Monday, March 14, 2011

Court ruling would only solve present

NFL fans shouldn't be losing faith in there being football this season.

The future? That's a different story.

The 2011 season is certainly in jeopardy, especially after war was declared when the players' union decertified and the league locked the players out. Neither side is happy with the other, and though both express a desire to continue negotiating, it's clear that neither expects the other to concede any ground in discussion.

The labor crisis is in the right place for a full 2011 season, however. The union's decertification makes a lawsuit imminent and makes federal judge David Doty the key player, just as he was in 1987 during the strike. If he rules on behalf of the players, as expected, he'll force the old CBA to be put into effect, and the 2011 season will commence as scheduled.

It's if he sides with the owners that will give the lockout court backing and really make the confrontation a mess. But historical precedent suggests that won't happen.

The present would therefore be settled. The future, however, could be compromised.

We'd face this situation again next year, only with increased bitterness. The owners, already a stubborn bunch, would be even more ardent that they need the cash, having worked an additional season under a CBA they disagreed with in the first place. The players, whom everyone expected to be the weaker side going in, would be even more confident and even stronger with a court victory under their collective belt.

We'd again go through venomous negotiations, possibly without extensions this time. It would be two sides absolutely convinced they are in the right. Labor discussions would resemble a tug-of-war between the cliched unstoppable force and immovable object.

Of course, we could see an agreement before all this happens. But if this lockout has taught us anything, it's that when rationality's involved, take the field.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Looking at Logan Mankins's situation

The Patriots have, potentially, a major problem on their hands. Star guard and restricted free agent Logan Mankins refused to sign the restricted free agent tender, had his salary slashed, and is demanding a trade.

This time, it's hard to point the finger at the Patriots' front office for this negotiating breakdown.

Mankins isn't in the company of Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour, premier players who were allowed to walk rather than given fair offers by New England. The Patriots have tried to sign Mankins, and it hasn't been enough.

The Patriots have the reputation of being cheap with impending free agents and fiscal with contracts, but that isn't the case with this situation. New England's offered Mankins, a Pro-Bowler and important part of the offense, a five-year, $35 million deal. It would make him one of the top five highest-paid players in the NFL at his position.

And it's not enough.

It appears Mankins is taking the same stance Darrelle Revis is taking in New York. Both saw others at their position break the bank earlier (Nnamdi Asomugha with Oakland, Steve Hutchinson in Minnesota), so position in the top group doesn't matter anymore. What's important is being close to that top contract.

Making seven million a year may be more than almost all the other guards in the league, but if it's still three million (for example) less than the top contract, it's not good enough.

The Patriots have made their offer, and Mankins isn't backing down. This could be a lingering issue for New England throughout the summer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jets the new AFC East favorites?

There are a lot of things New England fans would be happy to say about the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets - many of which aren't printable if we want to protect the PG nature of this blog.

But early 2010 has provided us with something else you have to say about Rex Ryan and Co.: They knew what this year meant.

The Jets have taken a no holds barred approach to a no holds barred offseason, gleefully working with the absence of the salary cap to bring in veterans such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, stars like Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, and a potential dynamic rookie in cornerback Kyle Wilson.

They're all moves that signify that this is the year for the Men in the Meadowlands - but is it?

The Jets have reloaded an already stocked defense. With Cromarite, Wilson and stud cover man Darrelle Revis, it'll be hard to throw on the Jets. With Shaun Ellis and the return of vaunted nose tackle Kris Jenkins, it'll be hard to run on the Jets.

The offense has arguably gotten better. With Holmes, electrifying (albeit drop-prone) Braylon Edwards, emerging tight end Dustin Keller and a fearsome duo of Shonn Greene and Tomlinson at the running back position, it'll be hard to defend the Jets, as well.

The Jets, however, did lose productive running back Thomas Jones, Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, and hard-hitting safety Kerry Rhodes.

So are the Jets better? And have they passed the Patriots?

Conventionally, one would say no. The division champ is still the champ until taken down, and in football, individuality is thrown out more than in any other sport. The Jets unquestionably added talent. Did they add the right team pieces, however, is a different question, and one that won't be answered until the 2010 season gets underway.

Still, a look at the roster shows the Jets will be incredibly difficult to match up against. Their defense gave teams fits throughout the year, and was almost enough to carry New York, not even a playoff team entering the final week, into the Super Bowl. That defense has gotten better, and more versatile.

