The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Don’t Be a Fool, Stay in School

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Normally, I would be the guy screaming that a college football player should go pro the moment that he is deemed NFL worthy.

Unless you are a player who could use the extra year of college to help vault yourself into a much more worthwhile draft position (like moving from being a late first/early second-round selection one year to a top-ten overall projection the next), the extra year of college will probably not do you any good. In fact, you should take the money now and run, because the opportunity for a multi-million dollar contract won’t always be on the table, but while opportunity to finish your college education almost surely will be.

That is exactly the advice I would normally give to an underclassman NFL prospect. But the 2011 NFL Draft is not going to be a NORMAL draft.

What good is time spent in a gym, when it COULD be spent on the field actually keeping you fresh and in GAME-READY condition? More, what good is being drafted to an NFL franchise with the promise of a multi-million dollar contract that you can’t collect on because the league is on lockout and NOBODY is getting paid?

Well, those are exactly the prospects facing underclassmen who decided to take the early leap into the NFL.

The reason this year is different is because of the still unresolved issue with the still unresolved collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. This is not your standard, run-of-the-mill contract negotiation, either.

Without getting into the minutiae of how each and every negotiation has processed, here is a simple breakdown of how we ended up where negotiations stand (a more thorough, but still understandable, explanation can be found here):

The current CBA was originally scheduled to expire in 2013, but owners chose to opt-out two years early. They feel that the players are taking too much of the league’s money, and have basically drawn a line in the sand, hoping to force the players into a renegotiation. With issues like an 18-game schedule, rookie salary scales, and player safety still unresolved, the likelihood of a new CBA being settled before the next season gets underway gets slimmer and slimmer.

In this situation, A plus B equals lockout.

With a lockout looming on the horizon there will still be an NFL Draft, but after that, all league operations cease. That means no trades, no rookie camps, no OTAs, and most importantly, no training camp and no regular season.

What that likely means to the group of underclassmen taking the early plunge into the NFL, is no security, and no playing time.

They will miss out on a most crucial period in their early NFL development – Rookie Camp. They will miss out on the opportunity to practice with and get to know their new teammates. They will miss out on the opportunity to test their mettle and learn from playing with NFL veterans.

Most importantly, they will do so WITHOUT guarantee of a paycheck, and without the luxury of a safety net that previous season salaries have afforded their new teammates.

What they SHOULD have done is follow the lead of Andrew Luck. Luck, who was almost certainly going to be the top overall draft pick, has decided to forego his opportunity to enter the NFL as an underclassman to return to Stanford for his final college season.

It is true that he will gain nothing financially. But while players like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, and Ryan Mallett are sitting in a weight room somewhere just hoping that a deal gets done, Luck will be playing real, competitive football.

Now I know what you are thinking (and what Loyal Homer has probably written)… what if Luck gets hurt in his final college season? Won’t that cost him money?

Well, Sam Bradford suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder at Oklahoma, not once, but twice. When the draft came around, who went first overall? Bradford, to the tune of a six-year, $78M contract.

Adrian Peterson suffered MANY injuries over his college career, including a broken collarbone that ended his final season after only a few weeks. But that didn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings from drafting him seventh overall, and signing him to a six-year, $40.5M contract.

I think it’s safe to say that both Bradford and Peterson are doing great right now, and with sports medicine being what it is today, the likelihood of a REAL career-ending injury is very slim. Most, if not all of the underclassmen from this year, would have played out their final NCAA season without incident. Those who were injured would likely STILL not have seen it impact their NFL earning power.

It’s a simple choice – risk missing an entire year of playing time to enter a league with no structure, and most importantly, no guarantee of a paycheck, or stay in college and continue to improve your skill set ON THE FIELD in REAL competition, while adding to your future value in the NFL.

For those who took early eligibility, they have essentially put a blindfold on and dove head-first into a career without having any idea what to expect. By waiting one more season, this year’s underclassmen could have let all the NFL CBA dust settle. Then, when they finally DID take the plunge, they would know exactly what they were getting into.

They would have at least maintained, if not improved, their NFL value… and would have done so by staying in game-ready condition for a whole year while the rest of the NFL spent their time lifting weights and twiddling their thumbs for zero salary.

