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Collision hours

Bryce Roberts riffs on an idea presented by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh: collision hours.

The idea is called "collision hours" and Tony posits that the success of the [Las Vegas] downtown project hangs on creating spaces to maximize "collisionable" hours.

What is a collision you may be asking? It's simply colliding with new people and ideas. Sharing your own and being open to others. It's unfiltered serendipity. Stepping onto the street, or into the cafe, or into the conference and making an effort to collide with as many people and ideas in a designated timeframe. And being open to the possibilities and changes of course that collisions often enact.

It strikes me that maximizing collision hours is not what you want. Per Milton Glaser, just enough is more. One of the secrets in achieving Brian Eno's concept of scenius might be to find just the right amount of collisions for a given space.

Tags: Brian Eno   Bryce Roberts   Milton Glaser   Tony Hsieh

Source: kottke.org | 23 Apr 2014 | 1:28 pm PDT

The origins of the moonwalk

We all know Michael Jackson invented the moonwalk on-stage during a performance of Billy Jean at the Motown 25th Anniversary show. What this video presupposes is, maybe he didn't?

What the video shows is that as early as the 1930s, performers such as Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Cab Calloway, and Sammy Davis Jr. were doing something like the moonwalk. Now, Jackson didn't get the move from any of these sources, not directly anyway. As Jackson's choreographer Jeffrey Daniel explains, he got the moves from The Electric Boogaloos street dance crew and, according to LaToya Jackson, instructed Michael Jackson.

Which is to say, the moonwalk is yet another example of multiple discovery, along with calculus, the discovery of oxygen, and the invention of the telephone. (via open culture)

Tags: dance   Jeffrey Daniel   Michael Jackson   video

Source: kottke.org | 23 Apr 2014 | 11:17 am PDT

HBO shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

HBO is licensing some of their shows exclusively to Amazon for streaming on their Prime Instant Video service. Here's the scoop:

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

- All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords

- Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade's End

- Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme and True Blood

Game of Thrones and True Detective are notably absent from the deal. But Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream all of the shows above for free. (via deadline)

Tags: Amazon   HBO   TV

Source: kottke.org | 23 Apr 2014 | 9:26 am PDT

Squatters in Venezuela's 45-Story 'Tower of David'

In 1990, construction began on the Centro Financiero Confinanzas, a huge high-rise office complex in Caracas, Venezuela. Construction halted in 1994, after a banking crisis and the death of the building's main investor, David Brillembourg. The 45-story tower stood vacant until 2007, when squatters began moving in, displaced by a massive housing shortage in Caracas. Authorities turned a blind eye, and the skyscraper, nicknamed the "Tower of David" (after David Brillembourg), is now home to more than 3,000 residents. The third-highest skyscraper in the country has been jury-rigged with electricity and water up to the 22nd floor. Reuters photographer Jorge Silva spent some time with tower residents earlier this year, returning with these photographs of the world's tallest slum. [26 photos]



Gabriel Rivas, 30, lifts weights on a balcony on the 28th floor of the 45-story "Tower of David" skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, on February 9, 2014. The half-completed building, abandoned in 1994, started attracting squatters in 2007, and is now home to more than 3,000. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)







Source: In Focus | 23 Apr 2014 | 6:40 am PDT

Image copy/paste

Project Naptha is a browser extension that lets you copy text from images on the web.

Project Naptha automatically applies state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms on every image you see while browsing the web. The result is a seamless and intuitive experience, where you can highlight as well as copy and paste and even edit and translate the text formerly trapped within an image.

I was skeptical of this actually working, but it totally does...try it on xkcd or Frank Sinatra's "loosen up" letter to George Michael for example. The translation and editing features aren't enabled yet, but the project's creator is working on them. (via @tcarmody)

Source: kottke.org | 23 Apr 2014 | 6:20 am PDT

Tim's Vermeer

It's been suggested that perhaps Johannes Vermeer painted his exacting masterpieces with the help of mirrors and lenses. Tim Jenison learned of these suggestions and started to study the problem.

He was in no rush. His R&D period lasted five years. He went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. "Looking at their Vermeers," he says, "I had an epiphany" -- the first of several. "The photographic tone is what jumped out at me. Why was Vermeer so realistic? Because he got the values right," meaning the color values. "Vermeer got it right in ways that the eye couldn't see. It looked to me like Vermeer was painting in a way that was impossible. I jumped into studying art."

A recent documentary called Tim's Vermeer (directed by Penn & Teller's Teller) follows Jenison's quest to construct a contraption that allows someone to paint as Vermeer did. Here's a trailer:

Not sure you can find the movie in theaters anymore, but it should be out on DVD/download soon.

Tags: art   Johannes Vermeer   movies   Tim Jenison   Tim's Vermeer   trailers

Source: kottke.org | 22 Apr 2014 | 3:33 pm PDT

2048: the Beyonce GIF edition

Beyonce 2048

There are many versions of the game 2048 (which is itself a rip-off of Threes). There's the original, a version that plays itself, a multiplayer version, a collaborative version, a doge version, a clever Flappy Bird version, the Numberwang version, one that uses only colors, a version that uses Dropbox to save progress and high scores, a hard version that actively works against you, a version where you add tiles to thwart an evil AI, and probably thousands of other versions.

But the best one is the one where each square is an animated GIF of Beyonce.

Tags: Beyonce   video games

Source: kottke.org | 22 Apr 2014 | 1:28 pm PDT

A life without left turns

A reader saw my post about UPS drivers seldom taking left turns and sent in this story from 2006. In it, Michael Gartner shares the secret to long life relayed to him by his father: no left turns. Among other things:

My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church.

He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

(thx, gloria)

Tags: crying at work   Michael Gartner

Source: kottke.org | 22 Apr 2014 | 11:14 am PDT

NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette

NYC tips and etiquette

Nathan Pyle has written and illustrated a book about the unwritten rules for how to behave on the streets of NYC. It's called NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette (only $6!).

In NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette, Pyle reveals the secrets and unwritten rules for living in and visiting New York including the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown? Why are there so many doors in the sidewalk? How do I walk on an escalator? Do we need be touching right now? Where should I inhale or exhale while passing sidewalk garbage? How long should I honk my horn? If New York were a game show, how would I win? What happens when I stand in the bike lane? Who should get the empty subway seats? How do I stay safe during a trash tornado?

