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Video tour of Brooklyn and Queens typography

Join designer James Victore for an opinionated tour of the typography of Brooklyn and Queens.

We're going to do a typographical tour of Brooklyn and Queens, We're going to look at type on the street and signage on the street and try to figure out what the hell it's for.

Favorite quote: [Pointing at a logo for a waxing salon] "There's been a designer here. Which is not always a good thing." (via gothamist)

Tags: design   James Victore   NYC   typography   video

Source: kottke.org | 17 Sep 2014 | 1:23 pm PDT

Heaven's Gate still open for business

Heavens Gate

In late March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate group were found dead in a mansion in California, having committed mass suicide in anticipation of being picked up by a spacecraft following the Hale-Bopp comet. When police discovered the bodies and word began to spread via national news, mailing lists, and online forums, a major point of focus was the extensive amount of information left on the group's website.

Whether Hale-Bopp has a "companion" or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at "Heaven's Gate." The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the "Kingdom of Heaven") has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the "marker" we've been waiting for -- the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to "Their World" -- in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion -- "graduation" from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave "this world" and go with Ti's crew.

If you study the material on this website you will hopefully understand our joy and what our purpose here on Earth has been. You may even find your "boarding pass" to leave with us during this brief "window."

Which website, as Gizmodo's Ashley Feinberg reports, is still very much operational, thanks to the efforts of a pair of Heaven's Gate members who chose to remain in their fleshy "vehicles" on Earth.

Every month, the bills get paid on time. The emails get answered, and any orders filled. Which, for HeavensGate.com, is positively extraordinary. Because as far as the public is aware, every last member of the suicide cult died 17 years ago from a cocktail of arsenic and apple sauce. A few stayed behind, though. Someone had to keep the homepage going.

The site is still up, in part, because the group supported themselves financially by running a web design business.

As far as early 90s web design firms go, Higher Source did it all. And looking back at the archived site for the group's occupational design firm, while they never directly mention their affiliation with the Heaven's Gate cult, subtle references to the company's origins abound. With Higher Source, you were getting "a crew-minded effort" from people who have worked "closely" together for 20 years. Of course, close in this case meant literal bunkmates.

You were getting a lot more than that, though. UFO and suicide cult connotations of hindsight aside, this is one of the most pristine testaments to early internet web design around. Not only could Higher Source program in Java, C++, and Visual Basic as well as use Shockwave, QuickTime, and AVI, they could gradient the hell out of your word art, too.

In 1997, I was working as a web designer for a small web development firm in Minneapolis. Our homepage and services offered were not all that different than Higher Source's. I remember vividly being in the office when the news of the suicide hit and a bunch of us gathered around a computer, browsing through the site before the TV news mentions finally crashed it. It was the first time an internet meme was a major aspect of a national news story. Like, holy shit, they are talking about web design on CNN!

What I don't remember clearly is if Heaven's Gate / Higher Source was being discussed online before the suicides happened. It seems like a UFO cult that also did web design would have been a prime topic for conversation in web development circles. Does anyone recall either way?

Update: Meant to add, watching the videotaped statements of each Heaven's Gate Member before they killed themselves is weird and chilling. They're almost giddy!

Tags: Ashley Feinberg   Heaven's Gate   religion   suicide   web development

Source: kottke.org | 17 Sep 2014 | 11:52 am PDT

Erotic poetry about the iPhone 6

This is glorious: an erotic poem by Chris Plante constructed from snippets of iPhone 6 reviews.

I have really big hands
Would be an understatement.
This is quite helpful.
When the tips of your fingers are grasping on for dear life,
Your fingers need to secure a firm grip.
I can still wrap my fingers around
Well...
More of everything.

No lines from John Gruber's review, but Linus Edwards made a short poem just from that one:

Makes itself felt in your pants pocket.
Ah, but then there's The Bulge.
I definitely appreciate the stronger vibrator.

(via @sippey)

Tags: Apple   Chris Plante   iPhone   John Gruber   Linus Edwards   poetry

Source: kottke.org | 17 Sep 2014 | 10:10 am PDT

Rise of the museum Twitter bots

Fan Museum Bots

John Emerson has compiled a list of Twitter accounts that periodically tweet out images from the online collections of some of the world's best museums, including the Met, the Tate, the Rijksmuseum, and MoMA.

Tags: John Emerson   museums   Twitter

Source: kottke.org | 17 Sep 2014 | 8:17 am PDT

Scotland's Big Decision

Tomorrow, legal residents of Scotland, ages 16 and older, will be voting in a referendum to decide their country's independence from the United Kingdom. While ending a centuries-old union is a complex and emotional issue, the wording on the ballot could not be more simple -- "Should Scotland be an independent country?" -- with only two choices, yes or no. Interest in tomorrow's vote is extremely high, and more than 97 percent of Scotland's eligible voters are registered to vote. "No" voters had the edge in polls for most of the past year, but "Yes" voters surged ahead to take a brief lead just weeks ago. At the moment, polls favor a "No" vote, but the slim margin makes the outcome too close to call. As Scotland prepares to decide its future, here is a collection of images of the campaign, the voters, and the country. [32 photos]



Ninian Gibson, 16, poses for a photograph at Duddingston Loch in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 4, 2014. Ninian, who plans to vote "No" in the referendum, said, "Though I think Scotland should have full control over its own affairs I think that the U.K. is an important force in the world that it should be kept united." (Reuters/Paul Hackett)







Source: In Focus | 17 Sep 2014 | 6:09 am PDT

This is Phil Fish

Using Phil Fish, the person responsible for critically acclaimed indie game Fez, this video by Ian Danskin explores what it means to be internet famous, something everyone who writes/creates/posts/tweets online has experienced to some extent.

We are used to thinking of fame as something granted to a person by people with media access. The reason people hate Nickelback is because of that record contract, that Faustian bargain -- they bought into it. They had to be discovered; someone had to connect them to video directors, record producers, stylists, advertisers.

This is not what fame looks like on the internet. There, fame is not something you ask for. Fame is not something you buy into. Fame happens to you.

Phil doesn't have an agent. He doesn't have ad executives. He doesn't tour the country on press junkets. He doesn't have a PR department. (Obviously.)

He talked on social media. He did interviews when invited to do them. He was invited into a documentary. People read these things as shameless self-promotion or a desperate need for attention, or both, but that's projection -- nobody knows Phil's reasons for doing them but Phil and the people who know him personally.

Phil never asked to be famous.

We made him famous. Maybe, in part, because we found him entertaining. Maybe, in part, because we found him irritating. Largely because many of us were once sincerely excited about his game. But he became a big deal because we kept talking about him.

On the internet, celebrities are famous only to the people who talk about them, and they're only famous because we talk about them, and then we hate them for being too famous, and make them more famous by talking about how much we hate them. Could there ever be anything more self-defeating than this?

Here's a transcript of the video. In his post about why he decided to sell Minecraft to Microsoft, Markus Persson cites This is Phil Fish as an influence:

I was at home with a bad cold a couple of weeks ago when the internet exploded with hate against me over some kind of EULA situation that I had nothing to do with. I was confused. I didn't understand. I tweeted this in frustration. Later on, I watched the This is Phil Fish video on YouTube and started to realize I didn't have the connection to my fans I thought I had. I've become a symbol. I don't want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don't understand, that I don't want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not a CEO. I'm a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.

Robin Sloan connected Persson's post with a post by Erin Kissane on how she has curtailed her use of Twitter. Here's one of her problems with Twitter:

The first is feeling like I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe, speaking in a conversational voice, but having that voice projected so loudly that strangers many streets away are invited to comment on my most inconsequential statements -- especially if something I say gets retweeted beyond my usual circles.

Many moons ago, I was "subculturally important" in the small pond of web designers, personal publishers, and bloggers that rose from the ashes of the dot com bust, and I was nodding along vigorously with what Danskin, Persson, and Kissane had to say. Luckily for me, I realized fairly early on that me and the Jason Kottke who published online were actually two separate people...or to use Danskin's formulation, they were a person and a concept. (When you try to explain this to people, BTW, they think you're a fucking narcissistic crazy person for talking about yourself in the third person. But you're not actually talking about yourself...you're talking about a concept the audience has created. Those who think of you as a concept particularly hate this sort of behavior.)

The person-as-concept idea is a powerful one. People ascribe all sorts of crazy stuff to you without knowing anything about the context of your actual life. I even lost real-life friends because my online actions as a person were viewed through a conceptual lens; basically: "you shouldn't have acted in that way because of what it means for the community" or some crap like that. Eventually (and mostly unconsciously), I distanced myself from my conceptual counterpart and became much less of a presence online. I mean, I still post stuff here, on Twitter, on Instagram, and so on, but very little of it is actually personal and almost none of it is opinionated in any noteworthy way. Unlike Persson or Fish, I didn't quit. I just got boring. Which I guess isn't so good for business, but neither is quitting.

Anyway, I don't know if that adds anything meaning to the conversation, just wanted to add a big "yeah, that rings true" to all of the above, particularly the video. (thx, @brillhart)

Update: From the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, a short essay called "Borges and I":

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

(via @ezraball)

Tags: celebrity   Erin Kissane   Ian Danskin   Jason Kottke   Markus Persson   Phil Fish   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Sep 2014 | 5:27 pm PDT

Jiro Dreams, the sequel

David Gelb, the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is going to be doing a six-part documentary series for Netflix about "culinary artists".

Chefs featured in the docu-series are: Ben Shewry (of Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia), Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken in Järpen Sweden), Francis Mallmann (El Restaurante Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires, Argentina), Niki Nakayama (N/Naka Restaurant in Los Angeles), Dan Barber (Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.) and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy).

Sounds a lot like a Jiro Dreams series. Looking forward to it. (via @MattH)

Tags: David Gelb   food   Jiro Dreams of Sushi   movies   Netflix

Source: kottke.org | 16 Sep 2014 | 3:10 pm PDT

The future of the American bird

Swallow Tailed Hawk

The Climate Report from the National Audubon Society makes for sobering reading. Due to shifting climates, over 300 species of US birds are in danger of losing their habitats or even extinction within the next century. Here are the primary findings:

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The NY Times has a piece on the Audubon Society's findings.

"Common sense will tell you that with these kinds of findings, it's hard to believe we won't lose some species to extinction," said David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society. "How many? We honestly don't know. We don't know which ones are going to prove heroically resilient."

Can the birds just move? "Some can and some will," Mr. Yarnold said. "But what happens to a yellow-billed magpie in California that depends on scrub oak habitat? What happens as that bird keeps moving higher and higher and farther north and runs out of oak trees? Trees don't fly. Birds do."

Tags: global warming   National Audubon Society

Source: kottke.org | 16 Sep 2014 | 10:41 am PDT

Instant ramen hacks

Here are some things you can do with instant ramen aside from eating it as directed on the package, including making a grilled cheese sandwich, gnocchi (a la David Chang), and pizza.

(via devour)

Tags: food   ramen   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Sep 2014 | 8:13 am PDT

Chris Ware, The Last Saturday

Chris Ware, Last Saturday

Chris Ware is publishing a new graphic novella called The Last Saturday on The Guardian web site, with a new installment appearing every Saturday. (via df)

Tags: Chris Ware

Source: kottke.org | 16 Sep 2014 | 6:55 am PDT

The Eruptions of Iceland's Bardarbunga Volcano

In southeast Iceland, the Bardarbunga volcano system, located under Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajoekull, has been rocked by hundreds of tremors daily since mid-August, prompting fears the volcano could erupt explosively, wreaking havoc on air traffic once again. An eruption of Bardarbunga, the largest volcanic system in Iceland, has the potential to be even more disruptive than the 2010 eruption of nearby Eyjafjallajokull. Scientists are closely monitoring the site, as lava continues to spew from fissures, earthquakes rumble underfoot, and nearby glacial ice appears to be melting, possibly signaling explosive interaction between lava and meltwater. [14 photos]



An aerial picture taken on September 14, 2014 shows a small plane flying over the Bardarbunga volcano as it spews lava in southeast Iceland. The Bardarbunga volcano system has been rocked by hundreds of tremors daily since mid-August, prompting fears the volcano could explode. Bardarbunga, at 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), is Iceland's second-highest peak and is located under Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajoekull. (Bernard Meric/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 16 Sep 2014 | 6:23 am PDT

Microsoft buys Minecraft

Mojang's popular game Minecraft has sold over 54 million copies. But that, and the $2.5 billion that Microsoft just paid to acquire the company, dramatically understates the impact that this game has had on [Dave Pell's] third grader and his friends. They all wear Minecraft gear and watch Minecraft videos on YouTube. And several of them completed a week of Minecraft Camp over the summer. The way I see it, $2.5 billion just became the most anyone has ever spent on a babysitter.

The Verge: Why parents are raising their kids on Minecraft.

Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang (known as Notch), explains why he's selling -- and leaving -- the company: "It's not about the money. It's about my sanity."

Tags: business   Markus Persson   Microsoft   Minecraft   video games

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 5:13 pm PDT

War photographer embeds himself inside a violent video game

Conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson recently embedded himself in the video game The Last of Us Remastered and sent back a selection of war photos.

Last Of Us Gilbertson

Reminds me a bit of Jim Munroe's My Trip to Liberty City, a film made from the perspective of a tourist visiting the city featured in Grand Theft Auto III:

(via @atotalmonet)

Update: New Gamer took photos of a road trip in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (via @johnke)

Tags: Ashley Gilbertson   Grand Theft Auto   Jim Munroe   photography   The Last of Us   video games   war

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 4:26 pm PDT

Jeter swings, baby!

Powers Of Jeter

Love this New York Times visualization of how many times Derek Jeter has swung a bat during his career. This is like Powers of Ten, but with Derek Jeter bat swings.

Tags: baseball   Derek Jeter   infoviz   Powers of Ten   sports

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 4:00 pm PDT

Incredible no-look backheel

This goal by AC Milan's Jeremy Menez against Parma over the weekend is just beyond:

No-look backheel. Jeebus.

Tags: Jeremy Menez   soccer   sports   video

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 11:21 am PDT

[Sponsor] 1984: Stealth Fashion for the Under-Surveillance Society

The Affair is a London-based fashion brand that looks for inspiration in literature, producing t-shirts and prints inspired by notable books. But they've taken it up a notch for their newest collection on Kickstarter: 1984: Stealth Fashion for the Under-Surveillance Society. 1984 is a collection of durable fashion inspired by the workwear clothing of the George Orwell novel and our post-Snowden surveillance society. There's a Party Workshirt, Party Chinos, Outer Party Jacket (which I've got my eye on), and an Inner Party Blazer.

But the key to the collection is the UnPocket included with each piece. The UnPocket is a removable sleeve for your mobile device that renders it untrackable, allowing you to "go dark" when you're out and about. The pocket's material and design blocks out all cellular, WiFi, GPS, and RFID signals, effectively rendering your mobile phone invisible to the outside world, your own personal Faraday cage. They're also offering the UnPocket as a separate item for purchase, to slip into your own pocket, purse, or backpack. So check out the 1984 Kickstarter for details, pricing, and available styles.

Thanks to The Affair for sponsoring kottke.org this week.

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 8:53 am PDT

Aging canned foods

Originally from the sixth issue of the excellent Lucky Peach magazine, mad food scientist Harold McGee of the joys of aging canned food and its "extremely cooked flavor".

This punishing heat treatment helps create the distinctive flavors of canned goods. So does the hermetically sealed container, which means that after any preliminary cooking outside the can-tuna is steamed to remove moisture, for example, and the best French sardines are lightly fried-oxygen can play only a limited role in flavor development, and that whatever happens in the can stays in the can-no aromas can escape. Hence the common presence of a sulfurous quality, which may be eggy or meaty or oniony or cabbagy or skunky, from compounds like hydrogen sulfide, various methyl sulfides, and methanethiol. Some of these notes can gradually fade during storage as the volatiles slowly react with other components of the food.

The overall flavor is nothing like freshly cooked foods. Food technologists often refer to it as "retort off-flavor." But it's only off in comparison to the results of ordinary cooking. It's really just another kind of cooked flavor, an extremely cooked flavor, and it can be very good. Canned tuna, sardines, chicken spread, and Spam all have their own appeal.

(via @sippey)

Tags: food   Harold McGee

Source: kottke.org | 15 Sep 2014 | 7:49 am PDT

Rosetta's Amazing 10-Year Space Journey

More than a decade ago, the European Space Agency launched an orbiter named Rosetta, bound on a circuitous voyage to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the years since, Rosetta has been drawn in and flung along by multiple gravity assist maneuvers, visiting the Earth three times and making observations of the Moon, Mars, and several asteroids and comets. In January of this year, after 31 months of hibernation, Rosetta re-awoke, nearing comet 67P. Recently, it approached to within 100 km of the comet, entering orbit and preparing to send a lander to the surface. The lander, named Philae, will be deployed in November, securing itself to the comet with harpoons and drills to prevent it from bouncing away in the weak gravity. The lander and orbiter are then scheduled to ride along, escorting the comet on its upcoming close approach to the Sun next August, all the while sending imagery and data home to be combined with Earth-based observations. Gathered here are some snapshots of Rosetta's incredible trip so far. [28 photos]



Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft on August 3, 2014. The photograph was taken from a distance of 177 miles (285 kilometers), with a resolution of 17 feet (5.3 meters) per pixel. Comet 67P measures approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) along its longest axis. (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)







Source: In Focus | 15 Sep 2014 | 6:16 am PDT

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd,
but when they said, "Sit down," I stood up.

-- Bruce Springsteen, Growing Up

In the NYT Magazine, A.O. Scott reflects on the death of adulthood in American culture:

What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore. Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn't only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It's that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?

Tags: A.O. Scott   TV

Source: kottke.org | 12 Sep 2014 | 3:00 pm PDT

Dancebot 2014

This guy Fik Shun? He knows how to dance.

The thing he starts doing with his chest around 2:10 is some Exorcist-level shit. (via digg)

Tags: dance   video

Source: kottke.org | 12 Sep 2014 | 12:49 pm PDT

The Innovators

Walter Isaacson has written books on Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Steve Jobs. His newest book, The Innovators, is due out in early October and focuses on the people who invented computing and the Internet.

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It's also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

Tags: books   The Innovators   Walter Isaacson

Source: kottke.org | 12 Sep 2014 | 9:27 am PDT

Steve Jobs unveils the iWatch

Steve Jobs Keynote

The analysis of the weak parts of Apple's recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch at the beginning of this piece is good, but the real gem is the complete reworking of the presentation as Steve Jobs might have approached it.

Jobs: It's not easy being an engineer at Apple. (Laughs) How do you take the world's best phone and make it even better? (Cheers)

When we first launched the iPhone back in 2007, we didn't anticipate the central role it plays today-how it would touch every part of our lives. (Cheers)

Seven years later, our iPhones are the window to our world. Through this window I see my wife and kids. I see my friends, take care of work, and relax.

If this window is so important, what if we made it a little bigger?

(Steve holds out his hand and starts separating his fingers as if he's stretching an iPhone)

(Once they get really far, he grins and quickly pushes them back together)

Jobs: But not too big! (Audience chuckles) You still want to be able to hold it in one hand and fit it inside your pocket.

Our team of smart engineers have come up with the perfect size.

The heartfelt folksiness is pitch perfect. And the whole thing about the iWatch is amazing:

Jobs: The iWatch comes with a special sensor that detects your heartbeat. In addition to linking to Apple Health, it does something very special.

Something very dear to me.

I'd like to see how my daughter is doing. Instead of sending her a text, what can I do? I press this button twice, and... (Heartbeats echo in the auditorium)

You can't see it, but my watch is vibrating to her heartbeat. I can close my eyes and know that my daughter is alive, living her life halfway around the globe.

Not sure if Jobs would have approached it this way, but it made me actually want to get an Apple Watch. (via @arainert)

Tags: Apple   Apple Watch   iPhone   Steve Jobs

Source: kottke.org | 12 Sep 2014 | 7:54 am PDT

Why archaeologists hate Indiana Jones

Erik Vance on why real working archaeologists don't care for Indiana Jones.

"Oh God," he groans, "Don't even go there. Indiana Jones is not an archeologist."

It's not surprising that academics -- hell bent on taking the fun out of everything -- would hate our beloved and iconic movie version of them. But Canuto is no killjoy. His ironic tone and acerbic wit seem honed by long boring days in the sun. So I bite. I quickly learn that there's a good reason why most every archeologist on Earth hates Indy. And that they might have a point. Because Jones isn't an archeologist at all.

"That first scene, where he's in the temple and he's replacing that statue with a bag of sand -- that's what looters do," Canuto says, grinning. "[The temple builders] are using these amazing mechanisms of engineering and all he wants to do is steal the stupid gold statue."

Makes you wonder if Jones was one of the Raiders referred to in the title of the first movie. (via @riondotnu)

Tags: archaeology   Indiana Jones   movies   science

Source: kottke.org | 12 Sep 2014 | 7:28 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 9/6-9/12

This week we have photographs covering a beer-mug-carrying world record, 9/11 remembrances, a wildfire in Yosemite National Park, flooding in Arizona and Pakistan, Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, an early snowstorm in Calgary, independence demonstrations in Catalonia, and much more. [35 photos]



A fiery Kyrgyz stuntman performs during the first World Nomad Games in the Kyrchin (Semenovskoe) gorge, some 300 km from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on September 10, 2014. Teams from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Mongolia and Tajikistan take part in the games. (Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 12 Sep 2014 | 6:15 am PDT

Lego model of the Simpsons House

Simpsons House Lego

This Lego version of the Simpsons house looks amazing. Not sure if it's $200 amazing, but still. These minimalist Lego Simpsons characters are much cheaper.

