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String theory at 30

As a young graduate student, Brian Greene caught the very beginning of the superstring revolution in physics. 30 years later, Greene provides an accessible overview of string theory's current status.

While spectacularly successful at predicting the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles, the quantum laws looked askance at Einstein's formulation of gravity. This set the stage for more than a half-century of despair as physicists valiantly struggled, but repeatedly failed, to meld general relativity and quantum mechanics, the laws of the large and small, into a single all-encompassing description.

Such was the case until December 1984, when John Schwarz, of the California Institute of Technology, and Michael Green, then at Queen Mary College, published a once-in-a-generation paper showing that string theory could overcome the mathematical antagonism between general relativity and quantum mechanics, clearing a path that seemed destined to reach the unified theory.

The idea underlying string unification is as simple as it is seductive. Since the early 20th century, nature's fundamental constituents have been modeled as indivisible particles-the most familiar being electrons, quarks and neutrinos-that can be pictured as infinitesimal dots devoid of internal machinery. String theory challenges this by proposing that at the heart of every particle is a tiny, vibrating string-like filament. And, according to the theory, the differences between one particle and another -- their masses, electric charges and, more esoterically, their spin and nuclear properties -- all arise from differences in how their internal strings vibrate.

Tags: Brian Greene   physics   science

Source: kottke.org | 22 Dec 2014 | 11:08 am PST

Princess Mononoke on Blu-ray

Princess Mononoke

When I first saw it during the magical movie year of 1999, Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke completely blew me away. Now that it's (finally!) out on Blu-ray1, I can't wait to see it again. Bonus: the ability to watch in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

  1. Who out there is still buying Blu-ray? I buy one occasionally but only when I really really care about the picture quality. Otherwise, streaming off of Amazon, iTunes, or Netflix is fine.

Tags: Hayao Miyazaki   movies   Princess Mononoke

Source: kottke.org | 22 Dec 2014 | 8:48 am PST

You are a small speck

It is nearly inconceivable how small we are in comparison to the size of the universe, but this video may make it a little less inconceivable. Do you know that the Sun is tiny compared to some other stars?

(via devour)

Tags: space   video

Source: kottke.org | 22 Dec 2014 | 7:06 am PST

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

With only a few days left until Christmas, lighted displays, colorful markets, and Santa's helpers are out in force. From Europe to the Americas and Asia, gathered here as an early gift to you, is a collection of holiday cheer and light wrapped up in 30 photographs. [30 photos]



A girl kisses Santa Claus at the Intercontinental hotel of Beijing, China, on December 19, 2014. (Fred DuFour/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 22 Dec 2014 | 6:28 am PST

How candy canes are made by hand

The first part of this video, the bit with the molten sugar and cooling table, is the most interesting, but the whole thing is worth a watch.

Reminds me of the lettered rock made at Teddy Grays.

Tags: food   how to   video

Source: kottke.org | 19 Dec 2014 | 11:33 am PST

Autism linked to 3rd trimester pollution exposure

A major study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has found a significant link between autism and the exposure of the mother to high levels of air pollution during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Researchers focused on 1,767 children born from 1990 to 2002, including 245 diagnosed with autism. The design of the study and the results rule out many confounding measures that can create a bias, Weisskopf said. The researchers took into account socioeconomic factors that can influence exposure to pollution or play a role in whether a child is diagnosed with autism.

The fact that pollution caused problems only during pregnancy strengthened the findings, since it's unlikely other factors would have changed markedly before or after those nine months, he said in a telephone interview.

The ultimate cause of autism remains a mystery in most cases, said Charis Eng, chairwoman of the Lerner Research Institute's Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. While the Harvard study isn't definitive and the findings could be coincidental, it's not likely given the large size and the precise results, she said in a telephone interview.

"The truth is there has to be gene and environmental interactions," said Eng, who wasn't involved in the study. "I suspect the fetus already had the weak autism spectrum disorder genes, and then the genes and the environment interacted."

It would be a huge help (and I am not in any way being facetious about this) if Jenny McCarthy and all the other celebrity "vaccines cause autism" folks threw their weight behind cleaning up pollution the way they attacked vaccination. Redeem yourselves. (via @john_overholt)

Tags: autism   Jenny McCarthy   medicine   science

Source: kottke.org | 19 Dec 2014 | 9:06 am PST

The best magazine covers of 2014

Piketty Bw Cover

The picks for the finest magazine covers of the year are starting to trickle out. Coverjunkie is running a reader poll to pick the most creative cover of 2014. Folio didn't pick individual covers but honored publications that consistently delivered memorable covers throughout the year; no surprise that The New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek were at the top of the heap.

See also the best book covers of 2014.

Tags: best of   best of 2014   design   lists   magazines

Source: kottke.org | 19 Dec 2014 | 7:50 am PST

Photos of the Week: 12/13-12/19

This week we have Santa Claus on a zip line in Brazil, a replica White House in Erbil, Iraq, freezing weather in Asia, the Taliban attack in Peshawar, Reindeer in Scotland, and the hostage crisis in Sydney, and much more. [35 photos]



One of the hostages runs towards police from a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. Iranian-born Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis walked into the cafe and held a number of patrons and employees hostage, making demands of the Australian government. The standoff ended hours later in gunfire, with two hostages killed, and Monis shot by police. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 19 Dec 2014 | 6:30 am PST

String cheetah

Love this illustration style from Kerby Rosanes. Gorgeous:

Kerby Rosanes

(via colossal)

Tags: art   Kerby Rosanes

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 1:26 pm PST

Ayn Rand reviews kids' movies

From Mallory Ortberg, some reviews of children's movies penned by objectivist Ayn Rand.

"Mary Poppins"
A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children's game. -No stars.

Tags: Ayn Rand   Mallory Ortberg   movies

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 11:56 am PST

The original score for 2001: A Space Odyssey

During the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick commissioned well-known film score composer Alex North to do the score for the film. North had previously done scores for A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and later received an honorary Oscar for his lifetime of work. As production progressed, Kubrick began to feel that the temporary music he used to edit the film was more appropriate. From an interview with Kubrick by Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you're editing a film, it's very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. When I had completed the editing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had laid in temporary music tracks for almost all of the music which was eventually used in the film. Then, in the normal way, I engaged the services of a distinguished film composer to write the score. Although he and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks (Strauss, Ligeti, Khatchaturian) and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.