In support of the book, Pyle animated a few of the tips and put them on Imgur. Also, the Apple ebook contains the animated versions of the illustrations. You fancy!

Tags: books   Nathan Pyle   NYC   NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette

Source: kottke.org | 22 Apr 2014 | 8:53 am PDT

London traffic scenes from the 1890s

Film shot of London street scenes, mostly from the 1890s and 1900s.

There's also a brief shot of Paris in 1900 right at the end. See also the extremely rare footage of Queen Victoria visiting Dublin in 1900. The Victorian era seems so long ago (and indeed she began her reign in 1837) but there she is on the modern medium of film. Yet another example of the Great Span.

Tags: London   Queen Victoria   video

Source: kottke.org | 22 Apr 2014 | 7:15 am PDT

Super Planet Crash

Super Planet Crash

Super Planet Crash is half game, half planetary simulator in which you try to cram as much orbital mass into your solar system without making any of your planets zing off beyond the Kuiper belt. You get bonus points for crowding planets together and locating planets in the star's habitability zone. Warning: I got lost in this for at least an hour the other day.

Tags: astronomy   science   solar system   video games

Source: kottke.org | 21 Apr 2014 | 1:09 pm PDT

Game of Phones

Ooh, I really like the idea of this smartphone card game on Kickstarter: Game of Phones.

One player picks a card and gets to judge that round. They read the prompt to everyone else. Something like 'Find the best #selfie' or 'Show the last photo you took'. Everyone finds something on their phones and shows the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. First to win 10 rounds is the overall winner.

This is pretty much what people do when they get together anyway, why not make it a game?

Tags: games   telephony

Source: kottke.org | 21 Apr 2014 | 10:43 am PDT

H.G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin

In 1934, H.G. Wells interviewed Joseph Stalin. This is how the interview began:

Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world . . .

Stalin: Not so very much.

Wells: I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe what is going on around me.

Stalin: Important public men like yourself are not "common men". Of course, history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all events, you do not look at the world as a "common man".

Wells: I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being reorganised on new lines.

Lenin said: "We must learn to do business," learn this from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the spirit of Socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United States is a profound reorganisation, the creation of planned, that is, Socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points. But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Moscow and Washington?

In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they are building offices, they are creating a number of state regulation bodies, they are organising a long-needed civil service. Their need, like yours, is directive ability.

Tags: H.G. Wells   interviews   Joseph Stalin

Source: kottke.org | 21 Apr 2014 | 9:12 am PDT

Micro robots!

SRI International and DARPA are making little tiny robots (some are way smaller than a penny) that can actually manufacture products.

They can move so fast! And that shot of dozens of them moving in a synchronized fashion! Perhaps Skynet will actually manifest itself not as human-sized killing machines but as swarms of trillions of microscopic nanobots, a la this episode of Star Trek:TNG. (via @themexican)

Tags: robots   video

Source: kottke.org | 21 Apr 2014 | 7:45 am PDT

The Easter Rocket War of Vrontados

Every Easter, in the Greek village of Vrontados, members of rival churches sitting across a small valley stage a "rocket war" by firing thousands of homemade rockets towards each other while services are held. The objective for each side is to strike the bell of the opposing church. The festival, called Rouketopolemos, has been celebrated by the churches of Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani for at least 125 years, its exact origins a mystery. Gathered here are images of this rocket war from the past few years. [26 photos]



Rockets fly over bell tower of Agios Markos church during Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations on the eastern Aegean island of Chios on April 26, 2008. Two rival parishes of Vrontados village fire thousands of rockets every Easter Saturday aiming at the opposing church's bell tower in a centuries-old tradition. (Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis)







Source: In Focus | 21 Apr 2014 | 7:08 am PDT

Beautifully intricate Romanian Easter eggs

Romanian Eggs

The small village of Ciocanesti in Romania produces the most beautiful hand-painted Easter eggs I've ever seen. This video is a wonderful look at the process and tradition.

Here's how it works:

First, the (duck, goose, chicken, or even ostrich) egg is drained, through a tiny hole. Then, using a method akin to batik, it is dipped in dye and painted one color at a time, with the painter applying beeswax to those areas she wants to protect from the next round of dying. The painting implement, called a kishitze, is a stick with an iron tip. (Previously, egg-painters would have used thorns or pig bristles.)

And then the wax is melted and wiped off the egg, revealing the colors underneath. So cool. (via @colossal)

Tags: art   Easter   how to   Romania   video

Source: kottke.org | 20 Apr 2014 | 7:41 am PDT

The new Ten Commandments

From God's Twitter account, a new set of ten commandments:

1 Laugh.
2 Read.
3 Say please.
4 Floss.
5 Doubt.
6 Exercise.
7 Learn.
8 Don't hate.
9 Cut the bullshit.
10 Chill.

Amen.

Tags: lists   religion

Source: kottke.org | 20 Apr 2014 | 7:05 am PDT

Understanding innovation

Horace Dediu explains what innovation is and how it differs from novelty, invention, and creation.

Novelty: Something new
Creation: Something new and valuable
Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

Tags: Horace Dediu

Source: kottke.org | 18 Apr 2014 | 12:47 pm PDT

Big Bang gravitational waves possibly in doubt

Ruh-roh. Remember the news last month about the detection of gravitational waves would have allowed scientists to see all the way back to the Big Bang? Well, that result may be in jeopardy. The problem? Dust on the lens. Well, not on the lens exactly:

An imprint left on ancient cosmic light that was attributed to ripples in spacetime -- and hailed by some as the discovery of the century -- may have been caused by ashes from an exploding star.

In the most extreme scenario, the finding could suggest that what looked like a groundbreaking result was only a false alarm. Another possibility is that the stellar ashes could help bring the result in line with other cosmic observations. We should know which it is later this year, when researchers report new results from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite.

You may also remember the video of physicist Andrei Linde being told about the result, which seemed to confirm a theory that had been his life's work. I don't think I want to see the video of Linde being told of this stellar ashes business. Although Linde is more than aware that this is how science works...you have to go where observation takes you. (via @daveg)

Tags: Andrei Linde   physics   science

Source: kottke.org | 18 Apr 2014 | 11:02 am PDT

Citi Bike swarms

Data visualization of Citi Bike trips taken over a 48-hour period in NYC:

Love seeing the swarms starting around 8am and 5:30pm but hate experiencing them. I've been using Citi Bike almost since the launch last year and I can't imagine NYC without it now. I use it several times daily, way more than the subway even. I hope they can find a way to make it a viable business.

