With training camp about ready to begin, it’s probably a good time to delve into the burning issues in the NFL as we enter the League’s 84th season. As usual, this offseason has brought a lot of address changes and surprises around the League. So, without further ado, here’s XXXVIII thoughts, questions, rants, and raves for your viewing pleasure as we hurtle towards February 1, 2004 and Super Bowl 38. Items I-XIX will appear this week and XX through XXXVIII are on deck for the week that opens camp.
I. Will the Patriots free-agency signings on defense be the difference maker for a team that missed the playoffs on a third tie-breaker? Patriots fans everywhere sure hope so. It’s hard not to love the signings of linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and safety Rodney Harrison. Colvin brings arguably the best pass rushing threat the Patriots have had since Andre Tippett and Harrison brings a fearless style that will have opposing receivers thinking twice before attempting any crossing patterns. But at the end of the day, doesn’t a good deal of a team’s success come down to being able to stay away from the injury bug?
II. Will Bill Parcells bring the magic back to Big D? Not initially. He has no running back, no quarterback, and a so-so defense. What we will see in Dallas this year though is similar to his first year with the Jets. A ball-control offense and a disciplined, but lacking, defense that will stay in many more games than it otherwise should.
III. Who is the coach on the shortest leash as this season begins? It has to be a three-way tie between St. Louis’ Mike Martz, Miami’s Dave Wannstedt, and Seattle’s Mike Holmgren. Martz has to prove that last year’s Super Bowl hangover was a fluke and that he can handle the quarterback circus that could come to town if Kurt Warner does not return to his 2001 form. Miami fans are running out of patience with Wannstedt and his inability to solve the annual Red Sox-like late season swoon by the Dolphins. Holmgren has proven nothing in his time in Seattle and, in fact, has hurt his standing with his mediocre performance as a general manager. He was relieved of his general manager duties so it will be interesting to see if he can finally take the Seahawks over their perrenial 8-8 hump.
IV. Will the Jets survive the pillaging of their roster by the Redskins? I’m not sure. But I do know that the opening game of the season, on Thursday September 4, will definitely be a must watch. Don’t be surprised if the Jets come out for this game with something to prove like the Patriots did against the Steelers on that first Monday night last year.
V. Is this the last go around for the Patriots roster as we have known it for the last five years? With Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy scheduled to make about a combined $17 million in 2004 and their hiring of notably difficult agent Carl Posten, next year could conceivably see both of these stalwarts playing elsewhere. Incidentally, according to Miguel’s salary cap info on Patsfans.com, if the Patriots wish to cut both of them after this season, they would still account for about $9.75 million in dead money for 2004. Also, Damian Woody will be a free agent at the end of this season but his inability to adequately snap in the shotgun formation will keep him from being paid blue chip money.
VI. History has shown that it is typically better to take the decent offer from your hometown club rather than striking out for a large payday. Just ask Miami’s Oronde Gadsden. He turned down a decent offer from the Dolphins last season, promptly suffered a season-ending injury, and couldn’t get a decent offer on the free-agency market this offseason. He then had to come back to the Dolphins for little more than the veteran minimum.
VII. After many years of holding training camp at Bryant College, this year the Patriots will move to a new facility right next to the stadium in Foxboro. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo recently reported on NESN that the Patriots are planning to hold some night practices for fans that actually have to work for a living. Considering that my lasting memory of training camp at Bryant College will be collapsing of heat stroke as a 9-year old while waiting in line for a John Hannah autograph, I’m looking forward to night practices.
VIII. Okay, kids. Here are the sites for the Super Bowl for the next five years: Houston, Detroit, Jacksonville, Miami, and Phoenix. Out of this group, which one doesn’t belong with the others? That’s correct: Detroit. I have just about had it with this notion that cold-weather cities are somehow entitled to host an occasional Super Bowl. And this beef also goes for the ridiculous notion of giving a Super Bowl to New York or Washington. I just don’t see how hosting a Super Bowl in 2009 is going to help heal the pain of September 11th in these two great cities. A much better idea might be to memorialize the day every year with one of the three teams hosting a home game on that day regardless of the day of the week it falls on.
