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There’s often something wrong with a player who even reaches free agency, because with the intricacy of team building general managers don’t just throw their arms up and let star players walk. If a situation becomes dire but it’s still essential that a stud is retained, other non-core players are cut, or their contracts are restructured to create salary cap space. The market is also thinned out further each year by the presence of the franchise tag, and the safety net it provides.

Free agency is a time when bets are made by NFL general managers. That receiver who was a secondary option will definitely blow up with more targets, right (Eric Decker)? That oft-injured running back will be just fine, right (Ben Tate)? That quarterback who was really great in an isolated system and sample size will keep that up even though he’s 34 years old, right (Josh McCown)?

Wednesday afternoon the Denver Broncos found themselves asking this question: DeMarcus Ware still has enough left to be worth $10 million annually, right? As John Elway’s pocket dumping continued, Denver ended Ware’s short time on the open market by signing the defensive end to a three-year contract worth $30 million, $20 million of which is guaranteed. Ware missed three games due to a thigh injury last year and was limited in others, which reduced his sack total to a career low 6.5. Prior to that he had been incredibly healthy, and those three games were the first he had missed throughout his entire career.

But look at Ware’s average annual salary again ($10 million), and compare that to the figure received by the far younger options on the market, all of whom haven’t even hit their peak.

  • Michael Johnson (27 years old): $8.75 million
  • LaMarr Houston (26): $7 million
  • Michael Bennett  (28): $8 million
  • Everson Griffen (26): $8.5 million

Even though he’ll be 32 before next season starts, there’s no doubting Ware has a contribution to make, and a sizable one next to an eventually healthy Von Miller. His presence and the 117 career sacks he brings will lead to a downright terrifying front seven, one that still also features Terrance Knighton, Danny Trevathan, Derek Wolfe, and Sylvester Williams. Toss in the additions of Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward in the secondary, and a Broncos defense that ranked 19th even during an AFC championship season is about to improve dramatically.

But by giving Ware a contract that tops the 2014 pass rusher market in annual pay and committing to him until at least his age 34 season when the guaranteed money runs dry, here’s the more specific grand free agency question the Broncos’ money is asking…

“Can you go back to being yourself as you keep getting older please, and then also outproduce all those other guys who are up to six years younger? Thanks”

That won’t happen, because Ware is a human and as such he slows over time. But while the cash is saying one thing, Elway is thinking something entirely different. He knows that with age also the enemy of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker, Denver’s window to win a Super Bowl is fading to black fast. That’s why he’s concerned about the here and the now, and if it means overpaying by a million or so for a defensive end who may (or may not?) be past his prime, so be it.

Those shiny Super Bowl rings don’t care how much Ware is making in 2015, and flags fly forever.

Maybe Revis is staying in New England for more than just a Revis term?

Darrelle Revis was a free agent for, oh, a few hours before the more than logical fit in New England was finalized. My initial reaction to the term and value of his new Patriots contract (one year at $12 million) was that it’s a Revis deal, as he’s only satisfied if he gets to see his stock rise again on the open market in the very near future. He will eternally play on one-year deals.

But this morning NFL Network’s Albert Breer had some more contract details which lead to the possibility this won’t be just a short Patriots flirtation. Unlike his Jets contract, there’s no language in Revis’ new deal that prevents him from being franchised. Therefore contractually he’s just a normal football human, and in late February at the tagging deadline he might grumble and kick dirt, but just like everyone else Revis won’t have any leverage if the Patriots decide to spend the required $14.4 million (related: yowza) to slap him with the franchise tag.

So inevitably the threat of a tag has already led to this…

Or maybe it’s not the tag working here, and the Patriots feel a new, cheerful Revis has landed in their lap. He’s happy with this marriage and more than willing to sign long-term to keep that loving feeling strong.

History tells us this is the honeymoon period for Revis, though, and his happiness is fleeting. He’s forever looking towards the next opportunity to get paid, which isn’t the worst idea in a sport that readily discards aging players and their non-guaranteed contracts.

The Jets signed their first solution at wide receiver

Meanwhile, Revis now knows which top receiver he’ll be grappling with when he faces his former team twice next year. In one of the most predictable and expected moves of free agency thus far, the Jets signed Eric Decker while you were sleeping, plucking the most coveted offensive player.