Tags: Legos   The Simpsons   TV

Source: kottke.org | 11 Sep 2014 | 1:18 pm PDT

Unbiased cellular coverage maps

Sensorly

If you're thinking of switching mobile carriers (b/c perhaps a certain fruit company is releasing new models), you should check Sensorly for "unbiased" coverage maps of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and even smaller companies like Metro PCS and US Cellular. Looks like the maps are somewhat inaccurate because they rely on contributions only from Sensorly app users. For example, there are large swaths of upper Manhattan and the Bronx which show coverage only along major roads. But still helpful to use beside the companies' official coverage maps. (via @ludacrisofficia)

Update: Rootmetrics also has coverage maps for the major carriers. (via @ropiku)

Tags: maps   telephony

Source: kottke.org | 11 Sep 2014 | 12:32 pm PDT

Why do women stay with abusive partners?

[Note: if you're unable to read about domestic violence against women for any reason, you might want to skip this post. Possibly related: the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.]

From an anonymous author on The Frisky, Why I Married My Abuser.

One Saturday afternoon a few months after our first date, I opened one of the cards and then smelled it as he beamed on proudly. I sniffed and joked "like a woman" because he was the first man I ever knew to send a scented envelope.

I know it's a cliche, but if I close my eyes, I can still see that moment in slow motion. His face changed from beaming to furious. And suddenly, I was on the floor. It wasn't until he extended his hand down to me saying, "Oh baby I am so sorry! Why did you have to say that? I'm so sorry!" that I realized I was on the floor because his fist had put me there. I actually thought for a second that a piece of the ceiling must have fallen down. Surely Hank couldn't have hit me? That was something that happened to other people.

"Why did you have to say that?" The insidiousness of that simple phrase is chilling. From Obsidian Wings, the perspective of someone who worked at a battered women's shelter for five years: Why Do They Stay?

So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they're rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you're completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.

What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it's not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.

And via the National Domestic Violence Hotline site, Sarah Buel's Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse is a common tactic of abusers, although it may take different forms, depending on the couple's socio-economic status. The batterer may control estate planning and access to all financial records, as well as make all money decisions. Victims report being forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions. Victims also may be convinced that they are incapable of managing their finances or that they will face prison terms for their part in perpetrating a fraud if they tell someone.

Since the video of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée out in an elevator leaked, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an 84% increase in call volume. If any of the above rings true for you and your domestic situation, that phone number again is 1-800-799-7233.

Tags: crime   Sarah Buel

Source: kottke.org | 11 Sep 2014 | 10:57 am PDT

Apocalypse Pooh

The internet is full of remixes of movies and trailers these days: Wes Anderson's Forrest Gump, The Shining as a romantic comedy, Toy Story 2 mashed up with Requiem for a Dream, Toy Story meets The Wire, and so on. But before all of that, from 1987, perhaps the first mashup of its kind, Apocalypse Pooh:

Todd Graham made this short film with VCRs and film nerds passed around copies on VHS tapes. (via @johankugelberg)

Tags: Apocalypse Now   remix   Todd Graham   video   Winnie the Pooh

Source: kottke.org | 11 Sep 2014 | 9:29 am PDT

9/11: The Flight 93 National Memorial

Thirteen years ago, during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a passenger revolt against the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 resulted in the aircraft crashing into a field just outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 44 people aboard (including the four hijackers). Authorities believe this fourth hijacked aircraft was also to be used as a missile, targeting either the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House. In the years since, a national memorial at the Pennsylvania crash site has been under planning and construction, now due to be completed sometime in late 2015. Phase one was completed in 2011, including the "wall of names," 40 granite slabs standing eight feet tall, inscribed with the names of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. On this 13th anniversary of that tragic day, here are a few recent images of the Flight 93 National Memorial. [15 photos]



Visitors walk along the wall of names of passengers who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the attacks at the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center Complex in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 2014. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 11 Sep 2014 | 6:19 am PDT

The potential landmines of genetic testing services

As part of a course he was teaching, a biologist sent away for a genetic testing kit from 23andMe for himself and his parents. When he went looking for other relatives on the service (which is now an automatic opt-out feature), he discovered he had a half-brother his dad had not told his family about.

At first, I was thinking this is the coolest genetics story, my own personal genetics story. I wasn't particularly upset about it initially, until the rest of the family found out. Their reaction was different. Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We're not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don't know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.

After this discovery was made, I went back to 23andMe and talked to them. I said, "I'm not sure all your customers realize that when they participate in your family finder program, what they're participating in what are essentially really advanced paternity tests." People find out that their parents aren't who they think they are. They have nearly a million people in the database. If there happens to be anyone in there you're related to, they'll find your match. This is a solid science.

I know a family in which one of the children is adopted and they haven't told her. Which is crazy...she's gonna find out eventually (through something like 23andMe or because of some medical emergency or test) and go totally berzerk.

Tags: 23andMe   genetics   science

Source: kottke.org | 10 Sep 2014 | 2:21 pm PDT

Why everyone should read Harry Potter

Some recent studies suggest that reading Harry Potter may make kids nicer people.

As the familiar story goes, not long ago there was an orphan who on his 11th birthday discovered he had a gift that set him apart from his preteen peers. Over the years he endured the usual adolescent challenges -- maturation, relationships, social conflicts, general teenage neuroses. He also faced the less common challenge of battling a murderous, psychopathic wizard set on establishing a eugenic police state. I'm referring to the young wizard Harry Potter, the bespeckled, morally-upright protagonist in author JK Rowling's wildly popular fantasy book series; his nemesis is Lord Voldemort, the story's malevolent antagonist. And, while it might sound far-fetched, new research suggests that Rowling's world of house-elves, half-giants and three-headed dogs has the potential to make us nicer people.

I've been reading Harry Potter with the kids for awhile now. We're almost finished with The Prisoner of Azkaban. One of my favorite parts of reading it with them is when they're confused about a situation or a particular word and we get to have a conversation. While reading Chamber of Secrets, we talked about mudbloods, prejudice, and fascism. We've talked about good and evil and how many of the books' characters actually possess both good and not-so-good qualities. More recently, we talked about bravery and cowardice in the context of being a friend and how even Neville, who seems frightened of everything, is a brave and true friend for trying to stop Hermione, Ron, and Harry from leaving the Gryffindor common room in search of the Sorcerer's Stone. I don't know if they're better people for it, but I value the chance to have those conversations with them about something they're really into.

Tags: Harry Potter   parenting

Source: kottke.org | 10 Sep 2014 | 12:20 pm PDT

OpenStreetMap turns 10

In August, the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap turned 10 years old.

When the project was begun by Steve Coast in 2004, map data sources were few, and largely controlled by a small collection of private and governmental players. The scarcity of map data ensured that it remained both expensive and highly restrictive, and no one but the largest navigation companies could use map data. Steve changed the rules by creating a wiki-like resource of the entire globe, which everyone could use without hinderance.

The magic of OSM's early success was not just its timeliness -- GPS was becoming affordable, storage was increasingly cheap, and the iPhone was around the corner -- but its provision of a read-write canvas where emerging mapping enthusiasts could convert their frustration into action. Maps, of course, are intimately personal, but also overtly political: as a true, citizens' map of the world, OSM could address that particular paradox -- no longer were mapping resources allocated by revenue potential; instead, all one needed was time and a computer connection to add data about their country or their neighborhood.

As you can see, from a fledgling project, a rich collection of data has taken shape:

Still my favorite use of OSM: Stamen's watercolor maps. Happy birthday, old thing.

Tags: maps   OpenStreetMap

Source: kottke.org | 10 Sep 2014 | 10:12 am PDT

2014 iPhone trade-in guide

Apple just announced the iPhone 6 and for the first time, I'm seriously thinking about upgrading my phone before my contract is up. A company called Statista recently surveyed several companies who buy old iPhones. It looks like the best place to sell your old iPhone is Amazon: they're offering Amazon gift cards in the $300-400 range for good-condition iPhone 5s.

iPhone 5 resale

Glyde offers slightly less for iPhones than Amazon, but they'll give you cash (although withdrawals take 3-5 business days). You can also try your luck on eBay or Craigslist...I've heard you can get a bit more because you're selling direct but you have to deal with buyers and potential scams and whatnot.

Tags: iPhone

Source: kottke.org | 10 Sep 2014 | 8:28 am PDT

Bill Murray returns to SNL

Bill Murray SNL

Bill Murray is set to host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live and the internet is going to fucking EXPLODE.

According to several sources -- including news posts yesterday by local NBC affiliate sites that have since been taken down -- the one and only Bill Murray will be making a glorious return to SNL to help ring in its 40th year on the air, while fellow SNL alum Sarah Silverman and TV-turned-movie star Chris Pratt will host the second and third episodes, respectively.

(via @Choire)

Update: FALSE ALARM! I repeat, FALSE ALARM.

NBC has announced that Chris Pratt will be hosting the season premiere, with Sarah Silverman hosting the second episode. It's not clear what happened to Murray-as-host -- it may have been rescheduled to later in the season or canceled altogether.

Go back to your homes and places of business in peace. No looting please. (via @zakmahshie)

Tags: Bill Murray   Saturday Night Live   TV

Source: kottke.org | 10 Sep 2014 | 7:19 am PDT

Historic Flooding in India and Pakistan

Days of heavy monsoon rain in northern Pakistan and the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir have brought some of the worst flooding the region has seen in 60 years. More than 450 deaths have been reported and the scale of the disaster is straining rescue efforts. Hundreds of thousands remain trapped as the armed forces of both Pakistan and India ramp up relief and evacuation operations. [34 photos]



A temple stands amid the waters of the overflowing river Tawi during heavy rains in Jammu on September 6, 2014. Authorities declared a disaster alert in the northern region after heavy rain hit villages across the Kashmir valley, causing the worst flooding in decades. (Reuters/Mukesh Gupta)







Source: In Focus | 10 Sep 2014 | 6:41 am PDT

The Eyefi Mobi

We've been using Eyefi cards to upload photos from the kids' cameras to Flickr. Matt Haughey has a review of their newest card, the Eyefi Mobi, which automagically syncs to your phone, resulting in a 20-second DSLR-to-Instagram workflow.

In essence, the card turns any dumb camera into an outboard lens for your phone. Last week on a trip to NYC I took my new compact camera with me and could easily upload photos to Instagram and Twitter within seconds of taking the photos. I mean that literally: I can take a photo with my camera, open up my phone, touch the mobi app icon and about ten seconds later I can be saving that image to my phone's camera roll. I could also manipulate and tweak the images in a plethora of iPhone apps like VSCOcam, Photoshop Express, etc. directly on the phone before sharing it out to the world.

This sounds amazing. Step one for me: get a camera. Any suggestions? I've been eyeing Fujifilm's X100S for quite awhile...

Tags: cameras   Eyefi   Matt Haughey   photography

Source: kottke.org | 9 Sep 2014 | 2:28 pm PDT

I'm quitting football.

Life-long NFL football fan Steve Almond recently wrote a book called Against Football in which he details why he is no longer watching the game he loves. Ian Crouch talked with Almond for the New Yorker.

Any other year, Steve Almond would have seen the play. But, after forty years of fandom, he's quit the N.F.L. In his new book, "Against Football," Almond is plain about what he considers the various moral hazards of the game: "I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia."

This part resonated most with me:

Even a casual N.F.L. fan can recognize that this is a particularly opportune time for a Raiders fan to stop watching football. The team is terrible. I asked Almond about that. "If the Raiders were really good, I might not have written the book," he said. "How fucked up is that? It's true, I love them. I see those colors, and it's me." For Almond, his struggle to confront his own hypocrisy is exactly the point: proof of football's insidiousness, of its ominous power.

"Football somehow hits that Doritos bliss point," he told me. "It's got the intellectual allure of all these contingencies and all this strategy, but at the same time it is so powerfully connecting us to the intuitive joys of childhood, that elemental stuff: Can you make a miracle? Can you see the stuff that nobody else sees? And most of us can't, but we love to see it. And I don't blame people for wanting to see it. I love it, and I'm going to miss it."

I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

Update: Chuck Klosterman recently tackled (*groan*) this issue in the NY Times Magazine: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

My (admittedly unoriginal) suspicion is that the reason we keep having this discussion over the ethics of football is almost entirely a product of the sport's sheer popularity. The issue of concussions in football is debated exhaustively, despite the fact that boxing -- where the goal is to hit your opponent in the face as hard as possible -- still exists. But people care less about boxing, so they worry less about the ethics of boxing. Football is the most popular game in the United States and generates the most revenue, so we feel obligated to worry about what it means to love it. Well, here's what it means: We love something that's dangerous. And I can live with that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quit watching back in 2012 after Junior Seau died.

I'm not here to dictate other people's morality. I'm certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own. Surely it is a man's right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.

Same here. I don't feel any sense of judgment or righteousness about this. Just the personal loss of a hobby I *really* enjoyed. (via @campbellmiller & @Godzilla07)

Tags: Chuck Klosterman   football   Ian Crouch   NFL   sports   Steve Almond   Ta-Nehisi Coates

Source: kottke.org | 9 Sep 2014 | 1:00 pm PDT

New York streets in beautiful slow motion

This starts out ordinarily, but give it some time...it gets really good around 90 seconds in. The combination of panning and slow motion creates a powerful sense of energy around almost-still imagery; it's a trippy effect. See also James Nares' Street. (via subtraction)

Tags: NYC   slow motion   video

Source: kottke.org | 9 Sep 2014 | 7:51 am PDT

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: 6 Months Without a Trace

Six months ago, on March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared about an hour into a routine journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 mostly Chinese people aboard. The search is due to resume again soon, with investigators hoping that evidence might be found in the southern Indian Ocean, though it will be extremely difficult to find on an ocean floor four miles deep, with the black box voice and data recorder batteries long dead. Loved ones of missing passengers are left with huge holes in their lives, losses without explanation, grieving in a painfully uncertain situation. Some derive what comfort they can from what was left behind: photographs, possessions, emails, plans, and memories. Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon recently traveled to Beijing to photograph several of these relatives who are trying to cope, still looking for answers. [16 photos]



Feng Xuehong, whose son Wang Houbin was aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 which disappeared on March 8, 2014, cries during an interview with Reuters in Beijing on July 18, 2014. In the last conversation with her son before the incident, he said, "Give me a hug, mom. Take care of yourself and I'll come back to see you soon." (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)







Source: In Focus | 9 Sep 2014 | 6:59 am PDT

BERG is shutting down :(

Little Printer RIP

Super bummed to hear that Berg is shutting down.

We've not reached a sustainable business in connected products. But: There's our troop! Cultural inventions! I'm proud of this British Experimental Rocket Group.

They had a tough row to hoe w/ Little Printer and building the plumbing to the IoT, but their effort and thinking was always very inspirational. Cheers to Matt, Jack, and the whole gang; now on to the next one.

Tags: BERG   Little Printer

Source: kottke.org | 9 Sep 2014 | 6:47 am PDT

Karaoke songs for philosophy students

This list of philosophy student karaoke standards by Jarry Lee for McSweeney's contain some top-shelf philosophy puns.

My Milkshake Brings All the Baudrillard
Psycho Schiller
Hit Me Baby Wittgenstein
Total Eclipse of Descartes

(via @tcarmody)

Tags: Jarry Lee   music   philosophy

Source: kottke.org | 8 Sep 2014 | 1:34 pm PDT

[Sponsor] The Simple Syrup Kit

Simple syrup is a key ingredient in cocktail making and Studio Neat's Simple Syrup Kit makes it easier for you to have plenty of sugary water on hand for your at-home sours, swizzles, and daiquiris. The kit consists of a handsome glass bottle with the proper measurements marked right on it, a funnel, a pour spout cap that won't get clogged, and a marker for labeling the freshness of your syrup.

I've been making simple syrup at home (I even did some dill-infused syrup, which was delicious in a dill gimlet) and while the process is, um, pretty simple, measuring the sugar and finding the proper container is a pain in the ass. And the spout of my current bottle does clog all the time. I'm looking forward to trying out the Simple Syrup Kit to rid myself of those little obstacles to my evening libations.

Studio Neat are no strangers to Kickstarter. They have run four successful campaigns, including the recent Neat Ice Kit and the Glif iPhone mount, one of Kickstarter's early blockbuster projects. Help them make it five in a row and step up your cocktail game at the same time by backing the Simple Syrup Kit today.

Thanks to Studio Neat for sponsoring kottke.org this week.

Source: kottke.org | 8 Sep 2014 | 10:37 am PDT

100 iconic film scenes

From Cinefix, the 100 most iconic shots in film.

Skews heavily toward pop culture favorites, but still worth a look. Here's a video with annotations of each scene. (via digg)

Tags: best of   movies   video

Source: kottke.org | 8 Sep 2014 | 8:58 am PDT

Classic French cheeses restricted by FDA

Tighter FDA restrictions are keeping some classic French cheeses (Roquefort, Morbier, Tomme de Savoie) out of the US and even some American cheese makers are halting production of their cheeses because they're afraid their products won't meet the new standards.

In early August, these cheeses and many more landed on an FDA Import Alert because the agency found bacterial counts that exceeded its tolerance level. Cheeses on Import Alert can't be sold in the U.S. until the producer documents corrective action and five samples test clean, a process that can take months.

Of course, French creameries haven't changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

Even Parmigiano-Reggiano might be threatened by the new restrictions. Ridiculous.

Tags: cheese   FDA   food

Source: kottke.org | 8 Sep 2014 | 7:40 am PDT

Up in the Air

As the summer of 2014 winds down and the evenings bring a bit of chilly air, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at time spent in mid-air during recent warmer months. This recent collection shows people, animals, and machines jumping, soaring, leaping, diving, falling, and flying, momentarily free from their connection to the Earth. [30 photos]



A Palestinian man plays with his baby on a beach in Gaza city on September 7, 2014. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 8 Sep 2014 | 6:55 am PDT

Jack the Ripper's identity revealed?

In London in 1888, an unknown person known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in brutal fashion. Russell Edwards recently bought a shawl allegedly tied to one of the killings. After DNA testing, the shawl was shown not only to have the victim's blood on it but also semen from the alleged perpetrator, hairdresser Aaron Kosminski. Edwards and the person responsible for the forensic research explain their findings in this article.

The tests began in 2011, when Jari used special photographic analysis to establish what the stains were.

Using an infrared camera, he was able to tell me the dark stains were not just blood, but consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing -- exactly the grim death Catherine Eddowes had met.

But the next revelation was the most heart-stopping. Under UV photography, a set of fluorescent stains showed up which Jari said had the characteristics of semen. I'd never expected to find evidence of the Ripper himself, so this was thrilling, although Jari cautioned me that more testing was required before any conclusions could be drawn.

Hmm. Given the source (The Daily Mail) and the lack of independent corroboration of the results, a little skepticism in in order here.

Tags: crime   Jack the Ripper   murder

Source: kottke.org | 8 Sep 2014 | 6:07 am PDT

Shake Shack IPO

Dang! It looks as though the Shake Shack is gonna IPO at a value of $1 billion. (BTW, $1 billion would buy you about 210 million ShackBurgers.)

At that level, Shake Shack would debut at 50 times projected earnings of about $20 million this year, the people said, asking not to be named because the details are private. The company has tapped JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley to manage the share sale, said the people.

That valuation would put it in line with other dining chains that have tapped into investor appetite for new stocks in recent years. El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc. (LOCO), which raised $123 million in July, now trades at about 60 times projected 2014 earnings, while Potbelly (PBPB) Corp. trades at over 64 times estimated earnings, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The Shack has about 50 locations worldwide. But their flagship Madison Square Park location will be closing for a few months soon for renovations...hopefully they'll have it back open for the IPO.

Tags: business   finance   IPO   NYC   Shake Shack

Source: kottke.org | 5 Sep 2014 | 3:45 pm PDT

Amish barn-raising time lapse

Watch as a group of Amish men raise almost an entire barn in a day.

