Midweek Musings: Front Office Shenanigans

Hello, Bronco fans! Hard to believe we are a little more than a week away from training camp and our thoughts will shift to not only our favorite team, but the rest of the NFL and how the season will take shape.

In the meantime, though, there has been plenty to talk about not regarding the Broncos, but other teams around the NFL. I wanted to cover a few items of note and see what we might learn from them.

* First of all, let’s consider how John Elway has done business with the Broncos — and there is a point to this as it relates to other topics I will discuss.

Elway hasn’t gotten every decision right and there were some attempts on his part that, while not going through, still indicated he was tempted to overpay for a player (case in point, reportedly offering as much as $16M per year to get Brock Osweiler re-signed). However, one thing that Elway has done right is to approach contract negotiations with the understanding that he will work to get the best possible deal, while understanding that with any negotiation, everybody gets something they want but nobody gets everything they want.

Think back to any negotiation Elway has had with a player who eventually came to terms on a contract. From Von Miller to DeMarcus Ware to Peyton Manning and the list goes on, every negotiation saw Elway get something he wanted but not everything he wanted, and the same went for every player (and his agent) who came to terms. There was no true “winner” in the negotiations, even though certain writers want to portray it as though somebody did (and it’s usually the side who they happened to like more).

Which brings me to the fact that when Elway has placed the franchise tag on a player, he has worked to get a deal done by the deadline to sign tagged players. There may have been instances in which a certain deadline Elway hoped to meet wasn’t met, but he didn’t see it as the cue to pull the plug on all negotiations. (I do, of course, refer to the Von Miller negotiations.) Instead, there was a cooling down period and, after a couple of weeks, more negotiations took place and a deal was reached.

In other words, it’s not always a smooth process, but Elway finds a way to get a deal done and never expects to win on every point.

That brings me to a team that seems to think it needs to win on every point: the Washington Crimson Potatoes. (I will never get enough of using that name.) Most of you have seen the statement that Bruce Allen put out about the contract negotiations with Kirk Cousins, designed to portray Cousins as the bad guy, when in reality, there was more to the story than what Allen was sharing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the complaints about how much money NFL players (or pro sports athletes, period) make and it’s fair to argue if sometimes the market gets skewed too heavily toward a certain position. Needless to say, quarterbacks command a premium because, truth be told, the number of truly elite quarterbacks are in short supply, so those that we would considered “good but not great” get paid like an elite QB.

With that said, I think Jason Fitzgerald raised some good points in terms of what the contract offer really meant — what seemed more like a “two years then we’ll see” deal that was dressed up to look like Cousins would be one of the highest paid players in the NFL. As many have said, it was one thing for Washington to use the franchise tag to see if Cousins could follow up on his one good season, but when he did, it was time to seriously negotiate with him about an extension. Washington’s failure to do so is a sign the front office is more interested in winning on all points rather than conceding on a few of them in a genuine effort to come to terms.

The Crimson Potatoes have now backed themselves into a corner in which they either use the tag on Cousins one more time and overpay for him, try the transition tag and watch as another team happily come along and gives Cousins an offer, knowing that team won’t have to give up any draft pick compensation, or allows Cousins to depart and, while having a chance at a third-round compensatory pick, has to go find another quarterback.

Washington could learn a few things from Elway — it’s not about winning every single time, it’s about doing as much as you can to maximize reward while minimizing risk.

* We’ve watched three teams part ways with their general managers after the NFL draft finished. Each of them might have made people puzzled when that happened, particularly because the GM in question was thought to be someone who had final say on personnel. In other words, it wasn’t like the Broncos parted ways with Brian Xanders, because Xanders didn’t have final say when he served for a couple of seasons under Elway.

Each GM who lost his job in the past couple of months likely was ousted for different reasons, so let’s go over each of them and ask ourselves if it should have happened earlier or have happened at all.

Doug Whaley: I understand why the Bills did what they did. Whaley has had a spotty record when it comes to personnel decisions, particularly when it comes to contract extensions. He’s often overpaid players, put up contract structures that didn’t allow the Bills to get out of the deals that weren’t working out and made questionable draft day decisions. The contracts handed out to Charles Clay, Marcel Dareus and Cordy Glenn were all above what they were really worth and the decision to trade up to draft Sammy Watkins saw Whaley overpay to move up the board.