Furthermore, the Patriots don't have the playmaking ability (as of yet) to match up with New York. Brandon Meriweather is New England's big play hope. Otherwise, the defense is filled with steady players that make the play that comes their way, but rarely branch out of their roles to make the plays that can turn a game around. The Jets, on the other hand, are built for those chances.

The Patriots had glaring issues that were only partly addressed in the draft. They still can't rush the passer. They'll still be questionable in defending top-tier quarterbacks. The wide receiver position is still deteriorating, more so with the loss of Wes Welker, though the addition of Torry Holt helps.

That's not to say they don't have talented players. But the Patriots will have a weekly edge in only two spots: the quarterback and head coach. Everything else can be neutralized.

And with the Jets ready to make a statement this year, that's not a good thing.

Wheatley out of room?

Terrence Wheatley appears committed towards making an impact with the New England Patriots.

The problem is, he might have run out of time already.

In an article written by's Mike Reiss, Wheatley (shown left defending Randy Moss in training camp) said he is determined to show what he can do, and that there are no more "free years".

Well, that's the problem. There never were "free years". In the NFL, and especially as a relatively high pick, you are judged and evaluated from the second you step on the field. Every play you make says something. And every play you miss says something about you as well.

Wheatley, after being drafted in 2008, was expected to begin making progress in establishing a spot in a weakened Patriots secondary that had already lost Asante Samuel and Randall Gay.

Flash forward to today. It's been two years, and due to injuries, the Patriots staff has no more idea of what to expect from Wheatley than they did when they took him 62nd overall out of Colorado.

Furthermore, the Patriots have moved on. Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden have been added via free agency, and the team has given significant playing time to Jonathan Wilhite and promising sophomore Darius Butler.

And, in what might be the sign that Wheatley is on life support, New England passed over other areas of concern to address the cornerback position once more in this year's draft, selecting Rutgers product Devin McCourty 27th overall.

Add it up, and there's at least five corners on the depth chart ahead of Wheatley, with no reason to expect a full season out of the brittle 5-foot-9, 183-pounder.

Wheatley may be ready to play. Whether the Patriots are ready to let him is a different story.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Moss at a crossroads

On a snowy Wednesday morning, Patriots fans awoke to find an unfortunate news flash. Four team members had been sent home for the day (i.e. banned from practice) by Bill Belichick for showing up late to an 8 a.m. meeting. The players were linebackers Gary Guyton, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess, and...

Randy Moss.

The inclusion of #81 was the most surprising. Moss is a team captain, and has produced more highlights than anyone not named Tom Brady. And it's important to give Randy a break, considering that the weather was absolutely deplorable, and traffic was likely a mess regardless of where people were coming from.

A report even said that one player called to let a team official know he was delayed. Considering how serious Moss has been about the well-being of the team, it's quite possible he was that player.

But we can ponder the effect a statement like this will have on Moss. Fact: He's been taken out of games recently. Fact: His past reactions to team slumps has been to disappear.

Fact: With a chance to erase those worries off the minds of New England fans, he didn't get off to a good start.

Moss should know that a disciplinary stand by Belichick, this one included, is hardly ever personal. Bill has his rules, and they are etched in stone. If you abide by them, you get to practice and play. If you don't, go home. Nobody gets preferential treatment, and that's true whether you're Isaiah Stanback or Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich or Randy Moss.

Moss has two roads he can go down. One is to take this in stride, to learn that Belichick won't cut him any corners. He can use it as a learning experience, leave the house 20 minutes earlier and set an example for a team that will be looking for him to provide leadership during the most important four-game stretch of the season.

The Patriots will need Randy Moss to give it his all the rest of the way. He could start at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The other road? Do what he would have done if Dennis Green or Mike Tice in Minnesota, or Norv Turner in Oakland tried to do this. He could pout, get angry and decide that he just doesn't feel like making that much of a commitment. He could finally appease the naysayers who have just been waiting for him to implode since he came to Foxboro in April of 2007.

It's unfair for us to assume Moss will take the second road. He has been a great fit since leaving Oakland, has gained Brady's trust, and has transitioned effortlessly from enigmatic talent to role model and clubhouse leader. We should be shocked if Moss makes this a far bigger problem than it is.