(via colossal)

Tags: architecture   time lapse   video

Source: kottke.org | 5 Sep 2014 | 1:04 pm PDT

Photos of the Week: 8/30-9/5

This week we have a look at the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, Ecuador's still-erupting Tungurahua volcano, Iraqi forces taking the battle to ISIS, the massive Jurong Rock Caverns below Singapore, a kitesurfing world record in Spain, and an 82-foot-tall white rabbit in Taiwan, as well as many other subjects. [35 photos]



Leng Yuting, 26, poses underwater for her wedding pictures at a photo studio in Shanghai on September 3, 2014, ahead of her wedding next year. Her fiance Riyang said they had their wedding photographs taken underwater because "it's romantic and beautiful." (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 5 Sep 2014 | 6:37 am PDT

Amazon Warriors Fight for Their Trees

Reuters photographer Lunae Parracho recently went on a search and destroy mission in the Amazon with Brazil's Ka'apor Indians. Frustrated by the government's lack of action to keep illegal loggers out of the Alto Turiacu Indian territory, local warriors from several tribes have taken it upon themselves to find logging camps, destroy equipment, and drive out the unwelcome intruders. Parracho documented the scene as Ka'apor warriors captured a number of men in the forest, burned their trucks, destroyed their logs, then sent their captives down the road—freed, but without shoes or pants, their hands still bound. The Ka'apor Indians and four other tribes—the legal inhabitants and caretakers of the territory—have also set up monitoring camps in areas that are being illegally exploited. [20 photos]



A Ka'apor Indian warrior chases a logger who tried to escape after he was captured during a jungle expedition to find and expel loggers from the Alto Turiacu Indian territory, near the Centro do Guilherme municipality in the northeast of Brazil's Maranhao state in the Amazon basin, on August 7, 2014. Tired of what they say is a lack of sufficient government assistance in keeping loggers off their land, the Ka'apor Indians, who along with four other tribes are the legal inhabitants and caretakers of the territory, have sent their warriors out to expel all loggers they find and set up monitoring camps in the areas that are being illegally exploited. (Reuters/Lunae Parracho)







Source: In Focus | 4 Sep 2014 | 6:44 am PDT

Dramatic Photos of California's Historic Drought

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 82 percent of the state of California currently falls in the "Extreme Drought" category. The years-long dry spell has tapped groundwater reserves and left reservoirs at record lows. Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville are both down to 30% of full capacity, exposing steep shorelines that were formerly under hundreds of feet of water. Marinas are crowding into ever-smaller coves as the water recedes, and ramps and roads no longer reach the shoreline. Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan traveled to a number of these reservoirs last month and captured dramatic images, evidence of the severity of the water crisis in California. [22 photos]



A section of Lake Oroville is seen nearly dry on August 19, 2014 in Oroville, California. As the severe drought in California continues for a third straight year, water levels in the State's lakes and reservoirs are reaching historic lows. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 3 Sep 2014 | 6:58 am PDT

Afghanistan: The Long Withdrawal

Five years ago, the war in Afghanistan began to escalate drastically. Troop surges soon pushed the number of NATO troops up to more than 140,000, and the levels of violence grew to match the surge. At the time, I felt the conflict was being under-reported relative to other international stories, especially considering the level of commitment involved, so I began a monthly series dedicated to covering the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Now, more than 60 monthly photo essays later, I'm ending the series as a regular feature. I will continue to post photos from Afghanistan through the withdrawal, as well as after the handover—but as an occasional entry, not monthly. In this time, I've been fortunate enough to feature more than 2,000 amazing images of Afghanistan taken by incredibly brave and skillful photographers—telling many aspects of a very difficult story. As of today, there are reportedly fewer than 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with a withdrawal deadline looming at the end of the year. How many soldiers will stay after the deadline remains in question, as the outcome of the recent Afghan presidential election remains in dispute, and the signing of any long-term agreements is on hold. For the past year, many coalition forces have been involved with what they term retrograde operations, defined by the U.S. Army as "defensive tasks that involve organized movement away from the enemy." Gathered here are images of recent retrograde operations in Afghanistan, from demolition and remediation to demilitarization and evacuation. Today's entry is the last of the monthly series here on Afghanistan. [38 photos]



Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles wait in a staging area for onward movement at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia. The joint team of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Central Command's Deployment Distribution Operations Center is playing a major role in moving the more than 50,000 coalition military vehicles in Afghanistan that will need to be recovered or pre-positioned in contingency stocks abroad. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Master Sgt. George Thompson)







Source: In Focus | 2 Sep 2014 | 6:55 am PDT

Burning Man 2014

Every year, participants in the Burning Man Festival descend on the playa of Nevada's Black Rock Desert to form a temporary city -- a self-reliant community populated by performers, artists, free spirits, and more. Last week, an estimated 65,000 people came to Burning Man 2014 from all over the world to dance, express themselves, and take in the spectacle. Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart spent the week in the desert, capturing some of the scenes from this year's festival, which lasted a week and comes to its conclusion today. [24 photos]



Dillon Bracken attends the Burning Man 2014 "Caravansary" arts and music festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada on August 30, 2014. Over 65,000 people from all over the world gathered at the sold-out festival to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)







Source: In Focus | 1 Sep 2014 | 6:59 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 8/24-8/29

This week we have a look at swarms of locusts in Madagascar, 31 riders on a single motorcycle, magma from Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano, Japan's tidy superhero Mangetsu-man, huge waves in California, and a gigantic French mechanical horse-dragon. [35 photos]



A Chinese woman and her daughter wear face-kinis while swimming in the Yellow Sea in Qingdao, China, on August 22, 2014. The locally designed mask is worn by many local women to protect them from jellyfish stings, algae and the sun's ultraviolet rays. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 29 Aug 2014 | 6:03 am PDT

NATO: Russian Soldiers Are Now in Ukraine

Earlier today, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko accused Russian troops of entering Ukraine, and NATO issued a statement saying that they were tracking well over 1,000 Russian combat soldiers operating heavy weaponry within Ukraine's borders. The announcements follow months of fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine—reportedly supported by Russian troops nearby. Ukrainian government forces had been regaining territory held by rebels in recent weeks, only to have the separatists open up battles on new fronts in the region. Caught in the middle is the civilian population, suffering hundreds of injuries and deaths as a result of massive shelling campaigns. Russia continues to deny direct involvement, even explaining that some of its captured servicemen were in Ukraine "by mistake." Below are images from eastern Ukraine over the past few weeks, as the situation may soon escalate even further. [42 photos]



Ukrainian soldiers detain a man suspected of spying for pro-Russian militants at a checkpoint near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, on August 16, 2014. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 28 Aug 2014 | 6:47 am PDT

The Urban Oil Fields of Los Angeles

In the 1890s, the small town of Los Angeles (population 50,000) began a transformation driven by the discovery and drilling of some of the most productive oil fields in history. By 1930, California was producing nearly one quarter of the world's oil output, and its population had grown to 1.2 million. In the decades that followed, many wells closed, but even more opened, surrounded by urban and suburban growth. Machinery was camouflaged, loud noises were abated, methane pockets were vented, as residents learned to live side-by-side with oil production facilities. To this day, oil fields in the Los Angeles Basin remain very productive, and modern techniques have centralized operations into smaller areas or moved offshore. Gathered here are images of some of the sites and machinery still in use among the homes, golf courses, and shopping malls of Los Angeles. [24 photos]



An oil well pumps next to yard containing junked hearses and ambulances near Signal Hill in Long Beach, California, on May 29, 2003. The Signal Hill Oil Field, now known as the Long Beach Oil Field, had the world's highest oil production per acre by the mid-twentieth century. Hundreds of companies and individuals became rich on minute leases, some locations so close that derrick legs overlapped. New housing and stores are now being built among operating oil wells. (David McNew/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 26 Aug 2014 | 6:30 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 8/17-8/23

This week's edition features coverage of mudslides in Japan, a home-made electric wooden horse in China, an oil spill in Mexico, a massive rubber duck in Los Angeles, scenes from Ferguson, Gaza, and much more. [35 photos]



Australia's Nathan Hedge rides a wave during the 14th edition of the Billabong Pro Tahiti surf event in Teahupoo, on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, on August 18, 2014. (Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 24 Aug 2014 | 6:15 am PDT

Meghalaya: The Wettest Place on Earth

Photographer Amos Chapple returns to our site once once again, bringing amazing images from the state of Meghalaya, India, reportedly the rainiest spot on Earth. The village of Mawsynram in Meghalaya receives 467 inches of rain per year. Laborers who work outdoors often wear full-body umbrellas made from bamboo and banana leaf. One of the most fascinating and beautiful features in the region are the "living bridges" spanning rain-soaked valleys. For centuries, locals have been training the roots of rubber trees to grow into natural bridges, far outlasting man-made wooden structures that rot in just a few years. The bridges are self-strengthening, becoming more substantial over time, as the root systems grow. Chapple has previously showed us St. Petersburg From Above, a view of Stalin's Rope Roads, and took us on a trip to Turkmenistan. [18 photos]



In a scene played out every weekday morning, students of the RCLP School in Nongsohphan Village, Meghalaya, India, cross a bridge grown from the roots of a rubber tree. In the relentless damp of Meghalaya's jungles, wooden structures rot away too quickly to be practical. For centuries the Khasi people have instead used the trainable roots of rubber trees to "grow" bridges over the region's rivers. (© Amos Chapple)







Source: In Focus | 22 Aug 2014 | 6:49 am PDT

First Flight with the Wright Brothers

Yesterday was National Aviation Day, a holiday established by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate developments in aviation. The date selected was the birth date of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who, along with his older brother Wilbur, is credited with inventing and building the world's first practical fixed-wing aircraft and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight more than a hundred years ago. The Wright brothers documented much of their early progress in photographs made on glass negatives. Today, the Library of Congress holds many of these historic images, some of which are presented below. [18 photos]



Wilbur Wright pilots a full-size glider down the steep slope of Big Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on October 10, 1902. This model was the third iteration of the Wright brothers' early gliders, equipped with wings that would warp to steer, a rear vertical rudder, and a forward elevator. (Library of Congress)







Source: In Focus | 20 Aug 2014 | 6:00 am PDT

Liberia Battles Ebola Epidemic

In West Africa, more than 2,200 people have contracted Ebola since March, and 1,200 of them have died from the virus. Liberia has suffered the most deaths to date, with teams of undertakers wearing protective clothing now collecting victims from all over the capital of Monrovia. Poor sanitation, close living quarters, and a lack of education have contributed to the spread of the virus. Among some, a belief has grown that the epidemic is a fraud, and that people are dying from other causes, leading to confrontations between citizens and health workers. Burial teams have been turned away while trying to retrieve bodies from neighborhoods, and isolation wards have been vandalized or overrun by mobs believing the Ebola virus is a hoax. Getty Images photographer John Moore has spent the past week in Liberia, documenting the situation as the country battles to halt the spread of Ebola while struggling to handle the huge rise of infectious, sick, and dying patients. [32 photos]



A burial team from the Liberian health department prays before entering a house to remove the body of a woman suspected of dying of the Ebola virus on August 14, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. Teams are picking up bodies from all over the capital of Monrovia, where the spread of the Ebola virus has been called catastrophic. The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 1,200 people in four West African countries and has overwhelmed the Liberian health system. (John Moore/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 19 Aug 2014 | 6:50 am PDT

National Guard Sent to Ferguson, Missouri, After Week of Chaos and Protest

Ferguson, Missouri, has been racked by protests since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last week. Over the weekend, despite calls for peaceful demonstrations by Brown's parents, several protests became violent. Protesters were not only angry about the shooting, but were outraged by the heavy police response to the demonstrations. The militarized tactics taken by Ferguson police were widely criticized, and officials are still struggling to control the situation. On Sunday U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform an autopsy, in addition to one being conducted by state medical examiners, and earlier today, Missouri's governor said he was calling in the National Guard to help restore order. Gathered here are photos of the chaos in Ferguson over the weekend. [36 photos]



A law enforcement officer in a tactical vehicle watches after a device was fired to disperse a crowd on Sunday, August 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri. As night fell Sunday in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police attempted to push them back by firing tear gas and shouting over a bullhorn that the protest was no longer peaceful. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)







Source: In Focus | 18 Aug 2014 | 9:50 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 8/9-8/16

This week's edition features images of the Stromboli volcano, a fashion show in South Sudan, the Little League World Series, wild horses on a Maryland shore, the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and much more, including the passing of both Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. [35 photos]



A man watches as police walk through a cloud of smoke during a clash with protesters on August 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests in the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death turned violent, with people lobbing Molotov cocktails at police who responded with smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowd. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)







Source: In Focus | 17 Aug 2014 | 6:15 am PDT

Desperate Iraqi Minorities Flee ISIS Attacks

Much of Iraq is now in chaos, and fighters from the the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are fueling the instability, attacking towns at will and making large gains in territory. Last week, ISIS militants swarmed into several minority villages in northern Iraq, prompting tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their lives during their push toward the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil. Iraq's human rights minister told Reuters that IS militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive. U.S. warplanes bombed ISIS fighters and weapons on Friday after President Barack Obama said Washington must act to prevent "genocide." At least 20,000 civilians who had been besieged by jihadists on Sinjar mountain have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said. Thousands more are still feared to be trapped in the region, forced to choose between starvation and dehydration, or a descent down the mountains toward armed militants. [36 photos]



Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, ride a donkey as they make their way towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh, on August 10, 2014. Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq's human rights minister told Reuters on Sunday. (Reuters/Rodi Said)







Source: In Focus | 12 Aug 2014 | 6:04 am PDT

Supermoon 2014

On Sunday night, skywatchers around the world were treated to views of this year's so-called "supermoon," the largest full moon of the year. Yesterday, on August 11, the moon approached within 357,000 km (221,800 mi) of Earth, in what is scientifically known as a perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system (perigee: closest point of an elliptical orbit; syzygy: straight line made of three bodies in a gravitational system). Though the moon did appear larger than normal last night, the size difference is so small that a casual observer would probably never notice. Nonetheless, photographers across the globe set out to capture the event, and collected here are 21 of the most super images of this year's supermoon. [21 photos]



A full moon dubbed "supermoon", rises over the Dolomiti mountains in Levico Terme near Trento in north of Italy on August 10, 2014. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 11 Aug 2014 | 6:29 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 8/2-8/8

This was another rough week around the world—natural disasters and warfare left hundreds of thousands homeless, injured, or killed. We cover some of these stories, as well as other, lighter moments in the week's edition. Subjects include rapping Egyptians, landslides in Nepal, early Spring in New Zealand, fighting in Ukraine, a new close-up view of a comet, and a visit to a North Korean lubricant factory. [35 photos]



A fisherman transports a dead whale shark after it was caught in a net in Yangzhi county, Fujian province, China, on August 1, 2014. According to local media, the whale shark is five meters long and weighs over 2 tons. (Reuters/Stringer)







Source: In Focus | 8 Aug 2014 | 6:30 am PDT

NFL Free-Agency Storm Starts Early

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings

When the NFL began to suggest that the salary cap would unexpectedly increase by $10 million this offseason, it seemed likely that its 32 teams would overindulge in free agency. Well, this weekend all but confirmed those suspicions, and the free-agent market doesn’t even open up until Tuesday. In fact, the players who did choose to re-sign with their teams for surprisingly large sums of money were among the few you might have expected to stand out as relative bargains by the time the clouds of cash had settled. As NFL teams, players, and agents negotiate in this 72-hour window before free agency, one thing is for sure: This weekend was just the tip of the iceberg. A staggering amount of money is about to change hands.

If you want proof, consider the new deal handed out to Everson Griffen. You know, Everson Griffen! That guy even your grandmother who doesn’t like football always asks about, that Everson Griffen. What? You haven’t heard of Everson Griffen? Well, you might have read about him in Friday’s free-agent previews as a possible low-cost pass-rusher, but otherwise, he’s a pretty anonymous professional football player. Griffen is a quant favorite because he has produced 17.5 sacks as a reserve defensive end during his four-year career. He spent last year as a backup on the league’s worst scoring defense, suiting up for just less than 60 percent of Minnesota’s defensive snaps.

It’s not clear whether Griffen is a great player, but from this point forward, he’s certainly going to be paid like one. On Sunday, the former USC star reportedly signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract to stay with the Vikings, a deal that guarantees him a whopping $20 million. To put that in context, the list of players who hit the 2013 free-agent market and came away with more guaranteed money than Griffen is exactly one: Mike Wallace. It’s similar to the contract the Browns gave to Paul Kruger last year, but Kruger was coming off of a monster second half and impactful postseason that coincided with his first serious playing time as a pro. (It seems also worth pointing out that the Kruger deal looks to be a bad one, given that he produced just 4.5 sacks in his first season with Cleveland.) One more and then I’ll stop: Griffen has more guaranteed money in this deal than Seattle handed out in total money last year to Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett combined.

Meanwhile, in Green Bay, the Packers took the market’s temperature and quickly found they would rather pay up to keep one of their own in-house. Sam Shields was one of the better options available at his position heading into free agency, but cornerback is arguably the market’s deepest spot, with both upper-echelon young players and oodles of possible veteran contributors available. Shields has shown flashes of great play during his four years in Green Bay, but he’s been inconsistent and is yet to make it through a complete season without an injury.

Despite those concerns — and a month of reports that the Packers wouldn’t meet Shields’s asking price of $7 million per year — the team came to terms with its young corner on a four-year, $39 million contract. Shields receives a $12.5 million signing bonus, and while there’s no word yet on the specific guaranteed figure, the Miami product is in line to receive $30 million over the first three years of the deal. If the base salaries of the first two years are guaranteed, Shields just picked up the fourth-largest guarantee for a cornerback, which is pretty impressive, since he might have only been the fourth-best corner available in free agency after Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

All that isn’t to say Griffen and Shields won’t be worth their new contracts, but these are staggering sums of money given the context. Normally, given that these players hadn’t yet hit the free-agent market and were re-signing with their current teams, you would expect to see some level of a contract discount. Instead, Griffen and Shields aren’t just receiving market value; they’re changing what market value means altogether. If a career backup gets $20 million guaranteed, what’s Bennett worth? How much should DeMarcus Ware get if the Cowboys cut him? If Shields is worth $10 million per year, how much should Patrick Peterson ask for when he and the Cardinals start negotiating a new deal soon? The answer to those questions was already “a lot,” but in each case, the price of doing business just went way up.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts

Odds and Ends

Elsewhere, there are precious few signs of any bargains appearing any time soon. The Jaguars gave a reasonable four-year, $17 million contract to former Seahawks lineman Red Bryant, who likely gave the Jags some sort of discount to reunite with former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. On the other hand, they also handed Chad Henne a two-year, $8 million deal out of the fear they might somehow be stuck with a starting quarterback worse than Chad Henne. Minnesota topped them by giving Matt Cassel a two-year, $10 million deal, but more on him in a minute.

Others cleared out cap space for the spending spree to come. The Jets released Antonio Cromartie, a widely expected move that will save them $9.5 million on the 2014 cap, money the Jets will likely use on a younger, healthier replacement. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Saints released wideout Lance Moore and are likely to release halfback Darren Sproles after trade feelers were unsuccessful. The moves will save the Saints just more than $6 million combined and are a necessary evil for a team that was just an estimated $2.5 million under the cap before the cuts.

The releases inspired public shock from Saints players. Jimmy Graham tweeted that he was shocked and disappointed by the Saints’ offseason, while Mark Ingram also was “shocked” by the moves. It speaks to what little attention those players were paying toward the team’s bigger picture; the Saints were more than $20 million over the salary cap heading into the offseason, and it was very clear they were going to need to release several high-priced veterans. It might also be fair to point out that Graham’s massive cap hold as a franchise player (which could be in excess of $12 million if he’s determined to be a wide receiver) is part of the financial calculations around these decisions.

While Moore will catch on as a third receiver somewhere, Sproles hits a crowded market of running backs in a league that really doesn’t value the position very highly. Well, sorta. When employed properly, Sproles is closer to Percy Harvin than he is to a running back on the market like, say, Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s going to have more catches than rushing attempts, and that sort of player is perpetually undervalued in NFL circles, just as Danny Woodhead was a year ago before signing for peanuts with San Diego. Sproles could help make a lot of teams better, but it’s tempting to imagine what he could do in Philadelphia, where he wouldn’t be expected to carry the offense as a runner, but could instead split out and catch passes as a hybrid threat in Chip Kelly’s offense.

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans

Mallett of Plot

With the free-agent money spigot officially turned on, bargain hunters have instead moved to the trading block, where we’re enduring yet another offseason of Patriots backup quarterback hysteria. This time, it’s the Houston Texans reportedly eyeing former Arkansas starter Ryan Mallett, currently the primary backup to Tom Brady. New Texans head coach Bill O’Brien coached Mallett during the latter’s rookie season in New England, lending some marginal amount of credence to the gossip.

This obviously isn’t the first time a Patriots backup has been rumored to be on the trading block. Ever since Bill Belichick turned to Tom Brady during the 2001 season and came away with a Hall of Fame quarterback, there’s been a certain mystic quality attached to the quarterbacks playing behind Brady. Every time the Patriots draft or identify a quarterback to play behind their incumbent, speculation immediately arises that this is some brilliant move by Belichick to create a tradable asset. Then, when the rumors eventually arise, the backup is somehow more valuable than he was when the entire league passed on him multiple times in the draft because he’s spent years learning at the right hand of Brady.

It’s absurd for a number of reasons. Excluding veterans like Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde, let’s run through the history of post-Brady backup quarterbacks in New England, most of whom have received this sort of fawning treatment:

To date, the Patriots have invested two third-round picks, a fourth-rounder, and a seventh-rounder in backup quarterbacks. They haven’t gotten much in return. The only player to assume anything more than garbage-time work was Cassel, who inherited one of the greatest offenses in league history and produced a roughly league-average season. Not coincidentally, he’s the only one the Patriots turned into something, as they dealt Cassel with Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a high second-round pick (which, for trivia’s sake, became Patrick Chung). Given the picks they’ve used to acquire them, it’s hard to argue that the Patriots have benefited from their young passer strategy.

After leaving New England, those players haven’t been very useful. The Chiefs made it to the playoffs with Cassel in 2010, but it’s fair to say he was dragged there by a league-leading rushing attack, above-average defense, and the easiest schedule in the conference. He failed to live up to his six-year, $63 million deal in Kansas City and eventually made his way to Minnesota, where he re-upped with a two-year, $10 million contract this weekend. He’s a solid backup nobody should ever mistake for a viable starter. Hoyer has bounced around the league, starting a meaningless game for the Cardinals in 2012 before exhibiting some promise playing for the Browns last year. He beat the Vikings and Bengals before tearing his ACL early in his third start, and he will be part of a to-be-determined quarterback competition in Cleveland in 2014.

The jury is still out on Mallett, but it’s hard to fathom that his value has somehow gone up, as the Boston Herald suggests. The Patriots took Mallett with the 74th pick in the third round of the 2011 draft, meaning that each and every team passed on the Arkansas product at least once. In his three ensuing seasons as a pro, Mallett has thrown a total of four passes, one of which was intercepted. He has been a solid citizen since joining the Patriots, which was one of the concerns surrounding Mallett during the pre-draft process, but that maturity comes with the price of age. Mallett will turn 26 in June, and he’s currently entering the final year of his rookie contract. Much of the excess value in drafting and developing a young passer is because players like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck make a fraction of what they would otherwise get in the free market, allowing teams to spend their savings elsewhere.