Any gambler worth his or her salt will tell you that in this case, the risk is just not worth the reward. So to quote Mr. T – “Don’t be a fool. Stay in school.”

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The Pick Your Cornerstone QB Debate… I Want to Live in Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Optimist Prime.

Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, or Mark Sanchez?

In the TV hit game show Million Dollar Money Drop, if those are my four options, I’m putting the whole $1M on Aaron Rodgers.

It’s that simple. If I am running a professional football team with just one game left to win, and those are my four options, Aaron Rodgers is the guy I want under center, and for good reason. In the three seasons since taking over Green Bay’s drivers’ seat after what’s-his-name left, Rodgers has become one of the brightest young stars in the NFL.

In just a quick comparison between Rodgers and the guy he took over for (I think his name was Brett something… Favre, that’s it!) through their first three seasons as starters for the Packers:

  • Rodgers started 47 games, Favre started 47 games
  • Rodgers passed for 12,394 yards, Favre passed for 10,412 yards
  • Rodgers passed for 86 TDs, Favre passed for 70 TDs
  • Rodgers passed for 31 interceptions, Favre passed for 51 interceptions
  • Rodgers led the Pack to a combined record of 27-20, Favre’s record was 26-19

That’s right. Rodgers has already started off his career better than the greatest quarterback statistically to ever play the game. But the fact that he is already off to a better career than Favre at this point is only part of the reason why I would choose Rodgers as the field general leading my team into battle.

The REAL reason why Rodgers is the ONLY man I would want taking snaps for my team is not how he performs in the regular season, but how he performs in the post-season.

In three playoff appearances so far Rodgers has passed for 969 yards (323 yards per game average) with 10 touchdowns and only one interception. Oh yeah, he also has two rushing scores to add to that total.

It doesn’t matter who is on the field with him, Aaron Rodgers will find a way to get the ball into the end zone.

This season Rodgers has had to find ways to win without his Pro Bowl running back, Ryan Grant, and his favorite target, Tight End Jermichael Finley. Still, he managed to win games. Now he is leading the Packers into the NFC Championship Game as the hottest quarterback still playing.

Aaron Rodgers has already outgunned Michael Vick and Matt Ryan, two of the so-called top quarterbacks in the NFC. With those two out of the picture, and Tom Brady having fallen to the New York Jets, there is no quarterback left standing that can match Rodgers’ performance on the field.

Rodgers may not have the resume of Ben Roethlisberger, or the supporting cast of superstars like Mark Sanchez has in LaDanian Tomlinson and S’Antonio Holmes, but if I need one guy to win one game for me, Aaron Rodgers is that guy!

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The Pick Your Cornerstone QB Debate… Sanchez Makes NFL Mark

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

When considering a quarterback to build an NFL franchise around a lot of names come to mind. Names like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, for example. But today I propose a more subtle and often underrated candidate – Mark Sanchez.

While Sanchez may not seem like the obvious choice, he is no doubt one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. He has quietly turned around a less than stellar New York Jets franchise and has shown flashes of brilliance along the way. He has handled the pressures of playing in the New York market under constant media scrutiny with relative ease. Sanchez rises to the occasion in big game situations, and in all likelihood still hasn’t peaked in terms of his maximum ability. What more could a franchise ask for?

People often forget that Mark Sanchez is young. He is currently wrapping up his sophomore season as a professional but has already accomplished some incredible things. In 2007 – two years before Sanchez’s arrival – the Jets were a 4-12 team. They had virtually nowhere to go but up. The next season the team thought it had lucked into an answer for its quarterback issues in landing Brett Favre, but Favre’s brief tenure in the Big Apple was a band-aid for the Jets problems at best. Under Favre the Jets improved to a 9-7 record, but any progress the team experienced was offset by the transition to a new head coach, and then rookie quarterback in Sanchez in 2009.

Sanchez certainly had big shoes to fill in coming in after #4, but he did so in incredible fashion. In his first year as a pro Mark Sanchez led the Jets to another regular season 9-7 record, and then a deep playoff run that took them within one game of the Super Bowl – and that was as a rookie.

