The Yankees Should Have Kept Girardi

Aaron Bleeping Boone. The Red Sox dubbed him that after his game 7 walkoff in the ’03 ALCS. 15 years later, Boone is largely responsible for Boston moving onto the ALCS.

The former infielder was wildly successful during his rookie campaign as the Yankee manager. New York won 100 games in the regular season and won the AL Wildcard game to set up the ALDS matchup with the Red Sox.

However, if this series showed anything, it’s that Boone is not experienced enough to make the necessary moves to win in the postseason yet. His mishandling of the starting pitching, questionable insertion of relief pitchers and overall unwillingness to trust his instincts indicate Boone has a lot to learn before he is going to be the manager to take this team to a World Series.

This is not say the players do not deserve some blame. Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia lacked control in their game 3 and game 4 starts. Lance Lynn struggled to find a rhythm coming on in relief for Severino in game 3. Andrew McCutcheon and Giancarlo Stanton might have well as been spectators for how infrequently they managed get on base.

Joe Girardi
Girardi was 938-734 in his time with Yankees, including the postseason. (Wikimedia Commons)

The issue I have with Boone in all of this was he should never have been in charge this season. The Yankees should never have let Joe Girardi leave given the roster they had heading into the 2018 season. New York did not have Stanton on the roster when they hired Boone to be the manager, as the former NL MVP joined the team via trade a week later. Still, the mentality building a team to win this season. For me, that has to include the manager.

I know things were rocky between the front office and Girardi by the end of last season. However, Girardi was a proven winner. He had gotten the Yanks to the postseason two of the previous three years with admittedly much less talented teams than what New York put together this season. He wasn’t perfect, seeing as the Yankees went five years without winning playoff game before last year. However, he won a World Series in 2009 and had plenty of postseason experience. Girardi has the 13th most wins by a manager in postseason history. He is now interviewing to be the next Texas Rangers manager.

Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge was one of the only Yankees to show up consistently in the postseason, batting .421 with three homeruns in five games. (Wikimedia Commons)

Down the line, Boone would have been a great fit for the Yankees. He is a former Yankee himself who understands the winning culture necessary to be great in the major leagues. He had no experience though whatsoever as a manager or even a coach in baseball.

That was on full display as he left Severino in during game 3 and elected to replace him with Lynn of all the options he had in his bullpen. He waited too long to turn to his bullpen in game 4 as well. The media has been feasting on this idea of Boone relying too heavily on analytics. What else did you want him to rely on? Prior experience? He didn’t have any of that. Based on how close games 1 and 4 were for the Yankees, I truly believe that Joe Girardi would have found a way to win this series for New York. There is also no chance the Yanks lose 16-1 at Yankee Stadium is it was Girardi sitting on the bench.

Clearly, the relationship between Girardi and the Yankee front office didn’t like each other. The thing is, you don’t have to like each other to win. The New England Patriots continue to prove that year in and year out. It was a massive failure by the Yankee front office to not bring Joe Girardi back to New York. The Yankees went all in on their roster but failed to go all in on their manager.

It is hard to tell if the Yankees will be this talented again next year as well. Brett Gardner (team option), C.C. Sabathia, Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker, Adeiny Hechavarria, J.A. Happ, David Robertson, Zach Britton and Lynn are all free agents now. Sonny Gray, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are all entering their final year of arbitration as well. Not to mention, Jacoby Ellsbury is still making $21 million a year through 2020. It is unlikely New York brings back all of that same talent for next season. This is not the same Yankee team anymore who just tries to throw money at its problems in hopes they solve them. New York has a lot of tough decisions to make regarding key players this offseason.

Obviously, it is a lot easier for me to sit here after the fact and rip the Yankees for hiring Boone. I realized early on in the season that his lack of experience was going to be an issue for the Yankees and with a true championship contender, hiring a rookie manager seemed like an astronomically high risk.

