Brad Gagnon

bradgagnon

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For the second consecutive year, the 49ers have made an offseason splash by signing a wide receiver with arguably as much baggage as talent.

With free agency set to get underway in less than 24 hours, the Niners have removed one of the most talked about available players from the market, signing Randy Moss to a one-year deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Moss retired last summer after receiving little to no interest on the free-agent market. At the age of 34, many figured the five-time All-Pro had played his last game. His trademark speed had faded and he was a shell of his former self in quasi-embarrassing stints with Minnesota and Tennessee during the 2010 season.

But last month, the now-35-year-old announced his intentions to make a comeback. After apparently lighting it up in a workout for the Saints earlier this month, he met with San Francisco on Monday, and is now reportedly off the market.

The 49ers have over $20 million in cap space, and Moss’s deal will probably be riddled with incentives. The timing is interesting, because the team is reportedly trying to iron out the final details of a three-year contract extension for impending free-agent quarterback Alex Smith.

It’s too early to tell what this means for Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams, but adding Moss at a bargain-basement rate and with incentives certainly can’t hurt a team with a solid amount of cap space. On paper, Moss makes the Niners better offensively. At the very least, he’ll be a big option for Smith on third-down throws, taking away attention from Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. At the very best, Jim Harbaugh will work his magic and turn Moss back into the home-run hitter he was five years ago in New England.

The only risk is bringing Moss’s personality into a locker room like this one. Crabtree already has a diva mentality and Davis has had issues with discipline in the past. But the 49ers survived without allowing Braylon Edwards to poison the locker room in 2011, so there’s little reason to believe Harbaugh can’t handle the his new big-personality wideout in 2012.

Especially since Moss knows that if he trips up, the Niners won’t think twice about cutting bait.

While we wait for the NFL to come down hard on the New Orleans Saints for their shady on-field practices during 2009, 2010 and 2011, the league has punished two other teams for their shady off-field practices during 2010.

See, as a result of the expiring collective bargaining agreement, there was no salary cap that year. And with that in mind, the league cautioned teams not to manipulate the situation by dumping cash into salaries for 2010 only.

Apparently, the Cowboys and Redskins didn’t listen to that friendly suggestion from the head office, and now they’re paying a much larger price.

As punishment for such loading practices, the league is taking away $36 million in cap space from Washington and $10 million in cap space from Dallas, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That money will then be shared by 28 of the other 30 teams, with the Raiders and Saints (New Orleans can’t catch a break) neither losing nor gaining anything.

That essentially means that neither team has a dollar to spend in free agency. And it also might help explain Washington’s decision to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade and move up to the No. 2 spot in the draft. The ‘Skins were probably well aware that they were going to lose all or most of their cap space, which automatically removed the team from any sort of free agency sweepstakes, especially those involving Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn.

Word on that deal leaked Friday night, but we kept hearing that it wasn’t originally supposed to be made public until Monday. Now that also seems to make sense, as the team was more than likely notified that Monday would be the day in which word would get out that the team was essentially going to be handcuffed on the open market. News of a big trade in the draft might have helped minimize the bad press stemming from an embarrassing development such as this one.

Now, Redskins fans might have mixed feelings. They have their apparent quarterback of the future, but they have no money to spend on his complementary parts. And why? Because the very regime that is in place right now ignored the league’s instructions in order to soften the impending blows that were generated by bad contracts handed to scrubs like DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth (who made a combined $36 million on the dot in 2010).

Their creativity did not pay off.

The timing of the announcement that the Washington Redskins were trading two first-round picks and a second rounder to the St. Louis Rams merely for the chance to move up four spots in April’s draft enabled us to take the weekend to digest such a stunning offseason development.

Still in shock.

It’s amazing, because the difference between the No. 2 spot and the No. 6 spot is so minuscule. Three wins separated the Rams and Redskins this past season, but both were 2-10 from Week 5 on. St. Louis was worse than Washington, but were they worse enough to merit a draft gap large enough to demand three significant picks just to drop back four spots?

It is, of course, circumstantial. In other years, the Rams might have gotten nothing for such a swap. But with two blue-chip quarterback prospects at the top of this draft, St. Louis was in the right spot at the right time. They got lucky, sure, but that’s the reality of the draft process.

All that said, we can now sit back and wonder whether the ‘Skins gave up too much for the right to draft Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Now, hindsight will give us a chance to play Monday morning quarterback here for years to come, just as we have with that Giants-Chargers swap at the top of the 2004 draft. But that doesn’t mean we can’t judge now, because luck will also factor into the final reflection when the Rams have used their collection of newly discovered picks and Griffin has given us a pro-level sample size.

Naturally, I’m ready to rain on D.C.’s parade. Again, Griffin might become a freakin’ legend and make doubters swallow such words, but this is a risk/reward business, and with no hindsight to work with I don’t see the risk being worth the reward.

It’s just too easy for personnel people to fall in love and lose their peripheral vision, and I think that’s what happened here.

