Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

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Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran When the NFL lockout ends, free agency soon begins. And it's going to look a little like this(that's Rex Ryan at the 15-second mark). Between unrestricted free agents and undrafted college players, there could be morethan 700 players hitting the open market in the next few weeks. GMs, coaches,agents and - mostly significantly - players and their families are going to be heavily impacted by the newly hatched free agent rules. Action on the available players is going to be fast, especially if training camps are going to open as scheduled in late July. And so much is still unknown. For instance, the answer to the basic question of whether free agency will begin for players with four vested seasons (the old model), six vested seasons (a possibility) or the middle ground of five. "First of all, nobodys talking about it," said player agent Joe Linta. "Is (free agency) going to be after six (seasons)? Four? Will we do what happened in 2010? This is a huge concern to at least a quarter of the players or more. You dont see any discussion about that. You dont hear (NFLPA Executive Director) De Smith say what exactly they're fighting toward. It's such a mountainous point of will it besix or fouryears. You have 250 guys who are in that boat."In terms of their own roster, the Patriots don't have major concerns because their 2006 and 2007 draft were so awful. Only one player from each draft is still on the roster. There'sBrandon Meriweather from 2007, signed through the 2011 season.And there's Stephen Gostkowski from 2006 who missed out on free agency because of the 2010 rules change that delayed free agency to players with fewer than six years played. Gostkowski signed an extension through 2014 last year while he was a restricted free agent. But the Patriots are affected because they'll need to know who they can target, how much they can spend (the final owners proposal in March had a salary cap of 114 million, down from the approximately 126 million teams had in the last capped year, 2009) and how quickly they must act. There won't be much time for foreplay. "I dont know if there will be a lot of time for recruiting trips," said Linta. "The player and agent will, in most instances, get together, look at the opportunities and move from there. In phone calls with the teams, you would do the preliminaries of the contract so that the recruiting trip almost becomes the signing trip. I don't think you'll see the reunion tours you usually do when free agency starts in March."Agent Rick Smith of Priority Sports and Entertainment notes the two other unknowns in the equation - undrafted rookies and rookie contracts for players who were selected in April's draft. Those will also have to be done before camps begin."The way I look at how that works is it will be really, really busy," said Smith. "It will force everyone to get to deals a lot quicker. It will force teams and agents to get to a number pretty quick and not go through the dance we normally go through. Our office did basketball free agency after their lockout (in 1998-99) and we went in a conference room and laid out 30 contracts on the table and got to work. It will be like that in football. Go to work and grind." Because there's so much at stake, no details have leaked from recent negotiations. Information on the rookie salary cap, team salary caps, who will be a free agent, when free agency begins - it's all unknown. And, as internet strongman Mike Florio wrote Friday morning on PFT, front offices will need time to digest the new rules. Meanwhile, GMs and coaches - who have traditionally flouted the league's tampering rules prior to free agency at the NFL Combine in February - have seemed to hew to the cone of silence the lockout brought. "None of that stuff is going on right now," said Linta. "There are some pretty serious repercussions from tampering and you're just not seeing it."That leaves it to the agents and players to determine whatpossible destinations exist.
"The reality is, there'snot a lot that can be done besides internal research," said agent Jon Perzley from SportStars.

Perzley represents LSU wide receiver Terrence Tolliver, a promising 6-3, 212-pound target that went undrafted. "There arecertain teams he'll fit; certain teams he won't," Perzley said. "Hell have a job real quick, that we know."Where he'll be working, living, and how much he'll be paid, though, Tolliver can't know. Nor can the hundreds of other free agents who are waiting in limbo before the free agent gold rush of 2011 begins.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.