favre in his original Falcons garb.

10 (con’t) – WR Torry Holt as a Jaguar – Since the Favre sight might not happen (yeah, right), we decided to include a guaranteed strange sight on the 10 level. And to me, it’s Holt. Holt is an iconic player of the last decade, and him going from the Greatest Show on Turf colors to Jacksonville’s green and black – which still look a little closer to Arena League unis than legit NFL duds to me – is going to be strange. But that’s the kind of sticker shock you get when an icon moves on.

9 – S Brian Dawkins as a Bronco – Dawkins was the heart and soul of Philly’s defense during its great success of recent years, and now he’s changing into Broncos orange and blue. To me, this sight will be even stranger than John Lynch in a Broncos’ uniform. Dawkins was Mr. Eagle as much as anyone except for Donovan McNabb, and so to see him dressed differently on Sundays will be strange.

9 (con’t) OT Orlando Pace as a Bear – Holt wasn’t the only icon the Rams released this offseason. Pace, a future Hall of Famer, also moved on. Because the Bears uniforms are so classic, Pace will fit our eyes wearing those colors a little better than Holt in the Jax uni, but the sight will still be odd.

8 – TE Tony Gonzalez as a Falcon – We’ve seen countless pictures of Gonzalez as a Chief, and now he moves into Falcons colors. The fact that both teams wear red jerseys will make this transition a little less shocking, but the move from the Arrowhead to the Falcon is still a shock. Gonzalez has been the Chiefs’ top player over the last decade, but other players like the late Derrick Thomas seem to be more iconic in K.C.

8 (con’t) – S Roy Williams as a Bengal – Williams isn’t an iconic player, but he moves from an iconic team to a team with one of the most gimmicky uniforms. I personally like the Bengals’ stripes, but that’s a far cry from the simple lone blue star that Williams wore for so long. Those aesthetics are why this sight moves so far up this list.

7 – RB Fred Taylor as a Patriot – Taylor is probably the Jaguars’ greatest player ever, but because that team got more limited TV exposure than other squads, the image of him running in the Jax uniform isn’t burned into our retinas the way others like Holt or Dawkins are. That, combined with the fact that we’re used to seeing veterans pop up as Patriots late in their career, makes this sight not as strange. (Taylor is one of this year’s crop of Patriot veteran imports, along with Joey Galloway and Shawn Springs, among others.)

7 (con’t) – QB Jay Cutler as a Bear – Cutler wasn’t in Denver long enough for us to focus on his Broncos image, but the sight of a big-time quarterback wearing Bears colors is going to be strange in its own right. If Cutler succeeds in Soldier Field, we will remember him as a Bear, not as a Bronco.

6 – LB Keith Brooking as a Cowboy – Brooking has actually been Mr. Falcon over the last several years, but most of us have paid more attention to QBs Michael Vick and Matt Ryan. But Brooking, an Atlanta native, moves to Dallas this year, and it will be strange to see him roaming around the new Cowboys palace instead of the Georgia Dome.

6 (con’t) – WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a Seahawk – Houshmandzadeh hasn’t gotten the pub he deserves for his stellar play over recent years, and because of that we’re not used to seeing him. But the sight of his loooooong last name on a blue jersey will still take some getting used to.

5 – Colts without Tony Dungy and Broncos without Mike Shanahan – It will be strange to look on the sidelines and see a bench full of Colts but not long-time head coach Tony Dungy. And it will probably be even stranger to see the sidelines at whatever they’re calling Mile High Stadium nowadays and not see Mike Shanahan, who was in Denver even longer than Dungy was in Indy. Both of these are monumental NFL coaching changes in an offseason full of flux.

4 – WR Terrell Owens as a Bill – Owens has moved around enough that we don’t associate him with just one team. Is he a Cowboy? An Eagle? A 49er? You can’t say. But still, seeing the original diva receiva wearing Bills colors will be a shock for the first five or six highlights (or lowlights) he creates.

4 (con’t) – C Matt Birk as a Raven – Centers don’t usually get much love, but Birk was the centerpiece of the Minnesota’s stalwart offensive line for a long time. Now he moves on to Baltimore, and it will be strange to see the best Harvard product in the NFL wearing Ravens purple instead of Vikings purple.