A lot of credit has to go to the Red Sox, who are easily one of the best teams in the history of the sport. However, the blame has to rest with Boone. He was not prepared to manage at that kind of level and clearly had no idea how to manage in the postseason. The truth is, he likely won’t make those mistakes again. He will be a better manager in the future and has shown a lot of potential. The bottom line is that he was not the right fit for the Yankees this season.

Advertisements

Trade a Bell? How the Le’Veon Drama Can (and Should) End

In case you have not heard, Le’Veon Bell has not played an NFL snap this season.

Oh, who am I kidding? If you are a Steelers fan, follow an NFL-related social media account, or made the mistake of drafting him in fantasy and hoping for the best (guilty as charged), you know the whole story. Considered by many as the top running back in the league, Bell put up strong numbers again in 2017, getting over 400 touches and putting up a combined 1,946 years and 11 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Steelers, getting voted first team All-Pro for the second time in the process.

However, for the second straight year, the Steelers put the franchise tag on Bell, refusing to give him the long-term contract he believed he deserved. While I would easily jump at the opportunity to play ball for $14.5 million, the cash-strapped Steelers, who had given Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million-dollar extension weeks before, decided to balk at giving the same money to Bell. Obviously taking offense, Bell very publicly bashed the franchise and demanded money worth his play. Pittsburgh did eventually make Bell an offer in July, willing to pony up $70 million over five years, but Bell turned down the offer, not wanting to play for less than his tag on an annual basis.

587px-leveon_bell_26_practicing_2013
Bell has told the Steelers he will return during the team’s week 7 bye. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairly so, might I add – Bell was well within his rights to turn down such a gargantuan payday, because he might be worth more. At 26, Bell is still in his prime and will continue to perform at very high levels before even being considered an old running back. Not to mention that Bell is far more than his position on the depth chart – he has been the engine that makes the Steeler offense run for the last few years. He caught 85 passes last year for over 650 yards. Bell is rare breed. Very few receivers can keep up with those numbers, and definitely not while shouldering almost 1,300 yards rushing on top of it.

One of the few other players capable of putting up numbers like that is Todd Gurley. He has done it just once, in 2017, and luckily it was a contract year for him. The upstart Los Angeles Rams did pay their man, giving Gurley $15 million a year for his services. When healthy, Bell has put up those kinds of numbers ever since he came into the league – he deserves as much if not more than Gurley. Top flight receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr., have been getting paid recently, too, getting $16.5 and $19 million a year respectively to go along with Antonio Brown’s aforementioned $17 million. For Le’Veon’s talents, he feels his contract should be in that stratosphere to play football.

However, Pittsburgh refuses to pay it, so they turned to the second-year player, cancer survivor and hometown hero from the University of Pittsburgh in James Conner, to take the reins in the backfield. While his hairstyle might be questionable (like a mop glued to the back of his shaven head), his play has been anything but. Project his numbers through five weeks for the entire season, and Conner, currently averaging over four yards a carry and almost 11 yards per catch, would get over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers Pittsburgh would be happy to get from Bell, but instead of paying over $15 million for them, they only give Conner $578,000, and they have him under control for another two seasons after this one.

So could Bell play again with the Steelers this season? Maybe. Having both Conner and Bell on the field could give opposing defenses fits in game planning, especially since Bell is capable of lining up out wide and taking screens. The issue is Conner and Bell still play very similar games. Bell might be a bit more explosive, and Conner may pack a bit of a stronger punch at the point of attack, but both have shown that they can be factors in the running and passing games, all the while making defenses adjust and opening holes for Ben Roethlisberger to find the likes of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster downfield. However, it would be hard to justify paying Bell for the rest of the season when he may not add significant value over just having Conner. Realistically, he should not stay in Pittsburgh.

Likewise, if Bell is going to leave in the offseason when the tag expires and officially become a free agent, the Steelers would be remiss not to get something back for him, and more than the third round compensatory pick Pittsburgh will likely get if he signs elsewhere. The problem about trading Bell this season, however, is the salary cap hit that comes with him. Bell is not officially under contract at the moment, but his franchise tag cap number would be about $10.3 million. There are not a ton of teams that have that much free space right now. The team looking to trade for him would likely need to sign him to a long-term deal to justify the trade as well.

