Friday, May 4, 2007
The Humane Society of the United States has sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, asking that any players found guilty of being involved in illegal dog fighting rings be permanently banned from the NFL. One prominent target is Falcon's QB Michael Vick.
For those who don't know what could have prompted the letter, allow me to tell the story. Police were conducting a drug raid last week in Vick's native Virginia. They stumble into one house, and find all the essentials of a dog fighting ring: veterinary supplies, treadmills for training, blood on the carpets, tools to pry apart jaws, and a big sign that said "World Championship Dog Fights" (I made up the last one). Upon further review, it was found that the owner of the house is none other than Michael Vick.
Let me make it clear that I am no apologist for Michael Vick. He gets into many minor scuffles with police, and always plays it out like he is the victim. He is not Pacman Jones, but he's not Tom Brady either. In this case, however, Vick just may be the Vick-tim. It turns out that in his generosity early in his career, Vick bought a house for some family members, and these family members have been abusing the generosity by running the illegal dog fighting ring without Vick's knowledge. For that, I can forgive Vick, because he cannot control his family.
What irks me about this story is the blatant use of the NFL by the Humane Society of the US. The HSUS (official abbreviation) is using this story, couple with the NFL's crackdown on player conduct, to promote its agenda. I have no problem with the agenda, because it is a good one; I have a problem with the way the group is going about promoting it's agenda. Partnering with the NFL is a great idea. It works for the United Way, and many players have their own individually operated charities. But making the NFL seem like the bad guys for not banning players who may be involved in illegal animal activity is not the way to get the NFL on your good side. The HSUS has seemingly offered the NFL an ultimatum that says ban this player (it's just Vick; it's an isolated incident) or we will slander the NFL for being anti-animal rights.
Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of HSUS, was quoted in the letter as saying "We believe that the current situation involving Michael Vick is indicative of a larger subculture within the NFL of dog fighting and other forms of violence against animals." I don't see how that can be the case, seeing as this is the first time any player has been connected with any forms of animal cruelty. Players have been connected to drug rings, prostitution rings, gangs, murders, domestic violence, gambling, and wearing a hat without a license, but this is the first time a player has been connected with an animal cruelty ring. It seems that the HSUS wants to promote its good message, but is attacking the NFL in order to do it, instead of asking for help. It seems that the NFL will deny the request just to prove that it cannot be bullied, and that could send the wrong public message.
Proof of HSUS's blatant abuse of the NFL's high profile can be found later in the letter. Pacelle is again quoted as saying "We hope you will collaborate with The HSUS to combat animal cruelty and animal fighting in order to send a clear message to the public that the NFL does indeed intend to hold its players to the highest standards". Like I said, I believe the NFL and HSUS should become partners, because it's a great opportunity for both organizations to show support for the animal world. I have a problem, however, with HSUS trying to write the new rules regarding player conduct, and it's bullying attempt to make the NFL comply. The NFL cannot be bullied, simply because it is too powerful.
Realistically, Michael Vick will not be banned from the NFL for being associated with this ring. At most, he would get the same four game suspension that Chris Henry received. HSUS has the right idea about including cruelty to animals in the player conduct policy, just the wrong way to get the job done. More rational requests and less bullying tactics could one day lead to ad campaigns where NFL players are hugging all sorts of four legged friends.
Droppin' El Whammo: Cleveland Indians
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Since the NFL Draft is an ancient three days old and its appallingly obvious how good each pick will be in the pros, the pundits have taken it upon themselves to grade each team's draft performance. These same pundits are the ones who will inevitably start making a mold of Brady Quinn's head for Canton, start a campaign to save Matt Millen's job, and actually buy into the fact that the Raiders are improved and Randy Moss will help the Patriots. Remember, these players have not even suited up in an NFL training facility yet, but the "experts" know enough about them to determine their impact on the team, the future, and the history of the league.