This season Sanchez is right back at it again, and he has dispatched both the Colts and the Patriots in the process. It speaks volumes of his composure and talent that Sanchez can not only hang with, but beat the biggest names in the NFL today – a feat he is not supposed to be able to pull off. He has again taken the Jets to within one win of the Super Bowl, and all that stands in his way is the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has only thrown one interception in the playoffs this season and is getting hot at the right time, as evidenced by his three touchdown performance against the Patriots. That is quite an impressive season for a second year guy, especially considering most players struggle in the midst of the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

Sanchez is still making huge stride, too. He was perfect through the first five games of this season throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. While he began to struggle with turnovers during the second half of the season, critics ignored the fact that he continued to win games. From his rookie to his second season he created statistical gains across the board. During the regular season this year Sanchez passed for his first 3,000 yard season and saw his total passing touchdowns outnumber his interceptions. Those are all the hallmarks of progress, and that is something you want to see in a franchise quarterback.

Another great thing about Sanchez is that he is eager to be molded into a better player. Last season when he was criticized for a reckless and awkward sliding ability that was bound to get him hurt, he responded immediately. Instead of getting defensive and making excuses he addressed the issue head on… or rather feet first, the next time. Sanchez worked with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to learn how to slide in a safer, more effective manner. You don’t see that type of humbleness and eagerness in many franchise quarterbacks.

The guy is a great quarterback, and as long as he continues to improve he should see a ring very soon. He’s got the skills and growth a coach wants to see, but most importantly he has the intangibles that make a winner on the biggest stage possible. In a real life fantasy draft, any coach would be lucky to take him first and build a winning program around him.

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The NFL Becoming a Players League Debate

December 12, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

It’s quite obvious that the NBA is a player’s league. It’s the one major sport where one person can literally take over the game by himself. The players also seemingly have a lot of control behind the scenes with players demanding trades and forcing coaching changes. Quite frankly, it has the reputation among many of being a “Me-First” league.

The NFL, which is easily the United States’ most popular sport, may possibly be headed down that same direction. For years, the impression was created that discipline existed in the league and that coaches were in charge. But have you watched the NFL any in the past month? Look at what has happened in Dallas and Minnesota. Both teams are playing noticeably better since coaching changes were made. The Cowboys very easily could be 4-0 under interim coach Jason Garrett and I think it’s safe to that Brad Childress didn’t have many friends on the Vikings’ 53-man roster. All they’ve done since the move was made is go 2-0 under Leslie Frazier.

So that begs the question: Is the NFL becoming a player’s league?

Babe Ruthless believes recent actions have convinced him that the league is becoming a player’s league. Meanwhile, Bleacher Fan believes that despite recent headlines the NFL is nowhere near becoming a player’s league.

We all love the NFL. It’s up to these two to determine if it really is changing.

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The NFL Becoming a Players League Debate… For Love of the Blame

December 12, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

The NFL is being ruined right in front of our very eyes, and the players are to blame.

While I am normally the first one to suggest that a player or team with even a miniscule amount of leverage should exploit it to the fullest for their personal gain, even I can see that there is a limit. Clearly the NFL has reached its tipping point. Players have gone mad with power and the league presently teeters atop the precipice of a very steep and slippery slope. The empowerment of the modern era NFL player has come at a steep cost – the sanctity of contracts and the authority of the coaches – and sadly the game as a whole may soon suffer for it. For a very long time.

This, however, is not a new story, and the current state of affairs in the NFL did not just happen overnight. The writing has been on the wall for a very long time. Think back to the 2004 draft when Eli Manning was able to force his way to the New York Giants, rather than stay with the team which drafted him out right – the San Diego Chargers. Since then players have been able to threaten, pout, and generally blackmail their way on to the teams of their choosing with virtually no recourse.

The league could have – and more importantly, should have – stopped moves like this as they occurred. Instead, the league stood idly by while their authority was diminished in front of a league of hundreds of players just beginning to realize the leverage and power the NFL was allowing them to control. Now it is common to see players like Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall publically clashing with their coach and team management in hopes of agitating their way to a new team. Many times the players are successful, and sometimes they are not – like Albert Haynesworth this off-season (Editor’s Note: And, regular season too?). But, the point remains that players are very much aware of their newfound leverage in controlling the future.

