Free Agents: D-side.
Bettis is the key to the Stiller FA strategy. Word is that the Bus wants to stay, would stay for something less than market value and that the FO is interested in retaining him. We will see; clearly, the coaching staff has developed few options. Just a guess, but I�d say that Hunt, Fu and Amoz together don�t have as many carries in their careers as the Bus has gotten in any single season in Stillertown.
Veteran franchise RB don�t come cheap. Last year, James Stewart was worth about $5M/year to the Lions. Eddie George is pulling $7M in Tennessee dollars and the Bengal offer to Dillon was for more than that. Market value would put the Bus at, say, $6M. Even with a back-loaded Sam Adams type deal, the 2001 cap hit for #36 might approach $2.5M. At the moment, the Stillers are $6-7M under the 2001 cap. Last season, they paid (10) rookies a bit more than $4 M. Add that to a Bus deal and there is your $6-7M.
On the D-side of the ball, the Stillers don�t have any significant UFA now but that will not be true after the 2001 season. As things stand, DE Henry, LB Holmes and Gildon, and DB Scott, Washington and Alexander will be free to go following the 2001 campaign. At that time, DE Smith and LB Porter will become RFA. Job #1 for the FO is to retain their defensive core for the next few seasons. In my opinion, this takes precedence over signing any premium type FA and that includes the Bus.
The core players are: Holmes, Porter, Scott and Washington. Aaron Smith may reach that level but, as yet, hasn�t arrived. In 2000, the cap hit for Holmes was $1.7M, for Washington $2.3M. No doubt, these men will make more in 2001. Still, with bonuses and back-loading, it may be possible to extend these players now with relatively little impact on the 2001 cap. Holmes may go up +$1M to a figure surpassing Gildon; Washington�s number could stay about where it is. Scott�s 2000 hit was $1.2M; he has got to get to Washington�s level, say +$1.3M, even if he moves to FS in 2002. Porter has established himself as a big-play OLB; Porter�s 2000 hit was $0.4M. While the Stillers have Joey for two more seasons, they should extend him now as they did Holmes in ’97. That�s going to be a nice number, maybe +$1.5M in 2001.
If, in aggregate, those numbers are close to correct, they would add about $4M to the 2001 cap. I�m not sure that is the right figure but I�m certain that the FO needs to move now on those (4) men. As for the others, Alex could be re-signed cheap after 2001 and Henry should get a gold watch. Gildon should be traded now; if a Gildon to Bears deal happened, the cap space freed could be used either to retain the (4) players listed above or to move on a premium FA pass rusher.
The Stillers are carrying some fatty contracts. In 2000 cap figures, the obvious re-do targets are Dawson @ $3.75M and Kirkland @ $5.5M. Gandy�s $4.0M is about market for a FA LOT and Stew�s $4.8M was a bargain for a franchise QB (should he become one). Kirk and Dirt are the big fish, re-negotiating any other deal is just nibbling around the edges.
A Gildon trade is the smart move. That would both allow and compel a switch to the 4-3. This isn�t likely; nor, if history is our guide, is it likely that the Stillers will go for any premium type FA. Despite that, I�m offering a selected list of FA who will be available on the D-side. I�m not trying predict what the Stillers will do; I am trying to get a grip on what could happen. If you are a Stiller fan, reviewing this list might be about like watching Baywatch while living in some landlocked locale like Laramie, Wyoming. Enjoy.
Defensive Line: RFA Jeremy Staat is the Stillers only FA. Adios, dude.
Jason Ferguson, NY Jets. UFA. Not a jumbo sized DT but an experienced 3-4 NT.
Christian Peter, NY Giants. UFA. Another DT in the 305# range. Next year, Cornelius Griffin will start in NY.
Ted Washington, Bills. The Bills are at about $79 M for 2001. There will be cap casualties and Washington is a likely target. Huge, but 32 years old.