All that being said, I'd like to give my grade of one team's draft. That team, of course, is my beloved Ravens. Here is what I will grade on: the team's ability to fill needs; creativity with it's picks; decision making at crunch time. Here is what I will not grade on: projected success of the picks; ability to grab the best player in the draft. With that criteria, I give the Ravens a solid B for their draft performance. They had a very solid draft, but it wasn't their best draft, and they would most likely admit the same thing (this is the team drafted Jon Ogden and Ray Lewis in the same round!).
The Ravens set out in the first round trying to fill the holes throughout the offensive line. They knew a guard and a tackle would be of equal value, and many people thought Justin Blalock or Tony Ugoh would be the man to fill the hole. Lucky for the Ravens, the best guard in the draft, Ben Grubbs, fell to #29, and the Ravens were sensible to nab him while he was there. That's typical Ozzie Newsome; stick to the gameplan, because that's why it's there. The only thing that would have made Ozzie deviate from the gameplan would have been if Brady Quinn actually would have fallen to #29. The Wizard also didn't do anything rash or hasty, like trade next year's number one pick for the chance to take Quinn. We tried that once, ended up with Kyle Boller, and that will probably scare us away from not having a number one pick again.
All of the other rounds were typical Ravens' drafts. Each pick was a position where we had need, and the player filling that need will most likely be a Pro Bowler some day (Yamon Figurs... by the way, when he inevitably returns a punt/kickoff for a touchdown, join me in a nice "Well that Figurs"). We even came away with the steal of the draft in Troy Smith, who, as we all know, could one day be lighting the NFL on fire. The Ravens were sensible, logical, and realistic with each pick, and the few trades we made served to put us in position to draft more talent. We also realized how many picks we had, and how little money we have, and dumped all second day picks except for the compensatory picks that we have to keep. Even from an economic standpoint, this draft made sense.
The national media thought otherwise. The Ravens' average draft grade, as figured by yours truly, comes out to a 2.44 on a 4.0 scale. Folks, that's a C+. A C+. A C+? Apparently the pundits forgot who they were grading. These are the Ravens. We rewrote the book on drafting. When people thought we were going to take Lawrence Philips, we took Jon Ogden. When it comes to the draft, we are the valedictorian and salutatorian, since everybody else is so far behind. Teams like Jacksonville and Cleveland make our personnel assistants their GMs in an effort to try to draft like us. Yet the national media gives us, the originators, a C+?
The only logical reason I can think of for this slap-in-the-face grade is if they compared this draft to all other Ravens drafts, not every other team. In that case, they might actually be right. This draft was average for the Ravens. We probably picked up a Pro Bowler, maybe two, but we didn't break the bank like in 1996 (Ogden, Ray Lewis, Jermaine Lewis), 1997 (Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Kim Herring, Jeff Mitchell), 1999 (Chris McAlister, Brandon Stokely, Edwin Mulitalo), 2000 (Jamal Lewis, Adalius Thomas), 2001 (Todd Heap, Gary Baxter, Ed Hartwell), 2002 (Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver, Chester Taylor), and 2003 (Terrell Suggs, Musa Smith, Ovie Mughellie). The jury is still out on the most recent drafts, since I figure the rookie contracts of the picks should be expired before we judge. The bottom line is, most of our draft picks are solid contributors, many are Pro Bowlers, almost all gain playoff experience, and anybody drafted before 2001 played in and won a Super Bowl. So if that's the criteria, then yes, I guess this was a pretty standard draft for the Ravens.
The highest grade used to calculate the DGPA (draft grade point average) was a B, and it came from Mel Kiper of ESPN, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, and Jason Cole of Yahoo.com. Kiper's reputation as the ultimate draft guru speaks for itself, so his grade means a lot. The other two seem to be pretty knowledgeable, seeing as they gave a fair assessment. In Dallas, that guy must have seen what the Ravens did and said "Oh, that's what you're supposed to do during the draft".
So who gave us the grades that yanked the DGPA down? John Czarnecki of FoxSports.com gave us a C-. Who the hell is John Czarnecki, and how does his grading of previous drafts stack up to how the players actually turned out? A C-? Maybe he's new around here and didn't know who he was grading. A C-? For the best drafting team of the decade? If we chose Doink the Clown in the first round he would be a Pro Bowler at something within three years. I've got a good place for John Czarnecki to put that C-.
