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Awesome feeds

Google's open-sourced icons

Google MD icons

As part of their Material Design visual language, Google has open-sourced a package of 750 icons. More info here.

Tags: design   Google

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 2:32 pm PDT

Simple CPU

Very quickly, here's how a computer works at the simplest level.

D Latch

Want to see how computers store data? This next device is called a 'D-Latch'. It holds a binary bit. The top switch is the value to be stored, the bottom switch enables storage. Eight of these devices can be used to store a byte in memory.

Tags: computing

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 1:27 pm PDT

Gone but not forgotten

Cotton Club

From A Continuous Lean, a review of some of NYC's most beloved bygone music venues, including The Cotton Club (closed 1940), The Gaslight Cafe (closed 1971), and CBGB (closed 2006).

Despite being located in Harlem, and showcasing many black performers, The Cotton Club actually had a strict "whites only" policy.

Tags: music   NYC

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 12:13 pm PDT

Computer generated running

If you want to watch a bunch of realistic looking fake people run into a slowly spinning metal bar (and you really should want to watch it), this is the video for you:

It's better bigger or with sound. (via waxy)

Tags: video

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 10:41 am PDT

[Sponsor] Uuni Stack, a stylish set of stacking bowls for dough proofing, prep, and storage

Kristian Tapaninaho is passionate about pizza. His first Kickstarter project was a small wood-fired pizza oven which was described by one reviewer as "the Macbook Air of pizza ovens". For his second project, Tapaninaho is keeping on the pizza theme with a set of three stacking bowls for proofing dough: the elegant & thoughtfully designed Uuni Stack.

Proofing (or proving) dough is the process of letting the dough rise before baking it, which adds flavor and gives your pizza crust a more airy texture. Uuni Stack makes proofing super easy and no-fuss; you don't have to bother with plastic wrap or filling your counter or fridge with every mixing bowl you own.

What I like best about Uuni Stack is how simple-yet-functional they are. Sure, you can use them for proofing dough if you're an avid at-home pizza maker (and I know plenty of people who are) but especially in a place like NYC, where kitchen counter space is at a premium, having stacking bowls around for prep and storage is super handy. Plus, the bowls' wooden top doubles as a cutting board. Order the Uuni Stack on Kickstarter today.

Thanks to Uuni Stack for sponsoring kottke.org this week.

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 8:29 am PDT

The 50 best movie adaptations of books

From Silence of the Lambs (#1) to To Kill A Mocking Bird (#9) to Blade Runner (#28), these are the 50 best book-to-movie adaptations ever, compiled by Total Film.

Somehow absent is Spike Jonze's Adaptation and I guess 2001 was not technically based on a book, but whatevs. The commenters additionally lament the lack of Requiem for a Dream, Gone with the Wind, The French Connection, Rosemary's Baby, Last of the Mohicans, and The Wizard of Oz.

Tags: best of   books   lists   movies

Source: kottke.org | 20 Oct 2014 | 7:23 am PDT

A 50-Foot-Tall French Fire-Breathing Dragon-Horse Visits Beijing

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of French-Chinese diplomatic relations, the French production company La Machine traveled to Beijing, China, with two of its massive mechanical puppets, including a 20-foot-tall spider named La Princesse and the newly added Long Ma, a 46-ton fire-breathing dragon-horse made of wood and steel. La Machine put on three days of performances titled "Long Ma, Spirit of the Dragon Horse" next to Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium, ending yesterday. [25 photos]



French production company La Machine's latest creation, a massive mechanical puppet named "Long Ma" or Dragon Horse breathes steam while performs in front of the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, China on October 19, 2014. The performance marked the climax of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Sino-French diplomatic relations. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)







Source: In Focus | 20 Oct 2014 | 6:02 am PDT

How the Colbert Report is made

For the first episode of podcast called Working, David Plotz talks to Stephen Colbert about how he and his staff construct The Colbert Report. This is fascinating.

My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it's casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.

At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)

Tags: audio   David Plotz   interviews   Stephen Colbert   The Colbert Report   working

Source: kottke.org | 17 Oct 2014 | 10:26 am PDT

Cosmigraphics

Cosmigraphics

From Michael Benson comes Cosmigraphics, a survey of many ways in which humans have represented the Universe, from antiquity on up to the present day.

Selecting artful and profound illustrations and maps, many hidden away in the world's great science libraries and virtually unknown today, he chronicles more than 1,000 years of humanity's ever-expanding understanding of the size and shape of space itself. He shows how the invention of the telescope inspired visions of unimaginably distant places and explains why today we turn to supercomputer simulations to reveal deeper truths about space-time.

The NY Times has an adaptation of the introduction to the book.

Among the narrative threads woven into the book are the 18th-century visual meditations on the possible design of the Milky Way - including the astonishing work of the undeservedly obscure English astronomer Thomas Wright, who in 1750 reasoned his way to (and illustrated) the flattened-disk form of our galaxy. In a book stuffed with exquisite mezzotint plates, Wright also conceived of another revolutionary concept: a multigalaxy cosmos. All of this a quarter-century before the American Revolution, at a time when the Milky Way was thought to constitute the entirety of the universe.

Tags: astronomy   books   Cosmigraphics   maps   Michael Benson   space

Source: kottke.org | 17 Oct 2014 | 9:59 am PDT

You should consider subscribing to Wikipedia

Last week, Emily Dreyfuss wrote a piece at about Why I'm Giving Wikipedia 6 Bucks a Month.

"Give me money, Emily," Wales begged, "then go back to researching Beyonce lyrics."

"Excuse me, Jimmy," I wanted to say, "I don't appreciate being watched as I read about how her song "Baby Boy" includes a lyrical interpolation of "No Fear" by O.G.C."

Later, Wikipedia replaced Wales with other employees of the Wikimedia Foundation, which maintains Wikipedia with grants and donations. They moved me about as much as Wales did, which is to say not at all.

Today, while scanning my third Wikipedia article in as many hours, I saw the beggi.... er, note was back. It's at the bottom now, without the pleading visage of a Wikipedian, and now includes an option to pay monthly.

