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Comparing strategy: GM decisions have consquences

Championships are not won in March. Everyone's heard that right?

Well, in the NFL that is true but it is also true that decisions by NFL front offices this time of year have consequences. And there is indeed much winning and losing going on right now.

As this offeseason progresses, indeed, as free agency eventually bleeds into the draft and teams morph toward improvement or decline, what is happening right now is likley at the root of that future change.

And so I present to you a comparison of multiple teams and multiple relatively new general managers.

Their decisions, in the open for all to see, will be remembered and judged in the coming year as we measure how much what happened this March affects their teams from September through January.

The GMs we look at today?

John Idzik of the New York Jets.

Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals.

Tom Telesco of the San Diego Chargers.

Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns.

Dennis Hickey of the Miami Dolphins.

All are in their first or second offseasons with their teams. All made intertwined decisions this offseason that will be measured against each other for the next year.

To wit:

On March 5 the St. Louis Rams did as expected and released cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The move was a no-brainer. Finnegan, who played poorly for the Rams in 2013, saved the team clear $4 million in cap space at his release.

Four days later, the New York Jets, hoping to clear cap space, cut cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The move was a no-brainer. Cromartie, who played poorly at times for the Jets in 2013, saved the team $4.3 million in cap space at his release.

And then is when the GMs we mentioned went to work.

Hickey, wanting a cornerback who could compete for a starting job but also perhaps play the slot against multiple receiver sets, brought in one cornerback and signed him. He selected Finnegan, 30, and paid him $11 million over two years. The contract paid Finnegan $5.45 million guaranteed in 2014.

Idzik, wanting to upgrade at cornerback, instead brought in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and apparently tried to get a short-term prove-it deal done with him. It wasn't until the crosstown New York Giants stepped up with a big offer that Idzik, flush with cap room, also presented a better deal.

Too late.

DRC picked the Giants. Cromartie, who had earlier said he'd like to retire with the Jets, was still on the market but by then had already visited the Arizona Cardinals. And Keim, who last year did a good job bringing in several veterans on prove-it deals including former Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby, struck before Idzik could recover.

The Cardinals signed Cromartie, 29 and with experience in both press and off-man schemes, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million plus another $250,000 as a per game roster bonus. The bonus is paid on a per game basis at $15,625.

So two corners at or nearing 30. Three general managers. Two deals.

Well, Idzik got no one. The Jets today are searching for cornerback help and will likely have to look to the draft for it.

The Dolphins got Finnegan for the most expensive contract that actually includes guaranteed money.

The Cardinals got Cromartie for the least expensive contract that has no guaranteed money.

[Update: The official Cromartie contract is in and it does have guaranteed money, although he's still at $3.25 million this year. He got a $1 million signing bonus and his base salary of $2.25 million is guaranteed.]

Which GM won? That will be determined during the season when we can compare how Cromartie vs. Finnegan vs. air works out for the three teams. (Air has trouble playing press-man, by the way).

Right now, it seems Keim has the overall advantage although that can change.

Young general managers also made interesting decisions on running back, too.

When free agency opened, Donald Brown, Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Darren McFadden, Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings and others were available.

The San Diego Chargers and Telesco stepped out almost immediately and signed Brown to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. The deal includes $4 million in guarateed money. If you do the math the deal averages $3.5 million per year.

The Cleveland Browns and Farmer, more cautious, nonetheless landed Tate. He signed a two-year deal for $6.2 million with $2.5 million guaranteed. If you do the math the deal averages $3.1 million per season.

Gerhart, the understudy to Adrian Peterson, went to Jacksonville for $10.5 million over three years or $3.5 mill a year apy. McFadden, often injured, remained in Oakland for one year and $1.654 million with only $100,000 guaranteed. 

Today the Dolphins and Hickey are hosting a visit with Moreno. As I noted yesterday, the Dolphins have so far been serious about the players they bring in for visits. So I would expect something to happen today -- at least an offer to Moreno.

So mulitple running backs. None of them stars. All of them accomplished to some degree. All of them experienced and adept in pass protection. All available at the same time to the different general managers.

Do the Dolphins get rewarded for waiting the most by paying the least? Or do they pay the same for Moreno that Cleveland paid for Tate or San Diego paid for Brown?

Hickey paid more once before.

We'll see which general manager actually gets what he paid for -- in January.

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