And so the temporary music became the iconic score we know today. For comparison, here's how North's original score would have sounded over the opening credits and initial scene:

Selections from North's original score were later released publicly. Here's a 38-minute album on Rdio:

Kubrick was absolutely right to ditch North's score...it's perfectly fine music but totally wrong for the movie, not to mention it sounds totally dated today. The classical score gives the film a timeless quality, adding to the film's appeal and reputation more than 45 years later. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Update: Two additional facets to this story. North first learned that Kubrick ditched his score at the NYC premiere of the film; he was reportedly (and understandably) "devastated". And even when Kubrick was artistically satisfied with the music he chose, negotiations to procure the rights weren't necessarily smooth.

2) Kubrick's associates did obtain licenses from Ligeti's publishers and from record and radio companies, although they were not forthcoming about the pivotal role assigned to the music in the film; 3) Ligeti learned about the use of his music not from his publishers but from members of the Bavarian Radio Chorus; 4) he attended a showing of the film with stopwatch in hand, furiously scribbling down timings -- thirty-two minutes in all;

Kubrick was undoubtably of the "shoot first, ask questions later" school of negotiation. (via @timrosenberg)

Tags: 2001   Alex North   movies   music   Stanley Kubrick

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 10:03 am PST

Blue color without blue color

There's no blue pigment present in the wings of the morpho butterfly. So where does that shimmering brilliant blue color come from? It's an instance of structural color, where the physical structure of the surface scatters or refracts only certain wavelengths of light...in this case, blue.

Eye color is another example of structural color in action. Eyes contain brown pigments but not blue. Blue, green, and hazel eyes are caused by Rayleigh scattering, the same phenomenon responsible for blue skies and red sunsets. Blue eyes and blue skies arise from the same optical process...that's almost poetic. (thx, jared)

Tags: color   physics   science   video

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 9:17 am PST

Color photos of the NYC subway from 1966

An exhibition by Danny Lyon of color photos he took in the NYC subway is being staged by the MTA. The photos have never been publicly shown before.

Subway 1966

Subway 1966

The trains shown in these two photos still run occasionally: just catch the M between 2nd Ave and Queens Plaza between 10am and 5pm on the two remaining Sundays in Dec.

Tags: Danny Lyon   early color photography   NYC   photography   subway

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 8:06 am PST

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a documentary which presents a year in the life of Studio Ghibli and its famed director, Hayao Miyazaki. The year in question was a particularly interesting one during which Miyazaki announced his retirement. The trailer:

Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, director Mami Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli -- the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential "other director" Isao Takahata -- over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki's The Wind Rises and Takahata's The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. The result is a rare "fly on the wall" glimpse of the inner workings of one of the world's most celebrated animation studios, and an insight into the dreams, passion and singular dedication of these remarkable creators.

(via @garymross)

Update: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is now available for rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.

Tags: Hayao Miyazaki   movies   Studio Ghibli   The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness   trailers

Source: kottke.org | 18 Dec 2014 | 7:26 am PST

Winners of the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

National Geographic Magazine just announce the winners of this year's photo contest. The Grand Prize Winner, Brian Yen, will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. Gathered below are the winning images from the People, Nature, and Places categories, as well as honorable mentions, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to see earlier selections of the entries, Part I, and Part II, earlier on In Focus. [19 photos]



Grand Prize Winner. "A Node Glows in the Dark" In the last ten years, mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman stood at the center of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone told the strangers around her that she wasn't really there. She managed to slip away from "here" for a short moment; she's a node flickering on the social web, roaming the Earth, free as a butterfly. Photographed in Hong Kong. (© Brian Yen/National Geographic Photo Contest)







Source: In Focus | 18 Dec 2014 | 6:14 am PST

Zoolander 0.9 beta

Somehow I didn't know that Zoolander (which Terrence Malick and I both love and Roger Ebert hated) began as a short clip Ben Stiller did for the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards.

(via the dissolve)

Tags: Ben Stiller   movies   video   Zoolander

Source: kottke.org | 17 Dec 2014 | 2:06 pm PST

Transparent

Transparent

I'm adding mine to the chorus of voices praising Transparent, the Amazon Original Series starring Jeffrey Tambor, aka Arrested Development's Pop Pop. Tambor plays a retired college professor who is transitioning to living as a woman. Each episode is 30 minutes long and the pacing is sitcom-like, but the show is equally comedic and dramatic. The show started off kind of slow for me but got better and better as the season went on. Here's a trailer.

The first episode is free to watch but for the rest you'll need an Amazon Prime subscription1 (for which they offer a 30-day trial). Highly recommended, Tambor is amazing. Oh, and they're doing a second season.

  1. I wonder how effective this tactic is in driving new Prime subscriptions. It's weird that you can't just buy the whole season of the show for $20 or something. I would love to see their internal analysis of how much revenue each Prime member brings in over X number of years versus potential lost revenue from direct sales by non-members.

Tags: Amazon   Jeffrey Tambor   Transparent   TV

Source: kottke.org | 17 Dec 2014 | 11:41 am PST

Inherent Vice soundtrack

The soundtrack for PT Anderson's Inherent Vice is now on Spotify, well all except for one song. The album is even more partially on Rdio. For the whole thing, you'll have to head to Amazon.

The fifth track, Spooks, is a variation of a Radiohead song that's never been officially released. (via @naserca)

Tags: Inherent Vice   Jonny Greenwood   movies   music   PT Anderson   Radiohead

Source: kottke.org | 17 Dec 2014 | 10:45 am PST

The best behavioral economics of 2014 movies

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein presents his annual list of the movies that best showcased behavioral economics for 2014.

Best actor: In 1986, behavioral scientists Daniel Kahneman and Dale Miller developed "norm theory," which suggests that humans engage in a lot of counterfactual thinking: We evaluate our experiences by asking about what might have happened instead. If you miss a train by two minutes, you're likely to be more upset than if you miss it by an hour, and if you finish second in some competition, you might well be less happy than if you had come in third.

"Edge of Tomorrow" spends every one of its 113 minutes on norm theory. It's all about counterfactuals -- how small differences in people's actions produce big changes, at least for those privileged to relive life again (and again, and again). Tom Cruise doesn't get many awards these days, or a lot of respect, and we're a bit terrified to say this -- but imagine how terrible we'd feel if we didn't: The Top Gun wins the Becon.

