Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The NFL never ceases to seize the sporting world headlines. Much to the relief of Brandon Knight, the only sports news that matters on Monday relates to the NFL. More specifically, the NFC West dominated the headlines.
Early Monday it was reported (I forget who got it first, but I couldn’t care less who did) that the Minnesota Vikings found a taker for enigmatic malcontent WR Percy Harvin in the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks flipped the #26 pick and their 7th round pick this year and a mid-round pick (likely a 3rd) next year to acquire Harvin. They will also pay with a lucrative contract extension that Harvin was never going to get in Minnesota, which was beyond exhausted with Harvin’s high-maintenance persona.
To give you an idea of how difficult Harvin is to manage, he has demanded Calvin Johnson money. Megatron just came off one of the greatest individual offensive seasons by any position in NFL history and he’s probably not even worth Calvin Johnson money. Harvin has never started more than 14 games in a season and his career best yardage total was 967 in 2011. He does bring added value by being the best kick return man in the league over the last two years, though Seattle is already loaded there with Leon Washington. Harvin misses as many practices as he participates thanks to a rotating litany of issues: migraines, ankles, ribs, arguments with coaches, personal grievances. I know at least one team yanked Harvin off its draft board less than 10 minutes after his official visit; the coaches couldn’t stomach his selfishness and attitude and determined he wasn’t worth the headaches.
Harvin did produce some electrifying moments in Minnesota just as Anquan Boldin did during the Ravens Super Bowl run. Without Boldin, Joe Flacco doesn’t earn $75M let alone $120.6M. Flacco is going to learn that the hard way, as Baltimore strips itself of quality players in order to sate his thirst for every last nickel. They asked Boldin to take a pay cut in order to stay with the team. At 32 and rightly feeling like he probably deserves more, not less, than the $6M he was due, Boldin was insulted and refused. Now he has been traded to San Francisco, one of the few teams that can simultaneously afford his deal and legitimately feel like he makes them that much better. Instead of paying Boldin $6M, the Ravens instead get a 6th round pick for the player who was as responsible as anyone for the Lombardi Trophy sitting in team HQ in Owings Mills.
There is a lesson here for the Lions and for Matt Stafford. Talks of a Stafford contract restructure or extension has reportedly gone nowhere, which is very disappointing to Lions fans. Unless Stafford agrees to a more cap-friendly deal, the Lions are hamstrung with the massive bubble of guaranteed hits in his bonus baby contract. As the Ravens can tell you, there is a big difference between a $12M cap hit and a $20M cap hit. Baltimore hasn’t hit that point yet with Flacco, but they are prudently sacrificing for that day.
The Lions are facing that day right now. Stafford holds the key to today’s free agency haul. If he doesn’t agree to give back a little, the Lions go from courting Reggie Bush to courting Mike Goodson, from re-signing Chris Houston and Louis Delmas to signing Antoine Cason and Gerald Sensabaugh. For my football money, the second option in each ensures very little progress from a 4-12 disappointment, while the former options give the Lions a legit shot at getting back to the playoffs. It’ s up to Stafford and how much he truly cares about the escalating QB salary arms race. He can probably argue he is just as good as Flacco sans the Super Bowl win, throwing for 10,000 yards in two seasons. He’s thrown 61 TDs in those two seasons to Flacco’s 42, with a better completion percentage, yards per attempt, and the exact same amount of comeback wins.
This is where Stafford needs to realize that he cannot win it all by himself, just as Flacco can’t in Baltimore. Stafford needs to look at the real potential of the team going backwards because his own ego, not to mention the ego of his agent, needs the gross reward of being regarded as grossly overpaid. If he wants to step up as a true leader, Matt Stafford will help out the team. In the process he will help his own chances for earning elite QB status on the actual field where it matters, not just in his bank account.
Stafford isn’t the only Lion who can help. Calvin Johnson will count more against the 2013 salary cap than any other player in the league thanks to his recent extension. He could agree to lower his base salary now and free up a couple of million to spend on getting himself a better complementary weapon like Bush. Nate Burleson did just that when he was given the Boldin ultimatum of “take a pay cut or get cut”, and because of that the Lions are that much more likely to keep Chris Houston. The Lions must learn from Burleson’s example and from the rapid decaying of the champion Ravens. Is there really that big of a difference between $14M a year and $18M a year, other than the extra zero on the agent commission check? Stafford and Johnson need to decide how much they are really about winning football games and how much is about winning in the Charlie Sheen sense of the word. Here’s hoping they choose the correct answer.