The Texans would only get one such year before deciding whether Mallett deserves a contract extension, and the going rate for post-rookie deal quarterback extensions is probably somewhere in the $18 million per year range. That makes him a far less valuable proposition than many of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft, who will have up to five cost-controlled seasons in their rookie deals. Any team interested in Mallett also knows it can wait until next season and go after him at a greatly reduced rate in free agency without having to pony up a draft pick, which eliminates much of the Patriots’ leverage. If the Texans really do want to kick the tires on Mallett, it would be unwise of them to offer anything more than a seventh-round pick.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 10 Mar 2014 | 8:15 am PDT

The Grantland NFL Podcast: Free Agency!

Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the free-agent market about to open, Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell break down each team’s market strategy.

You can listen to this podcast on the ESPN Podcenter here, or subscribe to the Grantland Sports podcast network on iTunes here and the Grantland NFL Podcast here.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 7 Mar 2014 | 12:15 pm PST

The Rest of the NFL Shopping Season

Baltimore Ravens v Chicago Bears

I’ve written about what the dream free-agency periods might look like for the 10 teams in the NFL with the most salary-cap space available. Here are the abbreviated looks at the league’s other 22 teams, most of whom (perhaps luckily) don’t have the available space to capitalize on the bounty of free-agent talent available:

11. Atlanta Falcons

Estimated Cap Space: $26,157,188
Likely Cuts: S Thomas DeCoud
Who They Should Keep: DT Jonathan Babineaux
Who They Should Sign: G Rodger Saffold, T Michael Oher, DT Jason Hatcher, DE Will Smith, DE Jeremy Mincey

No team in football is more heavily weighted toward the passing game than Atlanta. As a result, the Falcons need to focus their offseason efforts on the trenches, where they are brutally subpar. Signing Saffold and Oher wouldn’t solve their problems, but it would solidify a dismal right side of the Atlanta offensive line. On the other side, Hatcher would be a high-upside option after he excelled last year once Dallas moved to a 4-3, and he would still remain a viable player if defensive coordinator Mike Nolan eventually decided to move things into his oft-preferred 3-4. And given that the Falcons had the league’s third-fewest sacks a year ago, adding pass-rush depth in Smith and Mincey (or other low-cost, moderate-upside players in that vein) is a must.

12. Baltimore Ravens

Estimated Cap Space: $24,929,137
Likely Cuts: none
Who They Should Keep: LT Eugene Monroe, DE Arthur Jones, ILB Daryl Smith, S James Ihedigbo
Who They Should Sign: WR James Jones, T Anthony Collins, DE Tyson Jackson

The Ravens are perennially a talent-development machine, but after losing Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe to free agency a year ago, it’s a surprise they appear to be letting Arthur Jones follow those two. It would make sense for a 5-technique end like Jackson or Red Bryant to take Jones’s place. The same is true of Michael Oher, and with reviews mixed on the former first-round pick, it’s even more of a surprise the Ravens have been unable to come to terms on a long-term deal with left tackle Eugene Monroe, whom the team acquired via midseason trade. Losing Monroe and Oher would leave the Ravens catastrophically thin on the offensive line, but it seems likely the team will eventually re-sign Monroe and go into the market for a new right tackle, possibly Collins. I think Baltimore will wait until draft day’s deep class of wideouts for a starter across from Torrey Smith, but Jones is a physical receiver who can give the Ravens a viable target in the red zone, something they lacked a year ago.

13. Buffalo Bills

Estimated Cap Space: $24,417,410
Likely Cuts: QB Kevin Kolb
Who They Should Keep: S Jairus Byrd
Who They Should Sign: TE Brandon Pettigrew, G Zane Beadles, LB Wesley Woodyard

Byrd is unlikely to return to Buffalo, which seems like a shame for a team that did such a solid job of developing him into an upper-echelon free safety. If he doesn’t return, the Bills would likely need to look toward somebody like Malcolm Jenkins as a replacement. Pettigrew’s often a frustrating player, but he’s also the most complete tight end on the market, and the Bills are desperately thin in that spot, with Tony Moeaki possibly starting there in 2014. And hey, stealing from the Broncos isn’t the worst idea; Beadles is a good-enough athlete to adapt to Buffalo’s scheme and serve as the replacement to Andy Levitre that Buffalo needed a year ago, and Woodyard could fill in as the weakside linebacker next to Kiko Alonso.

14. New York Jets

Estimated Cap Space: $23,328,583
Likely Cuts: QB Mark Sanchez, RB Mike Goodson, WR Santonio Holmes, CB Antonio Cromartie
Who They Should Keep: TE Jeff Cumberland
Who They Should Sign: QB Josh McCown, WR Eric Decker, WR Dexter McCluster, TE Garrett Graham, T Michael Oher, LB Anthony Spencer, CB Tarell Brown

Start with the cap figure; the estimated cap space above doesn’t include those four likely cuts, which would give the Jets more than $50 million in cap space and leave them as major players in the free-agent marketplace. That’s good, too, because their offensive cupboard is almost totally bare, and they have no pass-rusher of note on the outside. That leads to a rebuilding project: Decker is a dangerous proposition, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger drop in quarterback quality from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith, but he should be an above-average no. 2 receiver at worst, and that would be a huge upgrade for the Jets. McCluster is a viable slot option, and Graham offers a pair of soft hands. McCown would be a suitable backup quarterback capable of filling in for an extended stretch if the Jets were to decide Smith wasn’t their quarterback of the future. Oher would solidify the right side of the line, Spencer adds a pass-rusher with some upside in his more familiar role as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and Brown’s a solid second corner who would take some of the pressure off Dee Milliner.

15. Washington

Estimated Cap Space: $20,383,235
Likely Cuts: none
Who They Should Keep: none
Who They Should Sign: ILB Karlos Dansby, S Malcolm Jenkins, S James Ihedigbo

If you’re a Washington fan, you should be terrified the team has this much money to spend, but you either know that already or should have known that a long time ago. I would be worried that Washington will end up signing Decker and Byrd and then leave the massive holes elsewhere on the roster open, but let’s try to make this dream a nice one. Signing Brian Orakpo to a long-term deal (as opposed to the one-year franchise tag) would clear out more cap space, so it would be nice if that happened. Washington’s very thin up the middle on defense, so adding Dansby, Jenkins, and Ihedigbo would put a number of veterans into meaningful roles without having to break the bank in the process. Washington would still lack a no. 2 wideout, but with a deep draft waiting and a variety of overrated options available in free agency, it would behoove the team to wait until May on that front. Sometimes, the dream is about not spending money.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Estimated Cap Space: $18,641,710
Likely Cuts: G Davin Joseph, OL Jeremy Zuttah, P Michael Koenen
Who They Should Keep: FB Erik Lorig
Who They Should Sign: QB Matt Schaub, C Brian de la Puente, DE Jared Allen, CB Asante Samuel

The Buccaneers have spent heavily in free agency over the past several seasons, adding top-tier free agents like Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Dashon Goldson with mixed results. They’re unlikely to invest in a player like that this offseason, but with Tampa Bay in desperate need of a pass rush, Allen would make sense on a two-year deal. It’s likely the new football regime will move on from middling 2013 rookie Mike Glennon, and while they might not draft a quarterback this year, Schaub (sure to be released by Houston) would be an instant upgrade for a team that might be only a quarterback away from competing for a division title.

17. New York Giants

Estimated Cap Space: $18,127,186
Likely Cuts: G Chris Snee
Who They Should Keep: RB Andre Brown, DT Linval Joseph, LB Jon Beason, S Stevie Brown
Who They Should Sign: TE Jeff Cumberland, DE Everson Griffen, DT Red Bryant, CB Cortland Finnegan

How on earth did this team win a Super Bowl 25 months ago? Oh, Tom Brady can’t win in the clutch, right! I remember now. It’s actually scary how little is left on this team, especially in that front seven, traditionally the core of every great Giants team. That seems like a natural place for the Giants to rebuild. Griffen can be protected as a situational pass-rusher, where he should excel. Bryant can hold up as a run-stopping tackle next to Cullen Jenkins. I’ve given up on the Giants ever spending serious money on linebackers, but taking a flier on Finnegan — who was worth $10 million a year two seasons ago — would make sense, given the team’s lack of experience at corner. If there’s a time machine lurking somewhere in the market, that would be nice, too.

18. Arizona Cardinals

Estimated Cap Space: $17,725,088
Likely Cuts: RB Ryan Williams
Who They Should Keep: OLB Matt Shaughnessy, ILB Karlos Dansby, K Jay Feely
Who They Should Sign: RB Donald Brown, T Anthony Collins, LB Wesley Woodyard, S Mike Mitchell

Arizona has spent the better part of a decade looking for an effective left tackle; Collins isn’t a guarantee, but he’s far better than the alternatives currently on the roster, and he won’t cost an arm and a leg. Bruce Arians will probably want to add a back to supplement the limited role he’s already prescribed for Andre Ellington, and Brown — who played for Arians in Indy — would fit the bill.

19. Seattle Seahawks

Estimated Cap Space: $16,042,553
Likely Cuts: DE Chris Clemons
Who They Should Keep: T Breno Giacomini, DE Michael Bennett, DE O’Brien Schofield
Who They Should Sign: QB Colt McCoy

Winning the Super Bowl qualifies as living the dream, so let’s grant Seahawks fans another wish by getting Bennett to return, where he would take over for the departing Clemons, who is currently due $9.7 million. The underrated Schofield would take over in a situational role. Otherwise, the Seahawks are deep at just about every position; all they need is a backup for Russell Wilson.

20. New England Patriots

Estimated Cap Space: $12,699,255
Likely Cuts: WR Matthew Slater, DT Isaac Sopoaga, DT Tommy Kelly, S Adrian Wilson
Who They Should Keep: RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Aqib Talib
Who They Should Sign: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DT Kevin Williams, DE Tyson Jackson, S Malcolm Jenkins

The Patriots could clear another $8 million off their cap by cutting Vince Wilfork, but it’s more likely New England would ask its defensive stalwart to restructure his deal instead. The key free agent here is Talib, of course, and he’ll eat up much of New England’s cap space if the team can find a way to re-sign him. Bill Belichick otherwise values big athletes, which would lead him to the likes of Williams and Jackson. And after trying to sign Sanders as a restricted free agent a year ago, it would make sense for the Patriots to bring him in on a modest deal this year, especially if Julian Edelman leaves town.

21. Detroit Lions

Estimated Cap Space: $11,745,130
Likely Cuts: none
Who They Should Keep: TE Brandon Pettigrew, CB Rashean Mathis
Who They Should Sign: WR James Jones, WR Mario Manningham, S Stevie Brown, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Tracy Porter

Desperate for help at wideout and in the secondary, the Lions simply don’t have the cap space they need to make serious improvements at those spots. Extending Ndamukong Suh will help, but Detroit’s most likely path is to add some low-risk, low-salary players at both positions. The Lions will likely have to wait a week or so in free agency before prices come down.

22. St. Louis Rams

Estimated Cap Space: $10,522,229
Likely Cuts: none
Who They Should Keep: G Rodger Saffold, OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Who They Should Sign: RB Donald Brown, CB Sam Shields

Much of what the Rams do this offseason will be informed by their plans with regard to the second overall pick; my suspicion is that they will draft a tackle, either in their current spot or after trading down, so they don’t need to go into the market for a tackle this March. They’ll need another cornerback after informing Cortland Finnegan he will be released, and given the relatively young core of their team, signing a player in his prime like Shields would make sense. Now, if Sam Bradford could just stay healthy …

23. San Francisco 49ers

Estimated Cap Space: $10,021,111
Likely Cuts: CB Carlos Rogers
Who They Should Keep: CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson
Who They Should Sign: QB Matt Cassel, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Asante Samuel, S Louis Delmas

Did you know the largest cap hit on the 2014 San Francisco 49ers belongs, of all people, to Carlos Rogers? The 49ers would clear $5 million off their cap by releasing Rogers, a move likely to occur despite San Francisco’s relative lack of depth in the secondary. Signing the younger, more talented Rodgers-Cromartie makes more sense, with Samuel filling in as depth and Delmas replacing the departing Donte Whitner. The Niners are sufficiently deep elsewhere to stay out of free agency, although they will certainly sneak in after a couple of weeks if they see a bargain lurking unsigned.

24. Kansas City Chiefs

Estimated Cap Space: $9,942,443
Likely Cuts: none
Who They Should Keep: G Geoff Schwartz, LB Frank Zombo
Who They Should Sign: DE Antonio Smith, KR Devin Hester

Having spent much of their cap space a year ago, the Chiefs will be more concerned this offseason about re-signing safety Eric Berry and outside linebacker Justin Houston, each of whom are in the final years of their deals. Retaining Schwartz, who won the right guard spot midseason, might be their biggest move in unrestricted free agency. Reuniting Hester with former special teams coach Dave Toub could be fun.

25. Tennessee Titans

Estimated Cap Space: $9,071,953
Likely Cuts: RB Chris Johnson, WR Nate Washington, T David Stewart, DE Kamerion Wimbley
Who They Should Keep: CB Alterraun Verner
Who They Should Sign: T Michael Oher, DE Justin Tuck, DT Henry Melton

Cutting those four players would clear an additional $19 million off Tennessee’s cap. The team can get by with Shonn Greene and the re-signed Jackie Battle at halfback, and probably has enough at wide receiver to get by without needing a replacement for Washington. The Titans would be better off using their cap space to upgrade on defense, where a frequently frustrating pass rush could use the athleticism of Tuck and Melton. If they can’t re-sign Verner, they’ll also need to add a cornerback; somebody like Vontae Davis would make sense.

26. Houston Texans

Estimated Cap Space: $8,995,932
Likely Cuts: QB Matt Schaub
Who They Should Keep: DE Antonio Smith
Who They Should Sign: QB Shaun Hill, ILB Brandon Spikes

Much of the talent that led the Texans to back-to-back AFC South titles is still around and locked into long-term contracts, so the Texans are really just retooling, not rebuilding. That begins at quarterback, but everything I’ve read leads me to believe Houston will draft a passer with the first overall pick, which would leave the team in the market for a veteran backup like Hill. Spikes would be a useful run-stopper next to the versatility of Brian Cushing, although signing him would leave Houston with two injury-prone inside linebackers.

27. Chicago Bears

Estimated Cap Space: $8,919,728
Likely Cuts: RB Michael Bush, WR Earl Bennett, DE Julius Peppers
Who They Should Keep: QB Josh McCown, DT Henry Melton
Who They Should Sign: DE Michael Bennett, CB Sam Shields, S Malcolm Jenkins

Cutting Peppers would save the Bears nearly $10 million, making his release inevitable. Bennett’s been a long-rumored replacement, thanks to the presence of brother Martellus on the roster. That would still leave the Bears razor-thin in the secondary, but they could make additions there to replace the dearly departed Charles Tillman and the total opposite of dearly departed Chris Conte.

28. Carolina Panthers

Estimated Cap Space: $7,263,215
Likely Cuts: :(
Who They Should Keep: CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Mike Mitchell
Who They Should Sign: WR Hakeem Nicks

With no cap space, the Panthers will hope to convince Munnerlyn and Mitchell to return to Carolina on small deals after they surprisingly excelled as starters in 2013. If there’s any space left for a single free agent, the Panthers could sure use a wideout to take the pressure off Steve Smith, and signing Nicks — who was born and raised in Charlotte and played his college ball at North Carolina — would be a low-risk, high-upside shot at finding a star.

29. San Diego Chargers

Estimated Cap Space: $4,906,336
Likely Cuts: WR Eddie Royal, OLB Dwight Freeney
Who They Should Keep: G Chad Rinehart
Who They Should Sign: OLB Anthony Spencer, CB Jabari Greer, CB Will Blackmon

The Chargers enjoyed a surprising playoff run a year ago, but they did strike out in attempting to improve their defense, with Freeney getting injured and corner Derek Cox washing out halfway through the first year of a $20 million deal before being released. They can only make relatively minor investments this offseason, which is why they will have to look for talented players coming off injury-riddled seasons, like Spencer and Greer.

30. New Orleans Saints

Estimated Cap Space: $2,567,990
Likely Cuts: RB Pierre Thomas, WR Lance Moore
Who They Should Keep: S Malcolm Jenkins
Who They Should Sign: CB Tarell Brown

The Saints started leaking rumors that they would be interested in dealing Thomas and Moore this week, which is usually a precursor to cutting those very same players. They would save $5.6 million by moving on, which the Saints could then use on depth at cornerback and/or the versatile Jenkins, who is worth retaining at free safety.

31. Dallas Cowboys

Estimated Cap Space: $329,312
Likely Cuts: LB DeMarcus Ware?, WR Miles Austin
Who They Should Keep: none
Who They Should Sign: Warren Buffett?

Having pushed almost all their big contracts into the future with restructuring while signing their kicker to a seven-year contract, the Cowboys are having a typical Dallas offseason. The big question mark is Ware, who could be released over the next few days, but it seems more likely the Cowboys will get Ware to restructure his deal to remain with the team. Were he to leave, Dallas could use the $7.5 million it will save to re-sign Anthony Spencer and go after depth in the secondary. Austin will eventually be released as a post–June 1 cut, which will clear out space for Dallas to add a player or two over the summer.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers

Estimated Cap Space: -$1,042,074
Likely Cuts: QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB LaMarr Woodley, CB Ike Taylor
Who They Should Keep: Did you see that minus sign?
Who They Should Sign: CB Corey Graham, CB Champ Bailey

Yes, the Steelers are the one team currently projected to be over the cap. They just cleared $10 million or so off the books by releasing Levi Brown, Larry Foote, and Curtis Brown, but in lieu of making tough decisions about some of their veterans, the Steelers restructured Heath Miller’s deal and gave Troy Polamalu a contract extension. That eliminated two clear paths to clearing out cap space. They’ll need to dump one more big deal to make it through the offseason, and the only option that makes sense is Taylor, whose release would save the team $7 million. After that, having signed Jason Worilds to a one-year deal using the transition tag, the Steelers will likely release Woodley, but they’ll have to wait until June 1 to actually create any cap space doing so. Once the league’s model franchise, the Steelers have simply failed to manage their cap, leaving them with a subpar roster and little hope of improving it in the short term.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 7 Mar 2014 | 9:00 am PST

The 10 Teams That Should Dominate Free Agency

After patiently awaiting some semblance of NFL happenings for six weeks while having to sit through interminable distractions like “the Winter Olympics” and “interacting with other human beings in the outside world,” professional football is finally back in our lives. Sorta. Tuesday marks the beginning of free agency, which is music to the ears of unhinged sports talk radio callers and message board posters around this great nation. It’s a day when your team can change the course of history in one fell swoop. More likely, it’s the stupidest day of the NFL year, when teams make dizzyingly naive decisions the moment they’re allowed to spend money.1 It’s the reverse Black Friday.

Of course, this year’s free-agent market is set to be particularly exciting, thanks to an unexpected influx of revenue driving up the salary cap to a league-record $133 million. And after middle-class players were squeezed a year ago by a stagnant cap, 2014 should bring more big, dumb deals on opening day than we’ve ever seen. Last year was a buyer’s market. This year, we’re back to buyer beware.

In trying to construct a dream March for each of the league’s 32 teams, I’ve made some suggestions/assumptions about the moves they might make to improve their team and the ways that the market might play out for many of the league’s free agents. Some … many … most — OK, just about everything will turn out differently in real life. But this is one person’s best guess.

Here, I’m covering the 10 teams with the most to gain during this free-agent period by virtue of having the most estimated cap space (per Spotrac) and identifying what their dream March might look like. I cover the other 22 teams over on the Triangle. Each of the team recommendations take place in their own world. In other words, it makes a lot of sense for both Philadelphia and Washington to go after Jairus Byrd, so he would be in the dream offseason description of both teams.2 It would also make a ton of sense for the Cowboys to go after him, but since they almost surely won’t have the cap space to do so, I wouldn’t suggest him for Dallas. You’ll get the idea. We’ll be starting with the general manager who might need to start spending this offseason to save his job:

Oakland Raiders v New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

Estimated Cap Space: $64,907,921
Likely Cuts: G Mike Brisiel
Should Re-sign: DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, CB Tracy Porter, T Jared Veldheer

About two weeks ago, I thought I had a really good grasp on what general manager Reggie McKenzie was doing in Oakland. Facing the unenviable task of rebuilding the Raiders after the final days of Al Davis’s largesse, McKenzie spent his first two years on the job torching the place. He dumped salary as quickly as possible to try to solve the team’s cap woes, which is why the Raiders dropped a staggering $56 million in dead money on their cap last year. And with the team missing draft picks after the disastrous Carson Palmer trade, McKenzie traded down three times in the 2013 draft, picking up a second-rounder to replace the one he lost in the Palmer trade in the process. When McKenzie needed talent to play out the string in 2013, he signed a bunch of veterans to short-term deals, keeping his future flexibility intact. You could smell the Ted Thompson on the new-look Raiders front office.

Part of the rebuilding process, though, involves keeping the talented young players you already have. The Raiders don’t have many talented players, mind you, but if you broke down their assets, the two best are a pair of 26-year-olds, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston. Signing the duo to long-term extensions would seem to be an obvious move, but when the franchise tag deadline came up a week ago, McKenzie didn’t tag either player to ensure they’ll return to Oakland in 2014. That doesn’t make much sense.3

What’s happening here, I suspect, is that the Raiders are paying a loser’s tax. They’re a putrid team playing in a decaying stadium in a division with Peyton Manning. Would you want to spend your prime with them? With that in mind, the demands from the agents of Veldheer and Houston are sufficiently large as to make signing these young players a dangerous proposition. Houston’s a good player, as Robert Mays broke down earlier this week, but is he really worth, say, $12 million a year? That type of outsize pricing is the mistake Marty Hurney made when he gave Charles Johnson a six-year, $76 million deal. When bad teams let their young players get to the end of their deals, you have little leverage and a lot to lose. That’s what has happened to McKenzie here.