(via @tylercowen)

Tags: best of   best of 2014   Cass Sunstein   economics   lists   movies

Source: kottke.org | 17 Dec 2014 | 9:13 am PST

After Pakistan Attack, 'the Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest'

Yesterday morning, seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban entered a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, opening fire on the students with automatic weapons and detonating multiple explosive devices. The attack killed 132 children and nine staff members, and another 120 were injured. All of the gunmen were killed when the attack was brought to an end eight hours later by government forces. The Pakistani Taliban, claiming responsibility, said the assault on the children was in retaliation for attacks on their own families in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani Army has been carrying out an offensive against several militant groups. Gathered here are images of the immediate aftermath, as well as the school's interior, photographed a day later, and scores of families affected by this enormous tragedy. [28 photos]



An injured Pakistani student who survived a Taliban attack on a school that killed more than 140 people, admitted to a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on December 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)







Source: In Focus | 17 Dec 2014 | 6:56 am PST

Wealth inequality and the Uber economy

Mobile devices and software advances have helped to create a burgeoning on-demand economy that -- in some places -- makes it possible to live your life without leaving your house (and if you do decide to leave, it's easy to order a car). But that's only part of the story. In Quartz, Leo Mirani explains how he experienced the on-demand economy long before tech revolution:

These luxuries are not new. I took advantage of them long before Uber became a verb, before the world saw the first iPhone in 2007, even before the first submarine fibre-optic cable landed on our shores in 1997. In my hometown of Mumbai, we have had many of these conveniences for at least as long as we have had landlines -- and some even earlier than that. It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.

Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.

Tags: Leo Mirani   money   Uber

Source: kottke.org | 17 Dec 2014 | 5:52 am PST

Unedited Footage of a Bear

Following in the footsteps of Too Many Cooks is Unedited Footage of a Bear. It aired for the first time on Adult Swim this week in their 4am infomercial slot. It starts off as a nature thing with a bear which is interrupted by a fake infomercial and then. Gets. WEIRD.

Update: Adult Swim has a site set up for Claridryl. There might be some answers there to some questions you might have? About stuff? (via devour & @veganstraightedge)

Tags: TV   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 1:47 pm PST

The best book covers of 2014

At the NY Times, Nicholas Blechman weighs in with his picks for the best book covers of 2014.

Area X Book Cover

Dan Wagstaff, aka The Casual Optimist, picked 50 Covers for 2014.

Napoleon The Great Book Cover

From Jarry Lee at Buzzfeed, 32 Of The Most Beautiful Book Covers Of 2014.

Strange New Things Book Cover

Paste's Liz Shinn and Alisan Lemay present their 30 Best Book Covers of 2014.

Wolf In White Van

And from much earlier in the year (for some reason), Zachary Petit's 19 of the Best Book Covers of 2014 at Print.

On Such A Full Sea Book Cover

Tags: best of   best of 2014   books   design   lists

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 1:02 pm PST

Michael Lewis' Wall Street wish list

Michael Lewis has Eight Things I Wish for Wall Street.

2. No person under the age of 35 will be allowed to work on Wall Street.

Upon leaving school, young people, no matter how persuasively dimwitted, will be required to earn their living in the so-called real economy. Any job will do: fracker, street performer, chief of marketing for a medical marijuana dispensary. If and when Americans turn 35, and still wish to work in finance, they will carry with them memories of ordinary market forces, and perhaps be grateful to our society for having created an industry that is not subjected to them. At the very least, they will know that some huge number of people -- their former fellow street performers, say -- will be seriously pissed off at them if they do risky things on Wall Street to undermine the real economy. No one wants a bunch of pissed-off street performers coming after them.

(via nextdraft)

Tags: finance   lists   Michael Lewis

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 11:43 am PST

Sounds like failure

Quick three minute video about how they made the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction noise for Star Wars.

Favorite detail: one of the sounds is from the clanking pipes in the studio's bathroom. (via df)

Tags: audio   Star Wars   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 9:47 am PST

The Terminator Paradox

Finally, courtesy of the Auralnauts, we get the Terminator trailer that we deserve. Time travel is hilarious.

I wish we could send you back with pants, but the technology just isn't there yet. So as soon as you hit the ground, you're going to want to find some pants. I know you can do it...because you already did it.

Like the old wives' tale says, if you want to fix the future, just keep sending Terminators back in time. (via @mouser_nerdbot)

Tags: movies   remix   The Terminator   trailers   video

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 8:44 am PST

The best movie posters of 2014

Adrian Curry selects his favorites for the best movie posters of 2014. This one, for Gabe Polsky's Red Army, caught my eye:

Red Army Poster

See also the best poster lists from Empire, Entertainment Weekly, and Indiewire. (via subtraction)

Tags: Adrian Curry   best of   best of 2014   design   lists   movies

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 7:16 am PST

Knight of Cups

Woo! New Terrence Malick film! Knight of Cups stars Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman with cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who also did Children of Men, Gravity, Birdman, and Malick's The Tree of Life. Here's the trailer:

The Tree of Life *wrecked* me.

Tags: Cate Blanchett   Christian Bale   Emmanuel Lubezki   Knight of Cups   movies   Natalie Portman   Terrence Malick   trailers

Source: kottke.org | 16 Dec 2014 | 6:19 am PST

An addition to the AMNH

The American Museum of Natural History is planning on expanding.

The American Museum of Natural History, a sprawling hodgepodge of a complex occupying nearly four city blocks, is planning another major transformation, this time along Columbus Avenue: a $325 million, six-story addition designed to foster the institution's expanding role as a center for scientific research and education.

The new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation would stand on a back stretch of the museum grounds near West 79th Street that is now open space.

The addition, to be completed as early as 2019 -- the museum's 150th anniversary -- would be the most significant change to the museum's historic campus since the Art Deco Hayden Planetarium building became the glass-enclosed Rose Center for Earth and Space 14 years ago.

Tags: American Museum of Natural History   museums   NYC

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 2:55 pm PST

Motion signatures

According to a recent paper, as little as 12 seconds of video is enough to identify a particular shooter's personal "motion signature".

