The NFL’s free agency season kicks off March 2nd. What can we expect?
1. PRIDE, "Excessive belief in one's own abilities, interfering with the individual recognition of the grace of God. Also known as vanity."
It would be fair to say that most of the pending crop of NFL free agents have a healthy amount of pride. In this case, the "excessive belief in one's own abilities" is a label befitting of both the player and his agent, predicated by the structure of free agency. I can't fault a player’s pursuit of the largest bag of cash, but the free agency season certainly brings with it the propensity to blur the lines between on-field production and off-field net worth. Philadelphia Eagles WR Freddie Mitchell appears to be one of those players who thinks he is worth much more than he is. You remember Mitchell -- the one talking trash to the Patriots before the Super Bowl, only to end up with less receptions than ( New England safety) Rodney Harrison had interceptions?
I wonder how much Mitchell will seek on the open market? Pride dictates the asking price.
2. ENVY, "The desire for others' traits, status, abilities or situation."
I envy the New England Patriots. I envy their innate ability to mitigate their opponents’ strengths. Their recent playoff run (which culminated in their third Super Bowl Championship in four seasons, a remarkable feat in this era of salary cap parity) illustrates my point perfectly - they held the powerful Indianapolis Colts offense to 3 points, and put up 41 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had the leagues #1 defense. Conventional wisdom has taught us such clichés as "defense wins championships" or "you are only as good as your last game". Bill Belichick's team does whatever they have to do to win -- offense, defense, special teams. They do it at a level so far and above the other 31 teams in the league that almost nobody can figure out how to beat them.
General managers will try to replicate the Patriots’ success by overspending for "can't miss" free agents. It happens every year. But the Patriots model is not signing and developing the best players available, but identifying the best players for their system. Unselfish, dedicated players who don't care about personal glory and Pro Bowl votes -- just the Lombardi Trophy.
3. GLUTTONY, "An inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires."
This is embodied by Seahawks LT Walter Jones, but the "inordinate consumption" in this case is not food but salary cap space.
For the past three seasons, Jones has rebuked large signing bonuses and long-term financial security in favor of playing with the franchise tag designation. The result is a prohibitive salary cap hit for the Seahawks, as franchised players receive the average of the top five salaries for their position. Since offensive tackle is one of the elite positions in the NFL (protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blindside), Jones' salary is a sum impingement on the cap. If he were to agree to a long-term deal, the structuring of his contract would allow the payments to be spread out and the net result is he would count less against the cap than he does with his annual tender. Even at 31 years old, Jones could still probably get a $16-20 million bonus up front. This is risky business for Jones, as he is one serious injury away from his playing days coming to an end. To his credit, Jones always reports in time for the regular season in great shape and continues to play at the elite level.
The Seahawks’ brain trust need to make hard decisions on Jones this off-season. With three other "franchise tag-worthy" players eligible for free agency -- QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander and CB Ken Lucas -- the time is now to finally seal a long term deal with #71, or (gasp) let him walk. With the long list of free agents (16) the Seahawks have to contend with, can they afford to commit one third of their available salary cap (estimated at $24-28 million) to one player? Signing Jones (or letting him move on) frees up the franchise tag for another player.
4. LUST, "An inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body."
If your 10-year old is reading this, it's okay -- this is a Michael Irvin-free zone. I won't be discussing how football and sins of the flesh are interconnected.
What I would like to see is a lust for success. What happened to the Seahawks after that gut wrenching collapse against the St. Louis Rams on October 10th, 2004? Their frustratingly uneven 2004 campaign can easily be traced right back to that day at Qwest Field. You’ll remember that the hometown Hawks had a 27-10 lead with less than nine minutes remaining...and then in an almost comical Seahawk collapse, the Rams inexplicably won in overtime? After that game, Chicken Little was interviewed and he confirmed that yes indeed, the sky had fallen.
That game would have given this young team a whole lot of confidence, but instead it seemed to create self-doubt and perpetuated the "same old Seahawks" theorem. They had the chance at redemption on November 14th, going to St. Louis for payback, and played a flat, uninspired stinker devoid of lust. On December 6th, once again for good measure, in front of a national TV audience on Monday Night Football, they allowed the Dallas Cowboys to come back and snare victory from the jaws of defeat. The Cowboys had trailed the Seahawks by ten points with just over two minutes to play.
One game is an anomaly, two is a trend, but three games in one season like the two against St. Louis and the one against Dallas? A verdict. To add insult to injury, the same Rams team came back for a Wild Card playoff game at Qwest Field and won again. Three losses to the same team in one season.
In the upcoming free agency period, this organization needs to identify those who play the game with fire in their bellies and bloodlust in their eyes. Fill the roster with players who will stop and nothing to bury the air of mediocrity that hangs over Seahawks headquarters.
5. ANGER, "Manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as wrath."
Players get angry when they feel underutilized in their team’s offense, when their team breeds a culture of losing, when they feel they don't get the recognition they deserve. Last off-season, the Seahawks signed free agent CB Bobby Taylor and penciled him in as a starter, but they forgot to run that by CB Ken Lucas. Lucas, coming off a disappointing 2003 season that was marred by injury, doubled his previous best season with 6 interceptions (good for third-best in the NFL) and played through a very painful lung injury. Lucas played with wrath and fury on the field, but did not carry it off the field or take aim at the organization (which can manifest into all kinds of negative energy and public tension).
I'd rather see a roster chock full of angry players than Pro Bowlers. This organization -- from owner Paul Allen down to the trainers -- needs to start training camp this July with one big chip on its collective shoulder, and invigorate the bloodstream with an angry will.
When you haven't won a playoff game since 1984, you should REFUSE to accept status quo, and play every down of every quarter as if it were your last.
6. GREED, "The desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called avarice or covetousness."
Modern professional sports is a greedy arena, without a doubt. But there are exceptions.
Repotedly, Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli recently spurned a reported 5-year, $15-million offer from Paul Allen to take over as the Seahawks president. He will keep his “paltry” $800,000 a year gig (most likely with a substantial raise) with the Patriots, opting to stay in the comfort zone provided by Belichick and owner Bob Kraft. As a distant observer, Pioli can see the Seahawks quagmire -- so why jump feet first into it for anything other than a big raise?
Greed fits into the free agency equation on several fronts -- how much money it takes to sign a player, whether or not someone is willing to restructure their contract to help the team’s salary cap. Which Seahawks veteran will restructure their big-money deal to help keep the core of this team intact?
7. SLOTH, "The avoidance of physical or spiritual work."
Until the recent re-hire of former cap guru Mike Reinfeldt, the Seahawks front office could have been easily labeled with the “sloth” tag. Three weeks passed in between the firing of Bob Whitsitt and Reinfeldt’s 'shotgun-wedding' re-entry, Reinfeldt - who was the Seahawks lead contract negotiator from 1999-2003, and who resigned after the 2003 season to escape Whitsitt's long shadow - will not be able to fall victim to slovenly habits, as the clock is ticking to organize some kind of sensible financial landscape in preparation for the flurry of signings and decisions that will take place in the coming weeks. For some reason (maybe it was the delay in waiting for Pioli), Allen's scribes are still dragging their feet in naming a new president, which may or may not have far reaching implications on other organizational linchpins like general manager Bob Ferguson and head coach Mike Holmgren.
The remnants of the Seahawks front office may not be avoiding the physical work, but they certainly could use spiritual guidance to get their fragile house of cards in order.
Greg Renick is a writer for www.talkhawks.com, and his articles are syndicated to Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.