The most hurtful grade, however, came from our beloved and not in any way out-of-town biased Baltimore Sun. Ken Murray of the Sun (probably some filthy closet Steeler's fan) gave the Ravens a C. He should know better. He has seen Ozzie turn coal to diamond like he has some sort of touch superior to King Midas. If Ozzie looks at you the right way you'll be able to kick a 50 yard field goal before breakfast. But this jackass Ken Murray forgot that he was a) writing for the supposedly hometown Baltimore newspaper and b) writing about the hometown Baltimore team. Don't be like everybody else; we all know picking a guard in the first round isn't sexy, but it's sensible. Throw the fans a bone, and laud the team like the drafting geniuses they are.
The best part of this whole draft grades jazz is that the Ravens don't even care (trust me, I care enough for all of us). They posted the grades as the top article on the team's official website. Why would they do that? Because in three years they can dig up that article and say "Yep, they were all wrong again". The Ravens are too classy to do such a thing, but it's definitely not beneath me. When the time comes, I'll dig up this post again and compare the grades to how the players actually are. The Ravens will simply hang on to the article, and wear it like a badge of honor in their own special way of sticking it to the national media.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Mere days after saying on national television how excited he was to start the grooming of new Panther's WR Dwayne Jarrett, Keyshawn Johnson had the proverbial rug pulled out from under him. The veteran and vociferous Panther's wideout was cut by Carolina on Monday, thus ending any chance he had of taking young Mr. Jarrett under his wing and raising another in a proud line of loud, annoying, me-first receivers. It just seems unfathomable to see something like this happen to someone who is just so goshdarn likable, but as I dove deeper into the issue, I came to a startling realization: Keyshawn Johnson is one of the few remaining of a dying breed. The time has come where the tall, possession receiver is just not going to cut it anymore.
Keyshawn should not feel bad at his situation, because it is going to happen to a lot of people like him in the coming years, and the reason is because wide receiver turnover from a team standpoint is enormous. Teams go through receivers like the average person goes through cereal, and the last thing you want is a stale box of "Me-shawn Flakes" stinking up your cereal cabinet. Generally speaking, most teams carry 5 wideouts. Ambitious teams carry 6, and stupid teams carry 7. That leaves a lot of room for turnover due to competition, injury, age, the draft, disloyalty, and TO. Wide receivers also suffer from an illness in that they aren't the cure. Teams (the good ones, anyway) do not make it a habit of building the franchise around a wide receiver (Matt Millen!) as much they do a QB, RB, or even some defenders. As such, a dying breed like Keyshawn's is subject to the axe, as good ol' Me-shawn found out today.
So what exactly is Keyshawn's breed that is dying? It's a derivative of the Michael Irvin School of Football and Citizenship. Essentially, the main lesson is that self-promotion is the only way to get ahead in this world. Others may have to suffer, but that's OK, because they're essentially useless anyway. If you aren't catching the ball, the QB is clearly not getting the ball to you, and the coach is not calling enough plays featuring you. When this happens, it is customary to yell at all listeners on the sidelines and embarrass the crap out of your team. If needed, make sure your problems with the team spill over into the locker room; call out teammates by name, challenge the coaches in meetings, and even criticize the city. It may cost you fans, but the media will love you, and that, after all, is how you get ahead for good. You know you can't play football forever, so you have to make sure everybody remembers you during your time in the League, because you never know when ESPN, CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, or ESPNDeportes will come calling.
Aside from the social and mental aspects of the antiquated wide receiver, the Neverus Shutupamus (Latin name) possesses a pretty standard skill set. Since they play a pretty one-dimensional position, it became easy for the taller, stronger men to separate themselves from their shorter and weaker counterparts. As a whole, the Keyshawns of the world fell into the Run Route, Catch Ball, Repeat as Necessary routine, and for a while it worked quite well. The problem was , they couldn't prevent aging.