Here's a way to shake off anonymity - literally. Footage from wearable cameras contains a "motion signature" unique to you. The discovery could identify police wearing body cameras, but also let authorities single out protesters uploading footage, say.

(via @buzz)

Tags: science

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 1:08 pm PST

Wolf Hall BBC miniseries

Wolf Hall Tv

Wait, how did I miss this...Hilary Mantel's excellent pair of novels about Thomas Cromwell & Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are being turned into a six-part BBC miniseries. Outstanding! Noted Shakespearian actor Mark Rylance will play Cromwell with Homeland's Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

BBC One will be airing the show in Britain in January while American audiences without access to BitTorrent will have to wait until PBS airs it in April.

Tags: books   Bring Up the Bodies   Damian Lewis   Hilary Mantel   Mark Rylance   TV   Wolf Hall

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 11:53 am PST

[Sponsor] Design for People

Since founding NYC-based Open in 1998, Scott Stowell has grown the company into an award-winning multi-disciplinary consulting/design/ad firm while maintaining a shoot-from-the-hip sense that design, ideas, and telling stories, even stories about brands, should be fun. Now Stowell and his Open team have taken all the work they've done, what they've learned doing it, and distilled it into Design for People, a book of "stories about how (and why) we all can work together to make things better".

I've noticed good designers are often good writers in a way that is straight-forward, clear, and succinct. The story for Design for People's Kickstarter page is a definite example of that, so I'll let Scott explain more about the project in his own words:

Open has clients like Etsy, Google, and Patagonia. Our work is in books and magazines. I won a National Design Award. That's all thanks to the people I've worked with, and you'll hear from them in this book. Design for People tells the stories of our biggest projects through interviews with clients, consultants, designers, interns, vendors-and regular people who use the stuff we make, including my Mom and Dad (and maybe you!). If you like to get into the details of how things work, Design for People is for you.

Being a designer is a fascinating job. We get to work with all kinds of people who do all kinds of things-and help solve their problems. That process is complicated, exhilarating, and fun. So is this book. Plenty of books are full of pretty pictures. Others have good stories. This one has both. So you'll hear what went wrong, how we fixed things -- and when we couldn't. Design for People will show you what it's like to work together to make things better. Then I hope you'll do the same.

I've seen some sample pages from the book in-progress and it's looking good. So head on over to Kickstarter and get yourself a copy of Design for People today.

Thanks to Design for People for sponsoring kottke.org this week.

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 10:04 am PST

How to care for introverts

I've read a lot about introverts and extroverts over the years (posted this back in Feb 2003 for example), but this list (found here) of how to care for introverts still hit me like a pile of bricks.

1. Respect their need for privacy.
2. Never embarrass them in public.
3. Let them observe first in new situations.
4. Give them time to think; don't demand instant answers.
5. Don't interrupt them.
6. Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.
7. Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing.
8. Reprimand them privately.
9. Teach them new skills privately.
10. Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests & abilities.
11. Don't push them to make lots of friends.
12. Respect their introversion; don't try to remake them into extroverts.

It's just dawned on me that when something goes wrong in my life, it's often one of the things on this list that's the culprit, especially #4 and #6. And #2 pretty much explains my middle and high school experience. Has anyone read Susan Caine's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking? I've heard great things about it, but haven't had a chance to read yet. Thinking I should bump it to the top of my queue. Holy crap, it's only $2.99 for Kindle...BOUGHT. (via @arainert)

Tags: how to   introversion   lists

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 7:21 am PST

2014: The Year in Volcanic Activity

Once again, it has been a particularly eventful year for the world's volcanoes. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2014, erupting volcanoes included Mount Sinabung, Mount Kelud, and Sangeang Api in Indonesia, Bardarbunga in Iceland, Mount Ontake in Japan, Tungurahua in Ecuador, Pico do Fogo in Cape Verde, Mount Etna and Stromboli in Italy, Pavlof in Alaska, and Kilauea in Hawaii. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [40 photos]



Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic gas and ash, seen from Tiga Pancur village on October 13, 2014 in Berastagi, Karo district, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Mount Sinabung, which has lain dormant for over 400 years, has been intermittently erupting since September 15 last year, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee their homes. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 15 Dec 2014 | 6:24 am PST

Every episode of every Star Trek series ranked

Jordan Hoffman is a huge huge huge Star Trek fan. So great is his fandom that he is able to rank every single episode from every single Star Trek series from #695 to #1. Several TNG episodes make it into the top 10, including Yesterday's Enterprise, Darmok, and The Best of Both Worlds.

Tags: best of   Jordan Hoffman   lists   Star Trek   TV

Source: kottke.org | 15 Dec 2014 | 6:22 am PST

Aerial wallpapers

Aerial Wallpapers

Aerial Wallpapers is a collection of iPhone-sized wallpapers of satellite imagery and topographic maps from @juririm. I just downloaded several of these. The image above is a satellite image of the Namib Desert in southern Africa.

Tags: photography

Source: kottke.org | 12 Dec 2014 | 11:29 am PST

The best longreads of 2014

Longreads is sharing some of their best, favorite, and most read long-form nonfiction articles of the year. So far, they've highlighted their weekly email picks and their most read exclusives, but they will be adding more as the month goes on. Some notable pieces include Ghosts of the Tsunami, You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?, and David Foster Wallace and the Nature of Fact.

Update: Longform picked their favorite long articles in a number of different categories. #1 on their best of the year is Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations.

Update: And here is Digg's list.

Tags: best of   best of 2014   lists

Source: kottke.org | 12 Dec 2014 | 9:55 am PST

2014 Physics Breakthrough of the Year

Physics World, the magazine of the Institute of Physics, has named their 2014 Breakthrough of the Year and nine runners-up. The top spot goes to the ESA's Rosetta mission for landing on a comet.

By landing the Philae probe on a distant comet, the Rosetta team has begun a new chapter in our understanding of how the solar system formed and evolved -- and ultimately how life was able to emerge on Earth. As well as looking forward to the fascinating science that will be forthcoming from Rosetta scientists, we also acknowledge the technological tour de force of chasing a comet for 10 years and then placing an advanced laboratory on its surface.