In a dream offseason, the Raiders retain Houston and Veldheer on deals in the $8 million range, keep the quietly impressive Rashad Jennings in town on a two-year deal, and bring back either Tracy Porter or Mike Jenkins to start across from 2013 first-rounder D.J. Hayden next year.

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: QB Michael Vick, WR Sidney Rice, TE Jermichael Finley, G Jon Asamoah, OL Evan Dietrich-Smith, DE Will Smith, DT B.J. Raji, DE/OLB Mike Neal, FS Jairus Byrd

With his job on the line, McKenzie needs to start showing progress. The good news is that the Raiders have holes just about everywhere, so McKenzie can upgrade pretty much anywhere. The bad news is that the state of Oakland isn’t exactly a secret and the Raiders are stuck either paying an exorbitant premium for top-tier talent or signing guys nobody else wants. In an ideal world, they would have retained Houston and Veldheer already, so we want a balance of both.

And look at all these Packers! New GMs always like to go after their old players, for better or worse, but in this case the moves would make some sense. Finley (injuries) and Raji (rumors of being malcontent) are both at the relative nadir of their value and could offer some upside in a fresh locale. Neal, who impressed last year after several seasons ruined by injuries, played outside linebacker for the Packers, but would likely move back to end if Oakland sticks with the 4-3. And Dietrich-Smith is a competent utility lineman who would likely bounce around different starting spots for the Raiders.

Byrd is the premium signing; he would combine with Tyvon Branch to give Oakland its very first position of strength at safety. Vick, the biggest name in the group, would have first crack at one of the few available starting quarterback spots in the league that isn’t likely to be filled by a rookie passer. Signing Vick would give the Raiders the flexibility to either draft a quarterback in the first round or select Jadeveon Clowney if he (or another non-quarterback of choice) falls to them at no. 5. (And the Raiders would sell a ton of Vick jerseys, which can’t hurt.) Add a few high-upside bets and McKenzie could have some serious hopes of competing in 2014 without incurring moral hazard and ruining his team’s chances down the line.

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

Estimated Cap Space: $59,338,624
Likely Cuts: DE Jason Babin
Should Re-sign: CB Will Blackmon, QB Chad Henne

The Jaguars are like the Raiders but without any good young players to re-sign this offseason. While the Raiders were drafting Houston and Veldheer in 2010, the Jaguars had two picks in the first four rounds and used them on Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith. Ideally, the Jaguars would try to execute a 76ers-esque strategy of sacrificing their current cap space for draft picks, but the league would never let that happen.4 Of their few free agents, Blackmon showed flashes of competence as a starting corner last year, and Henne is basically the perfect veteran quarterback for the Jaguars, given that he already knows the scheme and won’t be an impediment to a passer with any sort of promise if the Jags draft one.

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: RB Darren McFadden, G Zane Beadles, C Phil Costa, DE Everson Griffen, DE/OLB O’Brien Schofield, CB Walter Thurmond III, CB Brandon Browner

You’ll see Griffen show up a lot on these lists; he had 17.5 sacks over the last three years in a reserve role for Minnesota, and while a guy like that sometimes becomes Jacob Ford, other times he becomes Junior Galette. He should get a modest deal, but the upside is high. Schofield’s a versatile lineman who learned the Gus Bradley system while playing in Seattle last year (after Bradley left for Jacksonville), and with Bradley’s scheme calling for big, strong cornerbacks, it would make sense to target a pair of Seattle refugees in Thurmond and Browner. McFadden’s a lottery ticket.

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

Estimated Cap Space: $45,756,355
Likely Cuts: QB Jason Campbell
Should Re-sign: S T.J. Ward

Ward is apparently going to seek his fortune in the open market, but it’s hard to imagine that anybody will outbid the Browns for their starting strong safety, one of the most underrated big hitters in football. Then again, despite all their cap space, the Browns still thought it was necessary to release well-regarded veteran D’Qwell Jackson, so the new regime might have some very strong opinions about the Cleveland roster.

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: RB Knowshon Moreno, G Geoff Schwartz, ILB Brandon Spikes, OLB Calvin Pace, CB Antonio Cromartie

The new Cleveland staff includes head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, both of whom sprang from the Rex Ryan tree. Ryan leaned heavily on players who knew his scheme when he arrived in New York, and it would make sense for Pettine to do the same. Cromartie’s release is all but assured, and playing across from Joe Haden, he would be an excellent second cornerback. Pace can come along, too. Spikes was playing in New England, but he’s the sort of run-thumping middle linebacker the Browns need at the heart of the defense, especially if they don’t hold on to Ward.

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts

Estimated Cap Space: $42,501,028
Likely Cuts: none
Should Re-sign: S Antoine Bethea, RB Donald Brown, CB Vontae Davis, K Adam Vinatieri

Ah, our old friends in Indianapolis. They’ve already been active; they re-signed punter Pat McAfee this morning, added D’Qwell Jackson after his release from the Browns earlier this week, and no more than 60 seconds after I typed Samson Satele’s name as a likely cut, the news came across the wire (well, Twitter) that the Colts were actually doing so. Given their record, lack of draft picks, and large amounts of cap space, they’re expected to be among free agency’s biggest spenders for the second consecutive season.

I’ve compared the Colts with Andrew Luck to the Cavaliers with LeBron James a few times, and that still holds. LeBron was so valuable that the Cavs could bring in spare parts like Mo Williams, Boobie Gibson, and late-period Shaquille O’Neal and still make serious playoff runs, just because James was capable of carrying the team that far on his own. Their success didn’t make those acquisitions good moves, and when James left, the team fell apart.5 Likewise, Indy gave a lot of middling players serious money last year in a depressed market, and because it had Luck in a collapsing division, it didn’t matter.

The Colts will probably make similar sorts of moves this offseason, paying a premium for replacement-level talent, with the only good news being that rest of the league will likely join them this time around. Rumors are linking them to Eric Decker, and while Decker would undoubtedly produce big numbers with Luck at the helm, there are better ways for Indianapolis to spend its money.6 Just for a moment, though, let’s imagine what a dream Colts offseason might look like:

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: WR Julian Edelman, OL Evan Dietrich-Smith, DL Arthur Jones, DL Red Bryant, LB Michael Johnson, CB Aqib Talib

Oh, the Patriots want to blow you out in the playoffs? You’ll show them. The Colts need top-line talent, and here, they get a bunch of it. Edelman is the slot receiver who represents a perfect contrast with the deep speed of T.Y. Hilton and the tough possession-based approach of Reggie Wayne. Talib and Davis would be an upper-echelon pair of starting cornerbacks, and with the path to the Super Bowl running through Indy, the Colts would be deep at corner with Greg Toler and Darius Butler in part-time roles. Jones and Bryant would be massive upgrades on the defensive line, where Indy is stuck playing veterans like Cory “Burr” Redding and various cast-offs. And while Johnson isn’t a dominant pass-rusher, he’s a freak athlete who can make teams pay if they focus too closely on Robert Mathis, and his presence would allow 2013 first-rounder Bjoern Werner more time to develop. If the Colts really want to win now, that would be a truly transformative offseason.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Minnesota Vikings

Estimated Cap Space: $40,956,092
Likely Cuts: none
Should Re-sign: RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen

With longtime stalwarts Jared Allen and Kevin Williams leaving up front, I’m surprised the Vikings haven’t made more of an effort to retain Griffen, who would join lone holdover Brian Robison to form a reasonable pair of defensive ends. Of course, that might be because …

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: QB Michael Vick, G Zane Beadles, DE Michael Johnson, MLB Daryl Smith, S Donte Whitner

… speculation is already linking them to a deal with Johnson, who played for new head coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati and would represent a solid replacement for the departing Allen, albeit as a different sort of player. Johnson is more balanced, but he lacks the sort of pass-rushing ability Allen had during his best days with Minnesota.

This would be a group of veterans who could seriously turn things around quickly. Harrison Smith is capable of playing either safety spot, but should stay at free safety while the Vikings bring in the physical presence of Whitner as an in-the-box defender and run-stopper. Daryl Smith is a versatile, talented linebacker when healthy, and the excellent training staff in Minnesota can keep him healthy. Beadles would be a massive upgrade at guard on a line with two Pro Bowl–caliber players at left tackle (Matt Kalil) and center (John Sullivan). Vick is naturally going to come up since the Vikings don’t have an obvious path to a rookie QB at no. 8 and have little confidence in Christian Ponder, and it might be fun to have Vick taking deep shots in Norv Turner’s downfield passing attack. Adrian Peterson suggested on Thursday that signing Vick would propel the Vikings into the playoffs, and while I think that’s an aggressive interpretation of reality, it could be fun. The next-best quarterback on the market with a big arm is Josh Freeman and, well, let’s move on.

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

Estimated Cap Space: $35,123,261
Likely Cuts: K Mason Crosby, CB Jarrett Bush
Should Re-sign: CB Sam Shields, OL Evan Dietrich-Smith, FB John Kuhn, OLB Mike Neal, QB Matt Flynn

For a team that’s so good at drafting and developing young talent, it’s really a surprise to see so many Green Bay draftees hitting the market next week. Players once seen as building blocks of the franchise, like Jermichael Finley, B.J. Raji, and Shields, are hitting the market. Even depth pieces like James Starks, Smith, and Andrew Quarless appear to be moving on this offseason.

It’s fair to say that Ted Thompson isn’t exactly known for being aggressive in free agency, but when he has made moves, they’ve tended to work out all right. What could Thompson do if he decided to dip a toe into the water for a player or two?

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: T Anthony Collins, DT Randy Starks, LB Karlos Dansby, CB Charles Tillman

Time, as a wizened philosopher on a certain HBO show once said, is a flat circle. The Packers once took a shot on Charles Woodson when he was an injury-prone playmaker, and while Tillman is significantly older now than Woodson was in 2006, his experience and ball-hawking ability could help him fill in. Starks would provide a much-needed big body up front who could fill in as a situational lineman, while Collins showed flashes of brilliance as a left tackle for the Bengals last year; the Packers could try him out there and move Bryan Bulaga back to right tackle, or eventually play Collins as a guard if Bulaga and Derek Sherrod are able to stay healthy and hold up at the tackle spots.

Even in a dream, the Packers will pick their spots, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them repeat one past free-agent success. Could the team that once bought low on an injury-riddled Woodson do the same on Tillman, a defensive playmaker who could either play cornerback or move to safety? Bears fans can already see Tillman returning a horrifying Jay Cutler pick for a touchdown in their heads. And with both Bulaga and Sherrod subject to serious injury concerns, Collins would give Green Bay a possible left tackle of the future who could fill in elsewhere on the line if those former first-round picks manage to stay healthy.

San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

Estimated Cap Space: $34,611,214
Likely Cuts: LT Jonathan Martin
Should Re-sign: S Chris Clemons, DT Paul Soliai

New general manager Dennis Hickey hasn’t exactly inherited a great situation; then again, had it been a more appealing landing spot, someone with more experience would have gotten the job instead. Miami still has cap space after its spending spree last season, but it also has the league’s worst offensive line and problems at halfback, defensive tackle, and safety.

Rumors have suggested that Miami might look to get rid of some of Jeff Ireland’s mistakes, but that doesn’t seem likely given the financial cost of making those kinds of moves. In fact, it’s probably impossible. Wide receiver Mike Wallace already costs $17.3 million on this year’s cap, but if the Dolphins cut or traded Wallace, he would be responsible for $23.8 million in dead money. Philip Wheeler costs $6.4 million to keep and $10.6 million to dump. And 2013 third overall pick Dion Jordan, who probably won’t start this year, would cost the team more than $16 million in dead money if he were traded as opposed to $4.7 million on the cap were he to stay. Thanks, Jeff.

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, T Branden Albert, T Michael Oher, G Uche Nwaneri

You better believe that whoever the Dolphins sign is going to have a spotless personal record. So who better to enlist than Michael “The Blind Side” Oher to show the world that the Dolphins are a family-friendly organization? Oher can’t play left tackle, so it would make sense for the Dolphins to renew their interest in Albert, the Miami native whom they nearly acquired a year ago from the Chiefs. Add a nondescript guard — I chose Nwaneri, you can choose whoever you want — and the Dolphins would rebuild their line overnight. The one exception the Dolphins might make is for somebody who they think will help sell tickets, and while MJD was briefly charged with battery a year ago and had a dismal season, he’s still only 28 and two years removed from leading the league in rushing. I’m also trying to get a Dolphins-Jaguars intrastate rivalry thing going by myself, so there’s that, too.

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles

Estimated Cap Space: $29,149,200
Likely Cuts: TE James Casey, S Patrick Chung
Should Re-sign: none

The Eagles are perennially one of the best teams in the league at managing their cap, which leaves them with space on an annual basis. They’ve already been busy this offseason by extending the contracts of Jason Peters and Jason Kelce while re-signing Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal and giving Riley Cooper a very curious five-year, $25 million contract. Hey, nobody’s perfect. They would save $7.2 million by releasing Casey and Chung, busts from last year’s crop of free agents. Rumors have suggested they might consider moving on from DeSean Jackson, but that seems unlikely. So, given that this was once the team that had a “dream” offseason turn horribly wrong, whom might these Eagles add to their roster?

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: QB Tarvaris Jackson, DE Antonio Smith, DT B.J. Raji, S Jairus Byrd

Oh, how the Eagles have longed for a safety since the Brian Dawkins days. They’ve tried by drafting guys like Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett and signing veterans like Chung, but nothing has worked for them, and it’s been Philadelphia’s biggest weakness for years. If they are ever going to invest at safety, Byrd — a top-of-the-line model in the prime of his career at 27 — is the guy who makes the most sense. (The only way he could fit Philly better would be if his name were Wawa Byrd.) This would be the right move for everyone involved. Raji would be a reclamation project moving back to the nose for the Eagles, while Smith would offer depth for a perilously thin front three. And if the Eagles let Vick go, Jackson would be the backup quarterback who would make the most sense for Chip Kelly’s offense. What, you would prefer Matt Barkley again?

New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

Estimated Cap Space: $27,554,960
Likely Cuts: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LB James Harrison
Should Re-sign: S Chris Crocker

It’s a shame they’re likely to lose swing tackle Anthony Collins, who is probably ready to play left tackle somewhere, but the Bengals are already set with Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, and there’s no way they can match the offers Collins will get on the open market. They could also be aggressive and cut cornerback Leon Hall, who is coming off his second torn Achilles, but I don’t think they would use the $5.1 million they would save, anyway, given the franchise’s reputation for cutting costs.

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: RB Darren McFadden, WR Julian Edelman, DE Anthony Spencer, SS Donte Whitner

Edelman might be the biggest signing here. Andy Dalton does not lack for weapons, but he hasn’t had a reliable slot receiver during his tenure in Cincinnati. The diminutive Patriots star could play that role. McFadden, who enjoyed his greatest professional success under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Oakland, would purely be an insurance policy for new starter Gio Bernard. Spencer would be a nice buy-low signing as a defensive end to replace Michael Johnson, and Whitner would be an upgrade on George Iloka as an in-the-box safety. They still probably need to upgrade on Dalton, but with no significant quarterback available in free agency, they might want to wait a year and see if the 49ers are serious about letting Colin Kaepernick walk.

BRONCOS CHARGERS

Denver Broncos

Estimated Cap Space: $27,492,168
Likely Cuts: TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, G Chris Kuper
Should Re-sign: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Duke Ihenacho

Proper management and a lack of long-term investments on defense have left the Broncos with plenty of cap room despite making it to the Super Bowl last season. They can even clear out just more than $9.5 million more by releasing that trio of backups above, although a chunk of that would go to re-signing Rodgers-Cromartie. Assuming that the Broncos will continue to pursue elite talent on short-term deals, here’s what their dream March might look like:

Ideal Free-Agent Blueprint: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR Sidney Rice, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, G Jon Asamoah, DE Jared Allen, MLB Daryl Smith, CB Derek Cox, CB Asante Samuel, CB Cortland Finnegan, KR Devin Hester

The Broncos are always a fun team to think about because they’re going to sign lots of famous players, the same way you do when you load up franchise mode in Madden and sign the five players with the best overall rating. The biggest name here is Allen, who represents just about a perfect fit. Denver has a yawning need for a defensive end across from Derek Wolfe and a second pass-rusher next to Von Miller, and Allen would fill both roles. He quietly hit double-digit sacks for the seventh consecutive season last year, and at 31, he’s still young enough to have an impact while rebuilding his value. Outside of maybe Byrd and the Eagles, no player makes more sense for any given team than Allen and the Broncos.

Beyond that, there are plenty of upside plays being made here. Denver would be paper-thin at corner even after re-signing Rodgers-Cromartie, so bringing in a trio of veteran cornerbacks would seem likely. Cox had an awful season in San Diego last year, so it will be up for Jack Del Rio — who originally coached Cox in Jacksonville — to repeat the reclamation work he did with fellow Jags cast-off Terrance Knighton. Smith would also be a returning part, albeit with a more impressive recent past with the Ravens. Rice wouldn’t be a suitable replacement for Eric Decker, but he could be a useful player in a limited role, especially if Denver drafts a wideout. MJD is a solid pass-blocker and would be a useful contrast to Montee Ball. And while Hester looked done last year in Chicago, Trindon Holliday was brutal for the Broncos on returns, so it might make sense to give Hester a one-year deal to prove he’s still got something left in the tank.

And those are just the 10 teams with the most cap space available; for a rundown of the other 22 teams, check out the Triangle.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 7 Mar 2014 | 8:59 am PST

The Money Pit

While the football world has been transfixed by one of the more intriguing draft classes in recent memory, a crucial piece of news has flown under the radar: The NFL’s hard salary cap is about to rise dramatically. If the reports are true — and teams have spent the past four days making roster decisions as if they are — the swollen cap will fundamentally change the way teams are building their rosters and affect hundreds of would-be transactions around the league. It can be a get-out-of-jail-free card or an opportunity to lock up a star player (or steal somebody else’s), but either way, the impact is already being felt.

After various reports over the past month suggested the salary cap might rise by a larger-than-expected amount, Adam Schefter tweeted last Friday that the league’s cap will rise by about $10 million and come in near $133 million, an increase of more than 8 percent. Perhaps even more noticeably, Schefter’s source suggests the climb won’t stop there, projecting the 2015 cap figure to be $140 million and the 2016 cap figure to come in at a whopping $150 million.

When that news broke, the music from newsreels about the Roaring Twenties started playing in NFL team offices. It was once customary for the cap to rise by a healthy amount on a yearly basis, but once the league and its players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement at the end of the 2011 lockout, it looked like those bumps were a thing of the past. As I wrote last March, the 32 NFL franchises had gotten used to cutting coupons after years of largesse. After rising by an average of 8.6 percent in the decade preceding the new CBA, the salary ceiling was rolled back after the lockout and hasn’t yet returned to its 2009 peak. As you can see in the table below, the prescribed increases for 2014-16 restore the spending bumps to their former levels:

In speaking to a number of front-office personnel around the league, I was told their teams had been planning for the 2014 season as if the cap was going to undergo a small increase, one in line with the 2013 jump of 2 percent … until, that is, they started hearing otherwise a few weeks ago. The league calculates the cap figure as a negotiated percentage of different revenue streams,7 so while the exact figure is still being hammered out by the league and the players’ association, it seems pretty clear that a rise driven by an increase in revenues is on the way.

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So Which Teams Win … and Which Ones Lose?

An increased cap helps teams in a number of ways. Most obviously, for teams that expected to be drowning in salary commitments, the extra breathing room allows them to hold on to players they might have needed to let go and even creates the possibility of new signings. (You can chalk up Carolina’s franchising of Greg Hardy to the new cap, but more on him later.) More subtly, teams will have more flexibility in handling the salary rises that are baked into most every NFL contract, which will allow them to avoid the restructurings that inevitably lead to early releases and cap trouble down the line. A typical middle-class veteran with steady rises in his contract, like Kansas City’s Mike DeVito, is more likely to play out his entire deal when the league is awash with cap space.

It’s also going to make those players who are hitting the free-agent market very happy. Most teams and cap analysts tend to view contracts in terms of their value across the first three years, since those seasons almost always contain the vast majority of the guaranteed money, with players often renegotiating or finding themselves released after the three-year mark. If Schefter’s report turns out to be accurate, teams will be preparing for hefty cap increases over the next three years and be far more comfortable offering today’s free agents much larger deals than they otherwise would have. In other words, it’s a good day to be Eric Decker. But not so much for other folks. This is definitely …

Seahawks-Broncos-Tri

1. … bad news for the Seahawks and Broncos.

Last year, our two Super Bowl participants took advantage of their short-term cap space to sign a number of veterans on one- or two-year deals for moderate salaries. The Broncos rebuilt their defense on the fly with Terrance Knighton, Shaun Phillips, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, while the Seahawks built a dominant defensive line by adding Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett after their long-term market failed to materialize.

It’s difficult to see those same teams capitalizing on undervalued veterans in this year’s marketplace, because the amount of available cap space should allow the league to invest heartily. Rodgers-Cromartie signed what amounted to a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason; this year, he should receive three times that much in guaranteed money. Not only will he get paid, but this year’s version of Rodgers-Cromartie — somebody like Sam Shields — should get a multiyear deal with a significant guarantee, too. Everybody wants to play for a winner, but it’s difficult to pass up the financial security of a long-term deal.

2. But it’s even worse news for the Browns, Jaguars, and Raiders.

If everybody has more money to throw around, the deep pockets of the league’s worst teams look far less appealing. Players aren’t always going to take the best financial offer, but under a tight cap the Raiders might have been able to pony up twice as much guaranteed money for somebody like Michael Johnson, an upper-echelon free agent who should come in with around $20 million in guarantees. Now, it’s easy to imagine a more competitive team like the Vikings or Titans targeting him while making a competitive offer with $18 million or so in guarantees.

