Patriots Trade Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Kansas City Chiefs

February 28, 2009
AP Photo/Don Heupel, File

AP Photo/Don Heupel, File

The New England Patriots traded Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs. Everyone knew the Patriots would eventually be trading Matt Cassel but the trade of Mike Vrabel was a bit of a shock. Personally I am rather disappointed that the Patriots didn’t get me more than a 2nd round draft pick from the Chiefs. In fact, I am right down flummoxed by it. It seems like Cassel would be worth much more than a 2nd round pick when you still have teams out there desperate for a quarterback in a free agent market that is extremely thin. But at least we got something after using the franchise tag on Cassel.

Based on reports from Adam Schefter on NFL.com it sounds like there was quite a bit of interest and some possible three way trades in the works with moves putting Cassel in Denver and Cutler in either Tampa Bay or Detroit, both in desperate need of quarterbacks. What was a surprise to me was the Minnesota Vikings didn’t take a serious run at Matt Cassel. He doesn’t fit in as well with their offensive scheme as he does in Kansas City, but he has a far better shot of being successful in Minnesota than a Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson.

The move for Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs make perfect sense and Kansas City is a great landing spot for Matt Cassel for several reasons.

First, he performs better in the shotgun. New head coach and former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley has an offensive scheme that fits Cassel’s abilities extremely well. He relies much more heavily on the shotgun and the passing game, and I can see Cassel having a very good chance to be successful in Kansas City.

Secondly, he has an excellent young receiver in Dwayne Bowe to throw to. Bowe is one of the best receivers in the NFL but has been overshadowed by the poor record of the Kansas City Chiefs the pat few years. He also has the Hall of Fame bound tight end Tony Gonzalez to throw to. While Gonzalez wanted to be traded last year, it looks like he will stay in Kansas City. The signing of Matt Cassel should make him happier. And while I think Larry Johnson will likely be cut or traded, if the Chiefs can put together some serviceable running backs to keep defenses honest, the offense has a chance to make significant improvements next year.

The trade of Mike Vrabel was a shock to me. Vrabel has been a team leader and a mainstay on a defense that won three Super Bowls. It always hurts to see players you admire that have been with the team for so long get traded or cut. But that is the NFL in the era of free agency. I will miss Vrabel and root for him to do well, unless he plays the Patriots.

The trade of Vrabel signals that the Patriots are finally going in the direction of getting younger and faster on defense. The past few years Patriots fans have worried a great deal about the aging of the defense, especially at the linebacker position. It will be interesting to see what other off-season moves the Patriots make.

Currently the most high profile signings for the Patriots are Fred Taylor from Jacksonville and Chris Baker from the Jets. It will be interesting to see what else they will do this offseason.


Minnesota Vikings Ensure Mediocrity, Sign Sage Rosenfels

February 28, 2009
AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

I think the Minnesota Vikings are a good quarterback away from being serious contenders for a Super Bowl Championship. That is why it baffles me that they signed quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

Rosenfels has never been a starter in his eight years in the NFL other than filling in because of injury. Probably there is a reason for that. Last year Rosenfels, subbing for an injured Matt Schaub in Houston, was a comedy of errors. He was a quarterback that consistently snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory with some rather amazingly stupid plays. He was so bad one blogger dubbed him the Douchetard of the Week on several occasions, and eventually named the award after him.

I am shocked that the Vikings didn’t go after Matt Cassel. While Matt Cassel might not be the perfect fit for their offense, he at least showed he was potentially a solid starter in the NFL.

The Vikings will now have to depend on their defense and Adrian Peterson putting on his Superman cape once again to get them to the playoffs. But with a Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson competing for the starting quarterback job, I don’t expect much from this team.


Washington Redskins Sign Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall to Big Deals

February 28, 2009
AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

I am not at all a fan of Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins.  I have always found it funny how when he first bought the team, he also tried to buy a team.  It never quite worked out. 

Now Danny boy has shelled out a $100 million contract to the best defense tackle in football in Albert Haynesworth, and another $54 million to cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

Was this a smart move?  I’m not sure.  Without a doubt these signings make the Redskins a very formidable defensive team next year.  The question will be, now that Haynesworth is fat and happy, in more ways than one, will he continue to put up the kind of effort that made him one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL last year?  This guy has a lot of emotional baggage so I am not so sure.  If he does, he will make Jason Taylor relevant again.  Taylor looked to be on his last leg, literally, last year.  Even before he was injured he was not creating the kind of pressure on the quarterback that the Redskins were hoping for.  By taking up multiple blockers on the line of scrimmage, Haynesworth could have a big impact on not just Taylor’s performance but the entire defense.