But given that there was enough evidence that Whaley wasn’t making good personnel decisions overall, it’s curious why the Bills didn’t just let him go after the 2016 season ended and started a new GM search then. While I think the Bills did reasonably well with their offseason approach, it would have been better to just start from scratch right after the season rather than wait to part ways with Whaley.

John Dorsey: On the surface, it seemed like a curious move to let Dorsey go, but there are a few personnel moves he made that were questionable. The most notable may have been his decision to extend both Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali when they were set to free agency, when it would have been better to extend one and let the other walk. Time has told us that Johnson was worth extending but Hali was not. Another issue would be Dorsey not getting a deal done with Eric Berry after tagging him — true, Berry missed the 2014 season after a cancer diagnosis, but he came back in 2015 and played at a high level. He had already shown he was worth an extension, so it’s curious why the Chiefs didn’t do more to extend him then. Instead, he played on a one-year deal near the franchise tag level, then got an even larger deal that really broke the market for safeties.

I suspect with Dorsey that the Chiefs had enough doubt about some of his personnel moves that, when it came time to discuss extensions for him and Andy Reid, they were happy to extend Reid but had their doubts about Dorsey. So it’s possible that Dorsey was told the Chiefs weren’t prepared to extend him at the time, leading to Dorsey wondering if he’d be better off moving on.

Only time will tell if letting Dorsey go was the right move, but I can under there will be skeptics. Because, like with Elway, Dorsey did have some good drafts and made a few good free agent decisions, so overall, he was good in his role.

* Dave Gettleman: We know that Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams had no problem speaking their minds about Gettleman, but since then, we’ve seen the likes of Thomas Davis and Michael Oher come to his defense. Gettleman’s firing requires some perspective here.

First, when Gettleman took over, he had to dig the Panthers out of the salary cap nightmare that Marty Hurney left behind. That necessitated, among other thing, Smith’s release. Perhaps Gettleman didn’t handle it in the best manner, but if Hurney hadn’t bungled the cap, Smith might never have been released. Like it or not, extending Smith at his age to clear cap space wasn’t a good strategy.

As for Williams, not only did Hurney overpay him in an extension, but Hurney did the same with Jonathan Stewart. I can understand wanting to keep popular players, but it made no sense to extend both players on generous contracts. Hurney should have picked one to extend and let the other walk after his rookie contact expired. And it’s no surprise that Gettleman cut Williams when he did — Williams had reached the point that he could no longer be the primary running back and thus wasn’t worth keeping at the salary he was making.

Again, I can understand if Smith and Williams didn’t like the way things were handled or what Gettleman might have said to them, but this is what happens when one GM mismanages the cap and the new GM has to find ways to get out of that situation.

Gettleman’s drafting wasn’t always up to par, but he did a better job with free agent decisions, save for one (the Matt Kalil contract). And he was generally smarter about handling extensions for quality players the Panthers drafted. After it was clear that Josh Norman wasn’t going to come to terms on an extension Gettleman did the right thing in rescinding the tag and let Norman explore the market. Norman is a good cornerback, but he’s not top five at the position and wanted to be paid as such. One can criticize Gettleman for not doing much to address the cornerback position after that, but a good GM can’t just extend every popular player at whatever they want without causing cap problems.

Perhaps Gettleman’s dismissal has to do with him being too abrasive in negotiations, but that doesn’t explain those players who either came to terms on extensions or have come out to defend him and the way he conducts business.

I suspect that Jerry Richardson was disappointed that Gettleman didn’t retain every single popular player on the Panthers and wanted a change, but Richardson needs to remember that tough decisions have to be made at times. Go back to John Elway and you’ve seen him have to do the same thing. I know plenty of you wanted to keep Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, or hoped that Darnell Dockett would come home to Denver, no matter the cost, but Elway had to set some limits in order to do the best possible job of building the team while ensuring he didn’t create cap problems.

In the meantime, we’ll cross our fingers that Elway gets his own extension completed soon. Again, he hasn’t been perfect in his role as team executive, but he’s done plenty to show he should be running the front office for a few more seasons.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.