3. This could fuel spending sprees by the, er, less responsible teams.

Having extra cap space is great, but some teams see a little window and spend like they’re trying to remake Brewster’s Millions. I’m looking at you, Colts. Last year, as one of the few teams around the league with plenty of cash to burn, Indianapolis delved into the market on Day 1 and gave above-market deals to a variety of mediocrities; contracts for the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Greg Toler, and Erik Walden were panned at the time and look no better one year later. The same is true of the Dolphins, who have moved on from general manager Jeff Ireland but still have the same ownership and head coach in place, and the historically bleak Daniel Snyder regime in Washington, which — in a note that should leave the hearts of Washington fans cold — will have significant cap space for the first time since the lockout.

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Which Players Are Affected?

Those are the market effects you should expect to see on a leaguewide level, but how will that actually affect the free-agent classes of 2014 and beyond? Teams can always change their plans, but I think these moves are all far more likely to happen with a $133 million cap. Let’s look at five scenarios, starting with an oft-rumored move that would have put a Hall of Fame candidate on the market.

1. The Cowboys don’t have to cut DeMarcus Ware.

When I wrote about Dallas’s salary woes in October, I noted that cutting Ware was Dallas’s most obvious path to getting under the cap. Such a move would turn Ware’s $16 million cap hit for 2014 into $8.6 million in dead money, saving the Cowboys $7.4 million in space and clearing him off the books for future investment. I didn’t think the Cowboys would actually be brave enough to cut Ware this offseason, but over the past few weeks, they had begun to talk publicly about forcing Ware to either restructure his deal or be released from the team. Neither Ware nor agent Pat Dye have publicly budged.

With an extra $8 million of cap space lying around, the Cowboys can be more flexible. They will still likely want to restructure Ware’s deal, but the additional dough will allow them to make a far more palatable offer. They could also use that $8 million to swallow the savings they would have received from releasing Ware this year and hold on to him under the terms of his current deal for another season before moving on, when they would realize a savings of more than $12 million. Before this news, it seemed likely the Cowboys would have to do something about their star pass-rusher. Now? They have options.

2. The Saints get flexibility with Jimmy Graham.

New Orleans, one of the league’s most cap-strapped teams, already ensured it will keep its star receiver around for another season by slapping the franchise tag on him before yesterday’s deadline. The only question now is determining which position Graham actually plays. You’ve probably heard about this problem by now: Graham is nominally listed as a tight end, but if you’ve seen him suit up, you know he moves all around the formation and spends plenty of time as a wide receiver. Naturally, Graham also wants to be paid like one; the franchise tag for a wide receiver this offseason is a guaranteed one-year deal at $12.3 million, while the tight end tag guarantees the selected player only a bit more than $7 million.

With the larger cap, the Saints can afford to pay Graham either figure, although they would surely prefer the $7 million hit. They’ve already lopped off $16.9 million by releasing defensive stalwarts Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, and Will Smith, but the Graham decision will begin to affect their decisions on offense. The Saints could save $2.4 million on their 2014 cap by releasing Lance Moore, or save $2.9 million by waiving Pierre Thomas; if Graham had been found to be a wide receiver and the Saints were forced to pay him $12.3 million under the tight cap, they almost surely would have had to let Moore and Thomas go. Now, even if Graham’s paid like a wideout, they can choose to keep those longtime contributors for another season.

My suspicion is that the two sides will eventually come to terms on a long-term contract that will pay Graham about $10 million per season. It would benefit both parties: Graham would procure some level of security and become the highest-paid tight end in league history with a salary approaching that of the league’s star wideouts, while the Saints would get cap relief this season while ensuring they don’t have to deal with this same problem again next season. If the Saints try to apply the franchise tag on Graham for a second consecutive season, his cap hit will rise by 20 percent, regardless of which position he’s designated as playing.

And if they don’t come to terms, I expect all parties involved will come to an agreement that designates Graham as a hybrid wideout–tight end in terms of the franchise tag, just as the Ravens did when Terrell Suggs challenged to be tagged as a defensive end several years ago. Graham lined up in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year, so if the hybrid designation treats his snaps proportionally, his franchise tag will come in at about $10.5 million.

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3. The Panthers GM hasn’t stopped dancing yet.

If any team needed cap space this year, it was the Carolina Panthers, whose remarkable 12-4 campaign in 2013 had given way to serious questions about the makeup of the 2014 roster. The odious contracts handed out by Marty Hurney had put the Panthers into cap hell, and while Dave Gettleman restructured a few deals to create some room, it still seemed unlikely that Carolina would be able to find the space needed to ensure that star defensive end Greg Hardy would remain with the team for another year.

That extra $8 million might have saved Carolina’s bacon. It’s just enough to allow the Panthers to lock Hardy up with the franchise tag while giving Carolina some much-needed leverage in long-term contract negotiations. A Hardy extension would likely require a big signing bonus with guaranteed base salaries in the second and third seasons of a six-year deal, which would allow Carolina to save the big cap hits for 2015 and 2016. By eliminating the market for Hardy for at least one more season, that sort of deal will look far more palatable than it did a week ago.

The Panthers are still in rough shape financially, though. Three-quarters of their starting secondary are unrestricted free agents. There are bad deals up and down the roster from the Hurney era that won’t go away until 2015 (at the earliest), and Gettleman added one by giving kicker Graham Gano a four-year, $12 million deal.8 The Panthers also need to carve out cap space to give extensions to Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, two of the biggest bargains in the league. And when left tackle Jordan Gross retired last week, it opened up another huge hole on the Carolina roster while creating just $300,000 in salary-cap space. The extra space doesn’t save Gettleman from cap hell, but it does allow him to keep Hardy, one of his star players, down there with him.

4. Michael Bennett is less likely to stay in Seattle.

Perhaps no player was squeezed more by last year’s cap than the former Buccaneers star, and while he made the most of his year with the Seahawks, his response to the idea of taking a hometown discount to stay in Seattle was to note, “This is not Costco.” After settling for a one-year, $4.8 million deal a year ago, it’s time for the 28-year-old Bennett to get paid.

The Seahawks are in great cap shape this year, especially since they released Sidney Rice and Red Bryant after their Super Bowl win. Next year — and beyond — is a different story. Their cap space will be swallowed up by new deals for many of their young superstars, starting with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas before getting to Russell Wilson. It will be exceedingly difficult for the Seahawks to give Bennett a long-term deal that pays him like a premium player. And with Hardy off the market and Ware possibly behind, the market’s supply of 4-3 defensive ends is shrinking.

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5. St. Louis can feel better about keeping Sam Bradford.

If you take everything the Rams say publicly about their incumbent starting quarterback at face value, they intend to hold on to Bradford for one more season and use the second overall pick in this year’s draft to upgrade somewhere else on the roster, likely drafting an offensive tackle, yet another wide receiver, or even trading down to somebody who needs a pass-rusher and wants Jadeveon Clowney.

Bradford’s mammoth contract, as the first overall pick under the terms of the old CBA, locks up $17.6 million of St. Louis’s cap in 2014. The Rams could save $10.4 million by cutting bait and moving on from their oft-injured starter, but with the extra money they have to spend, they can use the space to retain Bradford for one more year while making improvements elsewhere. They could choose to re-sign Rodger Saffold, who was impressive during a short stint at guard, or give disappointing cornerback Cortland Finnegan one more chance to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million deal he signed two years ago. If the Rams want to give Bradford one more chance to prove he’s their franchise quarterback, the space allows them the flexibility to do so.

♦♦♦

And obviously, that’s just the beginning: The higher ceiling will affect dozens of other moves over the next few days. The Patriots will be less likely to retain Aqib Talib with more teams able to accommodate the salary for an elite cornerback. An extension will be more likely for Justin Houston in Kansas City. Washington, of all teams, could return to its rightful place as offseason champions, competing for a key contributor or two even after franchising Brian Orakpo this week. After a year when the salary cap was squeezed and spending was sparse, 2014 promises to be a return to the free-spending days of the past decade. Get ready for a whirlwind March.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 4 Mar 2014 | 10:57 am PST

Grantland NFL Podcast: NFL Combine and Offseason Moves

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Mays and Barnwell share their combine experiences before getting to the first cuts and signings of the offseason.

You can listen to this podcast on the ESPN Podcenter here, or subscribe to the Grantland Sports podcast network on iTunes here and the Grantland NFL Podcast here.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 28 Feb 2014 | 11:04 am PST

Bridging the Analytics Gap

As the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference approaches this weekend, I find myself thinking more and more about the next frontier for quantitative analysis. Authorship certainly isn’t a problem, as there’s no lack of metric creation out in the wild. Data, once a problem outside the world of baseball, are widespread and rapidly expanding into spectra that wouldn’t have been remotely imaginable at the turn of the century. Awareness is steadily rising; the Phillies became the last Major League Baseball team to hire a stat guy, and 29 of 30 NBA teams were represented at last year’s Sloan conference. (The lone holdout, the Los Angeles Lakers, were shamed into attending this weekend’s conference.)

Understanding, though? That’s still hit or miss. There are really smart executives, coaches, and players who have either managed to neutralize the idea of analytics or flat-out rejected it. In many cases, I find the expert in question is really just misinterpreting a statistical concept or stretching it beyond its reasonable limits. In others, impossible straw men are drawn up that disqualify not only analytics from adding anything to the discussion, but also any sort of intelligent thought about how to win at your particular sport.

Which is to say that both the concept of analytics and the actual ideas behind analytics are probably being sold short by those holding out. The popular reasoning is that analytics should coexist with traditional measurements and concepts, and in many cases, that works perfectly. It’s also a catchall that doesn’t always fit. There are some situations where analytics are totally useless; I wouldn’t use a quantitative metric to figure out which left tackle I should draft, for one. There are others where analytics so thoroughly answer the question that the conventional wisdom is simply wrong.

Analytics, as seen by the uninitiated, often get summed up as alphabet-soup models that are as impossible to calculate as they are to understand. And yes, certainly, concepts like WAR and Corsi and DVOA are part of the analytics equation. But more often, analytics aren’t really all that advanced at all. It’s not about reducing sports to numbers; it’s about finding evidence. That seems obvious in 2014, but it’s not difficult to find a bevy of comments from this year, from successful people within the American sports community, which either misinterpret analytics or reject them in favor of an outdated or inaccurate worldview. Let’s run through them and see if there are any consistent mistakes being made, and what that can tell us about the steps the analytics community still has to make in communicating how these concepts work.

Ken Whisenhunt

Let’s start in Tennessee, where the always excellent Paul Kuharsky recently recapped a radio interview with new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. Kuharsky wondered whether Whisenhunt might be interested in or open to analytics by virtue of his civil engineering degree, but that wasn’t quite the case. Whisenhunt said he doesn’t really pay attention to analytics, “because I probably don’t understand it,” and then confirmed that with his subsequent statements.

This is the way to look at it from a perspective of play calling. I can’t tell you thousands and thousands of plays that you’ve gone in there and you’ve prepared to see a defense and you can run all the analytics that you want but there is no guarantee on third-and-1 in a critical situation in the game that they are going to play the defense they’ve shown 99 out of 100 times. It just doesn’t happen.

What Whisenhunt’s talking about here, I think, is that part of his job as a playcaller is to try to figure out what the other team is going to call and adapt accordingly. That’s game theory! It’s hard to think of a more analytics-friendly concept, and indeed, plenty of papers have been written on maximizing efficiency in playcalling in football by employing game theory, including this 2009 paper by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and Ken Kovash, who pulled off one of the most impressive feats of this offseason: He managed to successfully remain employed by the Cleveland Browns front office. In this case, analytics — perhaps not the analytics Whisenhunt is imagining — agree with Whisenhunt’s concept wholeheartedly.

That said, I’m not sure his explanation makes a lot of sense. It might be taken to the extreme, but if you’re a playcaller and you see a team line up in a particular defensive front on third-and-1 99 times out of 100, aren’t you going to assume they will line up in that front when you suit up for the 101st time? Think about it like a punt coverage: You never see the punting team, say, line up with five guys on the line because it thinks this might be the one exception where the opposition doesn’t line up in a traditional punt-return formation.

There is always the human element in there, I think. Listen, you’re right, I’m an engineer. I understand the trends, I understand the probabilities, I understand all that. But if you get so wrapped up in analytics sometimes, you lose a feel for the game. And to me, there is an emotional side of the game and there is also a feel for the game. When you see a guy like [Frank] Wycheck make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with the guy draped all over him, how do you put an analytic on that?

As an aside: I always love when people use “to me” at the beginning of the sentence. It’s supposed to imply this is some closely held point that reveals something about the person talking, but it’s almost always some widely held sentiment that seems obvious. Everyone agrees there’s an emotional side of the game and a feel for the game, right?

Here, though, Whisenhunt holds analytics to an impossible, arbitrary standard. (He also uses the word in a sentence the way your mom would talk about somebody “doing a rap” or “writing a blog.”) Of course there’s no metric that implies or encapsulates Frank Wycheck’s spectacular one-handed catches in the back of the end zone. We could invent one, certainly, but I doubt that Tight End One-Handed Catches (TEOC) would catch on or be of much use.

Put Whisenhunt’s standard in a different context and you can see why it’s silly. Imagine, for a moment, he was making the same argument against the idea of reducing players to X’s and O’s and bothering to come up with a scheme or play design. There’s no play design in history that’s specifically going to call for the quarterback to throw a ball out of Wycheck’s range and have him catch it with one hand, right? You might know Wycheck is good in the red zone, or that your tight end is your safest target against soft zones from linebackers, and you might draw up a play where Wycheck is your first target, but you would never, as a playcaller or an offensive mind, draw up a specific play where Wycheck was supposed to catch the ball in the back of the end zone with one hand. That doesn’t reduce play design or offensive scheming into irrelevance. And, likewise, you might use analytics to conclude that Wycheck has been wildly successful in the red zone during his career, or that passes to your tight end in the red zone are less likely to be intercepted than any other target, and that might encourage you to throw the ball to Wycheck in the end zone. Analytics, just like play calling or proper play design, are designed to help put you in the best situation possible and make it easiest for you to succeed. It creates the best process, and when the outcome turns out to be a one-handed catch, that is what’s called a bonus.

Kevin Mawae

#NFLCombine #s can't measure heart, commitment, integrity, attitude, character, determination or more; many guys w great #s never pan out—
Kevin Mawae (@KevinMawae) February 23, 2014

Kevin Mawae, one of the best centers in the history of modern football, rehashes a classic argument against the combine, which yields some of the oldest analytics in the book. (Like passer rating, the metrics produced by the combine have been around for so long that the league has accepted them, even if they’re not of much use.) To some extent, I agree with Mawae: The combine is of limited utility, and has to be taken in context with a player’s college performance, his conduct and knowledge expressed during team interviews, and his medical condition. And, yes, doctors actually do measure your heart at the combine.

You hear these arguments in favor of intangibles as arguments against analytics all the time, and they don’t really fly. I don’t think anybody worth their salt who puts even a tiny bit of stock in numbers doubts that the list of qualities Mawae posted matter. A player’s constitution can help get the most out of what he has, even if he lacks the physical characteristics associated with truly great players.

To suggest those intangible attributes are what determines who plays well at the next level is incomplete and likely unfair. Just as there are players with great athletic ability who fail to apply themselves and wash out of the NFL, there are plenty of guys who give every last ounce of heart and effort they have to the NFL and fail to succeed because they lack the ability or physicality to play at the next level.

If it were really all about heart, wouldn’t the NFL consist almost entirely of college walk-ons who suited up for the love of competition? Wouldn’t Russell Wilson and Michael Jordan, athletes with incredible heart and drive, have succeeded in baseball? Wouldn’t the many ex-NFL players who have become general managers know to look past the fool’s errand of athleticism to go for a teamful of gritty, undersize tough guys? It’s an incredible coincidence, then, that the guys who have the heart, commitment, and integrity to succeed at the professional level just happen to be giants with incredible quick-twitch skills in Division I colleges.

Analytics like the ones produced by the combine probably aren’t going to quantify heart or determination. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with making those things part of the discussion in terms of evaluating a player. What analytics might be able to do, though, is use history to figure out the most meaningful and telling characteristics among the things you can quantify, and how those factors interact with the things that can’t be calculated. It’s all part of the puzzle.

Tony LaRussa

Legendary Athletics and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa thinks newfangled metrics are keeping Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame:

Otherwise, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame … the new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.

What LaRussa is saying, of course, is that you need to keep something like WAR or ERA+ on equal footing with RBIs or pitcher wins. Which is ridiculous. There’s no newly introduced advanced metric keeping Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame, nor is the electorate that hasn’t voted for him particularly dependent upon new advanced metrics. (Some are, of course.) The popular JAWS system developed by Jay Jaffe paints Bagwell as the sixth-best first baseman in league history and ahead of the typical Hall of Fame candidate in every way. OPS+ has him as the 36th-best hitter in baseball history, and he’s 37th in positional bWAR. The only reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because voters have arbitrarily decided that anybody who hit home runs in the 1990s was on steroids.

Morris is kept out, meanwhile, because the new metrics have revealed for a decade-plus now that the arbitrary cases once made for Morris don’t really fly, and that he was just about a league-average pitcher. The “pitching to the score” argument has been refuted repeatedly, not by some advanced metric, but by simply looking back at Morris’s career and pointing out that he didn’t exhibit any ability to do so. The metrics that adjust Morris’s career performance for his run support and the context in which he played, to be clear, are miles better than the traditional methods of evaluating a player’s performance, and every front office in baseball would tell you so. The new metrics are not being improperly exaggerated here. The old ones are.

Ron Washington

Ron Washington was one of the featured characters in Moneyball, remember? So it hurts the most when he says things like this about the sabermetric opposition to the sacrifice bunt:

I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage. That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].

Wow! One can envision Washington, abandoned by his peers, grumbling as he slowly retreats backward against the tide. At last, he establishes a final beachhead from which to keep the game he loves from being overtaken — overtaken by people examining history to figure out which methodologies will make it easiest to win that game. He goes on:

Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he’s a genius. But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he’s bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.

I do it when I feel it’s necessary, not when the analytics feel it’s necessary, not when you guys feel it’s necessary, and not when somebody else feels it’s necessary. It’s when Ron Washington feels it’s necessary. Bottom line. …

The percentages for me in that situation go up by [some of his lesser hitters] squaring and bunting it rather than me allowing them to swing.

I’m not sure why Washington thinks Scioscia has been deified for his usage of the sacrifice bunt. It’s certainly not my place to speak for baseball sabermetricians, but my impression is that they would also frown upon Scioscia’s usage of the sacrifice bunt, too.

Jason Collette covered Washington’s comment and what sacrificing actually accomplished for the Rangers last year in a FanGraphs piece published Wednesday. The answer is, well, not much. The Rangers actually sacrificed more frequently than the Angels, 45 to 37, with 19 of those bunts coming with a runner on first and nobody out. We can figure out the run expectancy for this simple situation by — and this is going to really piss Washington off — simply going back and calculating how many runs each team scored when they had a runner on first and nobody out, and how that changed when teams had a runner on second and one out. Baseball Prospectus has a report that does just that, and it notes that sacrifice bunting reduced a team’s run expectancy for that inning from .83 runs to .64 runs in 2013. The same is true of most previous years.

When Washington talks about playing the percentages, he’s simply wrong. As Collette notes, The Book, authored by sabermetrician Tom Tango and others, goes into lengthy detail about the percentages and when it makes sense to execute a sacrifice bunt. Tango uses history — the same history Washington is attempting to make sense of and apply by way of memory — to find that sacrifice bunts were grossly overused and rarely made sense. This is not a question of analytics; it’s a question of whether one human’s brain is more effective than a computer at memorizing hundreds of thousands of outcomes across several decades, and the answer should be obvious.

Washington isn’t being old-school or traditional with his comments. He’s being obstinate and wasteful. You can understand why he would want to manage a team based upon the principles of the baseball he has seen coming up into the game, and there are ways he can make an impact on his team that can’t be measured by sabermetrics. But the sacrifice bunt is a place where there is almost no space for discussion. Washington is actively making his team worse, and even worse, he’s indignant about doing so. Can you imagine a CEO running a business this way? You can? Shit.

Throughout these arguments against analytics and quantitative analysis, we see some consistent focuses. There’s an emphasis on older methodologies, even when they’ve been surpassed by options whose superiority is easily provable. There is the misnomer that statistics need to encapsulate everything to justify their usage, a baseline that doesn’t apply to any traditional method of analysis. And there’s a characterizing of concepts that might otherwise be too difficult to understand as a waste of time, which is unfortunate.

Because of that, I’m really inclined to think the most important thing stat geeks can do in 2014 is not develop new statistics, but do a better job of explaining the metrics that already exist. The best organizations — some of which have employed or do employ the players and coaches I referenced above — don’t necessarily have the best methodologies or the most advanced quantitative analysis, although some do. Instead, they make the most of the metrics they do have by communicating what they do know throughout the organization and implementing it in meaningful ways. It’s the Pirates and their dramatic defensive shifts, a move that unquestionably pushed them into the playoffs a year ago. Or Sam Presti and Oklahoma City’s philosophy of constantly questioning what they think they know. As Sloan approaches its 10th birthday, plenty of owners and general managers will happily stop by and announce they’re interested in analytics. For things to keep changing and for evidence-driven analysis to improve teams’ chances of winning, though, the people talking and writing about those metrics will need to do a better job of communicating them to the nonbelievers. There’s still a lot to learn. There’s also already a lot to say.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 28 Feb 2014 | 6:25 am PST

The Curious Case of Jim Harbaugh

On Friday afternoon, a relatively quiet NFL scouting combine was interrupted by a stunning story, as Pro Football Talk quoted multiple league sources in reporting that the 49ers and Browns had nearly completed a trade that would have sent 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland. Mike Florio’s initial report said a swap of Harbaugh for picks “was in place between the teams,” and when the Browns released a statement that failed to deny the report, rumors began to run rampant. While 49ers owner Jed York denied the story was true on Twitter, multiple sources around the league — including Browns owner Jimmy Haslam — have since confirmed there were some discussions regarding a possible Harbaugh move to Cleveland. Exciting!