Tags: Citi Bike   infoviz   NYC   video

Source: kottke.org | 18 Apr 2014 | 10:03 am PDT

Aerial drone video of New York

Drone Week on Kottke continues with this beautiful drone video of NYC from Randy Scott Slavin.

I found two more videos and a bunch of stories about a drone crashing a crime scene last year. (thx, noah)

Tags: drones   NYC   video

Source: kottke.org | 18 Apr 2014 | 9:03 am PDT

The British Pathe archive

Newsreel archivist British Pathé has uploaded their entire 85,000 film archive to YouTube. This is an amazing resource.

British Pathé was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience, renowned for first-class reporting and an informative yet uniquely entertaining style. It is now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in existence. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage -- not only from Britain, but from around the globe -- of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture. The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.

I've shared videos from British Pathé before: the Hindenberg disaster and this bizarre film of a little boy being taunted with chocolate. The archive is chock full of gems: a 19-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger at a bodybuilding competition, footage of and interviews with survivors of the Titanic, video of the world's tallest man (8'11"), and the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. And this film from 1956 showing how cricket balls are made by hand:

Tags: British Pathe   video

Source: kottke.org | 17 Apr 2014 | 6:21 pm PDT

The top 100 animated movies

Time Out polled more than 100 experts to find the 100 best animated movies. Here's the top 10 (minus the top pick...you'll have to click through for that):

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas
8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
7. The Iron Giant
6. Dumbo
5. The Incredibles
4. Toy Story
3. My Neighbor Totoro
2. Spirited Away

I'm delighted to see Fantastic Mr Fox on the list...it's an underrated effort by Wes Anderson that will continue to grow in esteem as the years pass. No Wall-E in the top 10 though? I don't know about that. It clocks in at #36, behind Chicken Run (the least of Aardman's efforts in my mind) and Up, which is maybe my least favorite Pixar film. (via @garymross)

Tags: best of   Chicken Run   Fantastic Mr. Fox   lists   movies   Up   Wall-E

Source: kottke.org | 17 Apr 2014 | 5:13 pm PDT

DJ Hodor

Dj Hodor

Kristian Nairn is the actor who plays Hodor on HBO's Game of Thrones. When he's not acting, the 6'10" Belfast resident DJs and makes music. His Soundcloud page contains a bunch of his house mixes; here's the latest mix from three months ago:

Hodor!

Tags: Game of Thrones   Kristian Nairn   music   TV

Source: kottke.org | 17 Apr 2014 | 7:38 am PDT

Battling for Control of Eastern Ukraine

For the past few weeks, armed groups of pro-Russian men have been storming and seizing government buildings in towns across eastern Ukraine. Angered by the new pro-western Ukrainian government and emboldened by Russia's annexation of Crimea, these groups are demanding separation from Ukraine. Ukraine's new government has asked for western assistance, as it tries to recapture police stations, airbases, and other government properties -- without resorting to violence that may trigger a Russian response. Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are deploying in eastern Ukraine, with even more Russian soldiers massed on the other side of the border. NATO officials said they planned to deploy more forces in eastern Europe and called for Russia to stop "destabilizing" the former Soviet satellite, which has been in deep turmoil since the ouster of the pro-Kremlin leadership in February. [36 photos]



An armed pro-Russian man stands outside the seized mayor's office in Slaviansk, Ukraine, on April 14, 2014. Towns in eastern Ukraine on Monday braced for military action from government forces as a deadline passed for pro-Russian separatists to disarm and end their occupation of state buildings or face a major "anti-terrorist" operation. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)







Source: In Focus | 17 Apr 2014 | 7:32 am PDT

Game of Thrones theory

[Warning: season 4 spoilers ahoy!] So, in the second episode of this season of Game of Thrones, something wonderfully unpleasant happens. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, you should really stop reading right now. I've been thinking about why it happened and who did it. This series of images over at Imgur presents a compelling explanation.

Lady Olenna gives sympathies to Sansa for the murder of her family. Watch carefully. Yoink! Olenna rubs Sansa's neck, plays with her hair and finally snatches the right-most jewel on Ser Dontos's necklace.

Interesting, right? (I mean, maybe not if you've read the books, but I haven't so I have no idea who killed Joffrey in the books or if you ever even find out.) But there are two puzzling things about the Tyrell plot:

1. Why the hell was it so convoluted? Couldn't Lady Olenna have brought the poison to the reception herself? Why use Sansa's necklace? There's no CSI: Westeros so no one would have ever suspected Sansa's necklace being part of it. Unless the Tyrells tipped someone off about it after the fact. Also, for the love of the old gods and the new, Grandma, hasn't Sansa been through enough without being framed for that little turd's murder?

2. Why do it? Why then? Does Margaery stay Queen? She has no heir by Joffrey. Or is one of Joffrey's little brothers in now? I suspect these questions will be answered in the next episode, but unless Margaery stays Queen, the Baratheon reign ends, and the Lannisters get bupkiss, I don't see a compelling reason for the Tyrells to do this.

Bonus tidbit: this is the last we'll see of Joffrey and also the last we'll see of the actor who plays him, Jack Gleeson. Gleeson is retiring from acting, saying he "stopped enjoying it as much as I used to". I bet the guy who played Malfoy in the Potter movies is breathing easier.

Tags: Game of Thrones   TV

Source: kottke.org | 16 Apr 2014 | 6:32 pm PDT

Let It Go internationally

Frozen, Let It Go

If you have children in your home, you have likely seen the movie Frozen and heard the song Let It Go like 50 billionty times. The movie did great in the US, coming in as the 19th biggest movie ever, but it's done amazingly well overseas: #8 on the alltime list with a $1.1 billion gross.

So it's a no-brainer for Disney to release an album with 50 different versions of Let It Go, sung in languages ranging from Arabic to Icelandic to Romanian to Vietnamese. (via @cabel)

Update: Here's a video of the entire song sung in 25 languages:

(via @waxpancake & @Ilovetoscore)

Tags: Frozen   movies   music

Source: kottke.org | 16 Apr 2014 | 5:36 pm PDT

The Oldest Living Things in the World

Oldest Living Things Book

The very first Kickstarter campaign I ever backed was Rachel Sussman's project to photograph the oldest living organisms in the world.