I was annoyed, again. That's the first instinct of anyone who spends time on the Internet and is constantly bombarded by pleas for money. But then I realized something: My annoyance was a symptom of my dependence on Wikipedia. I rely on it utterly. I take it completely for granted.

I found her argument persuasive, so much so that I just signed up to give Wikipedia a monthly amount as well. I consider it a subscription fee to an indispensable and irreplaceable resource I use dozens of times weekly while producing kottke.org. It's a business expense, just like paying for server hosting, internet access, etc. -- the decision to pay became a no-brainer for me when I thought of it that way.

Do other media companies subscribe to Wikipedia in the same fashion? How about it Gawker, NY Times, Vox, Wired, ESPN, WSJ, New York Magazine, Vice, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post? Even $500/month is a drop in the bucket compared to your monthly animated GIF hosting bill and I know your writers use Wikipedia as much as I do. Come on, grab that company credit card and subscribe.

Tags: business   Emily Dreyfuss   journalism   Wikipedia

Source: kottke.org | 17 Oct 2014 | 7:09 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 10/11-10/17

This week we have photographs from Nepal, China, Venezuela, Siberia, Israel, Ukraine, Missouri, Nevada, outer space, and many more locations. Also, this week, I'm playing with visual rhyming—couplets and triplets of images that relate to each other or play off each other, either visually or contextually (or both). Several pairs and trios of images within today's essay are deliberately sequenced in this manner, some more subtle than others. Please let me know, in comments or directly, if you like this, or if it feels a bit gimmicky, thanks. [35 photos]



Blind student Marina Gimaraes, of the Association of Ballet and Arts for the Blind, warms up backstage before performing "Corsario e Paquitas" during celebrations marking Brazil's Children's Day at the Italo Theater in Sao Paulo on October 12, 2014. The Association was founded by Brazilian ballerina and physiotherapist Fernanda Bianchini in 1995, when she decided to teach classical ballet to the blind for free. Since then, her classes have been opened to the deaf and mute, and even to children and youths with other handicaps. Bianchini says that the school's main goal for their students is for them to improve their posture, balance, spatial sense and self-esteem, in addition to breaking barriers and prejudices about people with handicaps. (Reuters/Nacho Doce)







Source: In Focus | 17 Oct 2014 | 6:12 am PDT

Beautiful maps

Beautiful Maps

Like it says on the tin: a collection of Beautiful Maps. I wish there was some attribution attached to each map though. The map above is by Claude Bernou circa 1681. (via @khoi)

Tags: maps

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 2:25 pm PDT

Our robot future: R2-D2 or C-3PO?

Rex Sorgatz wonders what sort of robots we'll build, R2-D2s or C-3POs.

R2-D2 excels in areas where humans are deficient: deep computation, endurance in extreme conditions, and selfless consciousness. R2-D2 is a computer that compensates for human deficiencies -- it shines where humans fail.

C3-PO is the personification of the selfish human -- cloying, rules-bound, and despotic. (Don't forget, C3-PO let Ewoks worship him!) C3-PO is a factotum for human vanity -- it engenders the worst human characteristics.

I love the chart he did for the piece, characterizing 3PO's D&D alignment as lawful evil and his politics as Randian.

Tags: Rex Sorgatz   robots   Star Wars

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 1:18 pm PDT

Who Wins the Scene?

Tony Zhou's excellent series on filmmaking, Every Frame a Painting, has become a much-watch for me. Here's the latest one, a short look at a single scene from Silence of the Lambs in which Zhou asks: Who Wins the Scene?

Tags: movies   Silence of the Lambs   Tony Zhou   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 11:48 am PDT

Lockheed Martin claims fusion reactor breakthrough

Lockheed Martin is in the process of developing a compact fusion reactor they say could revolutionize the world's energy industry.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being "compact," Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling-ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

The key difference in Lockheed's approach seems to be the configuration of the magnetic field containing the reaction:

The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. "So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall," McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it. The CFR is expected to have a beta limit ratio of one. "We should be able to go to 100% or beyond," he adds.

Charles Seife, who wrote a book about the history of fusion, is skeptical of Lockheed's claims.

This week, Lockheed Martin supposedly managed to achieve a "breakthrough" in nuclear fusion that has gotten a lot of media attention. As Charles Seife points out, it did so "without having built a prototype device that, you know, fuses things on an appreciable scale. It's a stunning assertion, even by fusion-research standards. But a quick look at the defense contractor's ambitious plan-a working reactor in five years-already shows the dream fraying around the edges. A year and a half ago, the company promised that fusion was four years away, meaning that the schedule is already slipping. Negative one years of progress in 20 months is, sadly, business as usual for fusion. At this rate, it'll take Lockheed Martin at least a decade before the natural endpoint: desperately spinning victory out of an underwhelming result generated by a machine whose performance comes nowhere near predictions-and which brings us no closer to actually generating energy from a fusion reaction."

Tags: Lockheed Martin   physics   science

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 9:45 am PDT

Move over classic rock, make room for classic rap

After playing four straight days of Beyonce tunes, a Houston news radio station settled on its new format: classic hip hop. It's the first major market radio station to do so.

In many ways, this is an idea whose time has come, which is another way of saying that hip-hop, and its first-wave fans, are, well, old. Dre will be 50 in February; Ice-T is just 10 years away from his first Social Security check. Licensed to Ill topped the Billboard charts in 1987; three years later, hip-hop made up one-third of the Hot 100. By 1999, it was the country's best-selling genre, with more than 81 million albums sold. The fans who propelled the early boom probably don't know Young Thug from Rich Homie Quan, and don't want to.

The obvious parallel is to classic rock radio -- a format that emerged in the early-1980s as baby boomers rejected punk and disco, and radio execs realized it was easier to serve up old songs than convince their aging audiences to try new music. It eventually morphed into a touchstone of middle-age: Every so often, a cultural observer wakes up, checks his bald spot and wonders how Green Day or Smashing Pumpkins or some other band of his own youth got lumped in with Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith on the radio dial.