Of course, this move won’t be happening; the Browns eventually hired Mike Pettine to be their new head coach and promptly overhauled the remainder of their front office by parting ways with executives Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, so even if there was a brief window of opportunity for a Harbaugh trade, it’s now safely shut. But that doesn’t make the idea of a Harbaugh trade much less interesting, nor does it preclude the 49ers from considering one in the future. That this story even happened might very well tell us a lot about Harbaugh’s future with the team, or at the very least, his current level of happiness with the organization. Let’s break down what happened, how it could have worked for both sides, and what to look for going forward with the Harbaugh-49ers relationship.

1. Is the story true?

There’s almost definitely some truth to the rumors. There is little reason to believe the Browns would make up the story, leak it to multiple league sources, allow them to leak it to the media, and then refuse to deny it, especially after failing to complete the transaction and hiring a different coach. Harbaugh would gain nothing from confirming the reports publicly and seeming like he wants out of San Francisco when no such deal is coming, but if his camp leaked the story, it would be their way of casting aspersions on the organization and beginning to create the narrative that the team doesn’t want him around. The 49ers have absolutely nothing to gain from confirming the story whatsoever. Put it this way: The Browns are one of the most sputtering organizations in football and have been for a decade now. Do you really think they’re suddenly capable of pulling an elaborate con that lured in some of the most notable reporters around the league? Something happened here.

Of course, the specific nature of what exactly happened is up for grabs. One man’s negotiations can be another’s hypothetical conversation. Florio’s report suggested the Browns and 49ers had agreed on compensation for Harbaugh, but that the head coach turned down the opportunity. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen confirmed the “substance” of the report, noting that the Browns’ run at Harbaugh had reached a “serious stage.” York said the report “isn’t true,” a statement Harbaugh reiterated when reached for comment by 49ers writer Matt Maiocco.

There’s enough wiggle room in all those statements for there to have been some contact between Harbaugh and the Browns without anybody having to lie. Tim Kawakami laid out a convincing-if-hypothetical argument suggesting that the Browns would have contacted Harbaugh through Harbaugh’s assistant, Mick Lombardi, the son of Mike Lombardi. The initial inquiry might very well have been to interview one of the respected assistants on San Francisco’s staff, but Kawakami suggests Harbaugh might have instead told the Browns that he would be interested in a possible deal to leave for Cleveland. For what it’s worth, Cleveland radio host Joe Lull laid this out as the actual way things went down, with the deal falling apart over terms of compensation.

In any case, it doesn’t take much to satisfy the terms of the various rumors and reports. Through some channel, the Browns and Harbaugh need to have expressed some level of interest in completing a deal, at which point the rest of the San Francisco front office was likely made aware of a possible situation brewing. There were likely preliminary discussions of what the draft-pick compensation would look like, either internally in San Francisco or via an offer from Cleveland to which the 49ers were, at some level, amenable. An outline of terms for Harbaugh’s contract and specific level of power within the organization was likely discussed with Harbaugh’s agent, David Dunn. And then, at some point, the deal fell apart. It seems unlikely the parties had all agreed on everything, only for Harbaugh to decide against putting his name on the dotted line at the last moment. Likewise, it’s hard to figure this was as simple as the Browns asking about Harbaugh, the 49ers saying no, and the discussion ending there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

2. Is it even legal to trade your head coach?

It appears so, yes. The league banned the practice of trading assets for coaches in 2003, after the Buccaneers sent a bounty of picks to the Raiders for Jon Gruden, but at some point in the interim, the rules again changed to legalize the practice. NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello released a statement noting the following league policy:

Except for Head Coaches and High-Level Club Employees (club presidents, general managers, and persons with equivalent responsibility and authority), clubs are not permitted to exchange draft choices or cash for the release of individuals who are under contract to another organization.

A Harbaugh trade would have been legal under league rules.

3. Why would Harbaugh want to leave the 49ers for Cleveland?

A fair question. Of course, it would seem odd for Harbaugh to leave what is regarded as one of the league’s best franchises for one of its worst. The 49ers are overflowing with young talent and set to compete for the foreseeable future; the Browns have three stars in Josh Gordon, Joe Haden, and Joe Thomas, but lack the sort of depth the 49ers have in spades. While the Browns have two first-round picks in this year’s deep draft after the Trent Richardson trade, Cleveland would surely be forced to give up a serious haul as part of any trade for Harbaugh, limiting his ability to quickly turn around the roster. Having built one of the league’s best coaching staffs in San Francisco, Harbaugh would likely need to rebuild things in Cleveland without the services of his coordinators. And, obviously, it’s a lot easier to build a winner with Colin Kaepernick than it is with Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Alex Tanney or Jason Campbell, the three current quarterbacks on Cleveland’s roster.

So, if it’s impossible to construct a case for Harbaugh to leave for football reasons, it seems logical to believe the reasons he might choose to leave would be personal. Namely, Harbaugh would want to leave San Francisco only if he didn’t enjoy being part of the 49ers organization. It’s the only plausible explanation, and in the past 72 hours, arguments to that point have begun to arise. Kawakami’s description of Harbaugh, almost surely informed by folks within the 49ers organization, speaks to the perception surrounding the head coach:

Larger point: I know some 49ers fans — or mostly Harbaugh fans — don’t want to hear this, but the reality is that Harbaugh is a combustible commodity who has 49ers HQ very unsettled most days and now he’s coming up on a contract extension that he really thought he deserved last year, so things are a little pent-up between coach and management.

That looming contract negotiation pops up in reports as a flash point for the organization. Harbaugh signed a five-year, $25 million deal to take over as 49ers head coach before the 2011 season, and after going 36-11-1 while leading the team to a Super Bowl and three consecutive NFC Championship Games, Harbaugh likely expects his next deal to be among the largest in football. Both Kawakami and Maiocco, though, report that the 49ers are hesitant to make Harbaugh one of the league’s highest-paid coaches until he wins a Super Bowl, with Maiocco reporting that the 49ers would likely offer Harbaugh an extension similar to his current contract, only with a hefty incentive for winning the Super Bowl. Such an extension — my speculation here — could look like a three-year, $20 million deal with a $2 million escalator were Harbaugh to claim the Super Bowl at any time during the deal. Harbaugh would probably expect to receive something like $8 million per year in an extension with the 49ers. The Browns would surely have had to pay over the odds to get Harbaugh, but more on that in a minute.

4. Why would the 49ers want to move on from Harbaugh?

For a few reasons. If the contract impasse is significant enough that the 49ers fear Harbaugh would leave for another NFL team (or a high-profile college program) at the end of his deal, it would make sense for the 49ers to sell high on Harbaugh while they can, allowing them to replace him with one of the members of his highly touted staff while picking up a fortune in draft picks in the process.

Kawakami also reported as recently as December that there was definite tension in the relationship between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, who has final say in the team’s personnel decisions. A move might give Harbaugh the chance to, at the very least, have a much larger say in shopping for the team’s groceries; it might also give Baalke a chance to mold the team without public disagreements from his head coach. (It’s also worth noting that every combination of head coach and general manager disagrees on specific player valuations, so it’s entirely possible the conflicts don’t represent a problem.) Harbaugh might have suspected Lombardi to be a more amenable partner.

The 49ers can certainly afford to sign Harbaugh, but if they felt like a large contract extension didn’t represent good value, they could certainly pocket a significant return while paying another coach a relatively cheaper sum.

5. Why would the Browns want to acquire Harbaugh?

Chris Palmer
Butch Davis
Terry Robiskie
Romeo Crennel
Eric Mangini
Pat Shurmur
Rob Chudzinski

6. How much should it have cost the Browns to acquire Harbaugh?

The fun stuff! For whatever issues the 49ers and their head coach might possibly have, it certainly doesn’t appear that Harbaugh is exactly on the trading block. The public-relations hit the 49ers would take if they dealt away their wildly successful head coach, especially as they move into a new stadium, would be downright brutal, especially if they failed to make it back to the NFC Championship Game without Harbaugh around in 2014. It would be a very risky move for the 49ers, and with two years left on Harbaugh’s original contract, it would take an overwhelming offer for the 49ers to even consider trading him away.

The most similar situation to a possible Harbaugh trade would likely be the aforementioned Jon Gruden deal between the Raiders and the Buccaneers. Gruden had taken over a 4-12 team and gone 38-26 in his four years with the Raiders, taking a trip to the AFC Championship Game in his third season before losing to the Patriots in the infamous Tuck Rule divisional-round contest during his fourth and final season at the helm. He was regarded as one of the league’s better coaches, but like Harbaugh, he hadn’t yet broken through to the Super Bowl level. The 9-7 Buccaneers had just fired Tony Dungy after six seasons at the helm, owing mostly to Dungy’s 2-4 record in the playoffs. The Buccaneers expected to replace Dungy with Bill Parcells, but after Parcells turned Tampa down, the Buccaneers were left desperate for a big name.

They attempted to first go after 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, but after that fell through, the Buccaneers went after Gruden, who had one year left on his deal. Afraid of losing him for nothing, the Raiders bit the bullet and dealt Chucky to the Buccaneers for a massive haul: Tampa Bay’s first- and second-round picks in the 2002 draft, their first-rounder in the 2003 draft, a second-rounder in the 2004 draft, and $8 million in cash. That’s pretty close to the haul the Rams got for trading down in the 2012 draft and handing Washington the rights to Robert Griffin III.

The Buccaneers had been a playoff-caliber team for years under Dungy, so the Raiders likely made the trade figuring that the picks would be toward the bottom of each round. In constructing a similar haul for a possible 49ers-Browns deal, it’s not necessarily fair to make the same assumption about Cleveland’s picks, which are likely to be toward the top half of the draft. Furthermore, at the moment, the Browns are loaded with picks; by virtue of the extra first-rounder they have from the Richardson trade and the third-rounder they acquired from the Steelers in a draft-day deal last year, Cleveland has the most valuable set of selections in football for this year’s draft. (More on that after compensatory picks are announced.)

If the 49ers wanted to go for the quantity-over-quality approach, the Browns could have offered a pretty similar deal to what Tampa offered for Gruden a decade ago. They could have sent Indy’s first-round pick (26) in this year’s draft, their own third-rounder (71), and Indy’s fourth-rounder (125) while still maintaining at least one pick in each round. They likely would have also had to throw in their 2015 first-rounder (likely to be juicy unless Harbaugh turned things around quickly) and a 2016 second-rounder, providing the 49ers with five picks for their head coach. Cash considerations would also likely come into play, especially if the 49ers planned on using some of the money to buy a coach like Stanford’s David Shaw out of his college deal.

On the other hand, the 49ers could have opted for a premium pair of selections. Would they make this trade if the Browns offered them the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, their first-rounder in 2015, and a conditional midround pick in 2016? With one of the deepest rosters in the league and five picks in the first three rounds this year, the 49ers might very well prefer to pick up a premium selection at the top of the draft. Could they have ended up with Jadeveon Clowney to play across from Aldon Smith if they get up to four? What about lining up Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins on the outside across from Michael Crabtree? The 49ers don’t lack for much, but if they’re going to lose Harbaugh, why not get a top-five pick out of it?

If the Niners are weak anywhere, it’s in the secondary, so a third option could have seen the Browns include one of their core players, cornerback Joe Haden, in a Harbaugh deal. Haden’s rookie deal is up after this season, so the Browns wouldn’t have taken a huge hit in dead money by dealing him, but the 49ers would have had to give Haden an extension as part of any trade. Haden is probably worth a first-round pick in today’s market (think the Percy Harvin and Darrelle Revis trades), so the Browns might have alternately offered something like Haden, the 26th and 71st overall picks in the 2014 draft, and a second-rounder in 2015 to try to get the job done.

I don’t know that the 49ers would have accepted any of those deals, but if the Gruden trade is a fair comp (and I think it is), those three deals represent roughly similar levels of compensation.

7. How much is Harbaugh worth on an annual basis?

Wouldn’t you know I just happened to write about this very topic on this very site? In December 2012, I wrote that Harbaugh was one of the biggest bargains in football, and nothing has changed to make me think otherwise. You can read that piece for a longer explanation, but my logic dates back to those trades for the likes of Gruden. The haul the Buccaneers sent to Oakland for Gruden isn’t much different from the sort of deal Washington did for Griffin or the Bears did to acquire Jay Cutler.

In other words, a great coach has roughly the same trade value that a Pro Bowl–caliber young quarterback enjoys. When those quarterbacks sign extensions or hit the free market, they get paid in a way coaches simply don’t. Cutler’s deal pays him an average of $17 million over its first five seasons. It should stand to reason, then, that the value of a great coach like Harbaugh should approach that same figure; my estimate is that Harbaugh is probably worth around $15 million per year.

Bizarrely, the coaching market doesn’t allow for anywhere near that large of a deal, even though coaching salaries are uncapped. Sean Payton is reportedly the highest-paid coach in football, and he made $8 million last year. Isn’t that crazy? Twenty-four NFL players made more than that last year, and as you might suspect, some of them aren’t any good! Mark Sanchez ($8.3 million) had a larger salary than Bill Belichick ($7.5 million) last year, and the Sanchize made it over $10 million with bonuses included. How does that make sense?

The coaching market has a correction coming at some point over the next 10 years; with colleges able to pay coaches more than ever before and teams desperate to find advantages outside the salary cap, the current market just doesn’t make much sense. The Buccaneers tripled Gruden’s salary when they acquired him from Oakland; I doubt the Browns would have done that for Harbaugh, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they offered to give him $10 million per season to become their head coach, which would make him the first coach in league history with an eight-figure annual salary and double his current pay.

8. Should this deal have happened?

I don’t like it for either side, honestly. While the Browns unquestionably want a coach with a proven track record of success to oversee yet another rebuilding project in Cleveland, it was only a few years ago that they turned to Mike Holmgren as team president and found him lacking, with Haslam firing him after three years at the helm. Harbaugh would have more input as a head coach, obviously, but he would have needed time to rebuild the roster with Lombardi, a move that would have been exceedingly difficult after having traded four or five key picks away to the 49ers as part of Harbaugh’s compensation package.

While there’s always value in picking up a host of draft picks, this isn’t a move that makes a ton of sense for the 49ers, who already have plenty of picks and need a star coach to help get the most out of their talented roster. The team might be in solid hands if they turned things over to defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, or another candidate, but there’s no guarantee those guys can match what Harbaugh does. It seems distant now, but the 49ers spent most of the decade before Harbaugh’s arrival in the NFL wilderness, floundering with the likes of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, and Mike Singletary at the helm. While Singletary did a good job of setting a locker-room tone and culture of discipline within the organization, Harbaugh has gotten more out of virtually every player who was around during the Singletary era since taking over as head coach. He might be abrasive, but given his bargain-basement price and the scarcity of truly great coaches, it’s just too difficult to trade away Harbaugh unless he leaves the team with no other choice. And that’s not the case yet.

9. What does this mean for Harbaugh’s future in San Francisco?

Well, for the first time during his run as 49ers head coach, there will be serious questions about the likelihood of Harbaugh signing an extension with the team. While some stories briefly linked Harbaugh to the Texas job in late 2013, those rumors were never serious. Now, the league will be watching closely to see if Harbaugh does decide to secure his long-term future in San Francisco. If he makes it to 2015 without an extension, there will be serious questions about whether Harbaugh will be entering a lame-duck year with the Niners. It might actually encourage both parties to come to the negotiating table for an extension earlier than otherwise would have happened.

I also think it makes a Harbaugh trade less likely, just because the element of surprise is gone. The 49ers will be hesitant to even discuss Harbaugh trade talks with another team having already gone through this, and once it looks like they’re shopping their head coach around, it limits their leverage and, with that, their expected return for Harbaugh.

To be honest, I think the 49ers end up re-signing Harbaugh before long. It’s the best move for both him and the team. This might end up as only a trivial footnote on Harbaugh’s Wikipedia page, but if there’s more than meets the eye here, it could be the first sign that Harbaugh’s successful reign in San Francisco is beginning to come to an end.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 24 Feb 2014 | 8:40 am PST

Welcome to the NFL’s SATs

The scouting combine is the most misunderstood event in football. Coverage of the combine has ballooned since 2004, when the NFL Network began offering live wall-to-wall analysis from Indianapolis. The growth of the web has allowed for increased coverage and analysis of assorted workouts and pro days, and an endless number of mock drafts. It has become a public moment on the NFL calendar so quickly, in fact, that fans still don’t really have much of a context to make sense of the combine. We end up talking about the combine through anecdotal examples that don’t make broader sense, as if one player’s path could single-handedly prove anything about the pre-draft process.

So far, we’ve ended up with two dominant competing groups of thought about the combine. Neither of them are particularly accurate.

The draftnik9 side of the conversation tends to take the public-facing aspects of the combine far too seriously. That is to say — and it pains me to say this — the numbers produced by players at the combine really don’t mean very much at all. A player’s 40 time might be a succinct measure of his speed in a vacuum, but it’s a two-attempt sample on one given day being measured both electronically by the league and manually by a bunch of scouts with stopwatches. It’s one thing to suggest there’s a significant difference between a guy with a 4.37 40-yard dash and a 4.43 40-yard dash, but another when the same exact run might produce those two times according to a differing pair of scouts. In addition, the figure in question isn’t being adjusted for a player’s size10 or measured to exhibit any sort of relationship with past or future success at the pro level.

The 40 has caught on because it’s a simple concept to understand and we have a good idea of what a truly fast time looks like. Other draft drills aren’t as popular, even though they might be more meaningful, because they’re obtuse. Do you know what a good score in the three-cone drill would look like? What an excellent broad jump would entail? Probably not. I know I don’t. Maybe that’ll become common knowledge a generation from now, but having paid attention to only a handful of combines, fans and analysts alike are still just beginning to make sense of the information it provides. Much of it is likely to end up as noise.

The rejectors, meanwhile, believe that the combine is a totally useless waste of time, an exaggeration designed to keep the NFL relevant during the dark sporting days of February. Their evidence, almost invariably, consists of anecdotes about how individual players had poor combines and still managed to succeed at the professional level (or vice versa). You can see them in your head shouting, “You don’t play football in a T-shirt and shorts!” self-satisfied, as if they were the first to watch the combine and realize that it doesn’t resemble game conditions.

The problem with those anecdotal examples, of course, is that they fail to tell the whole story. The most famous “workout warrior” is Mike Mamula, whose performance at the 1995 combine and subsequently disappointing pro career has become the stuff of legend. It’s also entirely a myth; Mamula was a star pass-rusher in the Big East who accrued 31.5 sacks across five professional seasons, eventually retiring at the age of 27 because of injuries.

And while Jerry Rice is held up as the classic player who became a Hall of Famer despite running a disappointing 4.7 40-yard dash, there are a number of factors that mitigate his poor 40. Rice’s work ethic was, even among football players, notably legendary; Steve Young once said his former teammate outworked the work-ethic guys. Rice was unquestionably aided by joining a perennially dominant franchise built around its passing attack, developed by a revolutionary coach and executed by two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. And Rice’s time wasn’t even all that bad; current 49ers president Paraag Marathe is fond of noting that Rice’s “flying 20” time — the final 20 yards of the 40-yard dash — was world-class.

Of course, while there are better examples of players who excelled at the combine without a superlative college track record before failing as pros (Vernon Gholston, Matt Jones), and of players whose work on Saturdays should have meant more than their measurables in shorts (Russell Wilson, Anquan Boldin), there are also plenty of recent examples of players whose combine performance foretold their future. The Chiefs don’t regret falling in love with Dontari Poe, whose incredible performance at the 2012 combine led them to draft Poe with the 11th overall selection; two years later, Poe is a Pro Bowler. Superstars like J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews shook the workout warrior tag on their path to the top, too. And there are plenty of college superstars whose game tape from Saturdays didn’t translate to Sundays after disappointing combine performances or not bothering to work out in Indy at all; Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart, and Sam Bradford are among the recent Heisman winners who have failed to match the lofty heights of their college days at the pro level.

In reality, most of us are thinking about the combine the wrong way. It’s less a test of athleticism and more a test of preparation. A team might move a guy up its draft board if he blows them away athletically or drop him if he loafs through drills, but more so, teams want to see players show up in shape and perform to something resembling expectations. If you show up to the combine and somehow manage to fail a drug test your agent has told you is coming, chances are you’re probably not going to impress at the next level.11 Just about every player who is expected to go in the first few rounds of the draft goes through a training regimen designed to prepare them for the various combine drills, too.

It’s probably better, then, to think of the combine as the football equivalent of the SAT. We all go to different high schools with varying degrees of difficulty, so a 4.0 GPA at one school might not be as impressive as a 3.0 GPA is at a much tougher school. Likewise, throwing for 3,000 yards in the SEC is probably more impressive than making it to 4,000 yards in the Pac-12.

The SAT is standardized. Everybody takes the same test. The scores translate across different school systems because it’s the same scoring system. And it’s hardly an unexpected test; everybody knows it’s coming, and plenty take SAT prep courses to try to improve their scores. A good SAT score likely serves as a useful indicator of a student’s intelligence and ability to perform at the next level of academia, but it’s not exactly foolproof, either; you wouldn’t say one person is smarter than the next because their SAT score was 20 points higher. Just as the SAT helps support a solid high-school transcript, the combine provides some context for a player’s game tape from college.