3 – DT Albert Haynesworth as a Redskin – Haynesworth was the biggest (and most expensive) acquisition of the free-agent season, but we’ve seen him holding up the Redskins jersey so often already that the sight seems almost routine now. So while the impact of this change is significant, the shock has already lessened.

3 (con’t) – LB Bart Scott as a Jet – Scott was never the Ravens’ most prominent linebacker – Ray Lewis was, of course – but Scott was still a significant enough player that his new look in the Jets’ green and white will take some getting used to. At least his playing style will look the same, since he’s making the move to the Meadowlands alongside Rex Ryan.

2 – TE Kellen Winslow as a Buccaneer – Winslow moves teams, but he continues to wear a shade of orange (in my mind, Tampa pewter is close enough to orange) like he has at the U. of Miami and in Cleveland. So his new uniform look is close enough to his old look so as not to shock the system.

2 (con’t) – LBs Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas as Chiefs – Because Vrabel and Thomas have both played for more than one team, the fact that we remember them as a Patriot and a Dolphin, respectively, isn’t as strong as it could be. But seeing them side-by-side wearing red this fall still should cause some of us to rub our eyes.

1 – CB Ken Lucas as a Seahawk – This sight isn’t a shock, because Lucas returns to Seattle after several years in Carolina. But Lucas isn’t the strongest example of a returnee that will be not a strange but a familiar sight. That would be…

1 (con’t) – LB Jason Taylor as a Dolphin – Taylor returns to Miami after a one-year odyssey that took him from Dancing with the Stars to the Redskins. Taylor should retire as a Dolphin, and so it will be comforting to see him donning the aqua No. 55 once again in ’09.

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FR: Trades and swaps

The trade market in the NFL has gotten far more active than it was when I covered the league more regularly (1996-2002). With some deals already in the books, I thought we’d create a football relativity scale to compare the swaps. This post will include both trades and restricted free agent signings, which basically become like trades because of the draft pick compensation that a team losing a player (usually) gets in return. We’re using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the biggest impact and 1 being a move that doesn’t really matter. (After the Jay Cutler trade, we of course tweaked the comparison.)

10 – Broncos trade QB Jay Cutler and an ’09 fifth-round pick to Bears for QB Kyle Orton, an ’09 first-round pick  (No. 18), an ’09 third-round pick, and a 2010 first-round pick
In what may be remembered as the blockbuster trade of the decade in the NFL, the Broncos closed the door on the Jay Cutler imbroglio by dealing the disgruntled signal-caller to Chicago. Cutler is the Bears’ most significant quarterback investment maybe ever. If he fits in as a Bear, he solves a decades-long problem. But if Cutler fails in the Windy City, it will set the Bears back until Barack Obama runs for reelection. Still, Bears fans who haven’t seen a top-flight QB for scores of years rightly feel as if Christmas came early in the form of this Santa Claus, Indiana, native. The fact that the Bears are relying on Cutler’s Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett to start at wideout only makes the move a better fit.
For the Broncos, the pressure is now on. They got what they wanted from the deal – first-rounders this year and next, a third this year, and a quarterback who can start this year in Kyle Orton. There’s only about a 5 percent chance that Orton can be the long-term answer, though, and so they must get a QB of the future this year. If they don’t move up to assure that they get Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez – or take Josh Freeman if they’re believers in him – then this trade will be a step back. The worst thing Denver can do is to let it’s ego take over (again) and take a sixth-rounder and say he’s the guy for the future. They must use these picks well, including one on a quarterback, to make this huge haul from being fool’s gold.

9 – Patriots trade QB Matt Cassel (franchise player) and LB Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for a second-round pick (No. 34 overall)
The Patriots franchised QB Matt Cassel in order to trade him, and Saturday they dealt Cassel (along with LB Mike Vrabel) for a second-round pick (34th overall). It’s not a huge bounty for the Pats, but they also clear $18 million in salary-cap space in the deal. The Chiefs pay a fair but not exorbinant price for their quarterback of the future. Solving this issue this early allows the Chiefs to focus on their other myriad issues from here on out. GM Scott Pioli knows Cassel from New England, so he more than anyone has a feel for what the Chiefs are getting in this still-young QB. Mike Vrabel went from an underrated performer to an impact player to a grizzled vet in New England – and the last category is why the Chiefs want him to be part of their team. Pioli knows Vrabel can be a great influence in the locker room and in the defensive huddle. Vrabel’s value is as the veteran influence who can help the Chiefs learn a new defensive system as well as develop a personality of a winning team. When Romeo Crennel was in Cleveland, he brought in Willie McGinest to do a similar thing. This part of the move that won’t win a ton of games in Kansas City, but it should help the Chiefs’ young players learn how to win. It appears this deal will go down in Chiefs lore as one of that helped begin to turn things around.

