The magical turnaround of the L.A. Rams continued on Sunday night, when a team that was one of the worst in the NFL just two years ago qualified with the Superbowl with a 26 – 23 OT upset of the top seeded New Orleans Saintats in the NFC Championship game.
And, there were Florida connections all over the Superdome helping L.A. produce the upset.
Former Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whom Miami discarded for salary cap reasons in March, played huge for the Rams on Sunday. Suh registered 1.5 sacks (above) and had another tackle for loss, as the L.A. defense continued to come up with large plays on QB Drew Brees throughout the game.
Next, Clearwater, FL native Rams tight end Tyler Higbee caught a third-quarter one-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to pull the Rams within 20 – 17. Higbee later caught a pass in the sudden death overtime that helped set up Greg Zuerlein’s game winning field goal. Higbee, a former fourth round pick, finished with four catches for 25 yards on the day.
And, arguably the biggest play of the game for Los Angeles came in that sudden that overtime, when newly acquired Rams defensive end Dante Fowler, a former number one pick of the Jaguars, hammered Brees, as he attempted to throw. Josh Johnson came down with the interception for the Rams.
The @RamsNFL defense forces the INTERCEPTION!
— NFL (@NFL) January 20, 2019
And, they quickly moved into field goal range for Zeurlein’s game winner.
Fowler, whom the Jaguars gave up on in the final year of his rookie deal, finished Sunday with five tackles, 1/2 a sack and another tackle for loss. Plus, the QB hit on Brees in the OT.
Jacksonville traded, the St.Petersburg native and former Gator, in part because of his off field issues. This included his arrest in the summer of 2017 for assault in an apartment complex parking lot fight. Plus, last August, he was also suspended in training camp by coach Doug Marrone for trying to fight teammate and fellow defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue.
Now, Fowler, Suh and Higbee will all get the opportunity to play for a ring with the Rams in two weeks at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.
Potential free agents still available
With training camps for the Bucs, the Dolphins and the Jaguars getting underway later in the month, we will constantly take a look at the potential free agent pool still sitting out there that could help any of them, if needed.
All three teams are coming off of losing seasons, and two of them have new coaching staffs. Plus, you factor the potential ofinjury in training camp or preseason and it may make it necessary to grab one of the upcoming veterans.
With that in mind, here are the prominent remaining names that legendary NFL personnel executive and current NFL media analyst Gil Brandt has. And, Brandt even went so far, as to place them on a likely roster for this fall, too.
At running back, Brandt has former Dolphins and Eagles back, Jay Ajayi, with the following analysis,
The question of whether or not Ajayi will be ready by Week 1 after suffering an ACL tear last October could be tempering interest in a veteran back who averaged a robust 5.1 yards per carry over 11 games with the Eagles in 2017 and ’18. Presuming Ajayi is able to return to health, he would be a logical fit with the Colts, given his familiarity with head coach Frank Reich. (Reich was Ajayi’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, where he was traded by Miami in ’17.) Only six people in NFL history have more 200-yard rushing games than Ajayi (three), and when he’s 100 percent, he can contribute as both a runner and a receiver.
With the recent four game PED suspension of veteran DB Ryan Smith, the Bucs might be interested in a veteran corner. While Tampa Bay doesn’t have much cap room, Brandt wonders if they could still make a restructure, etc. and perhaps go for former #1 pick Morris Claiborne,
A former first-round pick, who revived his career in New York over the past two seasons after a disappointing first stint with the Cowboys, in 2018, Claiborne recorded 57 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two picks, including one touchdown — all career highs. The coaching staff has changed over, and there is reported interest in Claiborne from Tampa, where Claiborne’s old head coach, Todd Bowles, is the new defensive coordinator. But I should think Claiborne would still fit in the Gregg Williams-helmed unit in New York.
Finally, if you are looking for veteran receiver help and a big target, former Panthers first rounder Kelvin Benjamin is someone Brandt likes,
Benjamin topped 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, but more or less disappeared over the past two seasons, scraping together just over 1,000 combined yards while changing teams twice (he was traded to Buffalo in ’17, waived by the Bills last year and spent three games in Kansas City). With Odell Beckham Jr. gone, New York needs receiver depth. Might Gettleman and Shula’s familiarity with Benjamin help him get his career back on track?
The Fins and the Jaguars might also be in the market for the former Seminoles star.
Look for all three of those names, plus former Pro Bowl DT Muhammad Wilkerson, and Safety Eric Berry, plus, LB Nick Perry could all be in play, for August signings, as well.
Sunday night latest reminder of how NBA- NFL free agency differs
Sunday night was an absolute frenzy of free agent activity in the NBA. No matter if it was social media or ESPN or NBA TV, the contracts and the money were a blur. This, as teams attempted to either keep important players or watched them leave for another better offer somewhere else, and then, set out to sign someone to replace those leaving.