I have always liked DeAngelo Hall, even though he too is a bit of a head case.  During his years in Atlanta I considered him one of the top cornerbacks in the league, even though he didn’t always get the recognition he deserved.  In Oakland he was often criticized for being undisciplined and out of position.  As a nickel and dime defense back for the Redskins last year I thought he was a real difference maker.  Hall has the potential to be a very solid starter for the Redskins next year.  And he has always had a nose for the ball and turnovers.  With Haynesworth on the line helping get pressure on the quarterback will just make Hall and the rest of the defensive backs even better.

If Haynesworth plays like he did last year, the Redskins should have one of the best defenses in the league next year.

But what about the offense?  With that kind of money doled out to the defensive side of the ball that does not leave a lot of room for signing impact offensive players. And offense is where the Redskins need the most help.

First it’s clear that Jason Campbell is the man at quarterback.  But I am starting to believe that Campbell is just not going to progress a lot further than he is now.  He is, at best, an average quarterback.  Yes, I know the offensive line did not play well and his receivers let him down.  But that gets to my next point.

If Campbell is going to succeed at quarterback he needs two things, better protection at the line of scrimmage and better receivers.  As much as I love Santana Moss, the last two years he’s only showed flashes of being the big play receiver he once was and has constantly battled hamstring injuries.  I am starting to wonder if his better days are behind him.  I have never considered Antwan Randle-el more than a number three receiver.  And the Redskins draft picks at receiver and tight end last year, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and Fred Davis were all but useless last year.  Thomas has potential but seems lazy and doesn’t get it.  Kelly I think will be a bust.  And Davis could be a solid contributor, but again, all these guys seem to be real slackers.

Then you have the aging Chris Samuels who is not nearly as good as he was a few years ago and should retire soon.  Jon Jansen is always hurt and I suspect will be cut.  Stephon Heyer, the young left tackle out of Maryland, was benched and the struggled in the last half of the season.  The offensive line needs some help.

And finally, while Clinton Portis is an excellent running back and the best offensive player on the team he always ends up dinged up and less effective at the end of the year.  The Redskins need to find a back that can reduce the workload for Portis to keep him fresh throughout the season.

So what do I expect from the Redskins next year?  An excellent defense that keeps them in games and a streaky offense that just might let them get into the playoffs.  But I don’t expect big things from the team as a whole because I just don’t see the offense being good enough or consistent enough to carry them much beyond one playoff game.

But if the Redskins’ history under Snyder continues, Haynesworth will tank it while enjoying his new found riches and the Redskins will be sitting at home in the postseason, as usual.


Tales from the New York Giants Sideline

February 27, 2009

Tales from the New York Giants Sideline by Paul Schwartz
Review by C. Douglas Baker

giantsbook

Tales from the New York Giants Sideline provides the professional football and Giants fan very little. It is poorly organized, provides absolutely no insight into the team, its history, and its championship seasons. Even more disappointing, given that the book is based on interviews with many past and present players and coaches, it gives little insight into the personalities that have given this franchise a unique and deep history. In short, it is a total failure.

The book is divided into six chapters: Training Camp, The Season, The Founder, The Coaches, The Teammates, and The Championships. None of the chapters provide great insight on the given topic. Further, the organization of the book provides no chronological continuity as it jumps all over the place in time and era. Essentially what this book consists of are very short vignettes, in fact vignettes isn’t even the right word, short snippets, that give a little nugget of information about the team and players. It’s basically a little collection of quotes and comments about the chapter topics.

The players, coaches, and owners that get the most air time, so to speak, are Wellington Mara, Sam Huff, Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford, Phil Simms, and Bill Parcels. Of course other players and events are touched upon, but not in any meaningful way. Yes, Lawrence Taylor is in here, but mostly only in embarrassing situations.

Very unfortunately is that there is a little bit, but not nearly enough, about some of the most important events in Giants history. Want to know a little bit about one of the seminal games in NFL History, the 1958 NFL Championship between the Giants and Baltimore Colts (the first overtime game in NFL history)? You won’t get much here. Want to know about the Giants’ Super Bowl years? You won’t get a lot here except a few quotes and comments. In short, you don’t get much at all with this book.