The other nine achievements, which you can click through to read about, are:

Quasar shines a bright light on cosmic web
Neutrinos spotted from Sun's main nuclear reaction
Laser fusion passes milestone
Electrons' magnetic interactions isolated at long last
Disorder sharpens optical-fibre images
Data stored in magnetic holograms
Lasers ignite 'supernovae' in the lab
Quantum data are compressed for the first time
Physicists sound-out acoustic tractor beam

Tags: best of   best of 2014   lists   physics   science   space

Source: kottke.org | 12 Dec 2014 | 8:04 am PST

Is it possible to extinguish the Sun with water?

From Quora, an answer to the question "If we pour water on the sun with a bucket as big as the sun, will the sun be extinguished?"

The probable answer is "no." The Sun involves a special type of fire that is able to "burn" water, and so it will just get hotter, and six times brighter.

Water is 89% oxygen BY MASS. And the Sun's overall density is 1.4 times that of water. So if you have a volume of water the VOLUME of the Sun, it will have 1/1.4 = 0.71 times the mass of the Sun, and this mass will be .71*.89 = 63% of a solar mass of oxygen and 8% of a solar mass of hydrogen. The Sun itself is 0.74 solar masses of hydrogen and 0.24 solar masses of helium.

So you end up with a 1.7 solar mass star with composition 48% hydrogen, 37% oxygen, and 14% helium (with 1% heavier elements).

Now, will such a star burn? Yes, but not with the type of proton-proton fusion the Sun uses. A star 1.7 times the mass of the Sun will heat up and burn almost entirely by the CNO fusion cycle, after making some carbon and nitrogen to go along with all the oxygen you've started with. So with CNO fusion and that mass you get a type F0 star with about 1.3 times the radius and 6 times the luminosity of the present Sun, and a temperature somewhat hotter than the Sun (7200 K vs. the Sun's 5800 K). It will be bluish-white, with more UV. That, along with that 6 times heat input, will cause the Earth's biosphere to be fried, and oceans to probably boil.

Well, we probably shouldn't do that then. (via gizmodo)

Tags: science   Sun

Source: kottke.org | 12 Dec 2014 | 7:26 am PST

Photos of the Week: 12/06-12/12

This week we have an oil spill in Bangladesh, protests about new pornography laws in London, the Afghan Bruce Lee, the breakup of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the Grand Canyon filled with clouds, a big wave surfer in Nazare, and much more. [35 photos]



A polar bear plays with a pylon during celebrations marking its first birthday in an enclosure at Tierpark Hellabrunn zoo in Munich on December 9, 2014. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)







Source: In Focus | 12 Dec 2014 | 6:21 am PST

More Stormscapes

This time lapse video of storm clouds by Nicolaus Wegner is flat-out incredible, by far the best of its kind.

Crank up the sound for this one. Previously: Stormscapes 1. (via bad astronomy)

Tags: Nicolaus Wegner   time lapse   video   weather

Source: kottke.org | 11 Dec 2014 | 2:56 pm PST

Welcome to Union Glacier

While working as a filmmaker as part of the Scott Expedition, Temujin Doran made a beautifully shot and edited short film about a small team of people who live and work on Antarctica's Union Glacier during the summer.

For me, this film seems a bit like an antithesis to many expedition and adventure documentaries. There is no great achievement or record broken, nor any real challenge to overcome. Instead it concerns minor details; the everyday tasks of the staff that were made more special by the environment surrounding them. And in fact, I think that's what attracted me to make this film - the delightful trivialities of an average life, working in Antarctica.

Wes Anderson-esque. (thx, joseph)

Tags: Antarctica   Temujin Doran   video

Source: kottke.org | 11 Dec 2014 | 1:21 pm PST

The 2014 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

Last year, I did a meta holiday gift guide where I picked some of the best items off of the best gift guides out there. Since we're getting down to the wire here on shopping time (not that you should buy anything for anyone this holiday season or any other time of the year), let's crank up this year's version.

Consider giving to charity this year. If you can't spare the time to volunteer (look here or Google for specific opportunities in your area), go on Charity Navigator or Give Well to find an organization worth your attention. Or go on Kiva and give small loans to dozens of families around the world.

For their list this year, The Wirecutter did a list of The Things We Want to Give. Items include The Neat Ice Kit, Benton's ham, and The Flavor Thesaurus. Hmm, I picked all food stuff there. I must be hungry.

I recommend these every year: the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray and the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer.

From Boing Boing's Happy Mutant's Gift Guide 2014, the excellent Eyes on the Prize documentary on DVD, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 Treadmill Desk, a Lodge 10.5-inch round skillet (can personally vouch for this), and perhaps my favorite Amazon item of all time, the 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Don't worry, the latter item includes a lube pump so you don't need to buy it separately.

For the sports fan in your life, SB Nation's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide includes Zubaz pants (!!), Big League Chew, the Bluetooth Gramophone, and a home beer brewing kit. Throwback-errific!

Among the items on the Tools & Toys Christmas Catalog, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and the Bellroy Slim Sleeve Wallet (which is my own personal wallet).

Nothing on Mat Honan's 8 Perfect Gift Ideas for 'Twitter Dads' really grabbed me (even though I am an official Twitter Dad), except for the Bugaboo Bee. We had the first iteration of that stroller and it was the absolute best thing. We wore out two sets of wheels strollering Ollie and Minna around the city in that thing.

But I'll take one of everything off of The Kid Should See This Gift Guide. Especially Animalium, the Crosley portable turntable, My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-ray, and a vintage typewriter. [Update: My friend Dan says to avoid Crosley turntables: "They use ceramic cartridges that track 3x as heavy as standard carts, permanently damaging records." I have no idea what that means, but Dan knows things about turntables so you might want to make another choice.]

Good year for science-ish nonfiction books: How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson, What If? by Randall Munroe, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

And cookbooks: Plenty More from Yotam Ottolenghi, MEAT by Pat LaFrieda, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, Michael Ruhlman's Egg, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, My Paris Kitchen from David Lebovitz (whose Paris dining recommendations are top notch), and Jeffrey Morgenthaler's The Bar Book.

The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide features products made locally in Brooklyn, including bracelets with subways maps and kottke.org favorite, Tattly.

Tom Bihn's What We're Giving list includes Fairbault wool blankets and their own Shop Bag. (via @widepipe)

One of many holiday lists from Food52, the Under $25 Gift Guide features Heirloom Seed Art Packets and this Water Bottle with Charcoal Filter.

