The Media Column: During NFL free agency, lies and mistruths flood the market


NFL free agency week always shows that most members of our sports media are just as conflicted as the partisan hacks spewing pro-Trump state propaganda on Gerry Callahan’s television screen. Sure, the stakes are a lot lower, but the information and analysis often comes from a biased place.

For starters, it’s important to remember how our beloved NFL Insiders operate. As Mark Leibovich outlines in “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times,” they serve as Nugget Traders, often swapping information with front office execs, coaches and agents. Adam Schefter, for example, admits he only covers one game per year: the Super Bowl. The rest of the time, he’s on the phone, which he showed us on a “SportsCenter” hit this week when the Le’Veon Bell signing went down.

"Hold on one second, I got to take this." --@AdamSchefter live on @notthefakeSVP breaking Le’Veon Bell news.

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 13, 2019

It’s worth noting Schefter announced it was a four-year, $52 million deal for Bell, which is a lot more than he’ll probably wind up making. The running back, who turned down a five-year, $70 million contract from the Steelers last year, will earn $26 million over his first two years in New York. But there is no guaranteed money past that point, making it easy for the Jets to part ways with Bell once he starts creeping into his 30s. 

Since Scheffer’s numbers were skewed in Bell’s favor, it’s likely he was receiving that news from the agent’s end. That’s the case when the vast majority of NFL contracts are first reported. The maximum value makes a big splash, but the guaranteed money is the most important piece. 

So if even the way NFL contracts are reported is slanted in one direction, just imagine all of the speculation. 

Hours before Bell signed with the Jets, the Ravens suddenly became linked to him. While NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport maintained the Jets were the favorite, he also said the Ravens were “in the mix” during one of his dozens of daily TV spots Tuesday. 

Following those reports, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio countered with different sourcing, saying no conversations between the Ravens and Bell took place. Schefter laid down the definitive hammer Wednesday when he echoed Florio’s report

Of course, Bell benefits if it looks like there’s more than one team competing for his services. It’s not hard to figure out the probable source of the sudden Ravens rumors. 

If credentialed journalists peddle apparent misleading rumors, one can only imagine the conflicts that exist with the litany of ex-player, ex-coach-, ex-GM talking heads. Most infamously this year, NFL Network’s Charley Casserly, the man who spent a No. 3 pick on Heath Shuler and No. 1 selection on David Carr, lambasted Kyler Murray for his Combine interviews. 

“One thing that stuck out to me: this guy was never trained for the interview,” Casserly said on ESPN Radio, per Deadspin. “Whoever trained him did a poor job. Guys do get trained for interviews now.”

Astonishingly, we soon found out Casserly runs his own company that –– you guessed it –– prepares NFL prospects for Combine interviews. And Murray is not one of his clients. What a coincidence! ProFootballTalk says it requested Casserly’s client list from NFL Network, but hasn’t heard back.

But Casserly’s scathing review of Murray might not even be the most blatant example of bias on the league-owned network recently. It’s so obvious where Mike Silver was coming from when he ripped Baker Mayfield following the OBJ trade, even his colleague Rich Eisen called him out. It’s well-known Silver is good friends with Hue Jackson, who went 3-36-1 during his time in Cleveland. With a putrid record like that, and the Browns’ relative success after his firing last season, Jackson rightfully takes the blame for lots of the football atrocities that occurred under his watch. So it was up to Silver to play damage control for his buddy, which he seemed to relish.

“I would argue that the quarterback needs to grow up and that somebody in the organization needs to tell him what it is to be a professional, so I’ll just put that out there,” Silver said, per the New York Post

“Is Hue around here?,” Eisen said afterwards. “Is he here? Hue? Hue, are you here?”

But at least we all know where Silver is likely getting his intel. The same can’t be said for the scores of Insiders who run with anonymous execs, talent evaluators, and coaches who have a tendency to say wild things about other figures and coaches in the league when their names aren’t attached to the insults. 

On Tuesday night, for example, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman was lambasting the Giants for the return they received for OBJ. Then suddenly, Freeman quoted an anonymous AFC GM whom he says told him the following: “If I traded (Beckham) for so little in return like this, I would have been fired. The entire front office would be cleaned out.”

Salacious and supporting evidence the Giants got hosed on the OBJ trade. What a coincidence.

Even Sean Hannity’s spin jobs aren’t this obvious (OK, maybe they are). But the point still stands: the most valuable currency during NFL free agency is misinformation.


Patriots’ criticism still allowed following Super Bowl win: The Patriots have played in three straight Super Bowls and eight straight AFC championships. They’ll probably be one of the last four teams standing when the season ends.

But there is a lot of time between now and next January. And right now, the Patriots are watching seemingly every NFL-caliber receiver sign elsewhere. As Tom Curran wrote this week, it’s fair to question their relative inactivity.

Yes, the Patriots won the Super Bowl last season with no dependable targets besides Edelman and Gronk. But maybe they won despite that shortcoming, not because of it.

Red Sox fans are open to criticizing their team in the aftermath of a World Series win. It remains stunning that some Patriots fans aren’t.

ESPN doesn’t need to replace Jason Witten: It was reported this week Greg Olson was set to join the Monday night booth, until he wasn’t. The Panthers’ tight end is returning for another NFL season, so ESPN is apparently still searching for another ex-jock to join “Tess and Boog.”

But why? Unless ESPN is certain the third man can add any insight or entertainment, it’s OK to take a pass. McFarland was the lone bright spot on the MNF crew last season, and maybe he’ll get even better now that he’s not exiled from the booth. 

There are a lot better ways to spend $10 million than convincing Peyton Manning to do something he seemingly doesn’t have a strong desire to do.

Free Drellich: As I said on the air this week, it would be beyond hypocritical for me to call for Evan Drellich’s ban from “Mut & Callahan,” given my previous faux pas. But seriously: Drellich tried to take something from the Kirk playbook, and it fell flat. I know the feeling. There’s something about morning radio that can cause you to lose your mind.

If this weasel can come back, so can Drellich –– except maybe we should wait until baseball season, just to ensure the Super Bowl doesn’t come up.