8 – Bills trade OLT Jason Peters to Eagles for ’09 first-round pick (No. 28), ’09 fourth-round pick, and a ’10 sixth-round pick
Peters, a college tight end, developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle in Buffalo, but for the last 2 offseasons he’s been discontent over his contract. That seemed to affect his play in ’08, as it was down a level from his ’07 performance. Because Peters wasn’t happy, the Bills decided to turn the page. They’ll need to replace him, because he was a major building block in their offensive line. This deletion could even make the Terrell Owens addition a little less impactful, because quarterback Trent Edwards (who has been injury prone) won’t have the same protection. The No. 28 pick probably won’t yield a top tackle, but having that pick could allow the Bills to get a top tackle with their pick at No. 11.
For Philly, this is a much needed addition. After letting longtime starting OTs Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan leave via free agency, the Eagles (who have always emphasized line play on both offense and defense) needed help. Peters will step in on the left side, while free-agent addition Stacy Andrews likely will get the right tackle spot. That’s a pretty good recovery by the Eagles.

7 – Seahawks trade LB Julian Peterson to Lions for DT Cory Redding and a 5th-round pick in ’09
Peterson’s first two years in Seattle were dynamic, as he used his freakish athleticism to make plays all over the field. But last season was not a good one for Peterson, who had just 5 sacks and struggled along with the rest of Seattle’s defense. After giving fellow LB Lofa Tatupu a big contract and franchising LB Leroy Hill, Seattle couldn’t stomach Peterson’s price tag anymore. Defensive tackle is a big need area, so they get Redding, who got paid big bucks last year. Redding has promise and makes some big plays but isn’t a force as consistently as a true bellwether DT should be. That’s why Detroit was willing to part with him. It will be interesting to see if new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz can unleash Peterson again. The guess here is that he can, and here’s why: Schwartz was in Tennessee when the Titans turned Jevon Kearse into “The Freak” who terrorized quarterbacks. I think Kearse and Peterson are comparable as athletes and in their builds. Something tells me that the plan in Detroit is to make Peterson the defense’s biggest weapon. Peterson has that level of ability, so that sounds like a good plan to me.

7 (con’t) – Chiefs trade TE Tony Gonzalez to Falcons for a 2010 second-round pick
Gonzalez is the most accomplished tight end in the game today, and he might end up with the best numbers of any tight end ever. He’s made 10 Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons and has 916 catches, nearly 11 thousand receiving yards, and 76 touchdowns. And he’s not slowing down; he had 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 scores last year in the Chiefs’ wild-and-crazy spread offense. But with new leadership in Kansas City, Gonzalez’s role going forward was a bit uncertain, and he’s made no secret of his desire to play for a contender. Atlanta is that, and Gonzalez shouldn’t have that much pressure on him in the ATL because the Falcons have a true No. 1 receiver in Roddy White. White and Gonzalez are a pretty good tandem for Matt Ryan to work with. And while Gonzalez is little more than an efficient blocker, the Falcons have a good blocking tight end in Justin Peelle who can rotate with or even play across from Gonzalez. All in all, it’s a good addition that will cost the Falcons nothing now but a second-rounder in 2010. By the way, the Chiefs may be thankful to wait a year on that pick, because it’s entirely possible that the second-rounder will be higher than the No. 55 spot, which is Atlanta’s second this weekend.

6 – Browns trade TE Kellen Winslow to Buccaneers for 2nd-round pick in ’09 and 5th-round pick in ’10
Kellen Winslow never quite lived up to his potential as a top-10 pick, but the second-generation tight end has certainly shown flashes of it in his five-year career – most notably during his 2007 Pro Bowl season. In Tampa, he’ll be at least the second receiving target (behind WR Antonio Bryant). Cleveland obviously wanted to turn the page and start over under a new coach and GM, and I’m not surprised they dealt Winslow. (I was expecting the trade to be WR Braylon Edwards to Philly, but this move is quite similar.) But the Browns will have to upgrade their offensive weapons if QB Brady Quinn (or Derek Anderson, if he starts) is going to have a chance of success. This move makes Tampa better, and it gives the Browns a chance to push the reset button harder and more effectively than they could have with Winslow still in the locker room.