So who can meet Bell’s demands? Here are the teams that could afford him for this season:

Team Salary Cap Remaining Current RBs
San Francisco 49ers $87.6 million Jerick McKinnon*, Matt Breida
Cleveland Browns $54.6 million Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson
Indianapolis Colts $52.5 million Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
Denver Broncos $34.4 million Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay
Tennessee Titans $23.1 million Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry
Houston Texans $20.7 million Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue
New York Jets $19.1 million Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell
Philadelphia Eagles $11.3 million Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
Cincinnati Bengals $10.7 million Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard
Buffalo Bills $10.6 million LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory

An interesting crew, to say the least, but unfortunately not too many places make sense. In fact, four of these teams signed new starting running backs this past offseason. The Browns, Titans, and Jets should be pleased with their new additions for now, so consider them out. The 49ers caught a bad break when their new guy, Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in the preseason, but Matt Breida has been a suitable replacement, and the 1-4 start would not justify making a brash decision when the division leader is 5-0 right now.

Let’s address the obvious ones, too. There is no way Pittsburgh deals Bell to Cincy. It would be insane to move him within the division. Denver has two rookie running backs it really likes in Freeman and Lindsay. The Bills would be a fascinating place for Bell to land, but that team is way more than just one piece away and likely not interesting in pursuing Bell anyway, especially since they are trying to shop their star running back already.

Philly has been heavily linked with this deal after restructuring Fletcher Cox’s deal to open up more cap room. However, the Eagles are also rumored to be pursuing a reunion with LeSean McCoy. McCoy fits more of what Philadelphia needs, which is a one-year rental that is at least somewhat familiar with the system. The assumption is that at 30 years old, McCoy will cost a lot less for the Eagles to acquire as well.

The Colts and Texans make some interesting suitors. Both live in the AFC South, where the Jaguars and Titans are both tied rather unconvincingly to the division lead at 3-2. At 2-3, the Texans are still very much so in the hunt. However, Deshaun Watson does not look as explosive this season in his return from a knee injury of his own, struggling to keep possession with nine turnovers on the season. Lamar Miller was injured in Week 5 and has been unconvincing in a Texans uniform otherwise. Alfred Blue provided a decent target out of the backfield in his stead, but neither is a kind of bell cow you can hand or dump the ball off to and let the magic happen. $16 million is a large sum to pay when Miller is still on the books through the end of next season, but Bell could add some relief to the Houston offense and open up their playbook a bit.

Andrew Luck
Adding Bell would take a ton of pressure off Andrew Luck. (Wikimedia Commons)

As for Indy, take everything I just said and amplify it. Sure, the Colts are off to a 1-4 start, but they are only two games back with well over half the season to go. The offense may look like its purring, but take deeper look into the stats and you will see there is room for improvement. Andrew Luck is averaging almost 50 pass attempts per game, but has under 1,500 passing yards for the season. His 6.09 yards/attempt ratio is 32nd in the NFL right now, only ahead of the magnanimous crew of Tyrod Taylor, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford, all of whom have since been benched. Meanwhile, not a single Colts running back is averaging more than 35 yards per game. 35!!! Le’Veon Bell could vastly improve the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league, as well as provide a dynamic safety blanket for the oft-pressured Luck. Those two together could single (double?)-handedly carry Indianapolis to the postseason. Maybe them playing defense could help, too, because I doubt it would hurt.

Another interesting tidbit is that the Texans and Colts have the same assets to offer back to Pittsburgh as well. In 2019, both teams are sitting on two second round picks after making moves in last year’s draft. With the Colts getting the Jets’ pick in the Sam Darnold trade, and the Texans shipping Duane Brown to Seattle for their 2nd rounder, the Steelers may be willing to part with their formerly-beloved star in exchange for that pick maybe paired with another player or a lower round pick.