Most prominently, former League MVP and two-time champ with the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant, signed a massive four year $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets. This despite the fact that Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in game five of the NBA Finals and likely will not be able to play most of next season. Yet, that money is fully guaranteed through 2023. More on that in a moment.
Then, other names kept scrolling on screens and Tweets, Etc. like: Kyrie Irving joining Durant in Brooklyn, Jimmy Butler headed to the Heat in South Florida, Kemba Walker headed to Boston to replace Irving, and Al Horford ending up in Philadelphia. And the names and deals went on, and on, and on.
The most prominent unsigned player, as of Monday afternoon, is Toronto free agent and new World Champ Kawhi Leonard. And it still remains to be seen, whether he will remain in Canada or head to Hollywood to play for the Lakers?
Now, couple of things are strikingly different about NBA free agency from what we see every March with the NFL.
First, and this is the most common complaint of NFL players, everyone of these NBA deals are fully guaranteed. That means if a team tires of a player and wants to get rid of them, they are still on the hook to pay them the full salaries that you’re seeing and reading about the last 24 hours. And, it’s staggering to contemplate players being given 30+ million a year and a team doesn’t want them. However, it regularly happens with NBA players/deals.
But, no NFL team, none of them, will do those type of guaranteed deals and then just outright release the player, like the NBA will do.
No instead, most NFL deals are only partially guaranteed with rare exceptions. NFL players try to get as much money as possible in the form of a signing bonus or guarantees in the first couple of years of the contract. This is because it’s well-known that pro football teams will grow tired of players, change to coaching staff who don’t want them, Etc. Then, a player will be released when his money is no longer guaranteed to him and it can save the club under the salary cap, too.
A massive recent example of this that applies to one of our state NFL teams is the Jaguars humongous deal to grab QB Nick Foles away from the Eagles. It’s for 4 years and $88 million with a huge signing bonus and $50 million guaranteed. However, most of Foles’ money is tied to the first two years of the contract and the team can lessen its financial burden, if it wants in year three and certainly by year four. They would do this, if Foles not living up to what they believe he can be in North Florida..
And, two recent examples of this with the other two Florida NFL teams have shown the dark side of what NFL teams can do two players that still have quality years left, but the team believes have too big of a price tag.
The Buccaneers did it most recently with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had signed a lucrative six-year contract three seasons ago, but all of the signing bonus and guaranteed money was taken care of in the first three years the deal. This made McCoy expendable, when Bruce Arians and his new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles showed up in January and his $13 million dollars was believed to be too much money. The team released McCoy in May and he signed with the division rival Panthers a week later.
The Dolphins did the same after a lucrative deal with Ndamukong Suh in the 2018 free agency. Not wanting to pay him the non-guaranteed $17 million dollars that he was owed for last year he was released. Suh eventually landed a one-year deal with the L.A. Rams for $3 million less, and helped them go to the Super Bowl year ago.
And now, ironically, Suh has signed another one-year deal with the Buccaneers to replace McCoy, and even take their shared number 93, with his new team in Tampa Bay.
Another obvious difference is: there are many fewer free agents in the NBA, because there are so many fewer players on rosters. So whenever the free agency gets rolling, the best players are in the most demand quickly in “bidding wars” with their old team and possible new ones.
Now, NFL and the NBA are similar in that only a few players take up much of the salary cap. In the NBA’s case it’s usually the top two or three on a 12-man roster. However, for the NFL, it’s usually about the top six or seven in a 53-man roster that are taking up the bulk of salary-cap space.
Most of the other players on NBA and NFL rosters make drastically less and close to the league minimum on deals.
One, other huge difference with they NBA is the prominent players themselves, have much more leverage on recruiting other free agents to join them and almost become “defacto GMs.” This is because of the massive guaranteed deals they have with a team, and because of there being fewer prize free agents year after year after year.
That enables someone like LeBron James to decide he’s going to pair up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and go win titles in Miami like he did last decade. However, he’s then free to decide who is going to roll back to the Cleveland Cavaliers with and assemble and win a championship there like they did three years ago.
And then for good measure, LeBron decided a year ago at this time that he would leave Cleveland (for a second time) and head West to the Lakers. And now, he has already orchestrated L.A. to trade for New Orleans star big man Anthony Davis and a symbol other players around him at his discretion.
It’s further believed that the reason Brooklyn was able to land both Durant and Irving is because the two of them had decided together that they wanted to play with each other in the New York Market, but, clearly not for the more prominent Knicks.
Again, players on teams in the NFL can recruit their buddies, and sometimes are successful to them to come on board. But, it is not as prevalent and impactful, as what has gone on for more than 10 years in the NBA with its free agency.
And, it was certainly in full motion on Sunday night for the NBA.