5 – Eagles trade CB Lito Sheppard to Jets for fifth-round pick in ’09 and conditional pick in ’10
CB Lito Sheppard has wanted out of Philadelphia ever since the Eagles paid Asante Samuel instead of him lady offseason. Now Sheppard is getting his wish via a trade to the Jets. The Jets, who were so desperate for corner help last season that they signed Ty Law, now have a legitimate starter to pair with emerging star Darrelle Revis. Sheppard fits best as a No. 2 corner, so it’s a good landing spot for him. Philly is getting a fifth-round pick in ‘09 plus a conditional pick in 2010. They have Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and Joselio Hanson at corner, so the Eagles were dealing from a position of strength.

4  – Texans trade QB Sage Rosenfels to Vikings for 4th-round pick
In this post, we compared all of the quarterbacks in starting discussions on the relativity scale. Note that Rosenfels and incumbent Vikings starter Tarvaris Jackson were on the same tier. So does this make the Vikings better? Well, if you believe that competition will bring out the best in one or both of them, then maybe. But I’m more of the opinion that the Vikings now have 2 quarterbacks who are between the 25th and 40th best in the NFL, and that neither is going to elevate much beyond that point on a season-long basis. And that means that the quarterback spot remains a trouble spot for a Vikings team that is pretty strong almost everywhere else. This move does not a true contender make.

4 (con’t) – Patriots trade CB Ellis Hobbs to Eagles for two 2009 fifth-round picks
In this draft-day trade, the Patriots let go Hobbs, a great athlete who has been above-average but not great for New England. He’s a little too wild-eyed to be a consistent corner, but as a nickel back he’s good. Hobbs is also a dangerous return man. He makes sense for Philly after the Eagles traded Lito Sheppard, especially considering that Sheldon Brown is now asking for a deal. The price was right for the Eagles to add some depth just in case.

3- Eagles trade WR Greg Lewis and a 2010 draft pick to Patriots for a 2009 fifth-round draft pick
I’ve always liked Lewis, but he never became a consistent starter in Philadelphia. With the emergence of DeSean Jackson as a rookie last year, Lewis became merely a bit player in Philly. In New England, Lewis will drop into the Jabar Gaffney role as an outside receiver to complement Randy Moss and Wes Welker. That’s a role Lewis can succeed in. He’ll make at least three or four significant plays for the Pats in ’09 — well worth the cost of a fifth-round pick.

3 (con’t) – Dolphins trade C Samson Satele to Raiders for a 2009 sixth-round pick. Teams also swap fourth-round picks.
Satele was a second-round pick two years ago and an instant starter as a rookie, but he fell out of favor in Miami when Bill Parcells took over. Satele is more of a quick center than a powerful one, and Parcells has always preferred beefier linemen. When the Dolphins signed C Jake Grove this offseason, the writing was on the wall for Satele. But he’s a good get for Oakland (who lost Grove) and will probably start there.

3 (con’t) Jets trade DE Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam, and QB Brett Ratliff along with a first-round pick (17th overall) and a second-round pick to Browns for a first-round pick (5th overall)
This was the Mark Sanchez draft-day trade, and it would of course rate much higher on the scale in that light. But we’re rating it here solely on the veteran players who moved, and the truth is that none of them are special. Coleman is a decent 3-4 defensive end who’s good against the run, but he’s 30 years old, which means he’s not a core guy. The Browns tried to get Elam as a restricted free agent, but the Jets matched his 1-year, $1.5 million deal to keep him. Elam showed flashes of ability last year, but he was slated to be a backup in New York. He should at least be a starter in Cleveland. Ratliff is a former undrafted free agent who made a big splash in the preseason last year, but quarterbacks have often done without transferring that success to the regular season before. So I still view Ratliff as a long shot to ever be an NFL contributor. All in all, I think the Browns settled a little too easily in this deal in terms of the vets they got.

