Breitbart Sports caught up with Dan Leberfeld, longtime publisher of Jets Confidential and co-host of “Press Coverage” on Sirius XM’s NFL Radio every Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern, to get a sense of this year’s NFL free agents. Given Leberfeld’s expertise on everything Jets, and the mother-lode of money Rex Ryan’s team can spend on new players, it made sense to start out the conversation with a question on the New York Jets.
FLYNN: The Jets seem more poised to make a turnaround than other teams in the NFL. Last year, writers had prepared Rex Ryan’s obituary as coach. Coming off an inspiring 8-8 season (as much as mediocre can be inspiring) in which the players clearly performed for their coach, the Jets have cap room and appear eager to spend. What holes do the Jets have and what free agents might potentially fit into those holes?
LEBERFELD: The Jets have missed the playoffs three years in a row. Even though he got a one-year extension, Rex Ryan’s got to win this year, or he could be looking for a new job in 2015.
Players do play hard for Ryan because he’s the quintessential players’ coach–he makes work fun and he takes care of their bodies by not running them into the ground in practice. Players love playing for Ryan, and this will help them in free agency. Florham Park, N.J. is a desired free-agent landing spot due to Ryan.
In free agency, they have a number of needs, like a veteran bump-and-run corner to start opposite Dee Milliner, a right guard (last year’s right guard Willie Colon is a free agent and rehabbing an arm injury) and a pass rushing outside linebacker (maybe DeMarcus Ware).
There is a fan and media obsession with the Jets adding more weapons in the passing game. While they definitely could use a weapon or two, they don’t want Geno Smith throwing a lot during games, so why spend big money on receivers when you want to limit the passes your QB throws? They aren’t going to throw the ball around the lot 40-50 times like New England and Denver.
Speaking of quarterback, one of the Jets’ biggest needs is a veteran backup quarterback, who not only can play if the starter gets hurt, but who can become the starter in case Smith struggles. They need a Cadillac insurance policy who can save the day if Smith isn’t the answer, because Ryan needs to win this year. He can’t be patient with the Year Two growing pains of his young quarterback. Veterans like Josh McCown and Matt Schaub are possibilities.
FLYNN: Revis Island seems overpriced real estate at $16 million a season. As someone who covers the Jets as closely as anyone, what can you tell fans about Darrelle Revis the person that they might not already know? Richard Sherman seems to have overshadowed him as the NFL’s shutdown corner. Will that stoke Revis’s competitive fires? What are some potential landing sports for Revis and what do you assess his fair market value to be at this point?
LEBERFELD: Revis and his camp, which includes his overzealous agents and his uncle Sean Gilbert (who sat out an entire season in Washington over his contract), need to deal with the financial reality of the NFL under the new [collective-bargaining agreement] signed in 2011, which favors the owners. There is a lot of belt-tightening going on around the league, and nobody wants to pay a cornerback $16 million a year. Those days are over. The going rate for top corners now is around $10 million.
And for Tampa Bay, the Revis contract constitutes way too much money to pay a corner in their new defensive system, under coach Lovie Smith, which uses a lot of zone coverage. Man-to-man corners tend to demand the big bucks, not zone players.
Since he seemingly has a contract dispute every off-season, he’s starting to develop a reputation of being a selfish player mainly driven by money. Some critics have resorted to calling him “Me-vis,” which can’t sit well with him. He needs to sign a more reasonable multi-year deal with a new team and focus just on football the next few years to rid himself of this reputation.
Oakland is a possible landing spot for Revis. The man who ran the Jets draft when Revis was selected by the Jets, Joey Clinkscale, is now a Raider executive. The Raiders need to win this year–the coach and GM are clearly on the hot-seat in 2014.
FLYNN: The marquee players at the NFL’s marquee position remain locked down under contracts. Who do you judge to be the four or five marquee players in this class of free agents? Where do you think they might land?
LEBERFELD: Left tackle has turned into a skill position in the NFL.
If you have a right-handed quarterback, which most teams do, and you can’t protect his blindside with a skillful left tackle, it’s hard to have a very good offense.
It’s rare that talented left tackles are available in free agency because teams generally don’t let them out of the building.
But this year was an aberration. There were a number of pretty good left tackles available in free agency, and they didn’t last long. The top guys were all off the market in the first few hours of free agency on Tuesday.
The Miami Dolphins top priority in free agency was landing a left tackle. Jake Long left in free agency last year, and Jonathan Martin (you might have heard of him) didn’t do well in his stead. So they made a bee-line for former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, and signed him to a five-year deal for $46 million with $25 million in guaranteed money.
Former Oakland Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer was scooped up by Arizona Cardinals, also landing a five-year deal. He got $37.5 million deal with $17 million a year. Not bad for a product of Division II Hillsdale College, known more for constitutional scholars than NFL prospects. And with Veldheer leaving the Raider Nation, the Oakland brass quickly jumped on former St. Louis Rams tackle Rodger Saffold, and handed him a five-year deal worth $42.5 million contract with $21 million guaranteed. This begs the question: Why didn’t the Raiders just keep Veldheer, and save $4 million in guaranteed money?
And the Baltimore Ravens were able to keep left tackle Eugene Monroe, who they acquired through a trade last season from Jacksonville. He signed a similar deal to Veldheer.
So a good name for the early free agency period would be, “The Blindside.”
FLYNN: Michael Johnson signed a massive $43 million contract with $24 million guaranteed. He’s performed well in the past but in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, the number seems astounding given his 3.5 sacks last season. What does the Johnson signing do for the pricetag of other pass rushers? And given the size and structure of 2014 contracts, can you almost predict that some of this year’s free agent winners will become cap casualties in some coming season?
LEBERFELD: Johnson is a freakish athlete at 6-7, 266 pounds who runs like a deer. It’s hard to find guys his size with his athletic ability.
Like left tackles, pass rushers are going to get big money in free agency. Good ones are hard to find.
Remember, while sacks are important, QB pressures (when a defender forces the quarterback into a bad throw), are almost just as important. While his sacks totals weren’t gaudy last year, Johnson put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, and also at 6-7, with arms like vines, he disrupts passing lanes, and gets his share of tipped passes.
While the money is a little steep, the arrow is pointing up on Johnson, and he should be a nice contributor for Tampa Bay in 2014 and beyond.
FLYNN: State income taxes, nonexistent in Florida, Washington, and other NFL markets, are through the roof in New York, California, and elsewhere. Do franchises in high-tax states face a competitive disadvantage? Do the players you cover take tax policy into consideration when signing or do they merely look at the before-tax numbers offered in the contract?
LEBERFELD: That is a great question. It’s the kind of under-the-radar angle in free agency that doesn’t get enough attention, perhaps to not bring extra IRS attention.
Revis got $16 million last year from Tampa Bay, which was an awesome deal in any state, but an even better deal in Florida. The man who is replacing him with the Buccaneers, Alterraun Verner, surprised many by signing with Tampa Bay on Tuesday. He got a four-year deal for $26.5 million including $14 million guaranteed. As a native of California, he certainly knows the damage high taxes can do to one’s paycheck.
There are a lot of players who live in states like Florida and Texas, even if they don’t play there, during the off-seasons, for obvious reasons. If they can establish residency there, they can lower their taxes.
So yes, this is a factor in free agency.
I wouldn’t say it’s a huge factor, because only three of the seven income tax-free states have NFL teams–Florida, Texas, and Washington. And most players and agents are going to take the best offer, regardless of the tax status of a state. But tax laws are certainly on the minds of some players and agents.