Personally, I think it make a lot of sense for the Colts to go after Bell. They can offer him whatever contract he wants basically with their ample cap space. Their offense is already fairly strong and adding Bell would only make it more threatening. Plus, Bell is an excellent pass blocker, which coupled with his mere presence in the backfield will protect Luck from opposing rushers. Even with two rookie running backs, Indy could add a franchise player for well under his usual trade value. If the Colts think they still have a shot this season, do not be surprised if they make a play for one of the best players in the NFL before the deadline in Week 8.

Until then, I’ll dangle Bell on my own fantasy trading block and hope someone bites.

The NFL’s New MVP: Backup Quarterbacks

The NFL changes over time. Before Lawrence Taylor, left tackles did not hold the same value as they did after Taylor battered just about every quarterback he faced. General managers adjusted based on what they were seeing. It seems like it is changing again now regrading the league values backup quarterbacks.

It feels like backup quarterback has become an infinitely more valuable position in the last few years in the NFL. With the rate of injury to starting quarterbacks, it is becoming a necessity to have a good backup. They are quickly becoming a valuable commodity across the league.

nick_foles_calling_play_in_2012
Entering the season, Foles was the second-highest paid backup in the league, behind only Teddy Bridgewater. (Wikimedia Commons)

Think about how many backup quarterbacks you can name during Peyton Manning’s career. Go back further to Dan Marino. Or Roger Staubach. Maybe some of the ones for Marino or Staubach have faded with time, but I grew up during the Peyton Manning-era. Off the top of my head, the only name that comes up is Curtis Painter, and that is mostly because the Colts started him for their final two games of the 2009 season. One of those games was against a Jets team starting Mark Sanchez and needing a win to keep postseason hopes alive. I will forever be thankful for Curtis Painter.

I digress. The point is, most of these backup quarterbacks are pretty much unknown. There wasn’t much value in them unless you were grooming a young quarterback and he needed some guidance. Now, teams are trading for backup quarterbacks, or even notably not giving them up.

The best example is Nick Foles. The backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles had to step in after Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury late in the 2017 season. No doubt, you know what happened by now as Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and was named the game’s MVP.

Over the offseason, several teams tried to trade for Foles, seeing as Wentz would come back and take over the starting job as soon as he was healthy. Reportedly, Cleveland offered up its second round pick, the 35th overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft in exchange for Foles. That is exception value to receive for your backup quarterback, who you hope won’t have to play all season. The Eagles declined the offer though. While yes, Philly did need Foles to start the season as Wentz was not cleared for contact by week 1, there were plenty of other free agent quarterbacks that could have stepped to start for those two weeks and the Eagles would have some extra ammo in the draft. It also would have cleared a ton of cap space off the books for Philadelphia. Foles will count for $13.6 million against the cap in 2018. However, the Eagles felt they needed a strong enough backup to have in their back pocket, just in case.

42274775080_dfcf903d5c_b
Teddy Bridgewater (right) has not started a game since 2015, but the Saints traded a third-round pick for him to back up Drew Brees. (Wikimedia Commons)

Philly is far from the only team. Several clubs moved to bolster their backup quarterback situation. The Colts refused to move Jacoby Brissett after he stepped in last season to start for Andrew Luck. Minnesota traded for Trevor Siemian in the offseason, despite breaking the bank to sign Kirk Cousins from Washington. The Seahawks traded a sixth round pick in 2019 for Brett Hundley, formerly a backup in Green Bay. The Packers felt comfortable letting go of Hundley because they already had their backup quarterback of the future in Deshone Kizer. The Packers traded for Kizer after he struggled during his rookie season with the Browns. The Saints joined the fun as well, sending a third round draft pick to New York in exchange for Teddy Bridgewater.  Now Kizer did see some action already due to an Aaron Rodgers injury, but without injury, none of these players would see the field in 2018. Their value exists due to the what if.

This whole trend might actually go back a bit further Nick Foles. It likely originates with Matt Cassel back in 2008. He stepped in after Tom Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury. Cassel, never anywhere as close to as good as Brady, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. He signed a big 4-year deal with the Chiefs the following offseason and proceeded to look way out of his depth. Even though he flamed out of Kansas City, Cassel has made the roster of five different teams in the past six seasons.

