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Witherspoon best Free Agent signing--Gosselin
Rick Gosselin, a member of the writers' wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has covered the Cowboys and the NFL for The Dallas Morning News since 1990.
Regular readers of this column know Iím no fan of free agency. In the 12 years of free agency, you could count on two hands the number of signings who played to the level of the money and duration of the contract.
That said, there is a jewel or two that do change teams each off-season. In my opinion, the best free-agency signing to date has been linebacker Will Witherspoon by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams gave him a six-year, $33 million contract to woo him away from the Carolina Panthers.
Witherspoon played at a Pro Bowl level in a top-three defense a year ago, leading the Panthers with 109 tackles from his weakside linebacker spot. The Rams plan to move him inside, where his speed can be better utilized on the artificial surface of the Edward Jones Dome.
But what makes this a superb signing is that Witherspoon is only 25. He can play the duration of the six-year contract and still be in his prime. Heíll likely see every penny of that $33 million.
I liked what the Panthers did a year ago in free agency. They gave cornerback Ken Lucas a six-year, $37 million contract, and guard Mike Wahle a five-year, $27 million deal. Lucas was 26 at the time and Wahle 28. If youíre going to spend, spend on youth Ė players who give you both a present and future.
Lucas and Wahle were both walk-in starters on a team that reached the NFC Championship Game. Lucas intercepted six passes and Wahle was selected to the Pro Bowl for his blocking.
The basic lesson of Salary Cap 101 is donít pay age. Giving millions to a player in his 30s is not prudent allocation of oneís cap dollars. A player in his 30s is on the backside of his career and rarely plays to the level of the money, much less the duration of the contract.
The Cowboys never quite figured this out. I was surprised when Jerry Jones gave Larry Allen that six-year contract extension in 2002 at the age of 31. His best years were behind him but his biggest money was ahead of him. Jones wrote that check with his heart, not his head. Allen has been a disappointment ever since signing his name to that contract.
The Cowboys keep repeating that mistake by giving millions to players in their 30s in a bid to win now Ė Drew Bledsoe, Marco Rivera, Jason Ferguson and, this off-season, Terrell Owens and Jason Fabini. Jones is investing in past productivity. But the past gets you beaten in a salary-cap world.
Here are some other observations as the NFL begins the hunt for its next commissioner:
Football purists bemoan the fact the NFL is no longer a sport. Itís a business. For all the good Paul Tagliabue did as commissioner, he took the clout away from the footballers and gave it to the marketers. Blocking and tackling have become secondary to dollars and cents.
The desire to juice up the product for television, which bankrolls the league, has compromised the game. NFL owners want lots of offense in three-hour windows because thatís what the television networks want. ďDefenseĒ has become a nasty word in the NFLís inner circles, which is why there are rule changes every year to handcuff defenders.
With the retirement of Tagliabue, the NFL has a chance to point its leadership back in the direction of football. Rich McKay, the president and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, is the logical candidate to restore some balance to the product on the field. In the end, thatís what the NFL is selling.
As club president, McKay mixes with league executives. As general manager, he mingles with the football folks. So he knows both sides of the street. As co-chairman of the NFLís prestigious competition committee, McKay can weigh football decisions against business decisions and make the necessary compromises for the good of the game.
In the old days, McKay would have been a shoo-in. Thatís because the owners of NFL teams were sportsmen like Paul Brown, George Halas, Wellington Mara, Lamar Hunt, Dan Rooney, Al Davis and Ralph Wilson.
But the new wave of NFL owners is businessmen. They paid as much as $800 million to enter this fraternity and want a return on their investment. So McKay is probably a long shot to succeed Tagliabue. The new breed of NFL doesnít want a football man atop their league Ė they want a money man.
The signing of Owens all but guarantees the Cowboys a prime-time television game in 2006 against the Eagles, probably in Philadelphia. The TV networks love passion in the stands. Thereís always passion in Philadelphia Ė and it would be a hostile passion with Owens back in town.
I would think the Cowboys also would be the logical candidate to open the new Arizona stadium. The reason Bill Bidwill fought realignment for his Cardinals was because he didnít want to lose that NFC East rivalry with the Cowboys, easily his biggest home draw.
Bidwill said send me anywhere you want Ė just send the Cowboys with me. He lost the argument. The Cowboys stayed in the East and his Cardinals were dumped into the NFC West. So the leagueís scheduling formula gives him a game with the Cowboys every third year.
The Cowboys are scheduled to visit the Cardinals in 2006. The new stadium opens this September. If Bidwill could choose an opponent for an historic game such as the opener of a new stadium, my guess is heíd opt for the Cowboys.
I think one of the reasons Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers slid in the first round of the 2005 draft was because teams werenít prepared to draft him. He projected as a top-five pick, so some teams probably didnít do their complete homework in the evaluation of Rodgers. They never expected him to be sitting there at the 12th, 17th and 22nd pick in the draft order, so they didnít bother with him. The Green Bay Packers stopped his slide at 24.
Because of that, I think Vince Young may be the most scrutinized player in the first round of the 2006 draft. Heís a quarterback, for one, and has the potential to be the Rodgers of the 2006 draft. His stock appears to be sliding.
Teams that might have given players with the predraft hype of Young a passing glance in the evaluation process of years past will know the Texas quarterback inside and out should he slide to 10, 15 and 20 in this draft. There will be no draftboard surprise in 2006 like there was with Rodgers in 2005.
The other day I pulled out an old VHS tape produced by the University of Oregon promoting Joey Harrington for the Heisman Trophy. Watching it, I could see why the Detroit Lions took him with the third overall pick of the 2002 draft.
But the Lions didnít get that talent out of him on an NFL field. I believe itís still there. Heís only 28. Maybe he can become a Brad Johnson or Jake Plummer Ė a better quarterback the second time around.
-03-21-2006 #2RamsFan16 Guest
Re: Witherspoon best Free Agent signing--Gosselin
Wow! Thats awesome, we are getting some love!
Re: Witherspoon best Free Agent signing--Gosselin
Glover and Chavous are GREAT short term additions, but Witherspoon is an investment in the future of Rams football. With all the veteran talent we have that are closing their careers, we need to make a superbowl run. It will be hard for a 1st year HC to get the SB, but I don't see how we can't. Add a strong TE (like a Heath Miller type), a LB/tweener, and a DT and we are good to go. We have a fiery D coordinator who can shape up our D. Our 6-10 season is only there as a variable to measure our great success of 06. We are going to be the Bucs of 06.