Lionel Dalton, Ravens. RFA. Lists at 325# plays behind Goose and Adams. Was a rookie FA; this suggests that, should they try to sign this player, the Stillers would owe the Ravens little, or nothing, in return.
Joe Salavea, Titans, RFA: Part of the Titan DT rotation, more of a penetrating tackle than a run-stuffer. Former 4th rounder, Stillers would owe that in compensation. Could be a nice 3-4 DE.
Other big name DT include Lett (�Boys) and M. Smith (Cards). Neither of these men are run-stuffers. There are a number of scrub type DT who, primarily, play the run including Zgonina (Rams), Eaton and Mitchell (Pats) and Gramanis (Eagles). Forget them; in fact, forget all the FA in this category. Excluding Washington, the run-stuffing DT available in the draft are better than any of the men listed here. Outlook: High priority first day draft pick.
- Pass rushers:
Kevin Carter, Rams. UFA. Ideal size/speed/impact 3-4 DE. Highly successful 4-3 LDE. The Stillers are not in a position to bid for this man. The Rams, and many other teams, have more cap money available than do the Stillers.
Simone Rice, Cards. UFA. Speed rushing 4-3 RDE. Attitude and injury issues the past two years. Proven sack artist who, reputably, is more interested in his numbers than his team. The Cards have a lot of cap cash but Rice will be leaving anyway.
Jason Taylor, Fins. UFA. Another speed rusher; in Miami, disregards the run because the Fin can field any of (4) enormous DT. Miami has a lot of cap cash and Taylor will be their first priority.
Kenny Holmes, Titans. UFA. 4-3 RDE who may be available but I�ve never been overly impressed with this player.
Marcellus Wiley, Bills. UFA. This is the guy. About 6’-5", 275# and has had success in the 3-4. Had 10.5 sacks last season after inheriting Bruce Smith�s position. Highly intelligent, would be happy to play for a 4-3 team. The Bills have cap problems and their new GM hasn�t got a track record in dealing with that kind of thing. Wiley and WR Eric Moulds are both UFA; the Bills can�t franchise both of these players.
Lorenzo Bromell, Fins. RFA. A low budget alternative to Wiley. 6’-6" 280#. Lost in the shuffle in Miami but seems able to play. Had 8 sacks as a rookie in ’98; 4 in ’99 as a third down rusher. Hurt much of 2000 but came back with 2 sacks in 6 games. Speed rusher who is big and long enough to play outside in either the 3-4 or 4-3. Was a 4th round pick; the Stillers should consider giving Miami their 4th this spring for the rights to this player.
There are a few veteran DE including Lyle and Burton from the 3-4 Jets. However, the Stillers need impact at this position and those men don�t fit the bill. Outlook: Mixed. The college draft is stronger inside than at DE. A Gildon deal, would bring a high priority for a 4-3 DE sack star. This suggests a player like Rice, Taylor or Wiley but cap issues would come into play. Assuming the Stillers stick with Big Sack and the 3-4, the need for an impact DE remains. Wiley would be a great fit but, with no hope for cap space, Bromell (or Salavea) may be the only reasonable veteran options.
Linebackers: Mike Vrabel is a UFA; Mike had (6) defensive tackles this year. He has never had a position on this team and, probably, can�t get out of town fast enough. Fiala is a RFA; cheap to keep for one more season.
I don�t see the Stillers doing any FA business here. There is not an enormous amount of talent available at this position. The big name LB available are UFA Dwayne Rudd (Vikes), John Mobley (Broncos), Derrick Rodgers (Fins) and RFA Kailee Wong (Vikes). I�d match Holmes and Porter against any of these men. The Stillers payroll is overloaded at LB now and, a timely effort with Holmes and Porter (without a Gildon deal), will exacerbate that condition.
Outlook: Job #1 is securing Holmes and Porter. The Stillers need immediate size/speed help in the reserve ranks but can secure that on the second day of the draft.