Perhaps the best example of the value teams place in having an experienced backup quarterback is the bearded one himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Harvard grad has toured the NFL as the consummate backup quarterback and spot-starter. Fitzpatrick is not a very good passer. In his career, he has completed just under 60 percent of his passes and thrown 43 more interceptions than he has touchdowns. Usually, that would mean you are out of the league, not playing in your 14th NFL season. Fitz has made a living as a journeyman backup. Spotrac puts his career earning at just over $58 million. The fact that teams still sign him is a testament to the value he still holds in the league.

In a similar boat is Josh McCown. Now a backup on the Jets as the franchise puts its faith in Sam Darnold, McCown has a made a career circling the league as a backup. He has made just shy of $50 million for his efforts despite never starting all 16 games in a single season.

30967597455_cc1ab58ced_b
Bradford has made about $14.4 million on average over his nine NFL seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another interesting study is Sam Bradford. He has never been a great quarterback. In his career he is a 62.5 percent passer who averages about 234 yards per game. His career record as a starter is 34-48-1. Sam Bradford is also the 17th highest paid player in NFL history. Yes, you read that right. Now, that stat is a bit skewed. 15 of the 20 highest paid players in league history are currently playing. Four of the five that have retired did so in the last three years. Brett Favre is the only one in the top 20 to retire more than three years ago.

There are some other qualifiers for Bradford’s status. He is the last player selected first overall to negotiate outside of the rookie wage scale, meaning he signed a six-year, $78 million deal before ever taking an NFL snap. For reference, Cam Newton, who was the first overall pick the following year, signed a four-year, $22 million deal for his rookie contract.

Just this year, Bradford signed a one-year deal with Arizona for $20 million. Bradford has not played a full season of football since 2012. He has never made the playoffs as a starter. Yet, he somehow still manages to command money. The Cardinals also drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall this year, so they have a quarterback of the future. They also have Mike Glennon on the roster. With Rosen taking over the starting job, Bradford is now the most expensive backup in the NFL.

They aren’t the first team to do this either. The Bears did it in 2017 with Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky took over right around the same time as Rosen did. I just mentioned that Glennon is also in Arizona. Experience is key for NFL teams looking to find the solution at quarterback.

Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Colt McCoy, Drew Stanton, Robert Griffin III, Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler. The list goes on and on of players we know do not have what it takes to be starters in this league. Most of them aren’t even that young anymore and don’t represent future prospects looking for their chance. They all have jobs though due to the fact teams are valuing backup quarterbacks more than ever before.

This isn’t to say there weren’t career backups who made the occasional start for an injured quarterback. Before Nick Foles, there was Jeff Hostetler. Hostetler stepped in for an injured Phil Simms late in the 1990 season and did just enough to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. Hostetler went on to start for a few seasons with the Raiders, even making the Pro Bowl in 1994. He was never a great quarterback.

Hostetler never really returned to his backup role, unlike what so many of these current quarterbacks are doing. There are some great backup quarterbacks in NFL history, but they are few and far between.

Earl Morrall backed up Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese during his career. He played 21 years in the NFL and started fewer than five games per year on average. Steve DeBerg was replaced by Joe Montana, John Elway and Steve Young during his long NFL career. He finished with more interceptions than touchdowns thrown, but lasted 17 seasons in the league.

Most notable backup quarterbacks are few and far between. Perhaps it’s easier to name all of the current backup quarterbacks now because they are still current players. Still, it is hard to dismiss the fact that general managers and fans alike are paying more attention to the depth chart at the quarterback position than ever before.

The Collapse of the Oakland Raiders

In 2016, the Oakland Raiders were finally back. After 14 years without a winning record, the Silver and Black went 12-4 and returned to the playoffs for the first time since losing to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. This was a team on the rise. They had a young stud at quarterback. They had a defensive player of the year. They had a brash coach who was unafraid to gamble with the game on the line. It seemed like the Raiders were once again in the mix to compete for a championship.

