Sunday, February 26, 2006 

Adam's Rib

The Patriots' handling of Adam Vinatieri's contact is a big story around the league. Unless he re-signs by Friday, he'll be a free agent, and I bet Bill Parcells is already salivating. While the Patriots refuse to pay anyone top dollar, I wonder if Parcells and Jerry Jones will show the same restraint. On the other hand, I doubt that the Patriots will try to give Vinatieri less money per year, but more years and more guaranteed money - that sounds like something a potential suitor might try to lure him away from the Patriots.

While Belichick can claim this is driven by the uncertainty over the next CBA, but the reality is that the Patriots have set a value for Vinatieri, just like any other player. Vinatieri did have a relatively poor season (20-for-25 on field goals, plus a key miss against Denver in the playoffs), but his kickoffs are improving, so I don't think leg strength is a problem. He does have a history of back trouble, and maybe that is partially driving the Patriots' plans. The Patriots have never put popularity ahead of value during negotiations, and I doubt they'll start now.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Signs of the Times

Even with the NFL CBA negotiations bogged down, teams are moving forward with their plans for 2006. The Jets have been active, restructuring Curtis Martin's contract, franchising John Abraham again, playing hardball with Chad Pennington, and releasing Ty Law. While Abraham will complain, he doesn't have much leverage. And the Jets are definitely doing the right thing with Pennington, who has been extremely injury-prone. There will be several QBs on the market this offseason, and while the Jets may not have the cap room to sign someone like Drew Brees, they might be able to land one of the lesser names out there, like Kurt Warner, to help groom a younger QB if they decide to select one in the draft.

Two other moves surprised me, as Denver locked up John Lynch through 2008 and Indy signed Reggie Wayne to a longer-term extension for big dollars. Lynch is already 34, so I suspect the money wasn't outlandish. But the Colts overpaid for Wayne, and would have been better off saving that money for a replacement for Edgerrin James or to improve the defense.

Sunday, February 19, 2006 

Football vs. Baseball

Last week, via Baseball Musings, I found a series of articles in the Boston Herald with Red Sox owner John Henry. The passage that caught my eye was Henry's comments on baseball's luxury tax:

"Baseball has to address the disincentives created by large scale transfers of revenue from successful clubs to less successful clubs," Henry said. "At high enough tax levels the incentive is to invest somewhere else other than in baseball." ... "The commissioner and the union have radically altered the game of baseball for the better over the last few years by transferring enormous amounts of dollars. But as with all taxes, there is a point at which taxation discourages effort and investment to the point that baseball clubs one by one come to the same, unfortunate conclusion."

This topic is timely for football fans as the NFL CBA is nearing its end. The luxury tax in MLB is essentially a pseudo-cap designed to punish rich owners and give handouts to the poor owners. But it doesn't contain a "floor" like the NFL cap does, so there's no incentive for the small-market teams to spend money. When the NFL salary cap was instituted, I remember people talking about the "floor" as the "Cincinnati Bengals-clause", designed to keep historically cheap owners from taking advantage of the system. And while it took a while, Cincinnati won the NFC North this year.

The NFL has always done a better job of convincing its owners to share the wealth, creating almost a Communistic system, but it has worked to the benefit of everyone. The Patriots are a great example, as they overcame decades of mismanagement to win three Super Bowl titles. Instead of being a laughing-stock in a cheap stadium, the Krafts have built their own first-class venue, and are now looking to add some retail shopping to the area around their complex. But make no mistake, if the Patriots were still struggling there's no way Bob Kraft would have spent his own money to build Gillette Stadium, and the team might still be a candidate to move.

It's easy to understand why pro athletes hate salary caps - they want the ability to earn as much as possible, and a cap restricts that. But in the long-term I wonder if caps actually help players by fostering a more competitive environment on and off the field. For example, if you're a high-profile baseball player with a big paycheck, there are only a few possible employers who will be willing and able to meet your salary demands - New York, Boston, Los Angeles, maybe Texas and Baltimore, etc. Outside of this "big-market circle", you will be unlikely to get any offers. So if those teams are stocked at your position, you are out of luck. Contrast that with the NFL, where virtually every team has the ability to sign a big name free agent. Granted, you'll get paid less, and your contract will not be fully guaranteed (though I suspect guaranteed contracts are going to be part of the next CBA), but you'll have a wider variety of options.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Dangling Chad

The eventful offseason for the New York Jets continued yesterday, as Chad Pennington was reportedly asked to take an $8 million pay cut. Pennington has missed major portions of the last two seasons with injuries, and was never known for a strong arm to begin with. With two desirable QBs available in the draft (Matt Leinart and Vince Young), and the Jets selecting fourth, the handwriting could be on the wall for Pennington.

Saturday, February 11, 2006 

Whise Move

Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt pulled out of the Oakland Raiders job search on Thursday, becoming the latest candidate to turn down Al Davis. Oakland has to be one of the worst jobs in football. With a meddling owner, a monstrosity for a stadium, and a bad team, it is a poor situation for any coach, never mind a first-time coach. Plus, you have to live in the shadow of San Francisco, both literally and figuratively. The 49ers have been awful in recent years, but as the saying goes about Oakland, "there's no there there".