Defensive Backs: Townsend is a RFA; a fine nickel back who is worth a qualifying offer. Simmons is a RFA too; like his college teammate Jeremy Staat, it is time for Jason to go. It is highly aggravating that the Stillers gave (6) picks in the ’98 draft for the rights to select these two men.
The situation here is similar to that at LB. There are some big name CB available including Aeneas Williams (Cards), Jason Sehorn (Giants), Todd Lyght (Rams) and Denard Walker (Titans). Sehorn is, as Williams was, better than anyone the Stillers have but I just don’t see the Stillers bringing in a starting CB.
I like FS Mike Logan (Jags). Good size and better speed than anyone on the Stillers roster at the position. However, Logan has never held a starting job in Jaxville. Since the Stillers have (7) S on the roster, McKeesport Mike probably won�t be coming home.
Outlook: Job #1 is securing Scott and Washington.
When Tom Modrak went to Philadelphia, he took all of his experience, good and bad, with him. On the plus side, the Stillers had generally been able to evaluate talent, especially in the second tier of FA and the second day of the draft. In the debit column, the Stillers had been miserably inept at retaining their homegrown talent. Modrak has drafted well, signed some premium FA (as ROT John Runyan) and resigned Eagle rising stars early in their careers. The cap is always going up; a huge contract this year will become a good value very shortly.
Modrak is gone but the Stiller FO has got to get it right at some point. Therefore, in order of priority:
- Extend the core players mentioned previously. Find the money: cut or trade marginal vets, re-do the fat, pay bonuses. Whatever it takes.
- Prioritize the FA market with respect to the draft: I would make Marcellus Wiley the top FA prospect. Whether they are a 3-4 or 4-3 team, the Stillers need a rush D-lineman. Wiley is proven in the 3-4 and, for a DE, that is a tougher scheme than the 4-3. If the Stillers can�t move up in round one, they will not be getting a Henderson, Seymour or Bryant. The next set of DT are run-stuffers. No trade, no pass rusher, at least not for next season.
If the Stillers insist on re-signing the Bus, that will be the extent of their efforts in the premium FA market. If they do that, I hope they�ll look at Bromell; he has the tools and, as Ray Seals did earlier, has flashed some ability in limited exposure. Frankly, I�d like Bromell and Wiley; with a big DT, the 3-4 Stillers could rotate Wiley, KvO, Smith and Bromell at DE with, say, Hampton, Rogers, or Stroud and Monds or RFA Dalton at NT.
Re-signing the Bus is a desperation move. Building around a 30 year old power back is the kind of short-term deal which a contender might make but which, for a re-building team, would be a step backward. The arguments for retaining the Bus are entirely in the negative. He is dependable and Kordell is not; he doesn�t fumble and Hunt does; he plays hurt and Fu doesn�t; he controls the clock and the Stiller D-unit can�t survive more than 28 minutes/game.
That all may be true; if it is, it suggests that the Stillers aren�t close to contending. If that is true, it doesn�t matter whether the Bus is here, or not. The last time that Stillers went to the Super Bowl they didn�t have a franchise RB. The Broncos have shown that effective RB are easy to find in the draft.
It is time to move on.
- Establish trade routes. The draft and FA are not enough, a third means of improving this roster is required. The Stillers need to find a way to get multiple 1st round picks, if not every year, then every second or third. The Jags, Bucs and Ravens have developed their rosters in this way; the Stillers need to keep pace. Generally, this has been done either by trading out of roster strength (i.e. Jags send QB R. Johnson to the Bills for #10 overall in the 1st, circa ’98) or by trading current picks for future value ( i.e. Bucs �98 2nd for Bolts �00 1st).
Errata: I�d like to close by correcting a couple of errors from previous articles. These include, but may not have been limited to:
- This spring, the Bears will draft 8th overall, not 6th or 7th.
- Chad Scott will not have an RFA season in Pittsburgh. Drafted in �97 and signed to a 5 year deal, under his current contract, Scott will be free to go following the 2001 campaign.
(Next Time: The O-line)
The Steel Phantom