The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last month that the unemployment rate was steady at 4.1 percent, a 17-year best for the nation. Great! Employment rose in the fields of construction, retail trade, professional and business services, manufacturing, financial activities and mining. Mining!
Unfortunately, the forecast isn't nearly as sunny in the unforgiving realm of professional football. As the new league year reaches its fourth week, hundreds of capable players remain out of work. And that's where the San Diego Graybeards come in.
For the fourth year here on NFL.com, we will build a team comprised completely of unemployed NFL veterans. As the owner, CEO, general manager, analytics director, head of scouting and Polish sausage quality control supervisor of the Graybeards, it is my job to cull through the entire list of free agents and come up with a team I believe can be competitive.
Every spring, I put together a roster I believe can win four, five -- hell -- six games. Clearly, some checks and balances are in order, which is why this year I've invited Rotoworld superstar Evan Silva to offer his unvarnished takes on my roster-building abilities.
As for the long-standing question I get every year: Will you replace any players once they sign with a real team? The answer is no. Once you sign with the Graybeards -- a process that includes zero negotiation or even a general awareness of the situation for the player -- you ride with the Graybeards for life. If you don't like it, take it up at the pretend collective bargaining table.
OK, stretch that balky back. Shake out those cranky knees. Reapply that Just For Men solvent. It's time to get back in the game.
We plan to hold an open competition for the starting job. Think John Beck vs. Rex Grossman from the 2011 Redskins with approximately 4,000 percent more sizzle. During fake OTAs, I'll say things to the media like, "Jay and Colin are both going to compete" and "Jay and Colin are professional football players" and "Jay and Colin are, first and foremost, competitive football players." Then I'll probably give Cutler most of the first-team reps and end up somehow enraging both sides of the Kaepernick kerfuffle. Sanchez is there mostly so I can pump him for information about his historic 2009-2011 run as the tri-state area's most eligible bachelor.
Silva's take: The Graybeards' highest-ceiling quarterback is 30-year-old Kaepernick. Cutler pilfered $10 million of Stephen Ross' money last season, establishing a career low in yards per attempt (6.2) for the 6-10 Dolphins. Hot take: Johnny Manziel over all three.
Hmmmmm. Get me Manziel's agent on the phone.
Peterson is in part a put-the-meat-in-the-seats signing, but he also showed flashes of peak-ish "All Day" during his brief run in Arizona. Murray seemed super old and tired last season in Tennessee; we're mostly banking on an offseason of quality sleep returning him to 2016 form. Sproles is the scat back who can keep defenses off-balance -- and, hopefully, make an impressive recovery from a late-career ACL tear.
I feel like this group can average 3.8 yards per attempt as a collective. Not too shabby!
Silva's take: Peterson remains a capable two-down banger, but his age, lack of passing-game usefulness and declining durability/explosiveness leave him jobless -- and nevertheless, the short-term offensive foundation for the Graybeards, whose aerial attack is certain to be abysmal.
(reading ... reading ... reading ...) HEY!
KUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNN! As long as John Kuhn has a pulse, he'll cash fake paychecks from the Graybeards.
Silva's take: Next.
I'll be the first to admit this isn't the most balanced positional group on the roster. Floyd is my lone true "outside" receiver, and he hasn't done a damn thing in three years. Such is the state of the current market. I could actually envision a bounce-back year from Decker, who spent last season in a blah Titans offense coming off surgeries on his hip and shoulder. I guess he'll line up opposite Floyd. Matthews' stock has never been lower, but he's still just 25 with a track record of production. I've always liked Maclin.
Real talk: We won't be blowing the tops off many defenses.
Silva's take: You have a contested-catch receiver who doesn't win contested catches (Floyd), two declining slot receivers (Decker, Maclin) and a third slot guy (Matthews) with bad knees whose inconsistency frustrates coaches. This is a "limited" group.
I'm fortunate to have access to Gates, who will almost certainly sign up for another year with his buddy Phil before too long. Can we squeeze one more season of red-zone production out of the future Hall of Famer? During our introductory meeting with Thomas, he slapped down a piece of paper that read: I HAD BACK-TO-BACK 12-TOUCHDOWN SEASONS, LIKE, NOT THAT LONG AGO. That was enough to secure a contract with some modest guarantees.