Take this bit of comedy from one anonymous general manager, cited on Saturday by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King: ”If you’re Washington, and you haven’t had a quarterback in so long, you can’t pay too much for Griffin.”

Yes, you can. Of course you can. Teams overpay for quarterbacks in the draft all the time, and this could be the new epitomizing example of such negligence. Unless you can say for certain that Griffin is going to deliver as a franchise quarterback for the next 10-plus years (and no one can say that, because the bust ratio is simply too high) then mortgaging the short- and long-term future of the franchise is simply reckless.

This is passion trumping calculated Machiavellian intelligence, which is romantic but lacking anything to stand on. It’s the sort of flawed, myopic approach befitting of a team like the Redskins.

What could Washington have gotten league wide for such a price? I mean, if the ‘Skins were to call up all 31 of their NFL peers and pitch three first-round picks (one sixth overall) and a second-round pick for (fill-in-the-blank), who could they land?

The answer: any player in the entire league not named Brady, Rodgers, Newton, Stafford or Manning.

Obviously I’m just speculating with this hypothetical. Maybe the Falcons wouldn’t surrender Matt Ryan for any price, and maybe Drew Brees is in that category, too. Maybe. But I seriously can’t think of another player who wouldn’t be acquirable for that kind of return.

The Redskins have over $30 million in cap space right now. They could have taken that No. 6 overall pick and packaged it with the same three “complementary” picks sent to St. Louis, traded those selections for a slew of Pro Bowl-caliber veterans and had the cap room to pay them whatever they’re on the hook for. Now, instead, they’ve invested all of that ammunition into one player who has never taken an NFL snap, and they’re left with that $30 million in cap space to spend on the overpriced and overrated free agents left on an open market that is watered down annually by the franchise tags and long-term extensions that dominate late February and early March.

Because teams are set in their ways, they rarely think this way. Draft picks are rarely packaged for proven NFL players, because it mustn’t feel right or something. But that mentality should change, because this is logic. If you’re willing to give up those kinds of picks for another pick, you should be more than willing to do so for a slew of quality players who have already proven to be, you know, quality players.

I understand that this move is buying Mike Shanahan and Co. some time, and I get that there’s been a resurgence in the ticket office and among the fan base, but an influx of big names via trade would likely produce the same result while helping the team win right now. Still a hole at quarterback? Even if you can’t get Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick or Jay Cutler for the aforementioned price (I’ll bet you could), you can use that cash to bring in vets like Matt Flynn, Jason Campbell and David Garrard. If you’re talented enough elsewhere, you certainly can win without a superstar under center. The key, as the Niners and Ravens proved in 2011, is depth and consistency.

It’s nice to see that the Redskins have finally come to the realization that free agency is overrated, but I wouldn’t exactly call this building through the draft, either. Plus, there’s still a chance Griffin simply doesn’t pan out, setting the franchise back half a decade.

It all makes you wonder if the Browns losing out in the sweepstakes for the No. 2 overall pick could wind up as a blessing in disguise.

While the Rams and Buccaneers had their moments, I don’t think many would disagree with the notion that, for the majority of the 2011 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts were the league’s worst team.

That proved, of course, how important a good quarterback is. But it proved more acutely how important Peyton Manning was to that specific team. Because without Manning, all of Indy’s flaws from previous seasons were suddenly exposed. In 2011, without the Manning Band-Aid, the layman was able to finally see that Indianapolis was a tired and aging team that lacked depth and had missed on far too many recent draft picks.

That’s why Bill Polian, Chris Polian and Jim Caldwell are gone, and it’s also why it’s a foregone conclusion that Indy will use the first pick of the 2012 NFL draft to officially replace Manning with another blue-chip quarterback prospect — Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

Sucking in 2011 was probably very painful for Colts fans, but it could have been significantly more agonizing. Luck is considered to be one of the best NFL prospects in league history, so the team picked a good time to fall off a cliff. In fact at times, with Manning’s future in limbo with a huge roster bonus looming and a neck problem lingering, it seemed as though they’d gladly thrown themselves off of said cliff.

And the good news is that sucking in 2012 will probably be tolerable, too. It’s easy to be bad if you have a franchise quarterback beginning the grooming process. Ask Carolina Panthers fans how 6-10 felt in 2011 with Cam Newton killing it and promise hijacking Charlotte. The Panthers and Bills finished with the same record, but did it feel that way?

It’s just a lot easier to lose when hints of success in the short-term future fill the air.

Hopefully, Colts fans keep that in mind in 2012. Because while there’s still a lot to be determined in the draft and free agency, the early indication is that Indianapolis will start next season with easily the weakest roster in the league, and one of the weakest rosters I’ve ever seen.

See, the Colts are pretty much starting from scratch. Rookie general manager, rookie head coach, rookie quarterback. Now, starting a rookie under center nowadays isn’t the same semi-self-destructive sacrifice it was years ago. Luck is considered NFL ready, and recent rookie starters such as Newton, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have proved that immediate success can be had.