Not this cultural observer! I've never done anything of that sort ever.

Annnnyway, here's a Spotify playlist (Rdio) of the sort of thing Boom 92 will be playing. (via @tcarmody)

Tags: music

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 8:36 am PDT

The first drafts of Wikipedia

John Overholt, a curator of early modern books and manuscripts at Harvard's Houghton Library, has started a new blog called First Drafts of History that features the first versions of Wikipedia articles. Here's the first draft of the iPhone entry, dated more than a year and a half before it was introduced.

iPhone

I'm sure there were many giggles about this kind of thing in the Britannica offices back then. Wikipedia has come a long way.

Tags: John Overholt   weblogs   Wikipedia

Source: kottke.org | 16 Oct 2014 | 7:57 am PDT

Skulls and Bones

In a number of crypts, catacombs, chapels, and memorials around the world, human skeletons are arranged for public view. Some of these compositions are designed for remembrance of loss and atrocities past; others are composed artistically to inspire worshipers and bring to mind thoughts of an afterlife and the temporary nature of this life. Gathered here are a few images of these ossuaries, from Europe, Asia, and Africa. [21 photos]



Skulls and bones in an ossuary with the remains of more than 50,000 people on October 19, 2012 under the Church of St. James in Brno, Czech Republic. Lost for some 200 years, the ossuary was discovered in 2001 during construction work under the Church of St James. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 16 Oct 2014 | 6:30 am PDT

How typefaces get their names

Font Naming

From Tobias Frere-Jones, a short history of how typefaces get their names.

Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting "the cap S" or "the italic lowercase" or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.

Tags: Tobias Frere-Jones   typography

Source: kottke.org | 15 Oct 2014 | 2:27 pm PDT

How We Got to Now on TV

Speaking of PBS shows, Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now starts on PBS tonight with two back-to-back episodes. The NY Times has a positive review.

The opening episode, for instance, is called "Clean," and it sets the pattern for the five that follow. We tend not to acknowledge just how recent some of the trends and comforts of modern life are, including the luxury of not walking through horse manure and human waste on the way to the post office.

The episode turns back the clock just a century and a half, to a time before our liquid waste stream was largely contained in underground pipes. Mr. Johnson then traces the emergence of the idea that with a little effort, cities and towns could have a cleaner existence, and the concurrent idea that cleanliness would have public health benefits.

But his examination of "the ultraclean revolution," as he calls it, doesn't stop at the construction of sewage and water-purification systems. He extends the thread all the way to the computer revolution, visiting a laboratory where microchips are made.

The show is based on Johnson's book of the same name, which enters the NY Times bestseller list at #4 this week. Also, I keep wanting to call the book/show How We Got to Know, which strikes me as a perfectly appropriate title as well.

Tags: books   How We Got to Now   Steven Johnson   TV

Source: kottke.org | 15 Oct 2014 | 12:35 pm PDT

Being Mortal, the TV show

Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:

Tags: Atul Gawande   Being Mortal   books   death   medicine   TV

Source: kottke.org | 15 Oct 2014 | 10:39 am PDT

What will it take to run a 2 hour marathon?

Sub2 Marathon 01

I am not a runner so I didn't think I would find this exploration into the conditions under which a 2-hour marathon could occur that interesting. I was incorrect.

Between 1990 (the first year in which data was available) and 2011, the average male marathoner ranked in the top 100 that year shrank by 1.3 inches and 7.5 pounds. Smaller runners have less weight to haul around, yes. But they're also better at heat dissipation; thanks to greater skin surface area relative to their weight, they can sustain higher speeds (and thus, greater internal heat production) without overheating and having to slow down. Despite our sub-two runner's short frame, he'll also have disproportionately long legs that help him cover ground and unusually slender calves that require less energy to swing than heavier limbs.

Runners shed heat through their skin, so bigger runners should have an advantage, right? Indeed, a 6' 3" marathoner can dissipate 32 percent more heat than a 5' 3" athlete with the same BMI. But heat generation rises faster in bigger runners because mass increases quicker than skin area. So at the same effort, the 6' 3" guy ends up producing 42 percent more heat than his shorter peer-and overheating sooner.

The piece includes a favorite old chestnut of mine, man vs. horse:

Sub2 Marathon 02

Horses are still much quicker at distance, but humans are still improving.

Tags: running   sports

Source: kottke.org | 15 Oct 2014 | 8:37 am PDT

The abortion choice: not easy, not sorry

In the November issue of Elle, Laurie Abraham talks about the fear, pressure, regret, and misconceptions related to how we think about abortion in America, written through the lens of her own experiences.

In several meetings at work in which this essay was discussed, I noticed that none of the other editors in the room, all of them pro-choice, could bring themselves to utter the word abortion; it was "Laurie's pro piece," or her "memoir." I know that my colleagues, many of whom are my friends, were just trying to be kind when they referred to my "reproductive rights" story. The truth is, I felt uncomfortable saying it out loud too. Abortion is a conversational third rail, women's dirtiest dirty laundry, to mix metaphors. Because the other thing about living in a political culture where a single-cell zygote is constantly being called a "person" is that there is a penumbra of shame surrounding abortion. For myself, however, I wonder: Am I really ashamed -- and, if so, what is it exactly that I'm ashamed of?

The book Abraham references throughout, Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights sounds really interesting. (via @atotalmonet)

Tags: abortion   books   Katha Pollitt   Laurie Abraham

Source: kottke.org | 15 Oct 2014 | 6:49 am PDT

Hong Kong Police Clash With Occupy Protesters

For weeks now, pro-democracy protest groups have occupied parts of central Hong Kong, calling for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Local police have been urging the demonstrators to leave for days, and have recently stepped up efforts to dismantle barricades on several major roads - only to have many of them rebuilt hours later. Tensions boiled over last night, leading to a violent clash between police and protesters. Police arrested dozens, and at least one demonstrator, politician Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, was dragged away and beaten by police, a moment caught in this video. As of today, most of the Occupy protesters remain in place, Beijing refuses to budge, and no discussions are underway. [30 photos]



Police forces march toward pro-democracy protesters holding umbrellas during a standoff outside the central government offices in Hong Kong on October 14, 2014. Hong Kong police vowed October 14 to tear down more street barricades manned by pro-democracy protesters, hours after hundreds of officers armed with chainsaws and bolt cutters partially cleared two major roads occupied for a fortnight. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 15 Oct 2014 | 6:29 am PDT

Soccer match abandoned over drone antics

A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia was abandoned today after a drone flying a banner with a map of Kosovo and the Albanian flag on it hovered over the pitch.