DeAndre Washington, Derek Carr
Carr is already fourth in franchise history for passing yardage and touchdowns in just his fifth season. (Wikimedia Commons)

That 2016 season ended in bitter disappointment. Third-year quarterback Derek Carr suffered a season-ending injury in week 16. The Raiders lost their final regular season game with rookie Connor Cook under center. That loss cost Oakland the division and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Instead, the Raiders had to travel to Houston to play against the vaunted Texans defense in the Wild Card round. Cook struggled mightily in the game and the Raiders lost 27-14, ending their season.

Many felt that had Carr stayed healthy, that team could have made a deep run in the postseason. After all, Oakland had seven Pro Bowlers and three players named to the AP All-Pro team. Still, despite the abrupt end to the season, it seemed like the Raiders were poised for another great season in 2017.

That great season never came. Oakland struggled through the 2017 season, facing a much tougher schedule. The 2016 Raiders had the 15th hardest schedule in the league. The 2017 Raiders had the fourth. Injuries limited the team as offensive tackle Donald Penn finished the season on IR. So did Oakland’s first two picks in the 2017 draft. Oakland still had bright spots. Khalil Mack dominated, becoming the first player ever to be named first-team All-Pro at two different positions in the same season.

However, in addition to the tougher schedule, there are some easy things to point to as the reason for regression. The offense fell off a cliff. The Raiders gained 50 fewer yards of offense per game and scored eight fewer points per contest. Not exactly a recipe for success. Oakland also went from the top team in turnover ratio in 2016 to tied for 29th in 2017. That was a swing over 30 possessions, roughly two per game. That could help explain some of the scoring and yardage difference.

After a 6-6 start, the Raiders finished the season on a four-game losing streak. That cost Jack Del Rio his job as the head coach. Little did we know, he would be the first of many crucial pieces to leave Oakland.

jon_gruden2
Gruden is 101-88 in his career as a head coach, including the playoffs. (Wikimedia Commons)

It ended up being a tumultuous offseason for the Raiders. During the 2017 season, the team announced it would be moving to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. The fan base was already unsettled as a result. Then the Raiders signed Jon Gruden to a massive deal, reportedly worth about $100 million over 10 years.

Here’s the thing, Gruden hasn’t coached a football team in 10 years. His last gig was as the Buccaneers coach from 2002 to 2008. He did win a Super Bowl during that first season, beating none other than the Oakland Raiders.

The move made a lot of sense from the story perspective. Gruden had been the head coach of the Raiders 1998 to 2001, only to be forced out by former Raiders owner Al Davis. Gruden has said he feels like there is a lot that he would like to do to finish his legacy in Oakland.

When you pay a coach that much money though, it makes it really difficult to explain to your players that you can’t pay them. The team elected to extend Derek Carr’s contract with a lucrative deal that was the richest in NFL history for a short period of time. It seemed like the logical move, until the consequences quickly followed.

khalil_mack
Mack signed a six-year $141-million contract, the richest for a defense player in NFL history, after joining the Bears. (Wikimedia Commons) 

Khalil Mack is one of the best defensive players in NFL history, yet the Raiders did not pay him. Mack held out all summer long in hopes of landing a new contract. It never came, at least not from Oakland. Just before the start of the season, Gruden shipped Mack to Chicago for a package of draft picks. Mack has been a beast through the first four weeks of the NFL season. He is tied for second in the league with five sacks. He also leads the league with four forced fumbles alongside J.J. Watt, and has an interception.

The loss of Mack leaves the Raiders seemingly in a rebuild mode. Oakland has started the season 1-3 and shows no signs of turning it around. It needed overtime and a bit of assistance from the officials to pull off the victory and avoid what would have been a truly terrible start to 2018. The Raiders have scored the fifth fewest points this season. Apparently, Gruden does not really know how to rebuild either.

Thinking about it, it’s not too shocking considering this is a franchise known for the mantra “Just Win Baby.” The Raiders were never good at rebuilding. They struggled to do so for the aforementioned 14 years without a winning record. Oakland failed to draft well or attract free agents to help turn the franchise around. The environment for this Raiders franchise has been toxic for years. Even when it did bring in top-tier talent, like Randy Moss or Charles Woodson for the second time, it couldn’t convert that into true success. Looking at this Raiders team now, one that is going to require a ton of roster turnover and a general talent overhaul, Gruden has not positioned himself to rebuild in the coming years.

