PHOENIX -- Jim Irsay is nothing if not a lover of mystery. He hasn't been on Twitter all that long, but, oh, when he does post something, he tends to stir it up a bit.
So it comes as no surprise that the Colts owner sent ripples around the league before the start of these league meetings at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix when tweeting about his team's attempts to land a "whopper" of a wide receiver. More than a few general managers have been trying to figure out precisely what Irsay is up to.
|NFL free agency|
This much is certain: Almost no executive in the NFL had a better 2012 than Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who in his rookie season in that role. And few have proven to be more aggressive and proactive when it comes to all means of talent acquisition. Simply put, Grigson loves to trade, he has the confidence to wheel-and-deal in a league that's generally more focused on free agency and he has the draft to land talent. While Irsay's public proclamations don't make the general manager's job any easier, they certainly get people buzzing, and Grigson is more than adept at executing under duress.
One could argue the Colts might have overspent in some of their free-agent forays this offseason in what has been an overall stale market. But after inheriting a cap mess and having to sit on his hands while players signed a year ago, you can't blame Grigson for going for it now. Indianapolis made great leaps in 2012, reaching the playoffs under rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, and the front office believes it solidified key needs with the signings of offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus, safety LaRon Landry, linebacker Erik Walden, defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois and end Lawrence Sidbury.
But none of those guys, try as they might, will be catching a ball from Luck next season, and the Colts are serious about adding weapons for their young franchise quarterback. And the unrestricted free-agent market, thin as it was, has already been picked apart, leaving a usually placid restricted free-agent market, and trades, as the avenues Irsay is alluding to.
In the spirit of Irsay-esque intrigue, I'll begin by ruling out some of the candidates, based on conversations with individuals who would be involved in such a trade. Two names leaped out among some league observers in the wake of Irsay's tweets -- Arizona star Larry Fitzgerald and Giants restricted free agent Victor Cruz. Well, Irsay himself ruled out Cruz and sources said Fitzgerald is not the guy, either, with the Cardinals virtually unable to absorb the cap hit such a trade would incur, to say nothing of their intent to deal the one proven player they have on the offensive side of the ball.
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders is another restricted free agent, and he has already taken a visit to New England with no offer sheet emerging yet. Several executives said they doubted Sanders really fits what the Colts are trying to do under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. ("If Bruce (Arians) was still the OC there, then that would be the guy, I think," one GM told me). I'm going to say it's not Sanders.
Miles Austin has suffered from injuries and stalled production in Dallas, and he recently reworked his salary to provide some cap relief -- and the Cowboys remain in a cap bind. But a source who would be aware of such trade talks if they were ongoing said he had no knowledge of anything being afoot.
Carolina's Steve Smith is getting closer to the end of his career, and several executives suggested he would be worth at least checking out as the player Irsay is alluding to, so I did ... and came up pretty much empty here as well. Smith's $7 million salary is manageable, but it would take $6 million in dead cap to deal him, the Panthers are cap strapped and there have been no indications given to Smith whatsoever he was possibly on the move. I don't see this one developing.
Seattle was the team several execs identified as being a logical trade partner with Grigson. Like Grigson, Seattle GM John Schneider is unafraid to make bold moves and loves to trade. And he just gave up a bunch of picks to land receiver Percy Harvin -- and gave Harvin over $12 million a season. And he's paying receiver Sidney Rice big money at receiver, so it stands to reason he might have interest in dealing a receiver.
Possession receiver Doug Baldwin played with Luck, and under Hamilton, at Stanford, and is currently working out with Luck this offseason. Sure, he might not qualify as a "whopper," but he obviously fits the offense and stands to have a lesser role in Seattle now and is a restricted free agent a year from now. But several sources with knowledge of the situation said the Seahawks will not deal him and, as they gear up for what they hope is a Super Bowl run, they are holding on to assets.
OK, what about receiver Golden Tate, who struggled to adjust to the pro game with the Seahawks before showing signs of a break out in 2012. Harvin's arrival figures to cut into his role quite a bit as well. But, according to multiple sources, the Seahawks are not dealing him and he's not the mystery player here. Um, so what about Rice, since he is carrying a heavy salary? Again, multiple sources say it's not him.
(On paper, at least, one of these Seattle pass catchers would make a lot of sense, but I've been told unequivocally by too many people who would be in the know that it's not them.)
Miami's Davone Bess, again, not what you or I would define as a "whopper," but, he is a receiver, might be seen as available given Miami's hefty deal given to receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, and he was mentioned by a few execs as perhaps the man in question. But my reporting leads me to believe it's not him, either, and Dolphins officials were pretty adamant in their statements he isn't departing.
So, who might it be?
A few general managers mentioned Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson as possibilities. Jackson, as a home run hitter, might even make more sense than Maclin from a football standpoint. Jackson has had his issues in Philadelphia in the past, and, with the Eagles in a new regime under coach Chip Kelly, perhaps a deal could make sense.
"Now, that's one that's interesting," one GM said of a hypothetical Jackson-to-Indianapolis trade. One source close to the player said Jackson was not the subject of a possible trade, but I'm not ready to totally slam the door on one of these possibilities given Grigson's history in Philadelphia. The Eagles expressed interest in free-agent wide receivers like Danny Amendola during the first wave of free agency, which suggests other potential movement had they signed one, and, though a marginal trade, the Eagles did land Arrelious Benn from Tampa Bay recently.
So at this point, if it ends up being Jackson, it wouldn't surprise me, or some GMs (and, heck, in this league, not much really should shock me anymore).
Whomever it is, if it actually comes together, could come as shocker. Process of elimination has taken a bunch of potential suspects out of the mix, as best I can determine. No matter how big the name is, or whether it truly qualifies as a whopper (I would suggest Jackson certainly does), Irsay has people in the league, as well the media and fans, wondering what the heck he's up to, which seems to be just how he likes it.