I'm researching, working with biologists, and traveling all over the world to find and photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. I started the project 5 years ago, and have since photographed nearly 25 different organisms, ranging from the Bristlecone Pine and Giant Sequoias that you've surely heard of, to some truly unusual and unique desert shrubs, bacteria, a predatory fungus, and a clonal colony of Aspen trees that's male and, in theory, immortal.

Her goal was to compile the photographs into a book. Almost four years later, the book is out. Looks like it was worth the wait. The trailer does a nice job explaining what the book is all about:

Tags: books   photography   Rachel Sussman   The Oldest Living Things in the World

Source: kottke.org | 16 Apr 2014 | 8:58 am PDT

South Korea Ferry Sinks, Hundreds Missing

Yesterday, off the coast of South Korea, a large passenger ferry named the Sewol sank in calm seas, while carrying more than 450 passengers, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island. Officials currently confirm only 164 have been rescued, another four listed as killed, leaving approximately 300 passengers still missing. By nightfall, the Sewol had turned upside down, sinking nearly completely below the surface -- only a small part of its bow still visible. Reuters quoted one survivor as saying "The on-board announcement told people to stay put... people who stayed are trapped." As anxious relatives await word, officials have resumed rescue operations after a short pause during the darkest hours of the night. [23 photos]



Passengers from a ferry sinking off South Korea's southern coast are rescued by South Korean Coast guard in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, on April 16, 2014. Nearly 300 people were still missing Wednesday morning, several hours after the ferry carrying more than 450 passengers, most of them high school students, sank in cold waters off South Korea's southern coast. (AP Photo/Yonhap)







Source: In Focus | 16 Apr 2014 | 6:56 am PDT

Dronies!

A dronie is a video selfie taken with a drone. I featured Amit Gupta's beautiful dronie yesterday:

Other people have since taken dronies of their own and the idea seems like it's on the cusp of becoming a thing. Here's one taken by Joshua Works of him and his family on the shore of a lake in Nevada:

The Works clan sold most of their worldly possessions in 2011 and has been travelling the US in an Airstream ever since, logging more than 75,000 miles so far.

Adam Lisagor took this dronie of him and fellow drone enthusiast Alex Cornell standing on the roof of a building in LA:

Adam was inspired to begin playing with drone photography because of Alex's recent video on Our Drone Future.

Have you taken a dronie? Let me know and I'll add it to the list.

Update: Jakob Lodwick reversed Amit's dronie from a pull back shot to a Spielbergesque close-up. This reel from Antimedia begins with a dronie. Steffan van Esch took a group dronie. This video opens with a quick dronie. I like this one from Taylor Scott Mason, if only for the F1-like whine of the receding drone:

Here's a Powers of Ten-inspired dronie that combines a Google Earth zoom-in with drone-shot footage covering the last few hundred feet:

Adam Lisagor wrote a bit about drone photography and how photographers always come back to the human subject, no matter what format the camera takes:

There's a reason that you're going to see a lot of these from drone flyers like me, and it's this: once you get past the novelty of taking a camera high up in the air, getting a bird's eye view of stuff is actually a little boring.

What birds see is actually a little boring. Humans are interesting. Getting close to stuff is interesting. I bet if we could strap tiny cameras to bird heads, most of what we'd want to look at would happen when they fly close to people. If we could, we'd put cameras on bird heads to take pictures of ourselves.

The company that Amit runs, Photojojo, is going to start doing rentals soon, including kits for drone photography. And they're gonna do flying lessons as well. For now, there's a tutorial on the page about how to make "the perfect dronie". (thx to everyone who sent in videos)

Update: More dronies from David Chicarelli, SkyCamUSA, and Bob Carey.

Update: From Joshua Works, a pair of new dronies, including one shot from a moving vehicle:

What a great way to record his family's travels.

Tags: Adam Lisagor   Alex Cornell   Amit Gupta   drones   Joshua Works   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Apr 2014 | 6:44 am PDT

Rumsfeld to IRS: taxes are too damn complicated

Uh oh, Donald Rumsfeld and I agree on something. Each year, with his tax return, Rumsfeld sends a letter to the IRS explaining that neither he or his wife are sure of how accurate their taxes are because the forms and tax code are too complex. Here is this year's letter:

Rumsfeld Tax

If only he had been less certain of his accuracy in an even more complex situation, like, say the whole WMD/Iraq War thing.

Tags: Donald Rumsfeld   IRS   taxes

Source: kottke.org | 16 Apr 2014 | 6:23 am PDT

The Foodroom

If Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing, The Newsroom) wrote a TV show featuring McDonald's as a workplace, it might go something like this:

Top notch parody right there...you've got the fast dialogue, the walk-and-talks, and the patented Sorkin sermonizing.

Tags: Aaron Sorkin   video

Source: kottke.org | 15 Apr 2014 | 1:27 pm PDT

The futility of existence

What feels are these? Is this poignant? Disturbing? Whatever you take away from it, this video of an obviously inebriated man trying to negotiate a fence is a metaphor for something.

(via ★interesting)

Tags: video

Source: kottke.org | 15 Apr 2014 | 12:44 pm PDT

The young eagle hunters of Mongolia

Asher Svidensky's photographs from Mongolia of apprentice eagle hunters are fantastic. (FYI, they hunt with eagles, not for them.) Among Svidensky's subjects is a 13-year-old girl, Ashol Pan:

Mongolia Eagle Hunters

At the end of the photographing session, I sat down with her father and the translator to say my goodbyes, and I asked him this:

"How did it feel watching your daughter dressed in Kazakh uniform, on a mountain top, sending the eagle off and calling it back again?"

"Very good"

"And honestly... would you have considered truly training her? Would she become Mongolia's first ever female eagle huntress?"

I expected a straightforward "No" or a joking "Maybe", but after a short pause he replied:

"Up until two years ago my eldest son was the successor of the eagle hunting tradition in our family. Alas, two years ago he was drafted to the army, and he's now an officer, so he probably won't be back with the tradition. It's been a while since I started thinking about training her instead of him, but I wouldn't dare do it unless she asks me to do it, and if she will? Next year you will come to the eagle festival and see her riding with the eagle in my place."