The Continuous Lean went on a serious listing bender with The Epic ACL Holiday Gift Guide 2014. The stylish selections include the Whiskey Wedge, the Jaguar F-Type Project 7, and the Lego Architecture Fallingwater set.

Josh Rives made a list of gifts that don't suck. Among the non-suckage is The Dangerous Book for Boys, Coudal and Draplin's excellent Field Notes, and Cards Against Humanity.

Many many things on the NY Times Holiday Gift Guide, including Julia, Child these awesome cement stair planters, and History of the World in 1,000 Objects.

Since their acquisition by Vox, Eater has been better than ever. Their Holiday Gift Ideas 2014 package is overflowing with good choices, among them are sausages from Butcher & the Boar (smoooooked cheddarwurst!!!) and Fictitious Dishes.

Speaking of Vox, The Verge has a load of tech-oriented picks, including a selection under . They recommend MUJI notebooks and David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. One of The Verge's more baller picks is the Nintendo Wii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set. Which, droooooool. Santa, you got me covered on this?

Misc: the Good Web Bundle gives you subscriptions to five indie services/sites for one low price. You can get 8GB flash drives in necklace form now. From Haruki Murakami, a recently released short novel about "a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library". I have no idea if they are actually vintage or just made to look so, but you can find several vintage Soviet chess sets on Etsy (like this one); I bought one recently and if someone faked it, they did a good job. (Even if it's fake, it's real, etc.) You can buy Post-It Notes that are almost two-feet across.

Update: Added the guide from Tools & Toys and added a warning about the portable turntable. Added giant Post-It Notes. Added The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide. Added Tom Bihn's list. Added Food52 list. Added The Continuous Lean set. Added a list of gifts that don't suck. Added lists from the NY Times, Eater, and The Verge.

Tags: kottke.org

Source: kottke.org | 11 Dec 2014 | 9:49 am PST

Curiosity: stronger support for life on Mars

Whilst roving about Mars, Curiosity has slowly but surely racked up evidence for a past Mars that was warm, wet, and possibly habitable.

John P. Grotzinger of Caltech, the project scientist for the mission, reported at a news conference on Monday that the rover's yearlong trek to Mount Sharp provided strong new evidence that Gale Crater had large lakes, rivers and deltas, on and off, for millions to tens of millions of years. The geology shows that even when the surface water dried up, plenty of water would have remained underground, he said.

Moreover, the team concluded, numerous deltalike and lakelike formations detected by orbiting satellites are almost certainly the dried remains of substantial ancient lakes and deltas. None of this proves that life existed on the planet, but the case for an early Mars that was ripe and ready for life has grown stronger.

"As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a habitable planet," Dr. Grotzinger said in an interview. "Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a handful of locations, but at different times around the globe."

See also the interactive 28 Months on Mars.

Update: And right on cue, Curiosity has recorded a two-month-long methane burst on Mars. One explanation for the methane is that it's a waste product of living organisms.

The presence of methane is significant because the gas cannot exist for long. Calculations indicate that sunlight and chemical reactions in the Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years, so any methane there now must have been created recently.

It could have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life in the form of microbes known as methanogens, which release methane as a waste product.

Even if the explanation for the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems would still be prime locations to search for signs of life.

Tags: Curiosity   Mars   science   space

Source: kottke.org | 11 Dec 2014 | 8:36 am PST

Recursive gaming

The Entire Screen of One Game is like the video game version of Powers of Ten. The game isn't fun or winnable, but it will confuse your brain after only a few seconds. (via @pieratt)

Tags: video games

Source: kottke.org | 11 Dec 2014 | 7:41 am PST

Photos From the Vietnam War: Lost and Found

Charlie Haughey was drafted into the US Army in 1967, and served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division 2nd Battalion 12th Infantry, as a rifleman. While serving as a point-man for a rifle company, Charlie was commissioned to be the new battalion photographer, and ended up shooting nearly 2,000 poignant photos over the course of 13 months while he served with his rifle company. After returning home, he put the negatives in boxes, and didn't return his attention to them for most of his life. In the fall of 2012, a chance encounter in Portland, Oregon, brought the negatives out of dormancy, and into a film scanner, and the photo collection was digitized and cataloged. A team of volunteers assembled and prepared a show of 28 images, which attracted worldwide press and thousands of visitors, and produced connections with surviving veterans of the 2/12th Infantry. Since the photo show, Charlie has reconnected with members of his unit, many subjects of the photographs have been identified, and the same team of volunteers has been working on a new book of photos, which they are now crowdfunding. The book, titled "A Weather Walked In", will contain 114 photographs, and will be accompanied by a iPad book of nearly 150 photos with audio captions by Charlie. Charlie and his team have been kind enough to share the following photos from the project with us here. Please check out the crowdfunding page, or follow the project on Facebook. [20 photos]



Members of a rifle platoon ready themselves in the field during the Vietnam War. This is one of nearly 2,000 photographs shot by photographer Charlie Haughey, a member of the Army 25th Infantry division, between 1968 and 1969. When he returned home, the photographs were boxed up for the next 40 years, only now being rediscovered, digitized, and made available to the public. (© Charlie Haughey)







Source: In Focus | 11 Dec 2014 | 6:47 am PST

Inside the brain of a designer

If you've ever wondered how a designer does their thing (or even if you haven't), this look-over-the-shoulder view of Aaron Draplin designing a logo for a fictional company in about 10 minutes is great. A nice reminder that design is truly about making it up as you go along.

I love Draplin. Internet treasure, that guy. And that lefty writing claw! Go lefties!

