NFL free agency and more: Peyton Manning puts a damper on Matt Flynn’s big moment
Sadly, the tsunami of interest in Peyton Manning seems to be drowning out Flynnsanity. As the NFL waits for Manning to make a decision on the direction he wants to go, approximately a half-dozen teams have kept Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn on hold as he approaches free agency.
“You can’t do anything until you get a final answer from Manning,” one NFC executive said. “Even if you think it’s a long shot, you have to wait … normally, you’d be lining up the contingency plan, but this is so unique, you can’t even think about it.”
And that was from an exec on a team that likes Flynn a lot and sees him as a significant upgrade over what the team currently has at quarterback.
“If I didn’t have this situation hanging over my head, I’d be grinding away on Flynn,” the executive said. “But the difference is like light years. With Flynn, if you don’t get him, you’d be disappointed, but you’d go to the next plan of attack. With Manning, released by the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, that’s the whole plan of attack.”
That’s because Manning, assuming he’s healthy, is a proven star. With Flynn, there is still obvious doubt because he simply hasn’t played that much. But even with doubt, Flynn is likely to get paid.
“Unless I’m way off, Flynn is going to get a contract that looks a lot like [Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin] Kolb’s,” the exec said, referring to the five-year, $63 million deal that included $22 million guaranteed. “That’s the price of doing business in this league.”
Still, for every coach, scout or executive who talks optimistically about Flynn (and there are many), there are those who express hesitancy.
“He’s a great kid, a good teammate and he has leadership skills,” another NFC personnel man said before the inevitable “but” transition. “People talk about him being a West Coast offense quarterback and fitting into that kind of scheme somewhere, but he just doesn’t have the arm for certain critical throws that you need to see to make it to the next level.
“I think he’s going to be the type of guy who plays six games, the other teams get him on tape and then they figure him out.”
The personnel man then summarized his evaluation in two words: “Steve Bono.”
For those who don’t remember, Bono parlayed four years as a backup with the San Francisco 49ers into a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, becoming the starter in 1995. Bono, a former sixth-round draft pick, was OK that year, throwing for 3,121 yards, 21 TDs and only 10 interceptions. He also guided the Chiefs to the playoffs, where they lost 10-7 to Indianapolis in the first round. By the end of the next year, Bono was on a return track to backup status after throwing 12 TDs and 13 interceptions.
In Flynn’s defense, he is far younger than Bono at similar points in their career (Flynn will be 27 when the season begins, whereas Bono was 32 before he got a chance to start). There is still some physical growth potential for Flynn. Beyond that, Flynn’s numbers compare favorably to Kolb’s stats before Kolb was traded last offseason to Arizona.
Kolb had completed 194 of 319 passes (60.8 percent) for 2,082 yards, 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions (although five of those oddly came on Hail Mary passes). That’s a quarterback rating of 73.2 (hurt drastically by the interceptions) and a respectable 7.1 yards per attempt.
Flynn has completed 82 of 132 passes (62.1 percent) for 1,015 yards, nine TD passes, and five interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 92.8 and has averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, although those numbers are inflated by one great game at the end of last season against the Detroit Lions and the fact he has so few attempts.
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Even a physical breakdown of the two is pretty close.
“Kolb has a better arm and better feet that Flynn, but Flynn has better instincts and feel for the game,” the NFC personnel man said.
In other words, it’s not unreasonable for Flynn to expect the Kolb deal. However, he’s going to have to wait for it to happen.
Cashing in with Manning
Inevitably, there are fans out there who wring their hands every time their team spends a lot of money on a high-end player, particularly one with health risk. Enter Peyton Manning.
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Between his four neck surgeries, his still-healing right arm and his age (he turns 36 on March 24), the typical glass-half-empty types bray questions such as “What about the salary cap?” or “If we spend all this money on him and he can’t play, what about the rest of the team?”
Welcome to the inherent risk with any high-end player. But the point is this: For some team, Manning is a player who will pay for himself in the long run.
For the Miami Dolphins, for instance, Manning would likely be worth $12 million in season ticket sales alone. Yes, $12 million, and that doesn’t include parking, concessions, memorabilia or anything else that can be made off marketing a future Hall of Fame player.
Anyone who has been to a Dolphins game in the past three years knows what kind of bore-a-thon former head of football operations Bill Parcells created with his awful run. The Dolphins didn’t find a quarterback and didn’t find a clue about modern offense (sorry, the Wildcat was a joke, not an innovation). The situation has gotten so bad that the team has had to resort to selling New York Jets T-shirts in the souvenir shops and honoring opposing players just to make ends meet.