But there are still people out there waiting for the old Randy Moss to resurface. Here is a chance for the new Randy Moss to prove them wrong again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How good are the Saints?

No need to go into Monday night's debacle. The Patriots lost to a clearly superior (at this point, at least) Saints team, featuring an extraordinarily explosive offense.

The question is, how explosive?

New Orleans ripped the Patriots defense for 38 points, giving them 407 points through 11 games, an average of 37 points per contest exactly.

The record? That would be 589 points and 36.8 per game, set by - you guessed it - the 2007 Patriots. So it begs the question: how does this Saints squad stack up against the record-setting attack New England employed en route to a 16-0 season two years ago?

Contrary to the opinion of various experts, this Saints squad appears to hold the edge. New Orleans has four top-notch receivers (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey), all of whom had their moments Monday night, an intimidating trio at running back (Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush), and a quarterback in Drew Brees who has the perfect mix of brains and physical gifts to conduct this elite orchestra of talent.

Not to slight that Patriots team, which saw Tom Brady (50 touchdown passes) and Randy Moss (23 touchdown receptions) set records no one on this Saints team will break this year. But New England was unbalanced over the season. Many of those points came early on. In a stretch from weeks 6-11, the Patriots put up 48 points (on Dallas), 49 points (on Miami), 52 points (on Washington), 24 points (on Indianapolis) and 56 points (on Buffalo).

That Buffalo victory was the turning point, as the Patriots went from awe-inspiring to merely efficient. The rest of the season went: 31 points (against Philadelphia), 27 points (against Baltimore), 34 points (Pittsburgh), 20 points (N.Y. Jets), 28 points (Miami) and a final 38-point outburst against the New York Giants. Four of those victories were by 10 or fewer points, three were by a field goal.

Furthermore, that Patriots team was one-dimensional compared to this Saints team, or to other offensive juggernauts in recent memory such as the 2004 Indianapolis Colts, 2001 St. Louis Rams or 1998 Minnesota Vikings (whose record the Patriots broke).

New England had no running game to speak of. It was Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, and when Morris went on injured reserve during the season, there was hardly any cause for concern. It was Brady to Moss, Welker, Donte' Stallworth or Jabar Gaffney. All the time.

Those other teams had more weapons to stop. In 2004, Manning was throwing to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, en route to 49 touchdown passes, but he was also handing off to Pro-Bowler Edgerrin James. In 2001, Kurt Warner threw for 36 touchdowns and 4,830 yards to Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl or Az-Zahir Hakim. He also had future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in the backfield, the previous year's MVP.

Here's how I would rank the top offenses of the past 11 years:

1. 1998 Vikings
2. 2009 Saints
3. 2007 Patriots
4. 2004 Colts
5. 2001 Rams

Why the Vikings? Pure depth. A reborn Randall Cunningham had two of the greatest receivers in history to throw to. Cris Carter caught everything, and paired excellently with an explosive rookie named Randy Moss. Robert Smith made the Pro Bowl as a dangerous option at running back. The Vikings went 15-1, won every game at home, and came within a fluke miss by kicker Gary Anderson of going to the Super Bowl.

The ill fate of the '98 Vikings highlights an interesting trend. Each of the high-octane offenses mentioned above got tripped up short of the ultimate goal, with the '01 Rams and '07 Patriots falling one victory short of Super Bowl triumph.

Will the Saints show that offense can win in February? Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A little more focus

Even on a Sunday in which the Patriots didn't take the field, they still got good news regarding the AFC East race.

Buffalo shocked Miami at Orchard Park, 31-14, sending the Dolphins to 5-6. At this point, the Patriots lead the division with a 7-3 record, while Miami and New York are two-and-a-half games back at 5-6, while the Bills bring up the rear at 4-7.

The surprising result takes some of the importance off of the Saints matchup tomorrow night. Had Miami done what was expected and won, New England would have had to give New Orleans its first defeat in order to avoid having the Dec. 6 rematch in South Florida be for first place in the division.

Now, even if New England loses at New Orleans, they'll still have a comfortable lead (two games) with five games left. The Patriots could clinch the division with an 11-5 mark, which would allow for two losses to a group of opponents including the Saints (10-0), Dolphins (5-6), Bills (4-7), Jaguars (6-5) and Texans (6-5).

Of course, that doesn't make a victory in the Superdome any less attractive.