Oakland has the oldest roster in the NFL. The Raiders on average are 27.32 years old, according to Spotrac. The next youngest team is the Atlanta Falcons at 27. Oakland is more than a full year older than the league average. It also has the most players signed over the age of 30. Gruden has built a team ready to win this season, but it will come nowhere close to even making it to the playoffs. Gruden is also burying Marquel Lee and Karl Joseph, young players with bright futures, on the depth chart.

At this point just two years ago. The Raiders were 3-1 and seemed like a team destined to compete for the next several years. Today, this team is years away from competing. Gruden has one hell of a task ahead of him and this organization has some explaining to do as to how quickly it let the team fall into turmoil.

Could Earl Thomas be the Solution to the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell Problem?

The first and third-most talked about contract disputes (Khalil Mack is safely at number two) in the NFL this year have dragged on into the regular season. If you are a football fan, you no doubt know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will not sign his franchise tag tender. You likely also know the Seahawks are locked in a heated dispute with safety Earl Thomas. Both are elite level players responsible for a lot of the success these two teams have had in recent years, but both seem equally intent on playing elsewhere in order to get a bigger paycheck. Speculation about where each could land continues to roll on, but it is possible Seattle and Pittsburgh could solve the other’s problem.

So far this year, Pittsburgh has been burned in the secondary. The Steelers have allowed the fifth most passing yards and are tied with the Saints for the most passing touchdowns given up. For Seattle, this team has stated it would like to get back to running the ball more. Unfortunately, the Seahawks rank 25th in rushing yards and have the third worst yards per carry average in the league. Even with a bevy of options in the backfield, no one has managed to really take control.

587px-leveon_bell_26_practicing_2013
Bell has missed 15 games over the past three seasons with the Steelers. (Wikimedia Commons)

The truth is, the Steelers no longer need Bell. He would still be an upgrade over James Connor, but the second year back from the University of Pittsburgh ranks eight in yards from scrimmage so far this year. The need to patch up the secondary is a big one. Earl Thomas would be a huge upgrade over Sean Davis. Pro Football Focus ranks Davis as the 41st safety in the league. Thomas tops the list.

For Seattle, they have a number of young backs, but the chance to add Le’Veon Bell and potentially reduce the number of hits Russell Wilson takes would be massive. Bell had the second most yards from scrimmage in the league last year. His ability as a pass blocker and pass catcher would take a ton of pressure off Wilson. Even though Seattle has a couple of young running backs, none of them will ever come close to playing at the same level as Bell as he enters his prime.

Financially, there is some interesting movement here. Bell is going to want a massive extension. Todd Gurley set the market in a lot of ways for running backs when he negotiated his extension with the Rams. CBS Sports reported back in July Bell wanted roughly $17 million per year in the deal, turning down a massive five-year $70-million offer from Pittsburgh. Seattle might be willing to go a little higher to land him. Using Spotrac, I put together a contract that pays Le’Veon an average of $15.1 million per year in the form of a 5-year $75.5-million deal. That is still short of his asking price, but it tops the Steelers’ last offer.

556px-earl_thomas_2014
Thomas has 28 career interceptions, including three this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas wants to be paid as well. Eric Berry is the highest paid safety in the league out in Kansas City. The Steelers already have a Bell-sized opening in their cap number, so absorbing Thomas’ cap hit this season would be no big deal. Signing Thomas to something like a 4-year $48 million contract should appease him. It would put him in the same category as Berry and Tyrann Mathieu in terms of average salary.

These are just some rough numbers I ran, but both seem like realistic contracts for each of them to sign. Bell and Thomas both desperately need a change of scenery. It checks a lot of boxes for both teams, filling a need, sending the player to the opposite conference to avoid playing them again and moving on from a player that clearly no longer wants to be part of the organization.