The drama that unfolded between the Redskins and super star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth highlights the fact that the NFL is a player dominated league. Even though Haynesworth failed to force the Redskins to trade him or to rearrange their defensive scheme to suit him, he has clearly held the front office hostage throughout the season. His recent suspension demonstrates that the ‘Skins never gained control of the situation, and this “punishment” certainly does not serve as a deterrent to Haynesworth, who didn’t want to play for Washington this season anyways. It is no deterrent for any other player wanting to diva their way into a more preferable scenario.

This behavior is not limited to individuals, either. Through the sandbagging actions of NFL teams it can be ascertained that there is a much bigger problem on the horizon. Over the course of the 2010 season, both the Cowboys and Vikings seem to have made their lack of support for their head coach known through underachieving play. While it can’t be proven that players were throwing games, it seems fairly evident that they weren’t trying their all, and a large reason for this seems to be their lack of confidence in their head coach. Whatever the reason, both teams’ head coaches were fired and it certainly looks like the players masterminded the situations. This past off-season the players won’t just be screwing over one team with their actions, but rather the whole league when they force a work stoppage in 2011.

Like it or not, it has become a matter of fact that NFL players call all of the shots these days. There is a certain sad irony about a league which prides itself on parity would have such a disproportionate balance of power between players and the rest of the league.

Players are starting to wield some very real power in the league. They are forcing trades, demanding their own playing schemes, and even getting any employee who stands in their way fired. Perhaps the NFL should be renamed the NFPL – the National Football Players League.

While it’s not a very appealing name, and I seriously doubt that it will catch on anytime soon, it would be a far more fitting name because it would recognize those with all the real power and authority in the league – the players!

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The NFL Becoming a Players League Debate… Maintaining a Delicate Balance

December 12, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless

I have not been impressed with the actions of many players around the NFL recently.

For example, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings quit on their coaches, Wade Phillips and Brad Childress. They weren’t happy with the way things were going early in the season, and so these so-called professionals allowed locker room politics to affect their play on the field. As a fan, I am furious that these professional athletes were allowed to get away with anything less than their very best.

Once their respective coaches were fired, though, they magically became successful teams on the field again. Hardly a coincidence.

There were several marquis holdouts this year. Darrelle Revis, Vincent Jackson, and Logan Mankins are but a few names you will find on the list of those players who sat out some portion of the season.

In Denver, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler both managed to orchestrate their own trades from the Broncos, and Brett Favre has danced around retirement for three years, now, stringing several different franchises along while he waffled in his decisions.

Yes, players have been commanding a lot of attention in the NFL. And with the new CBA upcoming, the NFLPA is actively working to secure new rights for the players of the league.

But to declare that the NFL is following the NBA in becoming a league controlled by the players is a gross overstatement.

Players will always test the boundaries of a league. I do not blame them at all. The system in the NFL is structured in such a way that the players in the NFL are allowed to hold out on their contracts and demand trades. I may not agree with the system, but I cannot blame the players for taking advantage of the system as it exists today.

There is a difference between players maximizing the system as it exists today, and players taking over control of the league.

Sure, Darrelle Revis was able to hold out in his contract, and ended up getting himself a better deal from the New York Jets. But for every Darrelle Revis, there is an Albert Haynesworth.

Haynesworth, owner of the most lucrative defensive contract in the history of the NFL, was just suspended for the remainder of the season for conduct detrimental to his team. What was that conduct, you ask? He did the exact same thing that Darrelle Revis did – he did not abide by the terms of his contract.

In a player’s league, Haynesworth’s actions would have been accommodated, his demands met, and his new coach silenced. He is (or was) one of the premier players in the league, is a major difference maker when he is on the field, and a franchise in a player’s league would never dream of upsetting an athlete of his caliber, especially after investing the amount of money that the Redskins did in acquiring him.

Or how about Vincent Jackson? After a Pro Bowl season a year ago, Jackson felt that he deserved a much more lucrative contract, but the San Diego Chargers disagreed. This situation became very nasty as the weeks passed by, and Jackson was very public in his criticism of the Chargers’ organization. Tensions grew to such a heated point that many assumed Jackson would never wear a Chargers uniform again.