Instead, the real value of the combine for the NFL’s 32 organizations comes in the stuff that doesn’t occur in front of the cameras. Indy serves as each team’s first chance to interview the prospects of their choice in person, an obviously key part of the evaluation process in a number of ways. That interview can go in many directions. The Giants famously gave prospective draftees a 460-question psychological exam. Some use the interview process to ask questions designed to see how a player handles pressure and/or impertinent behavior, as thankfully deposed Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland’s thoughtless question to Dez Bryant proves.12 More frequently, teams run prospects through questions designed to gain insight into their personality and football acumen. As with the other aspects of the combine, it’s a test of preparation.

The most meaningful test of all in Indianapolis doesn’t involve a coach. It comes courtesy of the team doctor. Each NFL team sends some portion of its medical staff to the combine each year, who poke and prod each player before he steps onto the field to run a single drill. Medical exams are conducted. X-rays are taken. In some cases, those tests can drastically affect how teams view a player, and even they can be wrong.

It was only a year ago that a combine echocardiogram found that Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was suffering from a heart condition so serious that the league sent him home from the combine without allowing him to work out. Once seen as a candidate for the first overall pick in the draft, Lotulelei’s draft stock remained in limbo before the heart ailment was revealed to be a byproduct of a viral infection. Even after he was cleared to return to football and completed a workout at Utah’s pro day, Lotulelei dropped to the 14th pick of the first round, where the Panthers were happy to snatch him up. We obviously can’t see each team’s draft board, but it seems likely that several teams in front of Carolina either took Lotulelei off their draft board or downgraded him because of the ailment. Fortunately, Lotulelei was healthy during a superb rookie season for the Panthers.

There are other benefits to the combine for teams. Having the brain trust of every organization in the NFL in one spot leads to plenty of networking, while meetings with the throngs of agents in town help form the beginnings of free-agent plans. And while teams are more likely to suggest the combine doesn’t mean very much if asked about it publicly, there’s a reason everybody shows up and plants a bunch of scouts with stopwatches in the Lucas Oil seats; this stuff matters, at least a little bit. How much it matters, exactly? One decade into the era of televised combines, the answer remains unclear.

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 20 Feb 2014 | 6:30 am PST

Seattle’s Best

On Super Bowl Sunday, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player was no match for the league’s most valuable contract. Russell Wilson outplayed Peyton Manning in the biggest game of Wilson’s career, and once that was taken care of, the rest of the Denver roster couldn’t stack up. For 60 stunning, dominant minutes on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks were the human manifestation of every tough football cliché you’ve ever heard an old coach spout. They didn’t just prevail over the Denver Broncos. In typical Seahawks fashion, they beat Denver up. They exerted their will upon the Broncos in each and every facet of the game. They took control of the game from literally the opening snap from scrimmage13 and never let go. And during those few times that they bent, the Seahawks didn’t break; they snapped back ferociously, extinguishing Denver’s hopes as soon as the Broncos mustered up the confidence to have any.

More than any other, one old talking point rung true. Football is a war of attrition, and by the time these two teams had reached the sport’s biggest stage, the Seahawks had won that war. The depth of their relatively healthy roster came through on Sunday, as they exploited overmatched Denver backups stretched into starting roles, while late-round draftees and backups came up with key contributions on both sides of the ball. When Seattle’s dominant pass defense neutralized Manning, the Broncos simply didn’t have a team capable of stepping up and rising to the occasion. Instead, when its star was shook, Denver got stomped.

Possession

Denver’s defense had a game it will try in vain to forget. After putting up impressive performances against the Chargers and Patriots to help push the Broncos into Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos offered precious little resistance against Russell Wilson & Co. on Sunday. The final score will judge them harshly — 16 of Seattle’s 43 points came from defensive and special teams scores — but they repeatedly couldn’t get off the field. The Broncos allowed Seattle to score on six of its first seven meaningful drives,14 and by the time they had forced their second stop of the game, there was less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

The Broncos were missing four key defensive contributors because of injuries, and their absence was noted in the disappointing play from their replacements. Backup pass-rusher Robert Ayers, a failed first-round pick from the Josh McDaniels era, was forced into a bigger role by the absence of lineman Derek Wolfe, and he had a dismal first half. Ayers repeatedly lost contain and failed to set the edge on his side of the line, allowing Percy Harvin to gain 45 yards on a pair of jet sweeps, while Wilson repeatedly found space to maneuver when scrambling back to his left, creating throwing lanes and successful runs. Cornerback Tony Carter, a journeyman and special-teamer filling in for the injured Chris Harris, committed a crucial pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up one touchdown before setting up another by missing a tackle. While a fifth key contributor was on the field, he was missing, too: Champ Bailey was a shell of his former self, as the Seahawks were able to beat him for a number of first downs early before the Broncos gave him more help. And a team without star linebacker Von Miller not only failed to sack Wilson, the league’s most-sacked starter (on a per-attempt basis), it failed to knock him down on even one of his 27 dropbacks.

Should we really have expected a lot out of the Denver defense, though, given the personnel who are actually suiting up these days? This was a team that, even in healthier times, finished the year 15th in DVOA. When you look at those who were actually seeing serious reps for the Broncos on Sunday, there are just not many players with much of a pedigree. Denver’s defense is basically split up into bargain-basement veteran reclamation projects signed to short-term deals from free agency (Mike Adams, Terrance Knighton, Paris Lenon, Shaun Phillips, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Day 3 draft picks (Omar Bolden, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan), and undrafted free agents (Carter, Duke Ihenacho, Mitch Unrein, Wesley Woodyard). The only defensive contributors for Denver on Sunday who weren’t acquired on the cheap were Ayers, Bailey, 2011 third-rounder Nate Irving, and 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams.

John Fox and Jack Del Rio have done an admirable job of coaching their guys up during the year, and they did an excellent job of shutting down Marshawn Lynch by winning at the line of scrimmage. Against a deep, healthy Seahawks passing attack, their lack of depth and, honestly, lack of talent were highlighted. While the Seahawks mostly avoided Rodgers-Cromartie, Wilson was often able to hit receivers up the seam or on quick slants for easy gains, with the Broncos defenders unable to get in his throwing lanes and too slow to seriously contest his passes. When Wilson’s initial throw wasn’t there or he felt the beginnings of pressure, he was able to scramble, reset himself, and find a receiver. It wasn’t his sharpest game, especially at first, but the Broncos offered staggeringly little resistance to the Seattle passing attack. Wilson finished 18-of-25 for 206 yards, and those seven incompletions included five plays when Wilson either overthrew an open receiver or had that open receiver drop a pass. Denver really broke up only two passes all night: the flea flicker that saw Wilson shovel a pass forward out of desperation, and a first-quarter pass up the seam in the end zone that was broken up by Irving.

With Golden Tate kept quiet by DRC, Harvin mostly used as a decoy, and Sidney Rice on the shelf as Seattle’s lone prominent injury heading into the game, Wilson’s two most prominent receivers were the “pedestrian” duo of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, a pair of undrafted free agents whose combined signing bonuses upon joining the league amounted to $26,000.15 They combined to go 9-of-10 for 131 yards and two touchdowns, with the only incompletion the aforementioned breakup in the end zone. After getting beaten early when they pressed their corners to the line of scrimmage, the Broncos seemed to retreat and play softer, more conservative coverage, allowing Baldwin and Kearse to get off the line of scrimmage and find holes in Denver’s zones. And when the Broncos decided to try to emulate their big brothers on the other sideline by attempting to knock people down with shoulder tackles, Baldwin and Kearse were able to shrug off sloppy takedown attempts for yards after catch, including the crucial final yards on each of their touchdown catches. With Tate a free agent and Rice a possible cap casualty, Baldwin and Kearse are likely to move into more prominent roles next season. After Sunday, pedestrian seems like a speed that might suit Seattle just fine.

As for Harvin, meanwhile, he finally suited up for his first complete game in a Seahawks uniform and might have justified the $14.5 million he collected this season while doing so. While he had only a lone catch for five yards, Harvin was electric on a pair of jet sweeps, one of the many ways in which the Seahawks will employ Harvin’s unique skill set in 2014 and beyond. More notably, Harvin probably ended the game as a contest when he opened up the third quarter by taking the opening kickoff to the house. It played off the pregame fears about Denver’s terrible kickoff coverage and Matt Prater’s kickoffs outside of the thin air at home. In Denver, Prater would have been able to just boot the ball through the back of the end zone on virtually every kickoff, neutralizing Harvin without ever allowing him to touch the ball. Here, with Denver’s first kickoff of the game coming at the beginning of the second half, Prater tried a popup kick that landed 10 yards short of the end zone, and when Harvin fielded the kick cleanly, the dismal Denver kickoff coverage unit offered little resistance. It seemed like a rare misstep for Seahawks general manager John Schneider when he traded a first-, third-, and seventh-round pick for Harvin this offseason and gave him a $64 million contract extension before Harvin missed virtually the first year of that deal with a hip injury, but as he watched Harvin sprint toward the end zone to put the Seahawks up four scores, I doubt Schneider regretted the trade very much at all.

Opportunity

One of the reasons why Schneider was able to take a calculated risk on bringing in Harvin, of course, was Wilson, the most valuable contract in football. Wilson plays football’s most important position at an extremely high level, but because he was a third-round pick in a league that slots rookie contracts at a given price, his contract ensures that he’ll be a bargain for years to come. Wilson just finished the second year of a four-year, $3 million contract that counted for just $681,085 against Seattle’s cap this year. After starting his career 24-8 and winning a Super Bowl in just his second year at the helm, Wilson’s about to receive a hefty raise to … $817,302.

His opposite number on Sunday is in the middle of a five-year, $96 million deal that will cost Denver $17.5 million this year and next; Manning will make more per game than Wilson will make all year. The Broncos obviously weren’t wrong to sign Manning, but they had no choice but to pay him this much, given the competition surrounding him on the free market as an unrestricted free agent two years ago. Even beyond that large sum of money, the Broncos are paying for Manning’s deal in another way: In a league where every competitive team is trying to spend up to a hard cap, they’re incurring the opportunity cost of not being able to use that $17.5 million cap hold on anybody else.

That’s what makes Wilson so valuable. In a vacuum,16 Wilson is a bargain, but his contract looks even better when you consider that the typical quarterback of his caliber takes up something like $17.5 million of his team’s salary cap. The Seahawks can take the $16.8 million difference and go spend it elsewhere, which changes the value proposition. Manning is probably a better quarterback than Wilson, but is Wilson plus $16.8 million worth of players better than Manning?

On Sunday, he very much was. The Seahawks made three big free-agent signings this offseason, and they each contributed to the win. Harvin ($4.9 million cap hold this year) had the kickoff return for a touchdown, while Michael Bennett ($4.8 million) and Cliff Avril ($3.8 million) were part of a pass rush that battered Manning all day. After Manning had gone all postseason without being sacked or even knocked down, the Seahawks’ pass rush responded with a dominant performance: It sacked Manning once, knocked him down four times, pressured him on what must have been at least a dozen dropbacks, forced him to fumble, and tipped two of his passes at the line. One of those tipped passes topped a first-half drive on downs deep in Seattle territory. An Avril pressure saw him go through dreadful Denver right tackle Orlando Franklin and drive him back into Manning, resulting in an up-for-grabs throw that game MVP Malcolm Smith returned for a pick-six.17

Both Franklin and left tackle Chris Clark, filling in for All-Pro Ryan Clady since September, were unable to hold up against Seattle’s stream of pass-rushers on the outside. Bennett & Co. did enough on the interior to help collapse Manning’s pocket, forcing him to scramble and/or rush throws. And while there were concerns about a smaller Seattle front failing to hold up when Manning inevitably audibled to run calls, it managed to hold Denver to just 27 yards on 14 carries, problems unquestionably exacerbated by second-half injuries to Knowshon Moreno (who also fumbled) and guard Louis Vasquez. And center Manny Ramirez, a converted guard and the team’s third choice at that spot after expected starters J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen got hurt in the preseason, dealt with a center’s worst nightmare when he prematurely snapped the ball on the game’s opening play from scrimmage for a safety.

Secondary Modern

Even when Manning had time to throw, the Seahawks gave him precious little to work with. Before the game, while I noted that Denver had produced the most impressive output in league history, I also wondered whether Seattle would present a more difficult matchup for them than even their own excellent numbers might suggest. That certainly turned out to be the case.

Seattle didn’t stay in its traditional Cover 3 as much as I might have expected, especially during the first half, when it spent a fair amount of time in one-deep and two-deep zones with man-to-man on Denver’s outside receivers. With each coverage shell, the concept was the same: prevent the Broncos from completing anything downfield, disrupt their timing, force them into underneath passes and checkdowns, and prevent them from compiling yards after catch. The Broncos are a team built on gaining yards after catch and big plays, and Seattle denied them both.

To be honest, Denver mostly did stuff that you could have read about on Grantland last week before the game (or seen on tape from games past). Denver repeatedly went back to the shallow cross series that Chris Brown diagrammed in his article on the Denver offense. It ran a lot of Trips sets designed to force the Seahawks to shift, declare, or change their coverages, but those mostly just produced screens and short catches that didn’t go anywhere. There were a few times when the Broncos threw a quick screen on a play where they had a man advantage on one side of the field, but the Seahawks were quick to swarm to limit the play to a small gain. Denver also made the mistake of running too many slow-developing screens; while they hoped to use those screens to lure an aggressive Seattle pass rush into overpursuing, the Seahawks defense was so fast and the screens were so slow that the backside pursuit would catch up with the receiver by the time he turned upfield.

The Broncos sacrificed Eric Decker to the Sherman Isle, with Decker catching just one pass on five targets for six yards, even though Sherman suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half and had to be carted off after re-aggravating the injury in the fourth quarter. That left Demaryius Thomas one-on-one versus Byron Maxwell, and while Thomas ended up setting a single-game Super Bowl receptions record with some second-half filler, Denver simply couldn’t do anything downfield; Manning threw 10 “deep” passes,18 and on those throws, he went 2-for-10 for 42 yards with an interception, a fumble (by Thomas after a completion), and a 20-yard defensive pass interference penalty. By throwing so many short passes over the middle of the field, the Broncos instead incurred the wrath of Kam Chancellor, who was Seattle’s most active defender from the beginning of the game onward. He finished with 10 tackles, two passes defensed, and an interception, with six of his tackles coming on passes short of the first-down marker.

The Impostor

While Manning eventually racked up empty completions by throwing in a desperate attempt to catch up during the second half, his first-half line is probably more indicative of the kind of day he had: 17-of-23 for 104 yards and two interceptions tells the whole story. The Broncos were able to complete plenty of passes, but they were the throws the Seahawks wanted them to make, all drags and screens. Seattle was confident it would get pressure on Manning and force him or one of his teammates into a mistake before they dinked and dunked their way into the end zone, and it was right. After failing to pick up a first down during three first-quarter drives, Denver’s six subsequent possessions all ended in Seattle territory. Those six drives produced 18 first downs but managed to score only eight points, thanks to two turnovers, two failed fourth-down conversions, and a truly perplexing punt. I wondered before the game if Denver would be able to beat Seattle in the compressed space of the red zone, but the Seahawks were able to successfully treat the entire field like it was just a series of red zones.

So, let’s play America’s worst game show: What does this loss do for Peyton Manning’s legacy? The answer, excitingly, is just about nothing! It’s only going to further entrench either side’s beliefs. If you think that Manning is the greatest quarterback who ever lived, you probably are going to point to that fifth MVP trophy he picked up this weekend and note that he got virtually no help from the players around him, a common complaint in Manning losses going back to the early Manning-Brady playoff games. And if you think Manning can’t win in the clutch and needs a better postseason record to justify that title, well, you just got another loss in a big game to add to Peyton’s loss column, and a 35-point loss at that.

The truth, as uninteresting and irrelevant to this argument as always, is somewhere in the middle. I can’t really fault Manning for taking what the defense gave him here, and I think the first interception was such because it was tipped at the line, but he should never have thrown the second pick with such pressure in his face, even if it meant taking a sack. His arm strength isn’t particularly an issue in cold weather, and it was a relatively balmy high 40s in North Jersey last night after all that sanctimony, but his arm strength is definitely subpar on deeper routes, and the Broncos desperately needed at least the threat of an accurate deep throw to put a scare into Seattle’s cornerbacks. His defense had a bad night, but with eight points to his name, it wasn’t a banner game for Manning and his offense, either. And it’s unfair to forget about the two excellent performances he put together against the Chargers and Patriots just because he lost in the Super Bowl, but those were two big games against bad defenses to which he adds a mediocre performance against a great one.

And finally, I guess, there’s the important distinction to be made between what Manning has done and what Manning is. If you find Manning’s playoff record lacking, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. If you suggest that it’s due to some sort of fatal flaw with Manning or something that’s likely to keep occurring because it’s happened in the past, it seems instructive to point out the case of Manning’s boss. John Elway, of course, lost his first three Super Bowls in ignominious fashion: 39-20, 42-10, and, in the biggest Super Bowl blowout ever, 55-10 to the 49ers. Eight years later, he came back and won two Super Bowls in a row, not coincidentally with a dominant rushing offense that he lacked during those first three games. Even the great ones need help, and on Sunday, while he didn’t play up to his usual standards, Manning’s team didn’t offer him much assistance, either.

Thank You for Not Coaching

As it turns out, in-game decision-making doesn’t mean a whole lot in a 43-8 blowout. I could credit Pete Carroll with the aggressive coaching decision of showing up for the game on time and knock John Fox for not convincing the Seahawks to bring in Tarvaris Jackson any earlier, but that wouldn’t fly. So while these moves didn’t end up materially affecting the outcome of the game, in most cases, nobody knew that would end up being the case at the time.

Do you like awful challenges? If so, man, was the first quarter of this game for you. The Seahawks got the ball rolling early when Carroll threw out the challenge flag on their opening drive, when a Wilson scramble was ruled to have come up a yard short on third down. It’s certainly a high-reward challenge, since a successful overturn would have turned fourth-and-short into first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, but there hadn’t been any replays that suggested Wilson had clearly picked up the first down. It was a challenge driven by sheer optimism and hope, which actually is just about the perfect motivation for a Pete Carroll challenge flag.

Review found that the ball should be placed closer to the marker, turning fourth-and-1 into fourth-and-a-foot, but the challenge needs to produce a first down to be considered a victory and allow Carroll to keep his timeout and possibility of a third challenge.19 Carroll then compounded his mistake by kicking a field goal on that fourth-and-a-foot as opposed to going for it. You could argue that he knows his team — the Seahawks were the worst team in football in power situations this year — but it’s a foot. If you can successfully field the snap, you can pick up a foot.

Not to be topped, Fox unsurprisingly pulled out his challenge flag in an even worse spot. I still haven’t run the TYFNC Awards, but Fox will likely win worst challenge of the year for an early challenge against the Jaguars in Week 6. I wrote then that Fox “just doesn’t understand what the challenge flag is good for, and that might end up costing his team in a spot when the challenges really do matter.” And hey, here we are! He threw the flag out in a similarly desperate moment, hoping that an incomplete screen pass to Harvin was a lateral, despite replays that rather clearly indicated that the pass had moved forward in the air. You can’t fault Fox for trying to generate a turnover when his team was reeling, and to be fair, this one is most likely on whomever was watching the replays upstairs and told Fox that the replays were unclear. If that person told Fox it was clearly a fumble, they should hire a new person. And if it was a judgment call, Fox should have held on to the flag.

In the end, that decision actually did end up hurting the Broncos. When they failed on fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 19-yard line with 1:06 left in the first half, they gave the ball back to Seattle, which ran two draws (sigh) to end the first half. Had Fox not thrown his flag on the pass to Harvin, he would have had all three timeouts after the failed fourth-down conversion, which would have allowed Denver to get the ball back with something like 50 seconds left after a stop. Instead, Fox just let the clock run out.

That fourth-and-2 decision was the right call. The numbers suggest that the Broncos would generate 2.4 points by going for it and 2.0 points by kicking the field goal. Seattle had been successful against the Denver offense all night, but if there was one thing the Broncos offense had done well, it was pick up short gains in the passing game. There is also the emotional aspect; for whatever dumb momentum argument exists about a team somehow taking hold of a game by kicking a field goal down 22-0 with a minute left before halftime, what does it tell your team with the greatest offense since sliced bread if you don’t think it can get two yards? If you can’t pick up two yards in that spot, how are you going to come back from a three-touchdown deficit?

Later, the Broncos punted under even more curious circumstances. Down 29-0 in the third quarter with a third-and-10 on the Seattle 38-yard line, the Broncos oddly chose to hand the ball off to Montee Ball on a draw, which went for a loss of one. Denver then took the greatest offense in NFL history off the field so it could punt while down four touchdowns inside its opponent’s 40-yard line.20 Insane, right?

Well, not necessarily. The New York Times fourth-down bot, which is built with the data from Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats site, suggested that punting was the slightly more positive move, improving Denver’s chances of winning from 6 percent to 7 percent. But given that Denver is very clearly an offense-driven team, that’s probably enough to swing the percentages toward going for it.

Honestly, I just think the Broncos panicked. Whether it was a call from the sideline by offensive coordinator Adam Gase or a decision at the line by Manning, my suspicion is that the third-down draw was designed to set up a more manageable fourth-down play (or a more manageable long field goal, but let’s hope that wasn’t the case). When Denver got stuffed, it was totally stuck in no-man’s-land, didn’t know what to do, and just punted. Given how good Seattle’s defense looked at times during the Super Bowl, that might have been a pretty good option for Denver on first down, let alone fourth.

Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 3 Feb 2014 | 6:29 am PST