Thus, I would not recommend this book to a football fan or Giants fan. There is just not enough information or good storytelling here to make this book worthwhile. It is a quick and easy read, but even casual Giants’ fans are not likely to learn anything particularly new or worthwhile.

The author of this book has covered the New York Giants for the New York Post since 1994. The Giants have had mostly mediocre results during this time frame, this book is less than mediocre.

Tales From the New York Giants Sideline


The Bucs Cut Out Their Heart Today

February 25, 2009
My team lost its heart today.  Photo from TBO.com.

My team lost its heart today. Photo from TBO.com.

You know, I really shouldn’t be surprised. It happens every single year in the NFL. Some veteran player, some face of the team, gets whacked going into free agency. Fans are left wringing their hands and wondering why and teams are stonefaced and “it’s business” about it. They don’t call it the Not For Long League for nothing. Jerry Rice went to the Raiders. Joe Montana was a Chief. Legends go on, usually don’t live up to our memories, and fade into the sunset. I’ve seen it happen. I really didn’t think I’d see it happen with Derrick Brooks.

It’s not like the Bucs haven’t done this before. They let Sapp & Lynch go with nary a qualm. And at the time I wasn’t that bothered. I understood the business of it, the money being a big part of it, their ages being another. Lynch got the last word by having a few more productive years in Denver. Sapp didn’t really kill in Oakland, but now he’s on TV where he’s always belonged, so all is well there. They were part of the Big Three in Tampa; Sapp was mouth, Lynch was the brain and Brooks was the heart. I could live without the mouth. The brain was good but could be replaced. The heart though? I just can’t imagine this team without him.

In their press conference today, new coach Raheem Morris and GM Dominik emphasized over and over that this move was not about age or money. Um. Okay. Well it damn well better not be about money, since we were already $55 million under the cap. Now we’re $65 million under it, and that money damn well better get spent and spent wisely. I’m not going to support a team that’s just about cutting cost. I’d root for the Marlins if I were about that. I want a team that goes that extra mile and tries to win. I don’t know if releasing these players is about winning. It doesn’t much feel like it now.

Derrick Brooks played for the Bucs for 14 years. He went to the Pro Bowl 11 times. He was defensive player of the year in 2002. His skills may have diminished in recent years, I can’t deny that. But his smarts didn’t. His heart didn’t. A big part of Derrick’s excellence wasn’t his speed, it was his intelligence. He could read plays with the best of them. He anticipated where that ball was going to go and he got there. I watched him chase down players like Michael Vick, who should have blown by him. That intelligence is still there, he still reads that field as well as anybody.

The way they spoke, it sounds as if the Bucs are changing their style of defense. Maybe Derrick wouldn’t fit in anymore. Maybe it’s better for him that he’s on the way out and can find somewhere else where he’ll fit in. In a day or two I may feel that way. Today I don’t though. Today I feel like my team let my favorite player down. He’s given them everything, he stood by them through several shitty moves and this time he’s on the other end of it. It’s hard to digest that.

I was not overly thrilled with the regime change last month. It wasn’t that I disagreed that maybe a change was needed, but I had a bad feeling about the veteran players on the team. Sure enough, that feeling was dead on. I wish I had been wrong. I don’t usually like to be wrong but this time out I would have taken it gladly.

Regardless of how I feel, there’s nothing I can do about it. The Bucs have made their choice and we all have to stand back and see what comes next. They avoided using the “rebuilding” word but that’s what they’re doing. Maybe in a couple of years that’ll pay off. Right now it sucks. I don’t see why Derrick couldn’t have finished his career with the Bucs. He could have been more coach than player at this point. Maybe that wouldn’t have made him happy. Wherever he ends up, I will continue to support him. He was the player that brought me to the Bucs (along with Dunn, another casualty of today’s blood letting) and I will follow him wherever he goes.

According to the Bucs, today wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about age. It would have been nice if it could have been about heart. But it’s business. It’s always business. Sometimes it just shouldn’t be.


Just Call Me The Commish

February 23, 2009
Watch out Finchem, I'm gunning for your job!

Watch out Finchem, I'm gunning for your job!

