Mike Carlson is a very respected NFL Pundit here in the UK. Originally from America, Mike played Tight End for Wesleyan University, in Connecticut,¬†¬†from 1968-1972. He moved out to the UK in 1977 and has since assumed many roles, mainly working on Major League Baseball, before freelancing and teaming up with Channel 5 in 1998, presenting Monday Night Football for the UK. He currently works for Channel 4, presenting Sunday Night Football, after Channel 5 dropped their coverage of the sports when ESPN took over broadcasting right for MNF in the UK.
Most importantly, Mike is a Patriots fan. Mike has been good enough to offer all the fans on patsfans.com his very own insight into the sport over here and the Patriots, based on questions I have asked him. Here is what he has to say!
Q: Firstly, the NFL’s influence has been spreading increasingly throughout the globe. Just recently you visited Tanzania and witnessed the first ever American Football match to be played there. How do you feel about the way in which the NFL is expanding overseas, through it’s many media channels and the International Series and what do you think the future holds for the NFL here in Great Britain?
Mike:¬† Well the NFL had nothing to do with the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl, sadly, and realistically football’s always going to be a hard sell as a participant sport when soccer and basketball are so much cheaper and easier to set up and maintain. But the NFL’s focus has changed with the change in commissioners–NFL Europe and game development programmes, which cost money, have gone and the international games, which make money have come: it’s a strategy aimed at raising the profile of the NFL rather than exporting the game itself, and it makes some sense. Though I think a spring development league is a huge positive, and I would restart one even if it were based in Florida, or the Gulf, or Texas and Mexico, etc…
I can see the International Bowl being a long-term winner, but I don’t really see a Super Bowl (time difference problems, sponsor travel problems) as a realistic dream. I also don’t think an NFL team in London will work: where will the players live in the off-season, what will they do with their families in season, where will the front office be, there are lots of practical problems that aren’t insurmountable but would require a lot of cooperation between owners and players. The cost of a development league is really only 40% of what it costs, from the owners’ point of view, because the players would get 60% of the revenue if it isn’t spent anyway. That’s why I thought complaining about the costs of NFL Europe, less than $1 million per team (i.e. $400,000, or one minimum salary player) was short-sighted.
Q:¬† Secondly, the questions a lot of fans are asking right now tend to revolve around the current lockout. What is your stance on this and do you see any quick way out?
Mike: I¬†¬†thought they were quite close when the talks broke down–but the players thought, with their court wins, they had the owners’ backs to the walls and misread the owners’ willingness to wait them out. Basically, I thought the system in place worked very well, the best of all the major American sports, and the owners willingness to throw that away was a signal that the really wealthy teams want more of the pot for themselves, and the really poorer teams think they can do better. Again, the change in commissioners (and in union leaders) has prompted this: Tags was the last remnant of the Rozelle era where the comish could keep the more aggressive owners under wraps for the good of the league. Things like the 18 game season I always saw as give-back items; the real issue is the split, the money that the owners can keep from being shared, and the individual team revenues that don’t go into the league pot. That’s why the owners are so reluctant to open the books: they don’t want the full extent of non-shared revenue to be known, and they don’t want the players to see, in some cases, how many ways the owning family takes money from the franchise, in terms of salary and expenses, which otherwise would be considered their profit.
Q: As usual, the Pats did their usual wheeling and dealing in this years draft, making more surprise moves. How surprised were you that the Patriots failed¬† to add to the front seven in the early stages of the draft, given the lack of pass rush the team has? Do you feel Bill Belichick will address this issue in free agency once the lockout situation has been resolved?