Decker signed a five-year contract worth $36.25 million, with $15 million guaranteed. The math on that adds up to $7.25 million annually, which is surprisingly affordable since Decker is one of only two receivers who were sitting in the top tier of free agents at a highly coveted position in today’s NFL. The other is Hakeem Nicks, and although he’ll inevitable blow up wherever he signs (likely Carolina), he carries some hefty baggage in the form of injury concerns despite his youth at 26 years old.

The concerns with Decker before this signing were obvious and they’re screaming at you now. Decker is taking a cannonball from the top ladder of quarterback play into the nearly empty pool that is Geno Smith. That’s how it works when a secondary receiver on a spectacularly amazing offense is jettisoned to free agency, as a quarterback downgrade is always coming. It prompts questions about whether or not the receiver in question can pull a Josh Gordon and post stupid numbers even with wonky balls chucked in his direction.

But there isn’t a quarterback slide steeper and more cliff plunge-y than this one. By any metric the move from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith is downright petrifying, and here’s just a few from this past season…

  • Completion percentage: Manning 68.3, Smith 55.8
  • Yards per attempt: Manning 8.3, Smith 6.9
  • Yards per game: Manning 342.3, Smith 290.4
  • Interceptions: Manning threw 10 on 659 attempts, Smith threw 21 on 443 attempts

I’ll give you a moment to re-insert your jaw.

But let’s ignore Decker’s 2013 numbers that were Manning-aided (career highs in catches with 87, and receiving yards with 1,288) and focus on what he can do, and do well. He’s become a relatively sure-handed receiver after catching 64 percent of his 136 targets. For perspective, Miami’s Brian Hartline was in the same target neighborhood with 133, and his catch rate was lower at 57.1 percent. But it’s in the red-zone where his game truly lies, because at 6’3″ he’s a large-bodied presence with great leaping ability. That led to 11 touchdowns in 2013, and 33 over four seasons in Denver.

Getting to the red zone remains the problem, and to solve it the Jets are only just starting with their receiver revamping after cutting Santonio Holmes. Or at least they should be.

Josh McCown = savior?

That’s the message from Lovie Smith after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Josh McCown to a two-year contract worth $10 million. He then made an immediate declaration, said the with conviction of a man who just found his quarterback wonderkid…

It’s a direction that makes a clear statement about Mike Glennon (basically this: “you suck”), but it also speaks to Smith’s extreme lack of patience.

If he doesn’t like Glennon, fine. But turning to a quarterback who will be 35 years old before next season, and one who’s been little more than your standard journeyman throughout his career isn’t solving any problem. Actually scratch that, because McCown has been less than your standard journeyman. This is the part when I remind you that in the not so distant past (2010) he was a United Football League superstar with something called the Hartford Colonials.

McCown’s stock rose dramatically during his cameo relief appearance when Jay Cutler went down this past season. He was brilliant over those five starts and eight game appearances in total, completing 66.5 percent of his passes while throwing just one interception over 149 attempts to keep the Bears in playoff contention. But he did that in a dynamic west coast offense, with quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman saying sweet nothings in his ear. And he did it with two towers at wide receiver in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery who sucked back contested balls.

The odds of that minuscule sample size continuing after a long run of nothingness aren’t in Tampa’s favor. But godspeed, Lovie.

The Lions finally have their Calvin Johnson complement

Concluding a search that seemed like it would last until the end of our days, the Lions took their own dip into the wide receiver pool yesterday and signed Golden Tate to a five-year deal worth $31 million, with $13.25 million guaranteed. At a very reasonable price ($6.2 million annually) the fit couldn’t be better.

While he’s not blazing, Tate has no problem with getting down the field in a timely manner. He has speed a secondary will have to respect, and that will draw safety help away from Calvin Johnson. Anytime that happens good things follow. Many good things.

Tate resembles a teammate from his now former place of work, and he’s a poor man’s Percy Harvin. Comparisons to Pierre Garcon and Michael Crabtree are often made too, and either way this dominant observation is made: he’s physical, and getting the ball in space before creating and gaining chunk yardage after the catch is how he excels. Of Tate’s 898 receiving yards during the Seahawks’ championship season, 460 of them came after the catch.

And about that catching part: he’s pretty good at it…