Well, the Chargers called his bluff, and guess who suited up for San Diego against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago.

These are just the most recent examples where player egos and demands are being held in check. Unlike the NBA, where players like LeBron James have completely hijacked the league, the NFL has an established system which allows players room to negotiate, but still retains enough control to ensure that the players’ demands would never endanger the overall stability of the league.

It is the give and take of those player/owner negotiations which create a balanced system to the benefit of everyone involved.

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The 2010 Michael Vick for MVP Debate Verdict

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

the micha

How ironic that I am writing about one of the best quarterbacks in football as I watch a Monday Night Football matchup that features two of the worst quarterbacks in football.

The Cardinals and 49ers this season have been a revolving door at the quarterback position, as guys like Matt Leinart, David Carr, Alex Smith, Max Hall, Troy Smith, and Derek Anderson have all at one time or another been tagged as the “starter” for these two franchises. Although it is unlikely that we will hear the names Derek Anderson or Troy Smith brought up in MVP conversations anytime soon, when this season kicked off they probably would have been considered HEAVY favorites over a guy like Michael Vick.

But here we are, week 12 is now in the books, and Michael Vick is performing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

There is no denying the impact he has had on the field for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. His performance has almost assuredly earned him many accolades already – team MVP, Pro Bowl, and as Loyal Homer suggested, Comeback Player of the Year. But league MVP?

Babe Ruthless, despite an obvious dislike for Michael Vick the man, feels that his successes on the field simply cannot be ignored when discussing the players who are worthy of being named the most valuable. Considering some direct comparisons between Vick and his counterpart, Kevin Kolb, it is nearly impossible to deny just how valuable Vick has been to his team.

Both quarterbacks got an opportunity to face the Washington Redskins this season. For his part, Kolb was 22 of 35 for 201 yards, one TD and one pick, while Vick, just six weeks later, went 20 of 28 for 333 yards, four TDs, no INTs, and added another two rushing TDs just for good measure.

Clearly, Vick is a difference-maker on the field.

But the Washington Redskins’ defense is not the barometer by which MVPs are measured, and even as well as Vick has played in each of his appearances this season, Loyal Homer does not want MVP voters to forget that Vick has essentially been a part-time quarterback.

To Loyal Homer’s point, it is hard to overlook the fact that Vick has finished less than 60 percent of the Eagles’ games so far this season. Vick has been outstanding, but guys like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Arian Foster have been equally outstanding (although maybe not as flashy), and have sustained it over a longer period of time than has Vick.

Philip Rivers, for example, is on pace not only for a career best in passing yards for a season, but realistically could put up an all-time NFL best total for the category, having already thrown for 3,362 yards in only 11 games this season. Vick, meanwhile, comes in more than 1,000 yards fewer than that total at 1,941. There are also four quarterbacks in the NFL currently tied for the league lead with 23 TD passes (Rivers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees). Vick has just slightly more than half of that total with 13.

I’m not one to put a lot of stock in statistics, normally, but differences like that are very difficult to disregard when we are discussing the top performers of an entire season, and so I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer.

I just do not feel that Vick deserves consideration for the MVP award in 2010. His value to the Eagles may be immense, but he simply did not have to sustain his performance over a long enough time to truly be compared with Rivers, Brady, etc.

In baseball this season Kansas City Royals pitcher Bruce Chen posted a batting average of 1.000. In fact, Chen has been carried that 1.000 since 2006. He only had one at bat in 2010, and has a total of only three at bats in the last four years, but over that time his average has been perfect. Does that make him better than Josh Hamilton, who sustained a .359 average over more than 500 at bats?

I do not in any way mean to diminish Vick’s performance, but who is to say that he would have remained at the top of the QB ratings leaderboard (or any statistical leaderboard) if he played the additional games against the Redskins, 49ers, Falcons, and Titans? Who is to say that Vick would not have failed epically between weeks four and seven? We will never know.

When recognizing the league’s most valuable player, there can be no room for speculation. The winner has to have been DEFINITIVELY the best over the entire season, and Michael Vick simply cannot state a definitive case.

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