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 

Shuffling the Deck

ESPN announced their new Monday Night Football broadcasting team today, and I think it has a good chance of being a success. The major headline was that Al Michaels is off the crew, something that was rumored even before the Super Bowl. Michaels will likely leave ABC and rejoin John Madden at NBC on Sunday nights. It's a good move for Michaels, who didn't have much to do at ABC anyway, and I never thought he was a good NBA announcer.

But the real story is that Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser will form a three-man team with Joe Theismann. Kornheiser will continue to write his column in the Washington Post and co-host "Pardon the Interruption", while Tirico gets recognized for his work on ABC and ESPN. I've always thought Tirico was pretty good, and much better than most of the folks CBS and FOX roll out every Sunday afternoon. But selecting the acerbic Kornheiser could be a stroke of genius. He has a much better shot at succeeding than Dennis Miller for two big reasons:

1. Kornheiser brings some football/sports credibility to the job.
2. Kornheiser doesn't have to work with Al Michaels.

Who knows, maybe a faction at ESPN helped grease the skids for Al so they could move on and create their own team?

I can envision Kornheiser screaming about a stupid play while Theismann tries to explain it rationally. It won't be the same as Cosell/Meredith, but if the new team develops good chemistry, it could be a winner.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006 

Not so Super show

A few random thoughts on Super Bowl XL...

Pittsburgh made two huge plays in the second half, starting with Willie Parker's Super Bowl record 75 yard TD run, and culmunating with WR Antwaan Randle El's 43 yard touchdown pass to MVP Hines Ward with just under 9 minutes to play. Randle El made history as the first WR to throw a TD pass in the Super Bowl, which was even more remarkable since he had been badly shaken up earlier in the game. Those 14 points enabled the Steelers to overcome a horrible start that featured no first downs until midway through the second quarter, and possibly the worst-ever day for a winning Super Bowl QB. Ben Roethlisberger was just 9-for-21 for 153 yards and 2 interceptions. His two best plays arguably came late in the second quarter, when he scrambled and found Ward for a big gain on 3rd-and-long, then ran it in himself from the 1 yard line on a very close play. The Steelers also struggled on the ground, gaining just 62 yards on 24 carries with the very big exception of Parker's TD run.

But Seattle wasted too many opportunities. Matt Hasselbeck started out on fire, and completed five passes to Darrell Jackson in the first quarter. But Jackson was shutout the rest of the way, and with TE Jerramy Stephens dropping three key passes the Seahawks offense had to settle for long field goal attempts. Plus, although the TV announcers didn't mention it, I thought Tom Rouen did a horrible job punting, as he kept kicking the ball into the end zone instead of driving the ball high and short and giving his teammates a chance to down it inside the 5. That translated into a lot of wasted field position for the Seahawks.

Mike Holmgren's pathetic play calling late in the second quarter is inexcusable. He was obviously upset by the Roethlisberger TD call, screaming at the officials as he ran off the field at the end of the first half, but he cost his team 3 big points by not getting into more reasonable field goal range. And I hope he makes good use of that last 2nd half timeout in the offseason - at a minimum he should have taken it to settle down his team as they made a last desperate attempt to stay in the game.

As I've written before, I never watch the Super Bowl pregame, and rarely watch halftime, but I suffered through the Rolling Stones performance. Too bad Jagger can't sing anymore - it would have been awesome for them to have played at Super Bowl XX, but now it's 20 years too late. Here's hoping the NFL books something more contemporary next year, like Coldplay or whoever the next "big thing" is by then.

Sunday, February 05, 2006 

Quick Slants - Super Bowl XL

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

I'm rooting for the Seahawks today, primarily because I would like to see them win their first Super Bowl. I'm also partial to Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu, whose fathers played for the Patriots many years ago. For Mike Holmgren, a win would vindicate his decision to trade for Hasselbeck, and elevate his stature as a great coach.

On Friday, the Boston Globe listed how the Steelers and Seahawks acquired all of the players on their rosters. It was an interesting comparison, given how long Bill Cowher has been with Pittsburgh and Holmgren's recent demotion from G.M.

Pittsburgh acquired 17 of their starters through the draft, with every draft from 1998 to 2005 producing at least one starter. They've used free agency sparingly, but hit it big with LB James Farrior in 2002 and RB Willie Parker in 2004. And of course, the 1996 trade that brought Jerome Bettis from the Rams helped too.

Seattle has relied much more on free agency. While their biggest move was the trade for Hasselbeck, their drafting hasn't been as productive, yielding 11 starters.

For all the talk about the Steelers ground game, they've ridden Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs. I was surprised to read that Bettis has outrushed Parker in the postseason (137 to 132, 3.3 per carry to 2.8). The Seahawks have a better defense than they are given credit for, and if they can stop the run I wonder if they can pressure Roethlisberger into some mistakes. He's on a roll, but can he finish the job? Seattle's offense is playing very well and is more balanced, with the ability to grind out long drives or strike quickly. Seahawks will win.

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