Tags: Aaron Draplin   design   logos   video

Source: kottke.org | 10 Dec 2014 | 3:51 pm PST

2014: The Year in Photos, September-December

As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014, a particularly brutal year. Among the events covered in this essay (the last of a three-part photo summary of the year): severe drought in California, Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, raging battles and U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, victories for same-sex marriage proponents in the U.S., the successful test launch of NASA's new Orion spacecraft, and crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Be sure to see part 1 and part 2 posted earlier. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]



A protester holds her hands up in front of a police car in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 25, 2014 during demonstrations a day after violent protests and looting following the grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of a 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown. Protest marches sprang up in cities across the US on November 25, amid a tense security operation in Ferguson, the Missouri town at the center of the country's latest racially-charged stand-off. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 10 Dec 2014 | 6:37 am PST

2014: The Year in Photos, May-August

As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014, a particularly brutal year. Among the events covered in this essay (the second of a three-part photo summary of the year): Summer rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, the World Cup in Brazil, the flight of the Yazidis from ISIS in Iraq, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the Israel-Gaza conflict. Be sure to see part 1, and part 3 as well. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]



An emotional Brazil fan reacts after his team was defeated by Germany 7-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 8, 2014. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 9 Dec 2014 | 6:53 am PST

2014: The Year in Photos, January-April

As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014. Among the events covered in this essay (the first of a three-part photo summary of the year): Protests that drove Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych from office, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, multiple protests worldwide, Ellen DeGeneres' much-retweeted selfie from the Oscars, the ongoing and brutal situation in war-torn Syria, the opening of the largest solar thermal power-tower system in the world, and a playful rocket battle in Vrontados, Greece. See also part 2, and part 3. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]



Anti-government protesters clash with police in Independence square, despite an earlier truce agreed between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Early in 2014, violence flared between police and anti-government protesters, who called for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych fled the country in February, but deep divisions within Ukraine spurred in part by Russian involvement, led to months of bloody conflict. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 8 Dec 2014 | 6:27 am PST

Photos of the Week: 11/29-12/05

This week we have nationwide protests about the failure to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Typhoon Hagupit approaching the Philippines, the most complete Stegosaurus fossil ever discovered, demonic Perchten on the march, the UK Christmas Tree Throwing Championships, the successful test launch of the Orion spacecraft, and much more. [35 photos]



A demonstrator cries during a gathering in Philadelphia to protest the Eric Garner grand jury decision during a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at City Hall on December 3, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Organizers called for the demonstration after a grand jury in the Staten Island borough of New York City declined to indict the police officer who used a chokehold on Garner, resulting in his death. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 5 Dec 2014 | 6:39 am PST

New York's Chinatown in the Early 1980s

From 1981 to 1984, photographer Bud Glick worked on a photography project as part of the New York Chinatown History Project, now the Museum of Chinese in America. An older Chinatown generation was being replaced by a rapidly expanding new influx of immigrants. His goal was to document the transformation from an aging and primarily male neighborhood (due to restrictive and discriminatory immigration laws) to a new community of young families. Now, three decades later, Glick has scanned his Chinatown negatives and made large prints. "It's exciting to revisit personal work that I did more than 30 years ago and interpret it digitally, a process that allows me the ability to get more out of a negative than I ever could in the darkroom," he says. "I'm able to give new life to old work. More importantly, time has changed me and the way that I see the work. I've found images, overlooked in the past, that due to the passage of time have taken on new meaning and import." For today's viewers, Glick's intimate portraits of Chinese immigrants on the streets, at work, and at home, are rare documents that capture a specific moment in time, a small chapter in the story of the American experience. [22 photos]



Celebrating Chinese New Year on Bayard St., in New York City's Chinatown, in 1984. (© Bud Glick)







Source: In Focus | 4 Dec 2014 | 6:48 am PST

An Icy Start to Winter

Recent storms and plunging temperatures have encrusted regions of Germany, Austria, and Hungary in thick sheets of ice. Freezing fog and icy rain coated nearly every surface, leaving road signs and trees looking like works of abstract art. The weather has closed some schools and left residents without power as crews work to clear heavy tree branches from roads, buildings, and power lines. [18 photos]



A sign for the village of Schneeberg, (literally, "Snow Mountain"), covered with ice, in northern Austria on December 3, 2014. Freezing fog and rain has covered parts of the region with ice, causing blocked roads due to fallen trees and closed schools for security reasons, local media report. (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)







Source: In Focus | 3 Dec 2014 | 6:53 am PST

Bhopal: The World's Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, on the night of December 2, 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases. The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, leading to more than 600,000 people being exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,800 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years. Toxic material remains, and 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when Michigan-based Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001. Human rights groups say that thousands of tons of hazardous waste remain buried underground, and the government has conceded the area is contaminated. There has, however, been no long-term epidemiological research which conclusively proves that birth defects are directly related to the drinking of the contaminated water. [28 photos]



Trees frame a rusting building at the abandoned former Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on November 11, 2014. On the night of December 2, 1984, the factory owned by the U.S. multinational Union Carbide Corporation accidentally leaked methyl isocyanate and other highly toxic gases into the air, killing thousands of largely poor Indians in the neighborhoods nearby. (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)







Source: In Focus | 2 Dec 2014 | 6:18 am PST

2014 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

It's that time of year again—time for my favorite holiday tradition: the 2014 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Every day until Thursday, December 25, this page will present an amazing new image of our universe from NASA's Hubble telescope. Be sure to visit every day until Christmas, or follow me on Twitter (@in_focus), Google+, Facebook, or Tumblr for daily updates. I hope you enjoy these amazing and awe-inspiring images and the efforts of the science teams who have brought them to Earth. Merry Christmas, and peace on Earth to all. (Also, choosing the "1280px" viewing option below, if you can support it, is always a good option.) [25 photos, eventually]



"Mystic Mountain", a pillar of gas and dust three light-years tall, is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby stars. This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. Scorching radiation and streams of charged particles from super-hot newborn stars in the nebula are shaping and compressing the pillar, causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of hot ionized gas can be seen flowing off the ridges of the structure, and wispy veils of gas and dust, illuminated by starlight, float around its towering peaks. Long streamers of gas can be seen shooting in opposite directions from the pedestal at the top of the image. Another pair of jets is visible at another peak near the center of the image. These jets are signposts for new star birth and are launched by swirling gas and dust discs around the young stars, which allow material to slowly accrete onto the stellar surfaces. Image made in February of 2010. (NASA, ESA, M. Livio, STScI)







Source: In Focus | 1 Dec 2014 | 6:41 am PST

Photos of the Week: 11/22-11/28

This week we have Black Friday in the UK, a flood protection system in Venice, scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, Australian bats, parade balloons in New York City, a Soyuz launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and much more. [35 photos]



A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 28 Nov 2014 | 6:30 am PST

Scenes from Nepal

Nepal, the "Roof of the World", is home to 27 million people, eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, and a distinct and rich culture. Gathered here are scenes from around Nepal, of its landscape, its residents, and multiple Hindu festivals and traditions, gathered over the past few years. [32 photos]