From the father's answer I realized that the idea of women's participation in keeping the tradition is a possible future, but just like many other aspect of Mongolian life, it's an option which women will need to take on by themselves.

(via @rebeccablood)

Tags: Asher Svidensky   Ashol Pan   hunting   Mongolia   photography

Source: kottke.org | 15 Apr 2014 | 11:31 am PDT

Drone selfies

For the past couple of months, Amit Gupta has been playing around with taking moving self-portraits with a camera mounted on a drone. Here's an early effort. This past weekend, Amit's efforts crossed over into the realm of art. This is beautiful:

In the comments at Vimeo, Alex Dao dubbed this type of photograph a "dronie". We'll see if that catches on.

Update: More examples of dronies here.

Tags: Amit Gupta   drones   photography

Source: kottke.org | 15 Apr 2014 | 10:11 am PDT

How Japan copied American culture and made it better

American favorites (blue jeans, whiskey, burgers) have been embraced by the Japanese, who have been turning out improved versions of the originals.

In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate-and even improve upon-the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn't limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There's something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. "What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery," says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. "It's true in traditional arts, it's true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it's true of restaurateurs all over Japan."

It's easy to dismiss Japanese re-creations of foreign cultures as faddish and derivative-just other versions of the way that, for example, the new American hipster ideal of Brooklyn is clumsily copied everywhere from Paris to Bangkok. But the best examples of Japanese Americana don't just replicate our culture. They strike out, on their own, into levels of appreciation and refinement rarely found in America. They give us an opportunity to consider our culture as refracted through a foreign and clarifying prism.

Another example, not mentioned in the piece, is coffee. From the WSJ a couple of years ago:

"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."

Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.

Tags: coffee   food   Japan   USA

Source: kottke.org | 15 Apr 2014 | 9:33 am PDT

Scenes of Spring

Temperatures in the northern hemisphere are finally warming, flowers are blooming, and the sunshine beckons us outside once again. On a nice spring day like today, I thought I'd share some recent colorful images of the season from Germany, Japan, Scotland, the United States, and more. [28 photos]



Thousands of Bluebells bloom, carpeting a forest near Halle, south of Brussels, Belgium, on April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)







Source: In Focus | 15 Apr 2014 | 9:02 am PDT

GoPro, circa the 1960s

Back in the olden days, you just tied your cameraman right to the car:

GoPro 1960s

Looks almost as goofy as Google Glass. Legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart wore this stills-only proto-GoPro at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 (though not during the actual race):

Gopro 1960s Stewart

Stewart ended up winning that race. I believe Stewart is also the model for this contraption, which looks like a film camera counterbalanced with a battery pack?

Gopro 1960s Stewart

That couldn't have been comfortable. For some reason, neither of Stewart's helmet cams are recognized by Wikipedia as being the first documented helmet cam, which is instead attributed to a motorcycle race in 1986:

Motorcycle Helmet Cam

Update: Another early use of the helmet cam comes from the world of skydiving. Here's Bob Sinclair with a camera setup from 1961:

Gopro 1960s Parachute

(thx, david)

Update: Not even a bulky taped-up helmet camera can keep Steve McQueen from looking cool:

GoPro 1960s McQueen

Well, he just barely looks cool. McQueen wore the helmet during the filming of 1971's Le Mans. While researching this, I came across another film featuring McQueen that used helmet cams to get footage: 1971s On Any Sunday, a documentary about motorcycle racing. (via @jackshafer)

Tags: Formula One   GoPro   Jackie Stewart   photography   racing   sports   Steve McQueen

Source: kottke.org | 14 Apr 2014 | 11:26 am PDT

Amazon's drug dealer scale

Drug Scale

If you buy this digital scale on Amazon, the site assumes you might be a drug dealer. Nestled among the calibration weights listed in the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought section are tobacco pipe screens, rolling papers, powders for cutting drugs (I assume), zipper bags of all sizes (including some decorated with golden skulls), empty pill capsules, and even a Dr Pepper can safe.

See also the mega-packs of whipped cream chargers which are frequently purchased with balloons for the purpose of getting high. (via mr)

Tags: Amazon   drugs

Source: kottke.org | 14 Apr 2014 | 9:24 am PDT

Navy: using seawater for fuel

The US Navy is working on technology to convert seawater into fuel to power unmodified combustion engines. They recently tested the fuel (successfully!) in a replica P-51 and hope to make it commerically viable.

Navy researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon -- a component of NRL's novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process that uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock -- the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2. The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system.

"In close collaboration with the Office of Naval Research P38 Naval Reserve program, NRL has developed a game-changing technology for extracting, simultaneously, CO2 and H2 from seawater," said Dr. Heather Willauer, NRL research chemist. "This is the first time technology of this nature has been demonstrated with the potential for transition, from the laboratory, to full-scale commercial implementation."

Discover has more, in slightly more accessible language.

Tags: physics   science   US Navy   water

Source: kottke.org | 14 Apr 2014 | 7:51 am PDT

Soundtrack for The Unknown Known

Your Monday morning needs a soundtrack and Danny Elfman's score for Errol Morris' The Unknown Known is just the thing. Available at Amazon or on iTunes.

Tags: Danny Elfman   Errol Morris   movies   music   The Unknown Known

Source: kottke.org | 14 Apr 2014 | 7:00 am PDT

Fire Destroys 2,000 Houses in Valparaiso

In the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, a massive fire started late Saturday. Fueled by strong winds, flames swept across hilly residential areas, destroying more than 2,000 houses and killing at least 12. Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the weekend and are still extinguishing isolated hot spots. Today, some Valparaiso residents are being allowed to return to their homes to assess the damage, recover what they can, and plan their next steps. [32 photos]



Embers are carried by high winds as a large forest fire reaches urban areas in Valparaiso, Chile, on April 13, 2014. Authorities say the fires destroyed thousands of homes, forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 and claimed the lives of at least 12 people. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)







Source: In Focus | 14 Apr 2014 | 6:25 am PDT

Egg

Egg

New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, "A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient".

For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it's how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.

Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:

But often, Ruhlman argues, we don't treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. "It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America," he says. "We kill our eggs with heat."

Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. "When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn't fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation."