Tensions increased further when the flag was snared by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic, who then pulled on the strings connecting it to the drone. He was immediately confronted by Albanian players, and a shoving match ensued.

The match was abandoned after a lengthy delay. At the recommendation of UEFA, no Albanian fans were allowed into the stadium for the match in Belgrade due to tensions between the two nations. Kosovo, where the population includes both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a declaration that the Serbians dispute. Nick Ames wrote a soccer-centric take on the tensions between the two nations.

It comes down, really, to Kosovo -- and that is a phrase that can be applied as shorthand for Serbian-Albanian relations as a whole. As Tim Judah writes in his seminal history, The Serbs: "So poisoned is the whole subject of Kosovo that when Albanian or Serbian academics come to discuss its history, especially its modern history, all pretence of impartiality is lost."

Kosovo, situated to the south of Serbia and the north-east of Albania, declared independence in 2008 having previously been part of Serbia. The Serbs still regard it as their own, but it is recognised by 56 percent of UN member states and its ethnic makeup is, depending on which side you refer to, overwhelmingly Albanian. (It's worth noting that figures vary wildly.)

The emotional significance goes as far back as 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman army in the Battle of Kosovo, which took place near its modern-day capital, Pristina. It has been much-mythologised in Serbian history. Far more recently, memories of the 1998-99 Kosovo War -- an appallingly brutal fight for the territory from which it has not really recovered -- still run deep.

FYI: the YouTube embed above was recorded off of a TV...if you're in the US, the ESPN story has better video.

Tags: Albania   Euro 2016   Kosovo   Nick Ames   politics   Serbia   soccer   sports   video

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 3:05 pm PDT

Three cheers for Pig Pen Sedaris!

Pig Pen Sedaris

It makes for a charmingly local headline: Area Man Picks Up So Much Roadside Litter, District Council Names Garbage Truck After Him. Except in this case, the Area Man is the famous author and humorist, David Sedaris, whose fame is apparently (and even more charmingly) unknown by the district council and the paper covering the event.

Thrilled to have the vehicle named after him, David 'Pig Pen' Sedaris, said: "When I first moved to Horsham district three years ago I was struck by the area's outstanding natural beauty but I was also struck by all the rubbish that people leave lying around the roads.

"I'm angry at the people who throw these things out their car windows, but I'm just as angry at the people who walk by it every day. I say pick it up yourself. Do it enough and you might one day get a garbage truck named after you. It's an amazing feeling."

Don't know how I missed this story over the summer...a chapter of his next book just wrote itself. The paper followed up with a "holy shit, this dude is famous" piece the next day. (via sedaris' reddit ama)

Update: I had also missed reading Sedaris' piece about his Fitbit, in which he talks about his anti-litter efforts.

I've been cleaning the roads in my area of Sussex for three years now, but before the Fitbit I did it primarily on my bike, and with my bare hands. That was fairly effective, but I wound up missing a lot. On foot, nothing escapes my attention: a potato-chip bag stuffed into the hollow of a tree, an elderly mitten caught in the embrace of a blackberry bush, a mud-coated matchbook at the bottom of a ditch. Then, there's all the obvious stuff: the cans and bottles and great greasy sheets of paper that fish-and-chips comes wrapped in. You can tell where my territory ends and the rest of England begins. It's like going from the rose arbor in Sissinghurst to Fukushima after the tsunami. The difference is staggering.

(via @mmorowitz)

Tags: David Sedaris

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 1:42 pm PDT

Top 10 slo-mo movie moments

From CineFix, their top ten slow motion sequences of all time.

Includes scenes from The Matrix, Hard Boiled, Reservoir Dogs, and The Shining. But no Wes Anderson!?! *burns down internet* (via @DavidGrann)

Tags: best of   lists   movies   video

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 12:11 pm PDT

What the ball boy saw

When he was 17, Eric Kester was a ball boy for the Chicago Bears and saw all the stuff you don't hear about on TV or even on blogs.

I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he'd scream "Eric!" and I'd dash over and say, "It's O.K., I'm right here, got just what you need."

And from Vice, the story of former NFL running back Gerald Willhite:

Memory loss is just one of the problems that plague Gerald Willhite, 55. Frustration, depression, headaches, body pain, swollen joints, and a disassociative identity disorder are other reminders of his seven-season (1982-88) career with the Denver Broncos, during which he said he sustained at least eight concussions.

"I think we were misled," Willhite said from Sacramento. "We knew what we signed up for, but we didn't know the magnitude of what was waiting for us later."

When Willhite read about the symptoms of some former players who were taking legal action against the NFL, he thought "Crap, I got the same issues." He decided to join the lawsuit that claimed the league had withheld information about brain injuries and concussions. He feels that the $765 million settlement, announced last summer and earmarked for the more than 4,000 players in the lawsuit, is like a "Band-Aid put on a gash."

Still haven't watched any NFL this year. (via @arainert)

Tags: Eric Kester   football   NFL   sports

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 10:55 am PDT

[Sponsor] The Public Radio

If you were to design the simplest possible radio, what features would you need to keep to still call your device a radio? In making The Public Radio, Brooklynites Zach Dunham and Spencer Wright kept only four features: an FM tuner, an antenna, a speaker, and a volume knob. No alarm function, no AM band, and no changing stations; The Public Radio ships tuned to your favorite radio station, the one you listen to 95% of the time anyway.

