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Free Agency - Mine and Others'

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"This," I thought, as I leaned into the chair’s plush leather depths while surveying the mahogany-lined cabin of the Barking Carnival G5, "is the life."

When Sailor first contacted me about ‘exploring mutually beneficial blogosphere opportunities’ I did my best to remain outwardly calm, but I’d be lying if I said that visions didn’t start immediately dancing in my head – and not visions of sugarplums, either. More like visions of making that Tech Bubble 2.0 paper while living the high life among the West Coast’s cultural elite. Sir Mix-A-Lot had once waxed rhapsodic about that "Oakland booty," and I was more than eager to sample some of that as well.

My flight to BC HQ from my humble environs in Dallas did nothing to derail this train of thought (if you’ll forgive a mixed transportation metaphor). Seeing the BC logo emblazoned on the tail of a top-of-the-line G5 aeroplane renewed my certainty that this was, in fact, the big time. Upon boarding the stewardess, Mitzi, impressed me with her witty repartee, her perfect pours of Perrier-Joet and her ability to whip up a flawless lobster thermidor at 35,000 feet. Since this is a family blog (ha ha ha ha!) I won’t go into detail on her other skills, but suffice to say that I think she could have successfully sucked Auric Goldfinger back onto his plane.

Both completely spent and utterly refreshed upon landing, I was picked up by car service and whisked to BC HQ. The next hour was a whirlwind of handshakes, corner office tours and vague promises of limitless opportunity and (it was intimated) truckloads of tail. Before I knew it, the time had come to sign my employment contract. Its thickness and sheer volume of fine print were daunting, but I, certain that I was in good hands with these men whose jibs were so impeccably cut, confidently flipped to the last page and signed on the line that was dotted. The big boys immediately traded knowing smiles and filed wordlessly from the room bearing the signed document with them. Before I could even successfully frame the thought of, "Huh?," Vasherized clapped me on the shoulder, handed me another copy of the same contract and implored me to, "Read up, Chief." He strolled out, snickering, as I began to frantically pore over the document in detail. Within a few pages, one thing became terribly, appallingly clear.

‘Sailor Ripley’ might be a mere pseudonym, but I had just been well and truly Shanghai’d.

The contract was binding, its clauses were legally airtight, and its meaning was dire. I was now locked into years of toil for these ‘gentlemen’, with a menial title and at a Dickensian wage. Included was a non-compete clause written so broadly as to preclude employment anywhere from Goldman Sachs to Carl’s Jr.

The intervening weeks have not been kind. It’s difficult to explain my current role at BC Headquarters, but if you’ve seen much of Charlie Day on Always Sunny it’s a decent approximation. I get to spend some precious moments outdoors swabbing the decks of Sailor’s yacht (bizarrely commissioned as an exact replica of Al Czervik’s in Caddyshack), but most of my time is spent in the dimly-lit environs of the BC sub-basement. From structural integrity testing of the new Laotian prostitute tethers to tooth-and-nail battles with some of the Bay Area’s most robust wharf rats, the days run together in a surreal slurry of madness.

I swiftly learned that the only means of corporate advancement is to defeat Scipio in a game of jai alai. Thusfar I’ve been soundly thrashed, only managing a total of three runs (Points? Overs? Tries? Each time I ask I’m met with mocking laughter) while accumulating an array of painful welts during the dubious ‘Hands Up, Butts Up’ session that follows each defeat.

The long and the short of it is that I look to be down here for some time. While the BC heavyweights sit many stories above, dashing off witty articles on their Macbook Airs while basking in the San Francisco sunshine, I’m forced to battle the other ‘new hires’ for time on the basement terminal (486 processor, DOS prompt, 28.8 modem) in order to extrude the prose that my employers demand.

Below is my first submission. It was written on the plane in the afterglow of Mitzi’s ministrations, and you’ll notice a glow of sunshine and pervasive optimism that has since been crushed from me.


Greetings, Barkers! Sailor recently invited me to share some of my thoughts with the gang, and I wanted to dive right in.

The Longhorn Football beat is so ably and amply covered in this space that I’m not sure what I could contribute at this moment that would add a ton to the conversation. I also proposed a more esoteric opening piece tentatively entitled Snowcatamite: Confessions of a Two-Man Luge Champion, but it’s still awaiting the editorial green light.

However, I’m also a big NFL guy and I’m particularly intrigued by the historic free agency frenzy that looms shortly after the players and owners hash out the final CBA details. With over 500 players set to enter free agency and a hard cap floor that could shake an extra $30-$40 million out of teams like the Panthers and Buccaneers, the next few weeks promise an avalanche of cold hard cash and a degree of player movement that could change the face of almost every franchise. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that GMs will be learning a new CBA on the fly and attempting to strategically craft contracts (years, dollars, guaranteed money, voidable years and maybe some new permutations) to their best advantage in the NFL’s new financial landscape.

Interesting angles abound on this topic, but I’m most intrigued by exploring the pool of talent that’s going to be available for these franchises to bid on. I plan on taking a position-by-position look at the free agents available and figuring out not only who should command megadeals, but also which players could boost a franchise’s fortunes at more affordable rates.

This begs the question – who’s hot and who’s not? Mike Mayock aside, there aren’t too many individuals out there who have done in-depth scouting and film review on a substantial portion of the league’s players, and if others have I’m certainly not among them. In the absence of quitting my day job and immersing myself in NFL Game Rewind, though, there’s another source I’ve found to get a sense of which NFL players are worth their salt – These guys’ approach is to have people watch each game and assign a rating to a player based on their performance on each and every play. Over the course of a full season, this then tallies up to an overall numeric score for each player on some position-specific dimensions (for example, each inside linebacker gets a score for run defense, one for pass rushing, one for pass coverage, etc.) which gets combined into one overall player rating. There are some obvious potential issues with this approach (chief among them being the possibility of graders for some teams grading differently than others, despite efforts to adhere to a single standard) but having reviewed their premium stats over the last two seasons I’ve found them to be at the minimum directionally correct and generally in line with my observations on the teams and players I follow most closely.

With that in mind, my approach is to use their player ratings as the foundation for grouping free agents into tiers by position. The problem with just using the raw figures is that they are basically ‘counting statistics’ – that is to say that if you accumulate a score on each play, you have a chance to end up with a much higher total score if you’re Stephen Tulloch (who played an absurd 1222 snaps in 2010 at MLB for the Titans) than if you’re Dan Connor (who only logged 261 snaps at MLB for the Panthers – but who still managed to log a raw Run score higher than Tulloch’s!) I want to get a sense of quality not just from guys who logged 900 snaps or more, but from guys who might have played more limited roles in 2010 but could become starters for a new team in free agency (I used the arbitrary figure of 150 total snaps as a minimum to rate any player). With that in mind, I channeled my inner Huckleberry and factored each player’s stats by the number of run snaps/pass snaps he saw and then grossed that number up by a factor of 100 to get the figures to a reasonable decimal scale. For example, with this system the Run Score/Snap for inside linebackers with more than 150 snaps ranged from a 10.58 for Brandon Spikes of the Patriots all the way down to -2.9 for Landon Johnson of the Lions (with Barrett Ruud of the Bucs scoring the worst among full-time players at -2.05).

I’m going to start off with the offensive line – the traditional foundation of championship teams – despite the fact that the most recent Super Bowl featured one team (the Packers) whose OL play was passable at best and another (the Steelers) whose OL play made outright mockery of the entire concept. The first piece should be up later today or tomorrow – hopefully it’s fun reading.