Tags: books   food   Michael Ruhlman

Source: kottke.org | 13 Apr 2014 | 11:48 am PDT

The journey of a penny

Chris Ware Penny

Chris Ware follows the wanderings of a penny in his latest piece for the NY Times.

Tags: Chris Ware   currency   money

Source: kottke.org | 12 Apr 2014 | 6:05 pm PDT

A Hundred-Pound Suit of Bees

On Wednesday, on a hill in China's Chongqing municipality, 34-year-old beekeeper She Ping covered himself in 460,000 bees weighing 45.65kg (100 pounds) in a publicity stunt to promote his honey sales. The bee suit fell well short of the record 135 lbs claimed by India's Vipin Seth, according to Guinness. Ping claims he was stung about 20 times during the 40-minute stunt. [12 photos]



She Ping, a 34 year-old beekeeper, covered with a swarm of bees on a small hill in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on April 9, 2014. Ping released more than 460,000 bees, using queen bees to attract them to his body, and made himself a suit of bees that weighed 45.65kg (100 pounds) within 40 minutes. (AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 11 Apr 2014 | 1:02 pm PDT

The world's happiest photo?

Life magazine asks: Is this the happiest photo ever made?

Drum Major, Alfred Eisenstaedt

The photo was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, who was covering the University of Michigan's marching band. When some children playing nearby set off after this practicing drum major, he snapped the photo. Said Eisenstaedt, "This is a completely spontaneous, unstaged picture."

The photographer took many notable photos -- the famous V-J Day kiss in Times Square, of Marilyn Monroe, of Albert Einstein, of Joseph Goebbels -- but the drum major one above and his ballet series are my favorites (particularly this one).

Tags: Alfred Eisenstaedt   photography

Source: kottke.org | 11 Apr 2014 | 9:53 am PDT

What makes you hungry?

Recent studies show that our physical level of hunger, in fact, does not correlate strongly with how much hunger we say that we feel or how much food we go on to consume.

As Maria Konnikova reports, a lot of things can make you hungry -- a song, a book, a smell, even a study.

Being genuinely hungry, on the other hand -- in the sense of physiologically needing food -- matters little.

In other news, Tater Tots.

Tags: food   Maria Konnikova

Source: kottke.org | 11 Apr 2014 | 8:07 am PDT

Frozen In Time: The Cyprus Buffer Zone

This year marks four decades since the Cyprus National Guard staged a coup that led to Turkish military intervention and escalated the civil war between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island. After the ceasefire, a heavily restricted buffer zone, controlled by the United Nations, was established between the north and south. It stretches 180 km (112 mi) across the whole island measuring 7.4 km (4.6 mi) at its widest and 3.3 m (11 ft) at its narrowest point. The demilitarized zone is restricted to the general public and no Greek or Turkish Cypriots are allowed inside. Reuters photographer Neil Hall recently visited the buffer zone, which still contains crumbling relics of times gone by - abandoned houses, businesses, and even an airport - crumbling snapshots of Cyprus in 1974. [28 photos]



The abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 10, 2014. For 40 years now, a buffer zone - a no-man's land controlled by the United Nations - has split Cyprus from east to west, with Cyprus's ethnic Greeks living in the south, and its Turks in the north. The buffer zone still contains crumbling relics of times gone by - abandoned houses, businesses and even an airport. In 1960, a power-sharing government crumbled soon after independence from Britain, and the island has been divided since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish invasion of the north in 1974. (Reuters/Neil Hall)







Source: In Focus | 10 Apr 2014 | 6:57 am PDT

Smithsonian Magazine's 2013 Photo Contest

The editors of Smithsonian magazine have just announced the 60 finalists in their 11th annual photo contest. They've kindly allowed me to share several of these images here, including some great shots from each of the competition's six categories: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile, a new category this year. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the finalists, and vote in the Reader's Choice Awards as well. [16 photos]



Finalist, Natural World category. A coastal brown bear hunts for salmon on Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Photographed by Daniel D'Auria of Tabernacle, New Jersey. (© Smithsonian.com)







Source: In Focus | 9 Apr 2014 | 6:29 am PDT

London and the U.K. From Above

Photographer Jason Hawkes has been making fascinating aerial images since 1991. With a gyro-stabilized camera, he takes photos directly from the open door of a helicopter. Hawkes has covered subjects around the world, but specializes in aerial shots of the United Kingdom. Once more, he's been kind enough to share some of his recent photos with us here. [24 photos]



St Michael's Mount, situated just off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall. See it mapped here. (© Jason Hawkes)







Source: In Focus | 8 Apr 2014 | 7:59 am PDT

Nyepi, the Balinese 'Day of Silence'

Every year, Hindus on the Indonesian island of Bali celebrate Nyepi, the Balinese New Year's Day. Nyepi is a day of silence, reserved for self-reflection, where people stay home and are not allowed to use lights, start fires, work, travel or enjoy entertainment -- even tourists are asked not to leave their hotels. However, the days surrounding Nyepi are anything but silent - several rituals of offering and cleansing take place before and after New Year's Day, to rid worshipers of past evils and bestow good fortune in the year ahead. Devotees burn huge demonic effigies, whip each other with fiery coconut husks, give prayers and offerings, and young couples are doused with water during a lively kissing festival. Gathered here are images from Nyepi rituals in Bali and other parts of Indonesia over the past few years. [27 photos]



A Balinese man hits another with a burned coconut husk during the "Mesabatan Api" ritual a head of Nyepi Day in Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia, on March 30, 2014. Mesabatan Api is held annually a day before the Nyepi Day of Silence, symbolizing the purification of the universe and human body through fire. Nyepi is a Hindu celebration observed every new year according to the Balinese calendar. The national holiday is one of self-reflection and meditation -- activities such as working, watching television or traveling are restricted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 7 Apr 2014 | 6:21 am PDT

Photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed today, shot to death by an Afghan policeman while covering the upcoming national election. She covered conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan for more than 20 years, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War. Last November I was very happy to be able to feature her amazing work in a photo essay titled "Afghanistan: Seen Through the Lens of Anja Niedringhaus." What I wrote then remains true: Documenting a decades-long story like the Afghanistan War is a challenge for any photojournalist, from simple logistical issues, to serious safety concerns, to the difficulty of keeping the narrative fresh and compelling. Niedringhaus did a remarkable job, telling people's stories with a strong, consistent voice, an amazing eye for light and composition, and a level of compassion that clearly shows through her images. A remarkable voice has been lost today. [30 photos]



Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus stands next to photographs from Iraq, left, and Afghanistan, right, during a press preview of her exhibition "Anja Niedringhaus At War" at the Gallery C/O in Berlin on September 9, 2011. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)







Source: In Focus | 4 Apr 2014 | 7:50 am PDT

The Aftermath of Chile's Earthquake

Late Tuesday night, a tremendous earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile, near the town of Iquique. The magnitude 8.2 quake triggered a localized tsunami that battered the coastline with seven-foot waves. The shallow temblor (12.5 miles below the seabed) also set off dozens of aftershocks -- 18 of them above magnitude 5.0 so far, including a magnitude 7.6 aftershock last night. Surprisingly, damage and casualties were very limited. Several fires erupted, smaller structures suffered minimal damage, and six deaths were reported -- the victims were either crushed under debris or suffered fatal heart attacks. Today, Chile's navy cancelled a tsunami alert and its emergency office, Onemi, which had earlier asked residents to evacuate the coastline, said people could return to their homes. [25 photos]



Fishermen try to salvage their boats in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern port of Iquique, Chile, on April 2, 2014. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck off the coast of northern Chile near the copper exporting port of Iquique on Tuesday evening, killing six and triggering a tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves. (Reuters/Francisco Alcayaga Motta)







Source: In Focus | 3 Apr 2014 | 6:13 am PDT

A Trip to Lesotho, the 'Kingdom of the Sky'

The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated on a highland plateau entirely within South Africa. The lowest point in the mountainous country is 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) above sea level. It is home to 2.2 million residents, most of them poor, living off the land as farmers. Gathered here are a handful of images from across Lesotho over the past few years. [21 photos]



The mountains of the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains, between South Africa and Lesotho, on May 26, 2007. (CC BY SA Mark Peacock)







Source: In Focus | 2 Apr 2014 | 6:04 am PDT

The Modern Face of Kabul

Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the country's capital city of Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene, a handful of sleek shopping malls, cafes, and more. Reuters photographer Morteza Nikoubazl recently set out to document modern Kabul, populated by musicians, artists, athletes, and activists who are trying to live 21st-century lives in spite of massive infrastructure problems and the ever-present threat of militant attacks. Afghanistan is preparing for an election on April 5 that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history, but it has been hit by a tide of violence as the Taliban has ordered its fighters to disrupt the vote and threatened to kill anyone who participates. Many of the people in these images were happy to be photographed, but did not want to give their names. This photo essay is part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. [26 photos]



Mahmoud Hejran (2nd from left) and Zabih Hosseini (center), members of the Afghan band Tanin, play the guitar and sing as they travel back to their music studio after performing on a live TV program in Kabul on March 4, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Shopping malls and cafes stand in the city, which is nonetheless beset by infrastructure problems and instability. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)







Source: In Focus | 31 Mar 2014 | 6:26 am PDT

California's Historic Drought

The year 2013 was the driest in California's recorded history, and predictions for 2014 aren't much better. Three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall have left reservoirs at a fraction of their normal depth, seriously threatening farms in the state that grows half the nation's fruits and vegetables. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency and signed a $687 million drought-relief package into law, and 125 additional firefighters have been hired already in anticipation of a dangerous upcoming fire season. One bright spot: gold prospecting. Amateur prospectors are flocking to the Sierra Nevada foothills, taking advantage of lower water levels to search for gold in riverbeds that have been unreachable for decades. [25 photos]



Houseboats are docked at Bridge Bay in Shasta Lake, which is 100 feet (30 meters) below its normal levels, in Shasta, California, on January 23, 2014. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have very low water levels. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)







Source: In Focus | 27 Mar 2014 | 7:27 am PDT

St. Petersburg From Above

Recently, photographer Amos Chapple spent some time in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. He used a small drone to lift his camera high above the cathedrals and fortresses, capturing some amazing aerial photos. Chapple: "There's a legend in Russia that Saint Petersburg was constructed in the blue heavens and lowered in one piece into the marshland, 'for how otherwise could a city so beautiful exist in a region so bleak.'" Chapple, has previously showed us Stalin's Rope Roads, and took us on a trip to Turkmenistan. [12 photos]



The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood during a squally autumn morning. The church marks the spot where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb-rolling revolutionary. (Amos Chapple/Rex Features)







Source: In Focus | 26 Mar 2014 | 6:24 am PDT

At Least 14 Dead in Washington State Mudslide

Last Saturday, at 10:45 am, part of a hillside above Oso, Washington -- known by some locals as "Slide Hill" -- collapsed after weeks of heavy rain, sending a wall of mud and debris across a small valley of the Stillaguamish River. The neighborhood below the hillside was destroyed, and more than 100 properties damaged, resulting in at least 14 verified deaths -- a number that may grow larger, as the list of missing has grown to 176. Efforts to rescue victims have been slow, as the surrounding hills remain dangerously unstable and the affected area is so large. Rescue workers continued their search throughout last night. [16 photos]



An aerial photo taken Monday, March 24, 2014, shows the massive mudslide that killed at least 14 people on Saturday and left dozens missing, near Oso, Washington. The search for survivors grew this week, raising fears that the death toll could climb far beyond the eight confirmed fatalities. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)







Source: In Focus | 25 Mar 2014 | 7:17 am PDT

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: 25 Years Ago Today

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez had just entered Alaska's Prince William Sound, after departing the Valdez Marine Terminal full of crude oil. At 12:04 am, the ship struck a reef, tearing open the hull and releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the environment. Initial responses by Exxon and the Alyeska Pipeline Company were insufficient to contain much of the spill, and a storm blew in soon after, spreading the oil widely. Eventually, more than 1,000 miles of coastline were fouled, and hundreds of thousands of animals perished. Exxon ended up paying billions in cleanup costs and fines, and remains tied up in court cases to this day. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was acquitted of being intoxicated while at the helm, but convicted on a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil, fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. Though the oil has mostly disappeared from view, many Alaskan beaches remain polluted to this day, crude oil buried just inches below the surface. [39 photos]



The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska's Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. On March 24, 1989, the tanker ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound -- at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)