For an enclosure for this minimum viable radio, they went with something cheap, off-the-shelf, and très Brooklyn: a 250 mL mason jar. The pair used the jar when testing speakers on prototypes and decided to keep it as part of the radio's simple aesthetic. If you don't like the jar it ships with, you can replace it with something a little more your style -- a vintage blue wide-mouth quart Ball mason jar perhaps?

The Public Radio comes fully assembled, but it's also available in two additional DIY configurations: as a high-res download of the design files for those who want to fabricate their own from scratch and a fun Maker Kit option with all the necessary components you get to solder together. Order your Public Radio today on Kickstarter!

Thanks to The Public Radio for sponsoring kottke.org this week.

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 8:21 am PDT

Norway's new pixel money

This is the design that Norway has chosen for their banknotes starting in 2017:

Norway Pixel Banknote

From now on, I'm paying for everything with kroner. (via co.design)

Tags: currency   design   money   Norway

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 7:38 am PDT

OMG Bob Burnquist

I've posted quite a few skateboarding videos here over the years and they all have their share of amazing tricks, but the shit Bob Burnquist pulls on his massive backyard MegaRamp in this video is crazy/incredible. My mouth dropped open at least four times while watching. I rewatched the trick at 2:50 about 10 times and still can't believe it's not from a video game. (via @bryce)

Tags: Bob Burnquist   skateboarding   sports   video

Source: kottke.org | 14 Oct 2014 | 6:27 am PDT

The Battle for Donetsk

For six months now, battles have taken place in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels, part of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. On September 5, both sides agreed to a cease-fire, but the shelling has continued in the weeks since, both sides blaming the other for violating the truce. Of the estimated 3,600 people killed in the fighting, more than 330 have died since the cease-fire was signed. Most of the current battles are taking place in a few neighborhoods of the city of Donetsk, primarily near the international airport. Several contingents of Ukrainian soldiers remain in control of the heavily-damaged buildings of Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, attacked constantly by rebel groups who surround them, and retaliating with outgoing fire. Donetsk city authorities said many residential buildings nearby had been destroyed and that two shopping centers had also been hit. Tensions between Ukraine and neighboring Russia remain high, despite a recent troop pullback by Russia and scheduled talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's President Vladimir Putin later this week. [36 photos]



The main terminal of Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, hit by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)







Source: In Focus | 13 Oct 2014 | 6:10 am PDT

Teeny tiny Federer

Possible captions for this photo: Honey, I Shrunk the Federer. Federer just drank some of Alice's Drink Me potion. Pocket Roger. Yao Ming is a very large man.

Tiny Federer

Tags: Roger Federer   sports   Yao Ming

Source: kottke.org | 10 Oct 2014 | 6:18 pm PDT

The reading level of Presidential speeches

Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, Vocativ analyzed more than 600 speeches from all the American Presidents for ease of comprehension. What they found was a trend toward simpler language as speeches needed to appeal to a wider range of people, not just super-educated white men.

President Reading Level

I think President Obama, no more or less than President Bush, tries to pack a lot of nuance and subtext into language that is as plain and straightforward as possible. While President Bush was often inarticulate off the cuff, Bush's speeches were underestimated. There was a crisp formality to a lot of his best speeches, particularly the ones he delivered shortly after Sept. 11.

Definitely click through for their analysis of the data.

Tags: infoviz   politics   USA

Source: kottke.org | 10 Oct 2014 | 5:18 pm PDT

2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, who shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize with India's Kailash Satyarthi, had to wait until the end of the school day before making her first public statement. "This is not the end ... I want to see every child going to school and getting an education." Kailash Satyarthi, who has been marching and working on behalf of children for three decades, echoed the sentiment: "A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime." One recipient is 17, one is 60. Both fight for the human rights of children. Both have regularly risked their lives for the cause. And both want the award to improve relations between their countries, starting with their decision to invite the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to attend the prize ceremony.

The New Yorker: "Both of these people deserved the award individually. The combination of the two laureates gives it a nuanced character -- and a different kind of power than if it had gone to either of them alone."

+ Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by giving a remarkable speech at the UN.

+ "In the paper we read she is favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize. My son is astonished. 'How can she win?' he asks. 'She's always fighting with her brother!'" Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times: My year with Malala.

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Tags: Kailash Satyarthi   Malala Yousafzai   Nobel Prize

Source: kottke.org | 10 Oct 2014 | 4:24 pm PDT

Espresso machine gun

Do you want to make a lot of espresso really fast? Enter the The Gatlino®, a machine gun that uses Nespresso capsules in place of bullets.

Espresso Machine Gun

It was during one bleary break-of-dawn that I found myself slouched over the machine making coffee and drifting into visions of the Nespresso hooked up to a belt of ammunition, or a machine gun being fed by a chain of Nespresso capsules. I'm not sure which. Doesn't matter. What's important is that it led me to wonder how long it would take to fire all the Nespresso cartridges ever made. The environmentally-conscious will be appalled.

Tags: coffee   food   guns   Nespresso

Source: kottke.org | 10 Oct 2014 | 10:51 am PDT

Mark Alan Stamaty's NYC illustrations

Speaking of Mark Alan Stamaty, the illustrator did a pair of drawings in the late 1970s for the Village Voice: one of Times Square and one of Greenwich Village. They're packed with details of how those areas were perceived in the 70s.

Stamaty Village

Stamaty Times Sq

Prints of both are available.

Tags: Mark Alan Stamaty   NYC

Source: kottke.org | 10 Oct 2014 | 7:36 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 10/4-10/10

This week we have images of human towers going up in Catalonia, eruptions of Mount Sinabung in Indonesia, a witch in flight above California, a serene Swiss meadow, the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq, a surfer in Morocco, an infinite sculpture in Mexico, and much more. [35 photos]



Japan's H-2A rocket, which carries the Himawari-8 weather satellite, leaves the launching pad at the Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima prefecture, in southwestern Japan in a bid to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts related to natural disasters. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 10 Oct 2014 | 6:42 am PDT

Club Soccer 101

Club Soccer 101

As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.