It is not outrageous to think that if Manning signed with the Dolphins, the team could easily sell an additional 15,000 season tickets. At an average ticket price of $80 per game (times 10 games with the two-game preseason rip-off tax), Manning would bring in $12 million right there.
If Manning landed with the Jets, the money is even bigger. If Manning helped the Jets sell just 5,000 more season ticket packages, the team would raise $17.5 million between the Personal Seat Licensing cost (a minimum of $2,500 per seat) and the cost of an average ticket ($100 per game times 10 gets to $1,000 for the season).
While ticket money is not necessarily cap money, it eventually all works together. In other words, Manning pays for himself. If a team wanted to give him a three-year, $50 million deal with $15 million guaranteed, he would pay for himself in terms of real dollars and likely give the team even more money to spend on other players. Even for teams that don’t have problems selling tickets (Houston Texans, for instance), Manning would still be a financial bonanza because of memorabilia and marketing money.
And that’s before Manning ever throws a pass … or even if he ever throws a pass. Expect plenty of people to buy tickets on speculation alone. Likewise, Manning will give any team the ability to attract other players as free agents.
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Thus, Manning may be a high-risk player in terms of his age and injury history. But when it comes to money and the effect on a team, Manning is a very low-risk player with potentially high return.
A bounty of numbers
Retired players often roll their eyes after the hand-wringing that the media is doing over the New Orleans Saints “Bounty” scandal. That’s understandable when you put it in perspective of the long and deep history of bounties in the NFL. The difference is that this bounty system was caught by the league and featured at least one coach (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) actually administering the system and other coaches knowing.
However, one of the most infamous plays in the history of dirty hits and bounties in the NFL occurred Nov. 23, 1986. It also features great evidence of the extent to which teams have done this sort of thing.
That day, Green Bay defensive tackle Charles Martin body-slammed Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon after an interception by teammate Mark Lee. The importance of the Martin play is not so much how egregious it was (Martin was tossed from the game immediately, fined $15,000 and suspended for two games), but the evidence of a “hit list” that he wore on his uniform.
If you look at this picture, you’ll see the Nos. 9, 34, 63 and 83 on a hand towel attached at Martin’s waist. Those were the uniform numbers for McMahon, Walter Payton, Jay Hilgenberg and Willie Gault. It was the Packers’ “hit list” for the day.
Martin, who died in 2005, wrote it down on the towel because he was not exactly good at remembering things.
• One more thought on Manning and the Dolphins: While owner Stephen Ross continues to push the Manning agenda, the Dolphins are going to be in serious trouble the longer this goes on. First, if Manning lets this drag well past the start of free agency Tuesday, there is a good chance that will take the Dolphins out of any chance to get another veteran quarterback, such as Flynn or Alex Smith (who wants to remain in San Francisco). Second, the Dolphins would be prevented from making other moves in free agency until they hear from Manning. Third, if the Dolphins don’t get Manning, general manager Jeff Ireland could be in serious trouble with an angry owner.
[ Yahoo! Sports Radio: Jason Cole on downside to signing Peyton Manning]
• Aside from Manning and Flynn, two of the hottest names in free agency will be Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Each player could have eight teams pursuing him on Tuesday when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET. Look for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago to make a play for both players. Finnegan has been trying to help the process by sending text messages to Jackson, hoping the big wide receiver will join him in one of those places. Beyond those teams, the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins and possibly Detroit will be in on Finnegan, whose salary could top $11 million annually. As for Jackson, the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco, Washington, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars are also serious contenders, although Jackson is holding out some hope that San Diego will try to re-sign him.
• Long-snapper Dave Binn, who turned 40 in February and just finished his 17th season in the NFL, made it to one Pro Bowl in his career. While Binn, who played his first 16 seasons with San Diego, has been one of the best at this unheralded position, it turns out that his one Pro Bowl may not have had a lot to do with his great play. Rather, it was his dating life. Binn made it to Hawaii in the 2006 season, when the New England coaching staff was running the AFC squad. As in most years, the coaching staffs of each team had to fill-in certain jobs such as long-snapper. Brad Seely, who was coaching the New England special teams units at the time (he’s now with San Francisco), said during a meeting to fill the jobs, “Binn is dating Pamela Anderson.” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “Good enough,” and Binn was on the team. When Anderson never showed up that week because she was busy on some acting job, Seely took some strong ribbing from his fellow coaches.
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