2- Cowboys trade DB Anthony Henry to Lions for QB Jon Kitna
An actual player-for-player trade is still pretty rare in the NFL, but this swap is exactly that. Kitna, who wanted out of Detroit after being benched for the year with a short-term injury last season, is an upgrade for the Cowboys at backup quarterback. (Brad Johnson was washed up when he had to play last year.) This gives the Cowboys more security in case Tony Romo gets hurt. Henry is no longer quick enough to play corner, but he has the size to move to safety, so he’s worth a shot for the Lions. Detroit needs so much help that they might have been better off just taking a draft pick from Dallas, but Henry should at least make the team.

2 (con’t) – Falcons trade WR Laurent Robinson to Rams. Teams also swap fifth- and sixth-round picks in ’09
Robinson showed promise in his rookie season in ’07, but he fell out of favor last year in Atlanta. Still, he’s a prospect who could turn into a third or fourth receiver, and given St. Louis’ dearth of receivers, he’s worth the small price. The Rams don’t even lose a draft pick – they just move down 20 spots or so in two rounds.

1 – Jaguars trade DT Tony McDaniel to Dolphins for 7th-round pick
McDaniel has been injury prone in his three year career, missing 23 games in that span. But the Dolphins believe he can be a rotation defensive end in their 3-4 defense. At this minor price, why not give him a shot?

1 (con’t) – Packers trade LS J.J. Jansen to Panthers for conditional 2011 7th-round pick
There won’t be a more minor deal this offseason than this, with a player who missed his first pro season due to injury being swapped for a pick two years from now. But it’s worth noting because it’s a sign of how hamstrung the Panthers are by the Julius Peppers situation. They are so tight against the cap that they couldn’t re-sign reliable veteran long snapper Jason Kyle. Instead, the Panthers will rely on a minimum-salary rookie who is completely untested as a pro. They need to do something with Peppers soon — a trade, a new deal, whatever — or else the only other additions will be via miniscule moves like this.

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Trade: Winslow to Buccaneers, Vrabel to Chiefs

Free agency is open, and the moves are flying in. Later this weekend, we’ll do a football relativity list comparing these moves to each other. But the trade market is also moving in the NFL. On Friday, the Sage Rosenfels trade to the Vikings was finalized, and Rosenfels got a new 2-year, $9 million deal. But that wasn’t the only significant trade of the day. The Browns traded TE Kellen Winslow II to the Buccaneers for what was at first called “undisclosed draft picks.” (My guess was that they’re similiar to the 2nd- and 5th-rounders the Giants got for TE Jeremy Shockey, and that’s exactly what it is; reports are that that’s the case – a 2nd in ’09 and a 5th in ’10.) And the Patriots traded LB Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for an undisclosed pick.

So I thought we’d put together some thoughts on these trades. This may turn into part of a trades football relativity comparison if there are enough deals between now and draft day.

Kellen Winslow never quite lived up to his potential as a top-10 pick, but the second-generation tight end has certainly shown flashes of it in his five-year career – most notably during his 2007 Pro Bowl season. In Tampa, he’ll be at least the second receiving target (behind WR Antonio Bryant). Cleveland obviously wanted to turn the page and start over under a new coach and GM, and I’m not surprised they dealt Winslow. (I was expecting the trade to be WR Braylon Edwards to Philly, but this move is quite similar.) But the Browns will have to upgrade their offensive weapons if QB Brady Quinn (or Derek Anderson, if he starts) is going to have a chance of success. This move makes Tampa better, and it gives the Browns a chance to push the reset button harder and more effectively than they could have with Winslow still in the locker room.

Mike Vrabel went from an underrated performer to an impact player to a grizzled vet in New England – and the last category is why the Chiefs want him to be part of their team. Ex-Patriots official Scott Pioli is now running the show in Kansas City, and he knows Vrabel can be a great influence in the locker room and in the defensive huddle. Vrabel’s value is as the veteran influence who can help the Chiefs learn a new defensive system as well as develop a personality of a winning team. When Romeo Crennel was in Cleveland, he brought in Willie McGinest to do a similar thing. This is a move that won’t win a ton of games in Kansas City, but it should help the Chiefs’ young players learn how to win. That’s certainly worth a mid-round pick to Kansas City.

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