The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players -- from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.

Tags: books   Club Soccer 101   soccer   sports

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 2:36 pm PDT

Pixel Miyazaki

A short and sweet pixel art tribute to legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki.

See also 8-bit Ghibli.

Tags: Hayao Miyazaki   movies   Studio Ghibli   video

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 1:44 pm PDT

The Man Who Rode the Thunder

In 1959, Lt Colonel William Rankin ejected from his F-8 Crusader at 47,000 feet. He was not wearing a pressure suit, which was a bummer because it was -58 °F outside the cockpit. Frostbite and symptoms of decompression1
immediately ensued. But his troubles were just beginning.

As the parachute opened, he felt the familiar tug upwards. Except instead of a slow descent, he experienced a rapid ascent. The powerful updraft filled his parachute like a sail and rocketed him vertically thousands of feet at a velocity of nearly 100 mph. During his ascent, he could see hail stones forming around him. The lightning was described by him as "blue blades several feet thick" and incredibly close. The thunder was so loud, he could feel it resonating in his chest cavity and remembered this more so than how loud it was. At one point, the lightning lit up his parachute leading him to believe he had died. The rain would pelt him from all directions, and at times was so intense, he had to hold his breath for fear of drowning. But this was only half the agony -- the other half being the downdrafts.

Once the updraft exhausted itself, the associated downdraft would ensue. It was during this phase of his journey that he truly thought he would die. His parachute would collapse around him, much like a wet blanket, and plunge him into a rapid free fall towards earth. The odds of his parachute re-inflating correctly were slim, but not only did it do so once, it did numerous times through a multitude of updraft and downdraft cycles.

Under normal conditions, Rankin's trip to the ground would have taken less than 10 minutes, but that thunderstorm kept him hostage for 40 minutes. (via @BadAstronomer)

Update: In 1966, pilot Bill Weaver and his navigator Jim Zwayer were testing an SR-71 Blackbird when something went wrong and the plane disintegrated around its occupants. Weaver was incredibly lucky to make it out alive.

My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad -- just a detached sense of euphoria -- I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

(via @axlotl)

  1. "The sudden decompression caused his stomach to swell, his ears, nose and mouth to bleed, and the only thing keeping him conscious was his O2 canister attached to his helmet."

Tags: Bill Weaver   flying   video   William Rankin

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 12:33 pm PDT

Self-portraits with people

Czech photographer Dita Pepe takes portraits of herself integrated into the lives of other people.

Dita Pepe 01

Dita Pepe 02

Dita Pepe 03

(via colossal)

Tags: Dita Pepe   photography

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 10:47 am PDT

Birds Near Me

Birds Near Me is a "worldwide bird guide for iOS".

Birds Near Me is a bird guide for everybody anywhere in the world. Find what birds are near you anywhere in the world or find pictures, songs, locations and information about any bird in the world.

Powered by eBird to provide an accurate list of birds that have beeen recently spotted in your exact area.

It is also "designed and programmed by a birder, for birders". eBird looks like a wonderful resource as well. Pair this app with DIY's Ornithologist skill for a good weekend activity w/ the kids. (via @bradleyland)

Update: Merlin is another fine looking bird ID app. (via @willmorris)

Tags: iPhone apps

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 8:22 am PDT

Messi, ten years on

Lionel Messi made his debut for FC Barcelona 10 years ago. At Grantland, Brian Phillips assesses his career thus far.

The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.

He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.

Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.

Tags: Brian Phillips   FC Barcelona   Lionel Messi   Michael Jordan   soccer   sports

Source: kottke.org | 9 Oct 2014 | 7:35 am PDT

Statue or Bust: Around the World in Lenins

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, founder of Russia's Communist Party, and premier of the Soviet Union, has been dead since 1924, but his image has lived on worldwide for nearly a century. With the backing of the Soviet government, tens of thousands of statues, busts, and monuments to Lenin were erected in former Soviet states and allied nations. These likenesses became worldwide symbols of communism and the Soviet Union, and they have ridden the tides of fortune and disfavor over the decades. Dismantling Lenin statues is a symbolic act that goes back to World War II, and continues through the present day; last week, protestors in Ukraine tore down their country's largest Lenin monument. Collected here are photos of Lenin monuments from across the world, including Lithuania, Latvia, Mongolia, Ghana, Ukraine, Cuba, Russia, Romania, Vietnam, Georgia, Svalbard, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Ethiopia, Bulgaria—and Seattle. [36 photos]



A billiard club in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, with bust of Vladimir Lenin, 2007. The billiard club is located in the former Lenin museum. (CC BY-SA/freepix.eu)







Source: In Focus | 9 Oct 2014 | 6:27 am PDT

40,000 year-old cave paintings found in Indonesia

Sulawesi Cave Paintings

Paintings in a cave in Indonesia have been dated to 40,000 years ago, as old or older than any paintings found in Europe.

For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe.

But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.

"It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later," he said.

The discovery of 40,000-year-old cave paintings at opposite ends of the globe suggests that the ability to create representational art had its origins further back in time in Africa, before modern humans spread across the rest of the world.

"That's kind of my gut feeling," says Prof Stringer. "The basis for this art was there 60,000 years ago; it may even have been there in Africa before 60,000 years ago and it spread with modern humans".

Tags: archaeology   art   Indonesia

Source: kottke.org | 8 Oct 2014 | 3:07 pm PDT

Three Short Films about Peace

From Errol Morris and the NY Times, Three Short Films about Peace. Morris interviewed Nobel Prize winners and nominees Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, the former Polish president Lech Walesa and rock star Bob Geldof.

I interviewed five of the world's greatest peacemakers, and chose to feature the three who told the most compelling stories on camera. But it was a privilege to meet and to interview every one of them. David Trimble, whose participation in the Good Friday Agreement helped bring an end to Northern Ireland's Troubles, and Oscar Arias Sanchez, who brokered the Esquipulas peace agreement that ended decades of internecine strife in Central America, were no less inspiring than the three included here.

