Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Meet The Meat: Malcolm Jenkins Is An Eagle

Meet The Meat
When I was a nerdy kid, I read the Douglas' Adams "Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" books. In the second book of his set, Adams introduces the idea of sentient meat at a restaurant that talks to the patrons to tell them which part of himself would be particularly tasty. The human in the party is, of course, repulsed by the idea, and Adams makes his snarky little point for vegetarianism, or just edgy comedy.

The point, of course, is that raw material does not make a meal; it merely makes the potential for one, and if the way it's prepared isn't to your sensibilities, the meal isn't going to be a success. And so it does for Q1 and Q2 in the NFL, where free agent season and the draft conflate to give the armchair chefs in the audience a defeat-free period of timewaste. All the fun of thinking about football, and you can completely avoid on-air personnel and other teams' fanbases? What's not to love?

Well, um, the whole thing really. I find this part of the season nerve-wracking and nihilistic, because you can't help but be interested in something that Is Not Game... and Not Game is never as good as Game. It's also an impossible set of expectations and dread. As an Eagle Fan, I've seen big-name signings work out spectacularly well (Jon Runyan, Jason Peters) and flame out epically (Nnamdi Asomugha, along with just about everyone else who came in with him). And yet, we all think that we know what a good signing is, and what the right money looks like. Despite the fact that, well, 3 out of every 4 NFL fans suck wind in their fantasy league, and making a fantasy league team is remarkably easier than making a real one.

Every year, there's a bright shiny player that seems to be absolutely perfect for the team's needs. (Note, of course, that the shine on said player comes from a media that eschews advanced statistics and is usually being fluffed to the brink by agents. But let's move on.) And every year, there seems to be ample cap space available to make the deal. This year, it was Bills' safety Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowler with Oregon ties that would provide an immediate upgrade to the position that, more than any other, stopped the team from progressing in the playoffs... and nope, the Saints scooped him up for 6 years and $54 million, despite cap woes. And since the other star safetys (Donte Whitner to the Browns, TJ Ward to the Broncos) went outside of my laundry, the consolation prize of Malcolm Jenkins from New Orleans to here seems like, well, more of the second-rate market that got them James Casey last year. (Remember James Casey? James Casey barely remembers Jon Casey.)

Jenkins comes at a cost of 3 years and $16.25 million, or less than a third of what Byrd could cost. (Note: total NFL contracts are a joke. It's all about the bonus.) The team also released Patrick Chung with the news of Jenkins coming to town, making sure that everyone in the fandom knows this was a good day. Jenkins is a 2009 first rounder who started 57 games for the Saints, and was a two-time captain. He should be the best the team has had back there since Brian Dawkins stopped being Brian Dawkins (note: this occurred a few years before they let him go, though even Old Dawk had flashes of ridiculous awesomeness). Jenkinds hasn't been a Pro Bowler, and the productivity has been sporadic, which isn't going to jibe with being the Incoming Savior... and the team is still at least one safety and one true CB1 away from being good enough to compete for top marks in the NFC. But still, excellent signing, or so it would seem.

But the bigger note to make here is that if we all knew what won football games in March, Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones would have football teams, rather than tire fires. What matters in free agency is the overall pattern, year over year, more than any individual signing. Does your team win not just on the big swings for the fences, but also the two-strike single through the hole? Is there a pattern of releasing top talent to make up for past mistakes, and is there a pattern of losing top talent that refuses to re-sign after their rookie deals? And do they overrate their own guys, and lock down marginal youngsters who then under-deliver?

In other words, free agency is just like the draft; an expert-level process with a lot of guesswork that everyone has to have an opinion about, because not having an opinion is no fun at all. I like the Jenkins' signing a lot, and the extensions this winter are also solid; they also have two more years of Nick Foles being under market holiday to make runs at difference makers in the pass rush, which is next up on the wish list (after, well, a second safety, but that might come in the draft).
But everyone liked the Asomugha move when that happened, because we were all convinced that he'd lead the best corners in the NFL with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel. And that only would up producing the worst secondary we've ever seen in town.

So, um, yay, they signed a safety. It wasn't one of the guys they had that clearly weren't good enough. The produce and meats they bought for the meal look good. Kelly looks like he knows what he's doing in the kitchen.

But until the meal is served?

We know squat. And always will.

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