But those young quarterbacks had stronger supporting casts. Newton had Steve Smith and a strong offensive line. Dalton had A.J. Green and an even better line. Roethlisberger was drafted by a team that was already considered to be a contender. Ryan had Michael Turner and a solid defense; Flacco had Ray Rice and a legendary defense.

The Colts, though, are clearly sacrificing 2012 for 2013 and beyond. A team that was 2-14 last season let Manning go last Wednesday, cut four veteran starters and the only legit quarterback on the roster last Friday and are in the process of trading their top pass rusher. Luck has already lost one potential target in Dallas Clark, and now there’s a good chance top receiver Reggie Wayne leaves as a free agent. Receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez are also slated to hit the open market, and longtime center Jeff Saturday’s future is also up in the air.

Amazingly, despite the moves they’ve made to cut the roster down to the bare bones, the $38 million of dead cap money left behind by departed veterans means that Indianapolis still has limited room under the cap. The team currently has less than $12 million to spend on in-house and out-of-house free agents.

Luck might be able to single-handedly lead the Colts to a win or two, because it’s ultimately hard to go an entire season without winning a game, and he could be good enough to overcome a lack of receivers, backs, linemen and defenders on a given Sunday against, say, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Cleveland or Minnesota — all of whom the Colts play at home in 2012.

That favorable schedule, the presence of Luck and simple luck itself should be enough to keep Indianapolis from pulling a ’2008 Lions’ next season. But would it really surprise anyone if the Colts did finish 0-16? And if that were to happen, would it really bother Indy fans that much? I mean, look at the Lions now.

And think how sweet it would be to have another top pick in 2013…

Links: Where’s Peyton today?

They say the first rule of free agency is to never let a targeted player leave town without signing a contract. The belief is that if he catches a flight without putting pen to paper, he’s as good as gone.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, and the Peyton Manning tour of 2012 is unique enough that it’s hard to read into the fact that Manning is likely to leave the Bronco’s facility today without signing a deal to become the franchise’s next quarterback.

In fact, it seems the Broncos remain optimistic about their chance of landing No. 18 after the two sides met for six hours last night and then again today.

The question now is, where to next? The original word was that he’d be stopping in Arizona, but Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says he’d be “stunned” if Manning were brought to Glendale today. He is expected to head to Arizona at some point, but we don’t know anything more than that. Today? Tomorrow? Team facility? Elsewhere?

Right now, we’re all in the dark.

And the rest on Manning…

  • A source told ESPN.com that “there is absolutely no preferred choice at this time. This is typical, (Manning) doing his own research because it’s a first-time and only-time process from a free-agent vantage point. Physically seeing facilities and the geography of cities that he is not acquainted with is part of his own research.”
  • We found out last night that Manning is “making encouraging progress with his arm strength.” More from Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports:

“So far, so good,” said a source with one of the many teams that is interested in signing Manning. “The question is still where is it going to stop, but the progress over the past month has been steady and that’s what you’re looking for.”

  • The Dolphins would like Manning to throw before they attempt to sign him … unless, um, he really doesn’t want to. [Miami Herald]
  • Oh, and instead of ripping down Manning’s banner at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts have simply added to it. Nice touch…

Seriously, that’s how they’re presumably rationalizing things after giving Sanchez a three-year contract extension worth $40.5. The three-year veteran is now on the hook for $58.25 plus about $10 million in escalators over the next five years, according to ESPN.com.

Sanchez’s numbers haven’t improved much over his first three seasons. Combine that with the locker-room shenanigans that had teammates throwing him under the bus in January, and there was a belief that his time as New York’s franchise quarterback was expiring.

But on Friday it became apparent that the Jets were no longer in the sweepstakes to land mega-free agent quarterback Peyton Manning. And just like that, Sanchez was handed a deal that will pay him better than former league MVP Aaron Rodgers on an annual basis.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a built-in opportunity for the Jets to opt out of the deal, because there’s no way New York football fans will tolerate Sanchez at his current rate for even a fraction of the next half decade.

One thing’s for certain: on Friday night, the quarterback carousel became a lot less muddled.

The Washington Redskins set a new precedent Friday night when it comes to trades at the top of the NFL draft.

The ‘Skins sacrificed three first-round picks in order to move up four spots for the chance to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, according to FoxSports.com’s Jay Glazer.

The trade won’t be set in stone until the new league year launches Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Specifically, the Redskins are handing the Rams their No. 6 overall pick in this April’s draft, as well as first-rounders in 2013 and 2014, as well as a second-round pick this year, in exchange for the No. 2 pick.

This is an indication, obviously, that the Redskins have exited the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and instead gambled on Griffin, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2011.

The Cleveland Browns were the other major player in the Griffin sweepstakes, reportedly offering three first-round picks as well, but Washington won out and now the Browns are left fighting for bridesmaids such as Matt Flynn and Jason Campbell.

In 2004, by comparison, the San Diego Chargers traded two first-round picks, a third rounder and a fifth rounder in order to acquire No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning. If anything, this deal in an indication that the value of top-end picks has increased as a result of the lower salaries such prospects demand under the new collective bargaining agreement.