Soon enough, this type of receiver got old, and started dropping balls (TO), or couldn't run as fast as they once could (Randy Moss). The possession receiver has been replaced by speedier receivers, who, once they catch the ball, can make a defender miss. Pundits call this "explosiveness". These receivers aren't nearly as tall or as strong, but they make bigger plays. Tall receivers like Keyshawn, TO, and Moss can't function in today's high-tech, West Coast offenses because they are deep threats. The West Coast offense is the tortoise's offense, not the hare's, and the deep ball doesn't need to be thrown (which begs the question "why are teams so concerned with their QB's arm strength?"). West Coast offenses would rather throw the safe five yard pass to a speedy receiver, and let their shifty moves, agility, and quickness take the ball the rest of the way.
This safe approach to offense has made short, quick receivers like Steve Smith, Marvin Harrison, Mark Clayton, Anquan Boldin, Torry Holt, and Chad Johnson en vouge. The bonus is that they can all catch the deep ball if need be. That leaves the poor receivers of yesteryear relegated to goal line duty, where their use is to run a route in the back of the endzone that will fool the defense just long enough for the running back to go untouched into the endzone. Every once in a while a ball will be thrown their way, and that ball will have to serve enough to stroke their ego for the time being.
So what happens to Keyshawn now that nobody is going to give him the damn ball? He'll probably be signed by a WR-needy team (or New England, who is trying to hoard up all the WRs), and end up retiring after the season. I'm sure he can find work in the TV studio. He did a great job for ESPN this weekend, except for that part about grooming Dwayne Jarrett...
Monday, April 30, 2007
Let me begin by saying that I am not of the camp that thinks that the Draft is the biggest sporting event in America. Its not even close. I'd take any NFL regular season Sunday, the playoffs, the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament, and possibly the World Series before the Draft. I do, however, love to watch as much of the Draft as I possibly can, and while I am certainly no Mel Kiper, can hold my own when it comes to predicting who will land where (in the first round anyway), which brings me to my first point...
What the deuce was Miami thinking? Is locking up a franchise QB in the first round not exciting enough? Would you rather have the drama of selecting an on the fence wide receiver with a gimpy leg who was possibly only good in college because he played for The Ohio State University? Miami will come to regret this decision in years to come, and not for the reasons you'd think. Miami will regret wasting the pick on Ted Ginn, and not taking someone who could've actually provided help. As for Brady Quinn, he would have given Miami every reason to kick itself, if he wasn't drafted by the Brownie Scouts. Sadly, the NFL's answer to the Cubs will probably see Brady fall by the wayside (see Couch, Tim; Brown, Courtney; Warren, Gerard; Green, William; Winslow, Kellen; Edwards, Braylon) and then see what Dallas ends up taking with their first pick in 2008. Phil Savage, the Brown's GM, said that this past Saturday could signal the turning point in the franchise's history, but that's only if the Football Gods finally decide that maybe Cleveland is worthy of a team. For now, the jury is out on Brady Quinn, and as a Raven's fan, I think I speak for everyone when I say "Curse you Phil Savage... for shame!"
In related news, the Cowboys traded their first round pick to Cleveland for the Brownie Scouts' first choice in 2008 (almost assuredly a top ten pick), and then still managed to get back into the first round by somehow convincing Philadelphia that they are no longer in the same division. The Eagles, known for their boisterous and rather mean fans, were most likely greeted by a resounding BOOOO when the trade was announced, and rightfully so. This isn't the same as trading with an inter-Conference team who you might see every four years or so. This is giving the fire power of a first round pick to a team that you will see twice every year until the end of time. The Cowboys chose a defensive end with the pick, and that DE will most likely wreak havoc on Donovan McNabb next year, because that's just how things seem to go for the Iggles. I'd like to think that every time Anthony Spencer drops McNabb next year, three things happen: 1) The Eagles faithful let out a nice BOOOO like only they know how; 2)McNabb looks up at the Owner's Box at owner Jeff Lurie and gives him a "why have you forsaken me?" type look; 3)The announcer calling the game says "Well, Bob, they really brought that sack upon themselves by giving the Cowboys that pick". The other problem with this trade is that the Eagles had plenty to work on within their own team at the draft without helping out the direct competition. The Eagles have no bona-fide wideouts, so they probably could have been very well suited with a Craig Davis or Anthony Gonzalez. Instead, they chose to make their own road to the playoffs that much harder. Oy.