While watching my daily dose of PTI (Pardon The Interruption for the non-ESPN watchers) last week I was astounded when Wilbon & Kornheiser welcomed their guest for 5 good minutes.  He was introduced as Timothy Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA.  Did you know that the PGA had a commissioner?  Have you ever heard that name before?  I honestly had no clue there was a Commissioner of Golf, or why they’d even need one.  I guess to manage the money but seems an accountant could do that well enough.  It fascinated me and I got to thinking, could there be any better job than PGA Commissioner?  I’m sure the guy makes great bank and has few headaches, right?  That got me to comparing the various sports commissioners and weighing which job was better.  Hence this blog.  I’m not going to include the BCS Commissioner because being the commissioner of a league that lets computers decide its champion is a thing of shame, not to be glorified in a blog by me.

So, from worst to first:

MLB Commissioner:  Do you think Bud Selig is having any fun these days?  His biggest star admits to doing steroids, Congress continues to cast a baleful glare in his direction, two of his former biggest stars are getting ready to go on trial for steroids and lying to Congress, the All Star game decides home field advantage in the World Series…that’s a whole laundry list of problems.  And the fact that Selig turned a blind eye to the problems in baseball coupled with his kowtowing to the player’s union for years and years makes this job rather unappealing to me.   Not to mention just waiting for the hammer to drop and other names to come out.  I get an ulcer just thinking about it.  Nope, I wouldn’t want to be Bud.

NHL Commissioner:  I had a hard time placing this one.  On the one hand, hardly anybody watches hockey so you kind of get to exist in a vacuum.  Nobody really knows if you suck, because nobody really cares.  But that has to affect profitability, right?  The fact is they have been unable to find a star with drawing power.  Wayne Gretzky left and I don’t think the sport has been the same.  I’ve heard some not so pleasant things about Gary Bettman’s reign as commish, but I also heard that he improved the game somewhat with that OT shoot-out business.  The simple fact is, I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but at least I know his name.  He lands at #4 simply because his sport is pretty irrelevant.  Oh, and it’s too long for my taste, they crown a champ and it feels like they’re back to playing a month later.  Minus points for that.

NFL Commissioner:  Ahh Roger Goodell time!  The NFL is the #1 sport in America, so the job would appear to be the best of all of them when it comes to that factor.  Profits rise every year (unless you’re Detroit) and the league enjoys a lack of public scrutiny when it comes to things like steroids and drug testing.  This is because they have had stringent tests for years, although one suspects that the players are smarter than the tests.  Nobody cares like they do in baseball though, we just wanna win!  The reason this job is not the most appealing is because of the outside elements you have to deal with as commish.  The Pacman Jones’ of the world, if you will.  With each team having 53 players, it only takes one per team to create a lot of strife.  Dealing with the Mike Vicks and Plaxico Burress’ of the league would not be fun.  Nearly weekly someone is getting in trouble for something, be it drugs or DUI or shooting yourself in the thigh.  Points deducted for the troublemakers and the sheer number of people you’re dealing with and NFL Commish falls to the 3 spot.

NBA Commissioner:  I don’t watch the NBA, but I know who David Stern is and I could pick him out of a lineup.  I could pick him out because he scares me.  I would finger some other guy for the crime and hope that Stern would reward me in some way.  Basketball players are apt to fall into the same kind of trouble as football players are, pot smoking seeming to be the chief no-no they get nailed with.  But there are far fewer players to deal with here, so there’s less to worry about.  Hell, the #1 or #2 star in the league was charged with rape years ago and that affected nothing.  Points are deducted here because the NBA remains only the #3 sport of the big 4, with no signs of ever moving up the list.  Despite having some stars with name power, Lebron and Kobe, they’re still not MJ or Magic or Bird.  Your random person doesn’t care.  So Stern only gets #2.  I hope he refrains from hurting me!

PGA Commissioner:  Yep, that’s right, the guy I’ve never heard of, Tim Finchem, gets the top spot.  Think about it, who’s the league troublemaker?  John Daly right?  And everyone STILL loves the guy.  Nobody wants him punished, they want to sit down and have a beer with him.  Sure, you have Sergio take the occasional spit into a cup, but if that’s your biggest problem then you’re sitting on gold.  Your biggest concern is to make sure Tiger Woods is happy, right?  He was on PTI to celebrate Tiger’s return and what it means to the PGA.  Your #1 superstar is never going to get arrested for beating a woman or doing drugs.  He’s the ultimate family man and world ambassador.  Stern and Goodell would laugh at Finchem if he ever called them to complain about any of Daly’s silly acts.  Timmy gets to sit back and count his coins and maybe play a round or two of golf.  Tough life.

