Ray Ratto

Why the NFL loses to the NBA in free agency


Why the NFL loses to the NBA in free agency

Every judgment is subjective, and every decisive assertion is based on personal likes and dislikes.
Except this one: The National Football League doesn’t do free agency as well as the National Basketball Association, and it has failed again this year.
That’s probably as it should be as well. The NFL is best at the draft because there are more potential game-changers/team-fixers in football (and yes, we cleverly avoided the trap of typing team-changers/game-fixers) than basketball. It is also better at making the draft a year-long media-blowhard-o-rama because it has unfettered access to more media blowhards.
And yeah, you know who you are.
But free agency? The NFL is pure unadulterated meh on feh because unlike the NBA, the NFL acts ashamed to be throwing money around drunken sailors on leave in Bangkok. It gives money figures that aren’t really money figures because you not only have to subtract for guaranteed money, you also have to qualify what “guaranteed” actually means. It’s bait and switch with your customers, and a statement that you’re not actually proud of the thing you just bought. It’s like the owners want you to take their side in every deal  by marveling at the bargains rather than accepting the fact that all fans want to see is money flying around.
This even trickles down to players. Veteran safety Eric Weddle, among others, Twitter-ranted about Sam Bradford’s latest contract by pointing out that Bradford has made $134 million without producing much of substance as a quarterback. This shows not only petty jealousy but a basic misunderstanding of the market, and Weddle is actually much smarter than that.
Bradford got his $20M ($15M guaranteed, and see how much that sucks?) because he is a quarterback who might not stink in the right environment. The money wasn’t a reward but a desperate gamble based on the current quarterback scarcity and nothing more. The owners and general managers have decided that quarterbacks are the only players who actually deserve money, and everyone else is just tools on a belt. That sucks a lot of potential fun out of the market.
The NBA, on the other hand, recognizes all positions as essentially equal, and throws cash all around the floor like a Houston Rockets shot chart. It is no longer a center-centric league, so Stephen Curry can make as much or more than LeBron James. More total money is spent on guards, but centers make the highest average salaries, followed by small forwards. Everyone can get rich in such an egalitarian environment.
Plus, because the money is fully guaranteed, so the numbers you see are the numbers they get, making the joy of marveling at the deals less ambiguous and more jaw-dropping. And let’s face it, sports sells best when it amazes, even if what amazes here is “PAUL MILLSAP MAKES MORE THAN KEVIN DURANT?”
And finally, the NBA spends proudly and with a snootful of adrenalin, although there are signs that some Scrooge McDuck owners want to tamp that down, NFL style. That makes it a true bacchanal of roasted cash, and who doesn’t like a barbecue with dead president as fire starter? Fewer positions helps, a fat TV deal helps, and owners who actually want to compete, at least at the top end, helps too.
In sum, the NFL doesn’t do free agency well, and knowing their thickskulled approach to such things, they will try to make it even duller next year because they think America wants to see them deal out pay cuts rather than max deals. They understand nothing.

Sorting through Pete Carroll's latest flirtation with Kaepernick and the Seahawks


Sorting through Pete Carroll's latest flirtation with Kaepernick and the Seahawks

There are any number of ways to sort out Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s latest public flirtation with the concept (as opposed to the actual presence) of Colin Kaepernick on his roster, but they all end the same.

Not a chance in hell. Okay, not much of a chance in hell.

It is a measure of our industrial inability to let go of a seemingly dead storyline that the question was even raised in Carroll’s pre-draft press conference Monday, and even more bizarre that he dangled it as a possibility when all it did was remind people yet again that the National Football League is run by narrow-minded, inflexible and even socially thuggish billionaires.

What it did not to do is make anyone think that (a) this is a football decision upon which Carroll has final say, or that (b) this is an employment decision upon which owner Paul Allen has the only vote that matters.

Now we could end up dead wrong in public here – it has happened before, of course. But Kaepernick is the handy hot button the owners have used to show their fealty to the noisy symbols-above-rights crowd that are taking credit they don’t deserve for the decline in football’s television popularity. It seems unfathomable that they would give that up, or more specifically, to let any of their individual members give that up on their behalf.

At least not without running it through HR.

It could be that the depositions in Kaepernick’s complaint against the league are going badly for the league in a strictly legal sense, though there is no public indication of such. It could be that the dovish win of the owners find this a needless distraction that the league would be better off solving quietly and quickly (if 15 months can be described as quick). It could even be that at his advanced age Allen has decided to put a finger in the eyes of his colleagues just for the sake of seeing them tear up.

But these all seem unlikely. Moreover, Carroll may be trying to pressure his superiors through public discussion to get Kaepernick in for a workout that leads to a job, and that’s not normally a triumphant stratagem.

In short, the smart money is to bet that this is one more red herring in a lake full of them. Colin Kaepernick will be as ex- a football player as he has been, people will re-convince themselves that his future as a player still has value as a talking point of brain-free chat shows, and the hamster wheel will continue to spin.

And in the end, the only good thing to come out of any of it is the number of cranial collisions Kaepernick does not endure by still being that ex-player.

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat in Sunday’s Giants’ 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels is the stuff of nerdley legend. It must also have made Rob Manfred pull off his own head in exasperation.

Baseball games are quicker this year because of the new speed diktats, all of them part of the Manfredian compulsion that pace is the thing that is keeping baseball from becoming the cool kids’ sport.

But here is Belt, laying down a 12-minute batting opus that droned on so long that Belt admitted later that he hates that sort of thing when he is in the field. He, too, understands where Manfred’s bread is buttered.

But it was also described as “the longest at-bat ever” by people who should know better but clearly don’t. It might have been the longest at-bat ever, but people have only been counting this for 20 years, and there have been long at-bats before. The odds are that there have been longer at-bats in baseball history, and that Belt’s extended soliloquy doesn’t rank first, but maybe 12th, or 29th, or 214th. According to BaseballReference.com, there have been 14,689,043 at-bats, so the odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the record at all.

So what we have here, then, is a fascinating oddity but not necessarily an epochal one. Frankly, if Belt really cared about the record, he would have fouled off seven or eight more pitches and made a better claim for having a record that nobody actually can make.

But every day is a new set of at-bats, and while Belt can never truly have a totally true record, he could make Rob Manfred turn purple with rage. That’s better than any record right there.