In still other draft weekend news, the Patriots acquired Randy Moss in a trade with Oakland, a day after drafting a PR nightmare in the first round with the selection of Miami (FL) safety Brandon Merriweather. Apparently, the brain trust running the show in New England (coach Bill 'Sweatpants' Belichick and GM Scott Pioli) thought the game of football has become just too goshdarn easy to only worry about the things going on on the field. They want to prove to the world that they can handle any problems that any players can throw at them, even within the team. Moss is basket case. He was TO before being a jackass was cool. He wrote the book on calling out your teammates after a loss, congratulating yourself after a win, and getting your own coach fired (twice). He's the kind of player that's thrilled to death when you're winning, and bored to death when you're losing, and usually yelling at somebody during both. Can Moss still play? I don't think so. He's old, he's not as fast as he used to be, and he takes his baggage everywhere. Defenders aren't scared of him, because they have the speed to keep up with him, and they're pretty sure he's not trying on most plays. Coaches can't stand him because he doesn't listen, and the media loves him because he's a loose cannon.
But things will be different in New England, right? People don't cause problems in the Patriots' locker room. Bill Belichick is the ultimate disciplinarian. People are scared of the wrath of Belichick. This is a franchise that has won three Super Bowls on the strength of team chemistry alone. Never have the Patriots had the best players. Peyton Manning is infinitely better than Tom Brady at QB, but Brady owned Manning up until a little while ago, and why? Chemistry. Not physics, not biology, chemistry. Now the Pats want to test their true mettle with a player that is a regular alchemist, and see if they can still keep up. Many pundits have already penciled the Pats in for the Super Bowl, but I think Moss may be the exact reason they don't make it, not the reason they do. I'd just to say you heard it here first: Randy Moss will be a distraction and a problem in New England just like he was everywhere else; Belichick and the Pats are not above the stupid crap that Randy Moss is capable of.
The steal of the draft was made, of course, by the Ravens and the Wizard that is Ozzie Newsome. At the end of the fifth round, the Ravens grabbed a Heisman Trophy Winner that all 31 other teams had passed on at least twice (the 'Skins finally had their second pick in the fifth round... morons). Troy Smith fell so far because he is only six feet tall. He is only six feet tall. He is only six feet tall. God help us. Troy Smith has already proven that he can play; he was the driving force behind Ohio State's undefeated season and near-National Championship (near, of course, meaning getting shellacked in the Championship Game), and he is a Heisman Trophy winner. He is by no means ready to play right now, but that is where the trade for Steve McNair last year means that much more to the Ravens. Now, the Purple and Black Attack can play McNair, groom Troy Smith, and jettison the debacle that has been Kyle 'Toilet' Boller (gotta love that arm strength, right Oakland?). The team is in the makings of finally having that face-of-the-franchise QB that it has been looking for, and he was acquired in the Wizard's favorite part of the draft. I think Ozzie likes the later rounds better than the first and second, because he can always find a bargain, and if he doesn't who cares, it was a late round pick. There really is no pressure on Smith, because nobody expects anything of him. He can just go to work, learn the offense, and hopefully one day take control and lead the Ravens for years to come. For comparison sake, all of the following QBs are under 6'2": Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Michael Vick, Jake Delhomme, and David Garrard. All of these QBs are winners (maybe not Garrard, but we'd just be splitting hairs then), and they're all scrappy. If Troy Smith is scrappy just like them, he'll fit in well in Baltimore, because after all, we love the scrappy.
Droppin' Los Whammos: Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Browns, Rachel's Office (I apparently take requests now)