It's the easiest thing to say: that each of these stories is inspiring. They are. I was inspired by them. Can one person make a difference? In most cases, no. But every now and again something seemingly miraculous happens. And one person changes the world. Or as Bob Geldof puts it, tilts the world on its axis.

Tags: Bob Geldof   Errol Morris   Lech Walesa   Leymah Gbowee   Nobel Prize   video

Source: kottke.org | 8 Oct 2014 | 9:54 am PDT

The Battle for Kobani

For weeks now, ISIS militants in northern Syria have been attacking the Kurdish city of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, attempting to seize the city and solidify control of the territory. In the past few days, U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS have included many targets around Kobani, and appear to have at least slowed their advance for the moment. Kobani is situated on a hillside right on the Syria-Turkey border, a border crossed by tens of thousands of Kurds fleeing their besieged city. Now, some of these refugees and fellow Kurds from southern Turkey have gathered on the border to watch the battles in Kobani through binoculars and cameras. Some Kurdish forces remain in the city, defending against invading militants, supported by Western aircraft and missiles, while ISIS continues to attack with artillery, mortars, suicide bombings, and small arms. CNN reports that senior U.S. administration officials conceded that Kobani will likely soon fall to ISIS, but downplayed the importance of the loss. [32 photos]



Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani Ocotber 8, 2014. U.S.-led air strikes on Wednesday pushed Islamic State fighters back to the edges of the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, which they had appeared set to seize after a three-week assault, local officials said. The town has become the focus of international attention since the Islamists' advance drove 180,000 of the area's mostly Kurdish inhabitants to flee into adjoining Turkey, which has infuriated its own restive Kurdish minority and its NATO partners in Washington by refusing to intervene. (Reuters/Umit Bekas)







Source: In Focus | 8 Oct 2014 | 6:53 am PDT

Wrapped in Plastic: Preparing for Ebola

As several African nations struggle to contain outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, and other countries ready themselves for any possible spread, images of healthcare workers wrapped in colorful personal protective equipment have become symbolic of the fight against the disease. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, local health providers and international volunteers protect themselves as best as they can, while caring for the sick and dying and disposing of infected belongings. In other countries, health professionals are making plans, preparing to handle any possible Ebola cases, and demonstrating their methods and protective gear for the press and government officials. [32 photos]



A health care worker of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy hospital of Monrovia wearing a protective suit enters the high-risk area of the hospital, the surgical section where Ebola patients are being treated, on September 3, 2014. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 7 Oct 2014 | 6:10 am PDT

Northern Lights in the Skies Above Norway

Visible displays of the Northern Lights have been spectacular recently, for those in the far north, away from city lights. Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis recently took a trip to northern Norway, joining others making the journey to admire and try to capture the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis in photographs. Below is a collection of these images, looking to the skies above Troms County, Norway, last week. [18 photos]



A tourist takes photos of an Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over the Bals-Fiord north of the Arctic Circle, near the village of Mestervik, Norway, on September 30, 2014. (Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)







Source: In Focus | 6 Oct 2014 | 6:02 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 9/27-10/3

This week we have images of the Hong Kong protests, 35,000 walruses gathered in Alaska, a surf dog contest in California, the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Paris Fashion Week, Parkour in Gaza City, a tattoo of Morgan Freeman, and much more. [35 photos]



Riot police launch tear gas into the crowd as thousands of protesters surround the government headquarters in Hong Kong Sunday, September 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)







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

2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on October 31, 2014. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. The kind folks at National Geographic were once again kind enough to let me choose among its entries so far for display here on In Focus. Captions written by the individual photographers. [32 photos]



Empusa pennata, a conehead mantis, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey. (© Mehmet Karaca/National Geographic Photo Contest)







Source: In Focus | 1 Oct 2014 | 6:36 am PDT

The Eruption of Japan's Mount Ontake

On Saturday, Japan's Mount Ontake volcano erupted without warning, surprising several hundred nearby hikers. Plumes of volcanic gas and ash overtook the fleeing hikers and buried nearby lodges and outbuildings. Though most of the people on Mount Ontake that day were able to escape. 40 suffered significant injuries and at least 36 bodies have been found so far, according to Japanese authorities. More than 24 bodies remain at the summit, and recovery crews have been unable to return, wary of more activity from Ontake as tremors continue to shake the region. [19 photos]



Climbers descend Mount Ontake as the volcano erupts in central Japan on September 27, 2014, in this photo taken by a climber and released by Kyodo. The volcano erupted on Saturday, killing at least 36 people, officials and media said. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the volcano, 200 km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, erupted just before midday and sent ash pouring down the mountain's south slope for more than 3 km (2 mi). Mandatory credit. (Reuters/Kyodo)







Source: In Focus | 30 Sep 2014 | 6:22 am PDT

Pro-Democracy Protesters Occupy Hong Kong's Central District

Since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, the semi-autonomous city has operated under a "one country, two systems" formula, allowing a limited democracy. In August, the Chinese government announced plans to vet candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 elections, virtually assuring only pro-Beijing politicians would be on the ballots. Student groups and pro-democracy supporters have taken to the streets in recent days to protest the limitations and to demand universal suffrage. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have occupied Hong Kong's Central District, bringing parts of the city to a standstill. The protests are one of the largest political challenges to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Chinese officials have scolded protesters and warned against any foreign interference. [30 photos]



A protester raises his umbrellas in front of tear gas which was fired by riot police to disperse protesters blocking the main street to the Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, on September 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protests and baton-charged the crowd blocking a key road in the government district after Hong Kong and Chinese officials warned against illegal demonstrations. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)







Source: In Focus | 29 Sep 2014 | 6:13 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 9/20-9/26

This week, images of a storm cloud over Sydney, synchronized swimmers at the Asian Games, multiple scenes from in and around Syria, a city in Sierra Leone locked down to fight ebola, effigies of demon king Ravana in India, and much more. [35 photos]