The majority of NFL teams have crummy offensive lines, so you can imagine the Graybeards were up against it when it comes to talent pool. If we can get replacement-level production from Robinson, it should be the basis of a heartwarming "Blind Side" sequel. Seriously, how crazy is it that Joeckel and Robinson went No. 2 overall in consecutive years? The players taken directly after them? Typically, this would be the part where I list two Hall of Famers and we all go nuts about how much the Jags and Rams blew it, but nah. It was Dion Jordan and Blake Bortles. I digress.
Galette fills the 'Beards quota of having at least one guy who's been tased during spring break. Check! He was also a legitimately disruptive defender before off-the-field issues and a pair of Achilles tears jacked up his career. A true reclamation project. Barwin is a World Cup cycle clear of his 14.5-sack season with the Eagles in 2014, but he still managed a respectable 10 sacks across the past two seasons. Ealy is the obvious talent who remains an enigma for every coaching staff ... except mine. Ayers can stop the run and gets his mitts on the passer from time to time. That's all we're asking.
Silva's take: The Graybeards lack dominant edge rushers, but have four capable guys to work in a rotation.
That felt like a kinda-sorta compliment! Progress!
Hankins is less than a year removed from signing a three-year, $30 million deal with the Colts, and he wasn't even a bust Indy. In other words, the Graybeards are very fortunate he's still on the market. Logan is a proven run-stuffer. Fairley was productive in New Orleans before a heart condition derailed his career. He still wants to play.
Silva's take: We can compete with this front seven.
Now that's definitely a compliment. We're flying now.
Bowman's horrendous knee injury in the 2013 playoffs altered a career that was on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but we're banking on him here -- even if his days as a three-down all-everything 'backer are over. Cushing needs to stay out of Drago's medicine cabinet, but we like his ability to keep things feisty during our fake training camp. Johnson is a total glue guy.
Silva's take: Jerrell Freeman is suspended for two more games, but we'd like to nominate him over Derrick Johnson. Bowman is our every-down Mike linebacker and Cushing plays next to him on early downs. We're pulling Cushing on passing downs and inserting an extra defensive back until Freeman returns. Then we go with Bowman and Freeman in sub-packages.
I know you're thinking the same thing: Why isn't Silva an actual general manager in the NFL?
Breeland's another guy who has no business still being unemployed. That'll change soon enough. DRC had six interceptions in 2016 and should have a sizable chip on his shoulder after a lost final season with the Giants. Pacman ... this should be interesting. We'll throw Newman an insane 40th birthday party in September. How crazy is it that Darrelle Revis is at the bottom of the depth chart of an imaginary team of unemployed free agents?
Silva's take: Breeland and Jones play outside, with Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot. The Graybeards' defense is legit from front to back.
Yeah it is.
The Graybeards are the benefactors of an oddly soft free-agent market for quality safety help. That's right, we employ Colin Kaepernick andEric Reid. We've already set up an email account for complaints that will bounce back to sender.
Silva's take: Add center field ballhawk Tre Boston, and we have three safeties good enough to flex with a Big Nickel package.
Um, Tre, you're hired!
Sometimes the Football Gods decide to smile down on you and suddenly Brad Wing is on your team. Hard feeling to describe, but I'll try: Ice cold beer in hand while standing under a gentle, warm waterfall on a cloudless day in Kauai.
NOTE: Yes, Marquette King is currently unattached, but given his age, production and the nature of his exit in Oakland, he didn't feel like a match for the Graybeards model. Besides, he's a poor CULTURE FIT.
What a freaking blessing.
Silva's take: How hasn't Seabass resurfaced with Jon Gruden's Over-the-Hill Gang?
We'll treat him right, Ev. Promise.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2018 San Diego Graybeards! Average age: 30.62 years old. 8-8 or bust.
Before we go, I asked the readers for some Graybeards logo possibilities. You folks did not disappoint.