Most years, the days leading up to NFL free agency are filled with rumors and leads telling us who will sign complex and huge contracts at the midnight hour on the eve of free agency. Despite “not being allowed to talk” to players prior to the start of free agency. This year the NFL pushed the start of free agency back to 4 pm EST, likely because the NFL is the only sport where the average fan has such an insatiable appetite for NFL news that they will follow free agency like other fans follow trade deadlines. The most experienced NFL executives and player agents had no idea how to work with this pushed back time and the addition of a window starting roughly 3 days earlier to allow for teams to begin talking to free agents, just not signing them till the window opens.
This was a new trail to be forged for NFL decision makers and negotiators, and combined with some cap and personnel troubles for teams, resulted in a very exciting precursor to the opening of free agency. On Monday, two trades came together extremely quickly despite word being that neither player would go anywhere, the predictably common company line. Percy Harvin trade talks were probably going on for weeks, if not months, now, but the Anquan Boldin trade likely formed very quickly after Boldin refused to restructure or cut down his contract.
The NFC West was viewed as one of the worst divisions outside of the San Francisco 49ers before the start of last season. Now, the top two have quickly been changed to co-favorites to win the Super Bowl next season after their trades. The first block to fall was the Seattle Seahawks acquisition of the dynamic, but slightly enigmatic, Vikings WR Percy Harvin. He is a talent well beyond his numbers and the sum of his contributions outweigh what people see in the box score. Yes, he is a wide receiver and he plays the majority of his snaps somewhere out wide or in the slot. He has never eclipsed the arbitrary 1,000 yard receiving mark used as the “good receiver” benchmark in the NFL. He has never totaled double-digit touchdowns despite his multiple uses. He has, for some strange reason, been given an injury prone tag after suffering from a bad ankle sprain this pas season and a history of migraines.
Does that sound like a player worth sending a 2013 1st-round pick, 2013 7th-round pick and a 2014 to-be-determined mid-round pick? Without a doubt and he is probably worth more. The reality of those numbers is I just gave you is that Percy Harvin has only missed three games outside of the 2012 season and 7 more last season because of the unpredictable high-ankle sprain. In his last full season he had 1,312 total yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.9 yards/carry and 11.1 yards/reception. Then, in a season that saw him limited to 9 games, he had 773 yards from scrimmage and his averages were down, likely because of the high ankle sprain. He was also criminally under-utilized by the offensive brass in Minnesota, only starting in 43 of his 54 professional games, despite being far and away the most dynamic threat on that team, more dynamic than Adrian Peterson, NOT better, just more dynamic. Not to mention he was only used on 60.7% of total snaps during his lone full season, and very close to that in the other two seasons where he missed a combined 3 games.
All in all, the Vikings did get a nice haul in getting an extremely coveted 1st-round pick, but they did not help themselves in the long run because this draft is viewed is deep and not strong. They also lost one of the most outstanding talents in the NFL and are left absolutely decimated at the wide receiver position.
Russell Wilson just did a backflip and I can hear him celebrating all the way here in Chicago. This Seattle offense just got extremely scary in their second year with Wilson. They have an in their prime corp of skill position players with 27-year olds in Sidney Rice and Marshawn Lynch, 24-year old Percy Harvin and the exciting second year Russell Wilson. The Seahawks and GM John Schneider has put the NFC on notice…the Seahawks aren’t going anywhere.
I talked quite a bit about Anquan Boldin when I talked here about the roster that GM Ozzie Newsome built for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. The breakdown about how he has turned into the best possession receiver instead of a durable deep threat has been amazing and I won’t explain it again too much. But, it must be marveled at how strong his hands are and how strong he is as a receiver. He is a tight end in a wide receivers body and has great separation SKILLS, not separation speed, he just knows how to create separation in different ways.
After Boldin told the Baltimore Ravens, who are desperately trying to fix their cap problem, that he was not willing to lower his $6 million salary for the 2013 season and told the media earlier in the year that he would probably retire if he was cut, the Ravens took advantage of him. They thought those comments were sincere and figured they had all the leverage. Now, I’m not damning the actions of the Ravens, they definitely should have used those quotes against him in negotiations, but once Boldin felt he was spurned and the Ravens had already decided not to pay him $6 million, the trade possibility flood gates opened. Ozzie Newsome wanted to be 100% sure that Boldin wasn’t going to wind up in New England or Pittsburgh and come back to bite him, so he sent Boldin to the team they had just beaten in the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers. Ozzie knew the chances of seeing the 49ers again in the Super Bowl were slim to none so there was no better team to unload him to.
You don’t often see the team that just lost a Super Bowl going out and acquiring a player that helped beat them in the previous Super Bowl, especially for just a 6th-round draft pick. But that is exactly what the 49ers GM, Trent Baalke, did in acquiring Boldin. He fits this hard-nosed team perfectly and will be a great mentor to the young receivers on the 49ers and a great safety valve for QB Colin Kaepernick. His stats are not what need to be looked at with Boldin and I won’t do him the injustice of evaluating him that way. He is going to go over the middle and make strong catches from a strong armed QB.
We may never know how quickly this trade came together, but it may very well have been in response to the Harvin acquisition by the Seahawks, and it may have been in response to Boldin helping Flacco beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl. But Trent Baalke may be getting one more Raven before the end of this, safety Ed Reed, and is doing a great job of making the NFC West the future battle ground for the NFC Championship.
There is not usually this much excitement prior to the opening of free agency, likely because teams don’t have nearly as much of an informed opinion on what they may get in free agency because this year they are allowed, instead of just permitted, to speak to players prior to their ability to sign them. Let’s hope this becomes a lot like the trade deadline in other sports because it is has a chance to be very exciting to follow.