In March 2003, the United States embarked on a misbegotten and illegitimate war in Iraq that would have profound and sadly irrevocable consequences on ... the 2005 NFL free-agent market. So says Peter King.
This is really an incredible passage, from today's Monday Morning Quarterback. King begins by sharing the revelation that Tillman wasn't happy in the military and that he considered asking for an early release and playing for the Seahawks. That's certainly interesting, but it leads to a bit of mock clairvoyance in which King wonders, with Whickerlike myopia, where Tillman would've signed as a free agent in 2005 — you know, had he not been shot three times in the head on a hill in Afghanistan.
So what would have happened if Tillman hadn't been killed? He'd have been 28 at the time of his scheduled discharge. McGinnis was fired by the Cardinals after the 2003 season, and Ferguson canned after the 2004 season in Seattle. Imagine Tillman being on the free-agent market in 2005. St. Louis pushed hard for him in 2002, before he enlisted, and likely would have been involved. Tom Coughlin was coming off a rocky 6-10 rookie season with the Giants; he loves all things military. I bet he and then-GM Ernie Accorsi would have bid for Tillman. McGinnis, the linebacker coach in Tennessee, would have tried to sell him to Jeff Fisher, as would Ferguson with his new employers, the Colts.
I don't know what team would have signed him. But the Patriots, even with Rodney Harrison, then 32, ensconced at strong safety, were not deep on the back end, with only one other solid NFL player, Eugene Wilson (let go two years later). After the Belichick letter, I bet Tillman would have walked to Foxboro and taken any role Belichick would have offered.
Why stop there? What if, say, Vince Lombardi had never died? It seems just as reasonable to think zombie Tillman might've opted instead to play for zombie Lombardi. Lombardi loved all things military, too, right? The mind boggles at the sports and war counterfactuals. How might've All-America balloting looked in the latter half of the 1910s had it not been for the Battle of the Somme? What if Rocky Bleier's platoon had never gone anywhere near Chu Lai? Would he have made the Pro Bowl in 1976? These are all vitally important questions, and the answers can only be found in the quantum singularity of Peter King's mind. Congratulations, Peter. You've left the yard!
Monday Morning Quarterback [Sports Illustrated]