How to Seem Smart When Talking About NFL Free Agency

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Mario Williams, of the Houston Texans, looks on against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 1, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Your friends are talking about it. That cousin who always invites you to his lame fantasy football draft parties won’t shut up about it. The new boss at work, the one who thinks you’re a jock so you nod knowingly when he bemoans salary caps changes under the new collective bargaining agreement, wants to know what you think. Yes, it’s NFL free agency time, when professional football players whose contracts have expired hit the open market, and here at Keeping Score, we’ve got you covered. The water cooler is nothing to fear anymore. Here are four things you can say to sound smart about the latest contract developments in pro football.

Matt Flynn is intriguing.
Peyton Manning talk is for laymen. (If you get the Mannings confused, Eli was the one wearing the headband in those Double Stuf Oreo commercials.) If you want to one-up your co-workers, talk about the other hot quarterback on the market: Matt Flynn. Start off with some stats. In just two starts for the Green Bay Packers, Flynn threw for 734 yards and nine touchdowns, most of which came in last season’s rout of the Detroit Lions that left Flynn with team records for passing yards and touchdown tosses in a single game. Now, someone may say that he’s untested, but you can point out that Flynn was underestimated in college too, and when given a full-time starting job his senior year, he led the LSU Tigers to a national championship. Flynn is overhyped—he’s only played for very good teams at both levels—but he’s a blank slate and whomever you’re talking to will have an opinion. Where might Flynn go? Here’s what we know: He’s talking to both the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns. For extra credit, casually observe that while Miami badly wants Peyton, new head coach Joe Philbin was Flynn’s coordinator in Green Bay.

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How about them Buccaneers!
If the topic of free agency “winners” comes up, your go-to talking point should be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs made the first big acquisition of the year when they picked up star wide receiver Vincent Jackson, formerly of San Diego, for five years and $55,555,555. (Why all the fives? It’s supposedly an homage to Bucs QB Josh Freeman, who wears the number.) No need to get fancy here: Jackson’s “a deep threat with size” who “really fills a need” and “brings star power to Tampa Bay” should be all you need to say. The Bucs have also signed Carl Nicks, who’s pretty much the best young guard in the league. With a $47.5 million contract, Nicks will also become the highest paid guard in the league when he joins fellow Pro-Bowler Davin Joseph on Tampa’s iron-clad offensive line. Cornerback Eric Wright has signed with the team too, bolstering a defense that may lose veteran CB Ronde Barber to retirement.

The Redskins are still the Redskins.
This one requires a back-story, which is great because you’ve been following this stuff for years, right? Under the often maligned ownership of Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins have developed a bit of a reputation for frivolous spending. Guys like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta and Albert Haynesworth all arrived in D.C. with enormous contracts, only to leave in various states of disaster or retirement. Things have begun to change with head coach/GM (known in martial NFL parlance as Vice President of Football Operations) Mike Shanahan in charge of the roster. But by the time free agency came around this year, Washington needed to be especially economical. It had already traded away its top draft picks to acquire the no. 2 slot overall next month, which they’ll likely use to draft Baylor sensation Robert Griffin III, and the league had just sanctioned the ‘skins $36 million in cap room for “overspending” in the uncapped 2010 season. But on the first day of free agency, with a ton of needs to fill, the Redskins dropped $42.5-million on a five-year contract with wide receiver Pierre Garcon, formerly of the Colts. Garcon has put up solid numbers the last three years in Indianapolis, but you can point out that he’s never had 1,000 yards receiving or more than six touchdowns in a season. Giving top-dollar to a No. 2 receiver from a passing offense is “classic Washington.”

(MORE: Why the Bounty Scandal Makes the NFL Look Terrible)

Pass-rushers are hard to come by these days.
Nothing says sports acumen like waxing philosophical about the state of one position. (What ever happened to blocking tight-ends, am I right?) So an easy point to make is that there aren’t many good defensive ends or rushing linebackers currently on the market. This is part of what made Mario Williams, who just signed with the Buffalo Bills according to ESPN, the second most valuable player in free agency behind Manning (no headband). Going down the list of other available DEs–the Patriots’ Mark Anderson, the Falcons’ John Abraham, the Chargers’ Luis Castillo–none has anywhere near the youth, versatility or jersey-draw of Williams. If that’s too much to remember, just employ some reliable football cliches: “It’s a passing league and defense wins championships, so getting to the quarterback is key.” Trust us.

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