Source: In Focus | 24 Mar 2014 | 6:17 am PDT

The First Day of Spring

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, despite continued wintry conditions in a few places. As the sunlight becomes more prevalent, people, plants, and animals are beginning to emerge from their winter modes to step outside, bloom, and otherwise welcome the sunshine. These photos show glimpses of the new season from around the world, as we shake off the winter and greet the spring. [26 photos]



A Palestinian man and his daughter pick wild mustard flowers, which grow in open fields across the Gaza Strip, on March 20, 2014, as the official start of spring was marked by the by the Vernal Equinox. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 21 Mar 2014 | 7:07 am PDT

In Syria: Three Years of War

Last weekend marked the third anniversary of Syria's civil war, a conflict that has, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed the lives of more than 146,000 people, at least a third of them civilians. As forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be making slow progress against rebel forces, the humanitarian crisis has grown astronomically -- as many as 2.5 million Syrians have now fled the country. Fractured rebel groups continue to fight each other, as well as Assad's troops, with civilians bearing the brunt of attack and counterattack, their neighborhoods reduced to rubble by mortar shells and barrel bombs. Gathered here are images from Syria over the past few months. [37 photos]



This picture taken the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, queuing to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria, on January 31, 2014. A United Nations official is calling on warring sides in Syria to allow aid workers to resume distribution of food and medicine in a Palestinian district of Damascus. The call comes as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged Syrian government to authorize more humanitarian staff to work inside the country, devastated by its 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/UNRWA)







Source: In Focus | 19 Mar 2014 | 7:24 am PDT

Winners of the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards, Part I

The Sony World Photography Awards have announced the winners of their Open, Youth, and National Award competitions today. The winners were selected from over 70,000 entries submitted by photo enthusiasts and amateurs from across the world. Overall winners and the judging of the final categories are set to be announced on April 30. I've shared some of the winners and runners-up from this year below. All captions come from the photographers. [24 photos]



Winner, Hong Kong, National Awards: In July each year, a heart-pounding scene of wildebeest migration repeats itself in Kenya. (© Chi Hung Cheung, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)







Source: In Focus | 18 Mar 2014 | 6:22 am PDT

Holi 2014: The Festival of Colors

This week Hindus around the world celebrate Holi, the Festival of Colors. Holi is a popular springtime celebration observed on the last full moon of the lunar month. Participants traditionally throw bright, vibrant powders at friends and strangers alike as they celebrate the arrival of spring, commemorate Krishna's pranks, and allow each other a momentary freedom -- a chance to drop their inhibitions and simply play and dance. Gathered here are images of this year's Holi festival from across India. See also India's 'High' Holiday. [24 photos]



Young Indians adorned with colored powder take part in celebrations for the spring festival of Holi in Bhubaneswar on March 16, 2014. Holi, the popular Hindu spring festival of colors is observed in India at the end of the winter season on the last full moon of the lunar month. (Asit Kumar/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 17 Mar 2014 | 6:29 am PDT

In Turkey, Renewed Anti-Government Protests

One day last summer, as anti-government protests roiled Istanbul, a 14-year-old boy named Berkin Elvan was on his way to buy bread when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. After spending months in a coma, Berkin died this week -- reigniting anger at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and sending thousands back into the streets in dozens of cities. Riot police were quick to react, disrupting demonstrations with water cannons, clubs, and more tear gas. At least two were killed, dozens more injured. Opposition groups are calling for further protests and are still seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Erdogan. [38 photos]



A young woman, held after she was wounded during clashes between riot police and protestors after the funeral of Berkin Elvan in Istanbul on March 12, 2014. Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at protestors in the capital, while in Istanbul, crowds shouting anti-government slogans lit a huge fire as they made their way to a cemetery for Elvan's burial. A 15-year-old boy who died from injuries suffered during last year's anti-government protests, Elvan's story became a symbol for many Turks of the heavy-handed police tactics against mass anti-government demonstrators in June, a major challenge to Erdogan's 11-year-rule. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 13 Mar 2014 | 6:28 am PDT

Japan in the 1950s

After Japan surrendered in 1945, ending World War II, Allied forces led by the United States occupied the nation, bringing drastic changes. Japan was disarmed, its empire dissolved, its form of government changed to a democracy, and its economy and education system reorganized and rebuilt. Years of reconstruction were required to recover from thousands of air raids, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the 1950s, a former enemy became a Western ally, parts of American culture became part of the Japanese landscape -- and Japan began to find its economic footing as a manufacturer consumer devices and electronics. [39 photos]



A young Japanese woman in a kimono takes part in the Hula-Hoop craze that swept America and Japan in this October 30, 1958, picture. (AP Photo/Mitsunori Chigita)







Source: In Focus | 12 Mar 2014 | 6:13 am PDT

NFL Free-Agency Storm Starts Early

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans

Mallett of Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grantland NFL Podcast: Free Agency!

Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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

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

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

The Rest of the NFL Shopping Season

Baltimore Ravens v Chicago Bears

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

11. Atlanta Falcons

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

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

12. Baltimore Ravens

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

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

13. Buffalo Bills

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

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

14. New York Jets

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

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

15. Washington

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

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

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

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

17. New York Giants

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

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

18. Arizona Cardinals

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

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

19. Seattle Seahawks

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

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

20. New England Patriots

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

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

21. Detroit Lions

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

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

22. St. Louis Rams

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

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

23. San Francisco 49ers

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

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

24. Kansas City Chiefs

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

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

25. Tennessee Titans

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

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

26. Houston Texans

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

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

27. Chicago Bears

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

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

28. Carolina Panthers

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

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

29. San Diego Chargers

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

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

30. New Orleans Saints

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

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

31. Dallas Cowboys

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

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

32. Pittsburgh Steelers

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

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

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

The 10 Teams That Should Dominate Free Agency

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

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

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

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

Oakland Raiders v New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

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

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

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

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

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

MINNESOTA VIKINGS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

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

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

New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

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

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

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

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

BRONCOS CHARGERS

Denver Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Money Pit

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

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

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

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

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So Which Teams Win … and Which Ones Lose?

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

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

Seahawks-Broncos-Tri

1. … bad news for the Seahawks and Broncos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Which Players Are Affected?

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

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

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

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

2. The Saints get flexibility with Jimmy Graham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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