Mike: I was a bit surprised: I thought they’d take a DE like Cameron Jordan or Muhammed Wilkerson somewhere in R1 and maybe not trade the pick: I think Jordan’s another Richard Seymour, though he lacks the size, and Wilkerson may be another David Harris, a guy BB passes on and goes right into the Jets lineup. We know from the past that BB has certain requirements for his OLB, and that the pass-rush candidates often don’t live up. I think his philosophy is that he can use his scheming to create sack opportunities, and Mike Vrabels can have 12 sack years if they execute right. I think too they feel Jermaine Cunningham will be a Willie McGinest type. But BB has never really had a monster rusher, except perhaps McGinest, since Lawrence Taylor at the Giants. Solder surprised me going so early, but he’s very much a Vollmer type: reminds me of Matt Lepsis a bit. I agree with Mike Reiss that Dowling is the key to the Pats’ draft. I’m not convinced he’ll be injury free nor that he was the best value there–on the other hand Brooks Reed, who would’ve been the best rush option available, doesn’t really fit BB’s prototype OLB. I wonder if they’d've preferred to trade pick 33 and use 28, I would have, but they probably got a better deal for 28 with NO. I don’t see any premium pass rushers in free agency, certainly not at OLB (tho they could bring Vrabel back), and I don’t know if they’d want to try to get a year out of a Marques Douglas or Aubrayo Franklin, or Jacques Cesaire, or maybe 2-3 from Cullen Jenkins. Prob not at Jenkins’ price. Marcus Spears is an enigma. Warren could be brought back, tho the signing of Marcus Stroud is more important than people think. I like Dave Ball, but he’s a backup.
Q: During the draft, the Pats took Ryan Mallet in the 3rd round. Belcichick had been quoted as saying he was the best QB on their board. Do you see Mallet as a real long term replacement prospect for Tom Brady and what does this mean for Hoyer?
Mike: Good question, because Hoyer appears to have made good progress, but he doesn’t have Mallet’s upside. It’s a good situation for the Pats. They trust Hoyer, and if Mallet turns out to be everything his potential says, they ought to be able to trade him. Or if they don’t really like Mallet they can showcase him and trade him. Or Hoyer could become one of those guys caught as a backup to two good QBs. Anyway it plays out, they win.
Q: One area for concern in the coming future is the ageing Offensive Line with players out of contract. Do you feel that the Patriots addressed this issue well in the draft and what are your impressions on Nate Solder, the Pats’ number one overall pick?
Mike: Yes, though another guy I thought they’d target was Baylor guard Danny Watkins at 28 or 32, but he went 23 to Philly. They really do need Mankins back, however. I wonder if Kaczur goes to guard, at least until Marcus Cannon is ready. Connolly’s OK, but I wonder about Wendell and Ohrenberger, maybe Ojinnaka plays guard. They may regret letting Ted Larson go last year. I also think Steve Maneri may be their third tackle down the line.
Q: Belichick and the Patriots are notorious for keeping everything behind closed doors. What is your view on how Bill Belichick handles himself with the media and on how difficult it is to get information on the Patriots?
Mike: It’s very difficult. BB answers every question with ‘what’s best for the club’ but rarely explains WHY he thinks it was best. But he does give a lot of general information. I think he learnt not to trust the press from his Cleveland days, because their interests and yours increasingly come into conflict, and face it, none of us know half as much about football as he does.
Q: Finally, I’d like to ask you about the state of the Franchise. What do you feel the 2011 season holds for the Pats?
Mike: If there is a season it could be a good one, because I’m not convinced the Jets or Dolphins will improve. The Jets, however, could be dangerous if the season is shortened, because their D will be ahead of the game and their O can rely on the run. I thought the Jets had another excellent 2 player draft, but watch for Jeremy Kerley, who could be the next Wayne Chrbet, if not Wes Welker. The Pats are a young team with an old core, which could be a problem, because they need to tinker with the O line and DBs (I was surprised they didn’t draft a safety project), and they need a down field threat (which may be Tate or Price. I was a little surprised they went with two RBs in the draft, and I wonder if they will keep four for the season: I dont anticipate either Faulk or Morris coming back, and wonder if they also keep 4 tight ends and use one as a FB. It would have been nice to see who they’d chase among the undrafted guys: Mark Herzlich would have been a natural, a safety like Jeron Johnson or Deunta Williams, maybe C Kris O’Dowd, and DE/DT Cedric Thornton, DE Brando Bair, ILB Josh Byrnes, maybe Ian Williams Martin Parker, or OT Willie Smith all seemed like guys they might chase. The NFL season’s a fascinating chess game and few play chess like Belichick…he’s turned the team over almost completely from the 18-0 season, and they may be a year away, or they may lack the chemistry that team had.