John McGrath: Did the Giants really sign what’s-his-name for $8 million?

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comMarch 12, 2014 

Until the end of his only season with the Seattle Seahawks, I had a difficult time with O’Brien Schofield.

I don’t mean I had a difficult time personally with Schofield, who by all accounts is a swell guy. The difficulty I had was with his name. On those rare occasions I referred to the backup linebacker, I called him “Schofield O’Brien.”

Schofield was the only player on the 2013 Seahawks roster whose first and last name I juxtaposed out of habit. I’ve never thought of Bruce Irvin as “Irvin Bruce,” or Michael Bennett as “Bennett Michael,” or Lemuel Jeanpierre as “Jeanpierre Lemuel.”

Well, OK, I’ve mixed up Jeanpierre and Lemuel a few times, but who hasn’t?

Remembering names is not my strength, nor is remembering any specific spelling of an athlete born as Daryl (or Darrell, or Daril, or Daryle, or Darrill – the combinations are endless). At least I’m better at this than former Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who used to call Torey Lovullo, one of his utility players, “Larry Travillo.”

Back to O’Brien Schofield (it’s so easy now). He signed a two-year contract with the New York Giants on Tuesday, the first day of NFL free agency. Like the draft and the unveiling of the regular-season schedule, the first day of free agency has become something of a phenomenon. Heaven only knows how many billions of office hours were lost by fans following free-agent tracking boards on the internet.

Schofield wasn’t the first player to jump teams on Day 1 of free agency, and the terms of

the contract he signed weren’t the most lucrative. And yet the Giants’ eager pursuit of the obscure veteran described the goofy afternoon in a nutshell: They signed him to a two-year contract worth $8 million.

Not all of that is guaranteed, but still …

Eight million dollars for O’Brien Schofield, an Arizona Cardinals’ training camp castoff acquired by the Seahawks to fill in during Irvin’s four-game suspension at the beginning of the season? Eight million dollars to somebody credited with one sack and eight tackles in 2013?

Schofield, to be fair, also contributed an assisted tackle, and made a solo tackle during the Hawks’ demolition of Denver in the Super Bowl. (The way the Broncos were pillow-fighting that day, I suspect Bruno Mars could have replaced his halftime-show wardrobe with a Seahawks uniform before lighting up some dispirited Denver receiver.)

Here’s what Schofield did after his monster effort (one tackle, one assist) against Jacksonville on Sept. 26: He had a tackle at St. Louis on Oct. 28, two tackles against the Saints on Dec. 2, and one tackle in the Dec. 29 rematch with St. Louis. (The Rams are lucky they faced Schofield only twice. Considering his two tackles in two games against them, he’s clearly their nemesis.)

What do you think the New York Giants were thinking? I think they were thinking it wasn’t Schofield’s fault he couldn’t muster much playing time after Irvin’s return. I think they were thinking the label of “little-used reserve linebacker,” on one of the best defenses ever assembled, is akin to the label of “potential All-Pro.”

Mostly, I think they were thinking he was a member of a team that won a Super Bowl and, thus, capable of infusing a listless defense with championship-level focus and fire.

The Seahawks weren’t eager to part with Schofield, nor were they eager to part with backup defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, acquired Tuesday by Tampa Bay for a reported $12 million over four years. But the Hawks, beholden to a hard salary cap while pondering ways to keep their young starters together for three or four years, were in no position to match the contracts two reserves scored on the first day of free agency.

“The first day of free agency.” That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? The NFL free-agent system, as we know it, began in 1993, which means it celebrated its 21st birthday Tuesday. Having achieved adulthood, the free-agent system – specifically, the first day of free agency – deserves a title more catchy than “the first day of free agency.”

Hmmn. The possibilities are rich. It could be named after the late defensive end Reggie White, whose 1993 acquisition by the Packers, after a stellar career with the Eagles, is considered best free-agent signing in NFL history.

Or it could be named for former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, guaranteed $41 million by the Redskins. He bickered with coaches, skipped practices and, in general, proved to be royal pain in the neck. He didn’t make it through two seasons with the ’Skins.

Worst free-agent signing ever? Haynesworth, by a mile.

Between Green Bay’s astute vision of White as anchor of a Super Bowl-bound defense, and Washington’s doomed investment in Haynesworth, the New York Giants’ signing of Schofield ranks somewhere in the middle.

One sack among eight tackles, with an assist on another, seems like meager evidence for an $8 million contract. But he was in the right place at the right time, with the right coach overseeing the right system, and on Tuesday, he cashed in on those benefits. It’s possible the Giants have gotten themselves a big-time talent.

My nomination for an alternative title to the first day of NFL free agency?

“Schofield O’Brien Day.”

Oops, check that.

“O’Brien Schofield Day.”

I’m prone to relapses.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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