Feifei, 21, undergoes breast implant surgery at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province, China. Feifei, who is a third-year university student and a part-time model, received a free breast implant surgery which costs about 300,000 yuan ($48,881), in return for advertising for the hospital. Around 10 days after the operation, she won a prize at a local beauty contest, reported local media. (Reuters/Stringer)







Source: In Focus | 26 Sep 2014 | 6:51 am PDT

The Alberta Tar Sands

Buried just beneath a layer of muskeg and forest in northern Alberta, Canada, lies a 50,000 square mile reservoir of heavy crude oil, possibly holding 2 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. These bitumen deposits require a lot of effort to extract, recover, and pre-process before the oil can be sent to conventional refineries. Most of the current extraction process takes place in open-pit mines, with massive machinery scraping up the tarry sandstone and moving it to facilities for processing. As the name "tar sands", or oil sands, implies, the heavy crude is found mixed in with sand, clay, and water, which must be removed, then the heavy crude must be "upgraded" to reduce viscosity and improve quality. Environmental activists have expressed concerns about the mining for years, citing destructive impacts on the land, the heavy carbon footprint of the laborious extraction and upgrade process, massive amounts of toxic byproducts, and studies that show oil sands crude emits more greenhouse gases than conventional crude oil. Oil companies continue to make efforts to reduce carbon emissions, manage toxic byproducts, and reclaim mined land, while ramping up production. The Alberta tar sands are currently producing around two million barrels of oil per day, with plans to increase that to nearly four million barrels per day by 2022. Reuters photographer Todd Korol recently traveled to Alberta to photograph some of the mines, facilities, and surrounding landscape. [26 photos]



The top layer of muskeg and earth (right), and the underlying tar sands (left) after the removal of the muskeg, at the Syncrude tar sands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, on September 17, 2014. (Reuters/Todd Korol)







Source: In Focus | 25 Sep 2014 | 6:21 am PDT

Fall Is in the Air

It's my favorite time of year once again - yesterday was the autumnal equinox, marking the end of summer and the start of fall across the Northern Hemisphere. And 2014 appears to be the year we reach peak pumpkin spice. Autumn is the season of harvests, festivals, migrations, winter preparations, and of course, spectacular foliage. Across the north, people are beginning to feel a crisp chill in the evening air, leaves are splashing mountainsides with bright color, apples and pumpkins are being gathered, and animals are on the move. Collected here are some early images from this year's autumn - more will come later as the season unfolds. Until then, you might find me out for a stroll, enjoying the season. [28 photos]



A deer bugles in the morning mist in Richmond Park in London, England, on September 23, 2014. Tuesday marked the autumn equinox where day and night are of equal lengths. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 24 Sep 2014 | 6:14 am PDT

Fleeing ISIS, Syrian Kurds Swarm into Turkey

Late last week, ISIS fighters attacked a Kurdish city in northern Syria, after seizing 21 nearby villages in a major assault. The attack on the city of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, drove hundreds of thousands of residents to flee, most heading to the nearby border with Turkey. The Associated Press is reporting that more than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have entered Turkey since the border was opened to refugees on September 19, and the United Nations warns that number could soon climb as high as 400,000. Turkey is already housing more than one million Syrians who have fled the years-long conflict between government troops, rebel soldiers, and jihadist groups. Some of the Kurdish men who escorted their families into Turkey are now trying to return home to defend Kobani, but are finding themselves blocked at the border. As the U.S. and coalition partners begin air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria, here are images of those recently driven out by the Islamic militant group. [28 photos]



Syrian Kurds cross the border from Syria into Turkey at the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on September 23, 2014. UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, warned that as many as 400,000 people may flee to Turkey from Syria's Kurdish region to escape attacks by ISIS militants. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 23 Sep 2014 | 6:46 am PDT

Opening Weekend of Oktoberfest 2014

One million steins of beer were consumed over the weekend, organizers say, as tourists and locals kicked off the 181st Oktoberfest. The Bavarian beer festival, held on Munich's Theresienwiese, lasts 16 days and will welcome more than six million visitors from around the world. This year, the average price of a mug of beer at any of the tents this year comes to €10.67 ($13.70 U.S.). Gathered here are some of the scenes from the opening weekend of Oktoberfest 2014. [25 photos]



People celebrate the opening of the 181st Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, Germany, on September 20, 2014. The world's largest beer festival will be held from September 20 to October 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







Source: In Focus | 22 Sep 2014 | 6:07 am PDT

Photos of the Week: 9/13-9/19

This week, we have a look at photographs of debutantes at the Queen Charlotte's Ball, a crumbling Soviet memorial in Bulgaria, an Estonian raccoon dog, Saqqara's pyramid of Djoser, Hurricane Odile in Mexico, and much more. [35 photos]



A pod of orca whales swim in the waters of the San Juan Islands near Friday Harbor, Washington, with Mt. Baker in the distance. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)







Source: In Focus | 19 Sep 2014 | 6:15 am PDT

California's King Fire

The King Fire started about five days ago, in a California canyon 60 miles east of Sacramento, and has since burned an estimated 70,000 acres of steep forested terrain. The wildfire is one of nearly a dozen major blazes being fought across the state right now, driven in part by the ongoing severe drought conditions. The King Fire continues to grow (as of now, it is only 5 percent contained) and has prompted the evacuation of 2,000 residents so far. Firefighters plan to strengthen their control lines and protect as many of the 1,600 nearby homes as they can over the coming days. [25 photos]



A firefighter battling the King Fire watches as a backfire burns along Highway 50 in Fresh Pond, California, on September 16, 2014. The fire led officials to call on about 2,000 people to evacuate from areas threatened by the blaze. It has charred more than 70,000 acres and is currently listed as 5 percent contained. (Reuters/Noah Berger)







Source: In Focus | 18 Sep 2014 | 6:21 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

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

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

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

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.

Eric-Decker-Tri

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.

Demarcus-Ware-Tri

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.

Cam-Newton-Tri

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.

Sam-Bradford-Tri

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

Harbaugh-Jim-Podcast-SL-TRI
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