IX. While I’m on a Super Bowl site selection kick, if you ask me, the Super Bowl should rotate between Florida, New Orleans, and California every year. These areas are terrific mid-winter destinations and handle large events without breaking a sweat.
X. I would like to present to you two off-season gems from ESPN Page 2’s Gregg Easterbrook. His column “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” is a hit-or-miss in my book but he occasionally delivers some pretty good stuff. After draft day, he made the point that a good indicator of a team’s historical draft day success is the amount of playoff appearances that a team has had in the last ten years. Would you care to guess the five teams who have had the most playoff appearances in the last ten years? It’s Miami, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and your New England Patriots. Despite the Super Bowl win, I sense that Patriots fans everywhere somehow still have an inferiority complex when it comes to their team’s standing across the league. Patriots’ fans should be proud of their team’s Super Bowl victory and perhaps, just as importantly, for the consistency that the team has demonstrated over the course of the last ten years.
XI. Easterbrook also pointed out “all mock drafts from all sources were similarly wide of the mark and…mock drafts exist primarily to make weather forecasts seem reliable by comparison.” Amen. The amazing thing is that we all still crave these mock drafts.
XII. Over a “fried everything” platter at Bleachers Sports Pub in Portland, Mr. Patsfans.com himself, Ian Logue, pointed out that the annual Street & Smith’s Pro Football preview issue has the Patriots going back to the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Frankly, this is the last thing we need. Can you ever remember a year when any of these preview issues were close to being right? The unpredictability of sports, and particularly the NFL, is the main reason we are all so enamored with this endeavor.
XIII. The League looks foolish by aggressively pursuing a relocation of a franchise to the Los Angeles market when most people could care less. The good people of Indianapolis, San Diego, and Minnesota do not deserve the type of emotional black mail that fans are subjected to when franchises threaten to move. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I came away with the impression that Los Angeles currently does have a home team. Everywhere you look, it was Raiders this and Raiders that. There is so much to do in Southern California that a new team, no matter how good, will always be a second-class citizen. I suppose that if a team does have to move to LA, the best bet would have to be the San Diego Chargers. As California driving goes, they are right down the road and have a history in Los Angeles as they played there for a few years at the dawn of the AFL.
XIV. There was a great deal of talk this offseason about making all kinds of changes to overtime. After much debate, overtime will look exactly the same this year as it has in the past. Last year, I advocated for each team to be able to get at least one shot with the ball in overtime. Perhaps a more incremental approach for now would be to move the overtime kickoff up five yards to the thirty-five yard line. If memory serves me right, this is the idea of one Mr. Belichick.
XV. Overall, I have no major complaints about the Patriots draft selections. However, I wish that they had picked up a young running back in the middle rounds to develop. Try as I might to be a Patriots apologist, I am very uneasy about the running game as training camp opens.
XVI. File this under “you probably don’t care but…” Rich Eisen, formerly of ESPN , will change hats and host a nightly show on the NFL’s new satellite and cable network.
XVII. I am pleased to announce that the (Windham, ME) Suburban News has picked up my regular column for the upcoming season. Please join me in welcoming them to the ever-growing family that is Patsfans.com. If you think your local weekly paper would be interested in carrying this sorry excuse for a column, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com
XVIII. Do you get the feeling that Emmitt Smith in Arizona is the football equivalent of Willie Mays in a New York Mets uniform? It just won’t look right.
XIX. NFL Europe is no more. Recent news reports have the NFL pulling the plug on this ten-year experiment. Ron Del Duca of profootballtalk.com is pushing the idea of an eight-team true NFL minor league that would play in non-NFL cities. Under his plan, four NFL teams would pool players to form a team. I like his idea that the minor league could play on Wednesday night and therefore not run into any conflicts with high school or college games that occur towards the end of the week. Wouldn’t the new NFL Network be the perfect venue for this venture? Compared to all the recent non-NFL leagues (Arena League, NFL Europe, XFL) this venture would have the best chance of succeeding given a more direct affiliation with the teams in the League.
That’s it for this week. Tune in next week for XX-XXXVIII. I would be happy to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org