Mount Ama Dablam, which stands approximately 6,800 meters above sea level, behind Khumjung Village in Solukhumbu District, Nepal, on April 30, 2014. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the summit of Everest, the world's highest peak, since it was first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953. In April, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali Sherpa guides who were fixing ropes and ferrying supplies for their foreign clients to climb the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak. The accident - the deadliest in the history of Mount Everest - triggered a dispute between sherpa guides who wanted a climbing ban in honor of their colleagues and the Nepali government that refused to close the mountain. The sherpas staged a boycott, forcing hundreds of foreign climbers to call off their bids to climb Everest. (Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar)







Source: In Focus | 26 Nov 2014 | 6:20 am PST

Violent Protests in Ferguson, Missouri

Last night, the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was announced, leading to protests in many cities across the U.S. In Ferguson, Missouri, where Officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown last August, demonstrations quickly turned violent, despite calls for peaceful protest from the Brown family and members of the community. Cars were smashed, stores looted, and at least a dozen buildings were set on fire, as a heavy police presence tried to establish order. Due to safety concerns including sporadic gunfire, firefighters were unable to respond quickly, and a number of businesses burned to the ground. As the night became early morning, arrests were made, streets were cleared and most fires were extinguished. [25 photos]



Police officers walk by a burning police car during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 24 Nov 2014 | 11:07 pm PST

The Ship Breakers

Modern steel-hulled ships are built to last for several decades at sea before repair becomes uneconomical. After their useful life is over, more than 90 percent of the world's ocean-going container ships end up on the shores of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Bangladesh, where labor is cheap, demand for steel is high, and environmental regulations are lax. The ships are driven right up onto shoreline lots set aside for ship breaking, then attacked by hammer and blowtorch until all usable material has been stripped away to be sold or recycled. The work is extremely difficult, and low-paid workers face significant risks from the dangerous conditions and exposure to materials like asbestos and heavy metals. Environmental groups have raised alarms for years over the continued release of toxins into the environment from these shipyards. Gathered here are images from these yards taken over the past several years. [31 photos]



A shipyard worker is enveloped in fumes coming off a separating wall he is cutting through with his blowtorch inside the hull of a ship being dismantled in one of the 127 ship-breaking plots in Gaddani, some 40Kms west of Karachi, Pakistan, on July 9, 2012. Gaddani's ship-breaking yards employ some 10,000 workers including welders, cleaners, crane operators and worker supervisors. The yards are one of the largest ship-breaking operations in the world rivaling in size those located in India and Bangladesh. It takes 50 workers about three months to break down a midsize average transport sea vessel of about 40,000 tonnes. The multimillion-dollar ship-breaking industry contributes significantly to the national supply of steel to Pakistani industries. For a six-day working week of hard and often dangerous work handling asbestos, heavy metals and PCBs, employees get paid about 300 USD a month of which half is spent on food and rent for run-down rickety shacks near the yards, a labor representative told AFP. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)







Source: In Focus | 24 Nov 2014 | 6:55 am PST

Photos of the Week: 11/15-11/21

This week we have big wave surfing in Portugal, a Beaujolais wine spa in Japan, a massive floating Christmas tree in Rio de Janeiro, a plane crash in Chicago, protests in Mexico City, real-life Mario Kart races in Tokyo, a descent into a mysterious hole in northern Siberia, a blizzard in New York state, and much more. [35 photos]



A vehicle, with a large chunk of snow on its top, drives along Route 20 after digging out after a massive snow fall in Lancaster, New York, on November 19, 2014. An autumn blizzard dumped a year's worth of snow in three days on Western New York state, where five people died and residents, some stranded overnight in cars, braced for another pummeling that hit later in the week. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)







Source: In Focus | 21 Nov 2014 | 6:03 am PST

NFL Free-Agency Storm Starts Early

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans

Mallett of Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grantland NFL Podcast: Free Agency!

Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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

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

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

The Rest of the NFL Shopping Season

Baltimore Ravens v Chicago Bears

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

11. Atlanta Falcons

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

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

12. Baltimore Ravens

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

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

13. Buffalo Bills

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

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

14. New York Jets

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

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

15. Washington

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

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

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

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

17. New York Giants

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

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

18. Arizona Cardinals

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

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

19. Seattle Seahawks

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

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

20. New England Patriots

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

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

21. Detroit Lions

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

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

22. St. Louis Rams

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

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

23. San Francisco 49ers

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

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

24. Kansas City Chiefs

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

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

25. Tennessee Titans

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

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

26. Houston Texans

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

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

27. Chicago Bears

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

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

28. Carolina Panthers

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

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

29. San Diego Chargers

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

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

30. New Orleans Saints

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

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

31. Dallas Cowboys

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

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

32. Pittsburgh Steelers

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

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

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

The 10 Teams That Should Dominate Free Agency

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

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

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

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

Oakland Raiders v New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

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

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

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

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

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

MINNESOTA VIKINGS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

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

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

New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

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

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

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

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

BRONCOS CHARGERS

Denver Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Money Pit

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

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

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

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

Eric-Decker-Tri

So Which Teams Win … and Which Ones Lose?

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

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

Seahawks-Broncos-Tri

1. … bad news for the Seahawks and Broncos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demarcus-Ware-Tri

Which Players Are Affected?

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

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

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

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

2. The Saints get flexibility with Jimmy Graham.

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

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

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

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

Cam-Newton-Tri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam-Bradford-Tri

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

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

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

♦♦♦

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

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

Grantland NFL Podcast: NFL Combine and Offseason Moves

Harbaugh-Jim-Podcast-SL-TRI
Mays and Barnwell share their combine experiences before getting to the first cuts and signings of the offseason.

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

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

Bridging the Analytics Gap

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

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

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

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

Ken Whisenhunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Mawae

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony LaRussa

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

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

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

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

Ron Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curious Case of Jim Harbaugh

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

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

1. Is the story true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Harbaugh trade would have been legal under league rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Why would the Browns want to acquire Harbaugh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Should this deal have happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the NFL’s SATs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle’s Best

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

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

Possession

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary Modern

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

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

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

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

The Impostor

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

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

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

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

Thank You for Not Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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