So there you have it.  There’s no better commissioner’s job than that of the Tim Finchem’s.  I’m aware that I have no idea what kind of administrative coordination these guys do, I’m sure it’s involved and whatnot but I still figure the PGA dude has it the best.  So, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring.  I’m running for PGA Commish.  Watch out Finchem!


Why Matt Cassel Can Be Good Starting Quarterback in the NFL

February 22, 2009

There has been a lot of speculation about whether Matt Cassel can be solid staring quarterback in the NFL for a team other than the Patriots. Some think he can, but others think he will be the next Scott Mitchell, who had an excellent season replacing Dan Marino after he tore his Achilles tendon, but then was a complete flop in Detroit.

There are several reasons why I think Matt Cassel will be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL.

The clearest indication that Matt Cassel has a lot of potential as a starter is the way he improved over the course of last season. In a lot of ways he was a real mess at the beginning of the season. He had what I call the “Rob Johnson” disease. He held the ball too long instead of throwing it away or making a quick decision on a throw. As a result he took big hits, took too many sacks, turned the ball over, or lost yards. Only bad things happen when a quarterback holds the ball too long. He also tended to run the ball too soon instead of waiting for a play to develop. And while he was accurate on longer throws, he was terrible with his accuracy in the red zone.

Thankfully, for Patriots fans, he drastically improved over the course of the season. If you look at the first six games of the regular season, Matt Cassel was not a disaster at quarterback, but had he not improved from his aforementioned proclivities the New England Patriots would not have had an 11-5 record. Cassel had maybe his worst outing of the season in a blowout loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 6, where he exhibited every single one of his bad habits.

After the San Diego game Cassel improved rapidly. His decision making was quicker and he was getting rid of the ball faster. He wasn’t taking as many sacks. He threw the ball away when he should have and he ran the ball when he should have. His accuracy was also more consistent, although at times he continued to struggle in the red zone, although even here he improved.

Since Matt Cassel had never started a game since high school it is not very surprising he struggled with regular season game speed and decision making at the start of the season. Any quarterback that showed the kind of poise and improvement over the course of the season that Matt Cassel did can be a top notch starter in the league.

Matt Cassel also showed a lot of leadership. He stayed positive and poised despite replacing Tom Brady, who many consider to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Just imagine the kind pressure and microscope Cassel was under. And he handled it very, very well. He also handled the criticism heaped on him during the early parts of the season for his mistakes. He didn’t get down on himself and just continued to improve.

Cassel also played well under big game pressure. Two of New England’s biggest losses, to the Colts and Jets, were not at all Cassel’s fault. In fact in the second Jets game the Patriots lost in overtime, Cassel had a brilliant second half but his teammates fumbled the ball away and dropped easy passes for first downs, preventing New England from winning the game outright in regulation. But for a coin flip going the Jets way in overtime, Matt Cassel, with is over 400 yards passing, may have brought the Patriots back from a 24-13 halftime deficit. Cassel also played an excellent game against the Oakland Raiders after losing his father. And while admittedly with a rather weak schedule, the Patriots closed out the season with four straight wins.

Finally, the coaches showed a lot of confidence in Matt Cassel. By the second half of the season the playbook had clearly opened up for Cassel and they had clearly showed confidence that he could get the job done in the passing game.

And there is no way the Patriots give Matt Cassel the franchise tag if they don’t think he will be a good starting quarterback in the league. They will undoubtedly trade Cassel, but if they thought they could not get a good deal for him at his over 14 million dollar salary, they would have simply let him become a free agent. And that speaks volumes for a team that is known for its adept handling of talent. And if reports of Brady’s recovery are not true, there is no way they tie up that kind of salary cap space for a quarterback they don’t believe can get them to the Super Bowl.

Now it certainly is possible that Matt Cassel goes to another team and flops. It is really difficult at the quarterback position to know how a player might fare under another system, with new coaches and teammates. But I don’t believe that will happen. While he might not end up being elite like a Manning or Brady, he definitely, right now, is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and could make a big difference for a playoff team in need of a good quarterback like the Minnesota Vikings, or a bad team trying to rebuild like a San Francisco 49’ers or Kansas City Chiefs.