A frustrating game of “wait and see”

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The March 13th deadline to sign players looms like an ominous thunder storm. Over the past few weeks a few players have attracted more attention than others. I posted a blog about one of those players the other week. Another name has garnered a bit of attention: Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. Why has Wallace gotten so much attention recently? Well, for one thing, he is fast.

Another big aspect of the Mike Wallace situation is its uniqueness. Wallace’s rookie contract is up this year making him a restricted free agent. In the past, that would mean the Steelers could sign Wallace with limited to no interruptions from other teams. Under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the rules have changed.

Could the Bengals steal one from their rivals?

Essentially, a team can offer Wallace any amount of money they wish. If the Steelers cannot match that offer, then Wallace goes to that team and Steelers get compensated with a high draft pick. In the case of Wallace that might mean a first round choice. But as this past Friday, the Ravens GM Ossie Newsome effectively took the Ravens out of the Wallace Sweepstake. To be fair, the Ravens have a solid group of receivers.

So if the Ravens do not feel like punching their rivals in the gut, who will? The Cincinnati Bengals may have vested interest in the Pittsburgh wideout. For one, they have the third most money to spend in free agency. More importantly, the team has two first round draft picks to spare. The question for the Bengals is whether or not they want to give up a first round choice for Wallace.

The Bengals are currently trying to rebuild their franchise and getting rid of a first round pick may deter that. They could spend that that pick solidifying a running game that will be missing Cedric Benson. For the Steelers, the extra first round pick would help mend their current offensive and defensive line problems.

The Steelers are ancient along the defensive line and this year’s draft looks deep for both lines. But looking more immediate, the Steelers have to remedy a major cap problem. The Steelers were $25 million over the salary cap when this offseason started. A process of cuts and contract restructurings have brought that number down, but they still need to just break even by March 8th (when free agency begins).

If the Steelers cannot find cap room to match offers for Mike Wallace, then some other team will cash in on the youngster’s talents. If the Steelers are to sign Wallace, then that will mean cutting ties with such veterans as Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and maybe even James Harrison. There are a lot of questions in Pittsburgh and none of them will be quick fixes for Kevin Colbert.

Colbert has some tough choices to make in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, things have gotten messy on the end of Peyton Manning. For the most part, it is still a game of he said/she said, but the Chiefs have made thing interesting. Romeo Crennel ignited an apparent fire when he expressed interest in Manning last week in a press conference. According to league rules, that is tampering.

It's wrong to speak your mind, Romeo.

According to pro football talk, the Colts do not appear to be interested in pressing charges (surprise, surprise). Meanwhile the league has been silent so far. Like most offseason issues, fans will just have to wait and see what happens to the Chiefs.

Personally, this is such a futile matter that it is almost laughable. This is part of what makes the offseason so humorous sometimes. Media outlets seem to look to fill gaps when nothing is there and fodder like this is just not really worthy of several reports. Reporting happenings at Pro Days and the Combine, for example, is worth reporting.

Moving on to other news, according to several reports, it appears that Mario Manningham is done with the Giants. Manningham had a huge post season which included a fantastic Super Bowl performance. This is a sight all too familiar to those that closely follow the NFL. Players have had big Super Bowls before and gone on to less than stellar careers with other teams.

Desmond Howard and Larry Brown are two names that jump out here. Brown had two huge interceptions in Super Bowl XXX. The Raiders signed him to a fat contract after the 1995/96 season and Brown went on to a pretty pedestrian career after that. I am not saying that Manningham is headed for that, be he may be over-stating his value.

According to the NFL.com article, Manningham just wants to see more passes thrown his way. The question is whether or not Manningham is ready to be a leading man yet. He had a very mediocre 523 yards this season in the regular season and only hauled in three touchdowns. Part of the reason for those number may be teams keying on him as well as the emergence of Victor Cruz.

Ah yes. The catch that changed it all.

Whatever the case was for his drop off in production, it raises a lot of questions about his status as the number one wideout on another team. There are a good number of teams out there that would love a receiver as talented as Manningham. The Bears are certainly a team that stands out and the Browns have lacked a number one receiver for years.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the clock is ticking to March 13th. One big factor that may deter teams from signing free agents is the draft. Teams like the Bears may decide to take a chance on one of the fresh young bucks in the drafter rather than signing a free agent. The draft is over 58 days away which is a ton of time for teams to sign, trade, or release players.


What is best for the franchise

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Peyton Manning will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Hands down. But like most veterans, he may not get to choose where and when that ending is. Perhaps you have heard some of the chatter of the last two or three weeks regarding his status as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

According to a report from Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, Manning had four (not three) neck surgeries in the past year. That is a huge piece of information regarding his potential status. According to that report, the Colts fear that Manning’s condition may be chronic. Banks also points to the fact the Peyton’s older brother, Cooper had a spinal condition that kept him

Irsay is facing the toughest situation of his career. http://cdn1.sbnation.com

Colts owner Jim Irsay continually fights the notion that Manning is done in Indy. According to pro football talk yesterday, Manning and the Colts are already in contract negotiations. However, according to a new report today, Irsay and Manning have NOT had talks yet. The whole news cycle revolving his status has been dizzying and it seems to get worse by the hour.

The Colts would have to pay him $28 million if they want to keep him. The Colts most likely do not want to drop $28 million on a veteran. Irsay claims he wants Manning back as a Colt, but only if Manning restructures his contract. Whatever the case is, it appears they are about to draft Andrew Luck.

Could this man be leading the Colts soon? http://a.espncdn.com

In addition, there is even more uncertainty revolving Manning following this report of a fourth surgery. In the sports illustrated article, Don Banks said that league sources are reporting that Manning has developed bone spurs where his neck was fused. This may lead to further surgeries to repair that area of his neck (hence the fear of chronic problems).

Even more troubling is how Manning attempted to play before his neck was fully healed. He could hardly throw 25 yards, but was willing to play a red-zone-only role in the Colts late-season game against the Houston Texans. While this is primarily ludicrous from a health stand point, this is also mind numbing in terms of football sense.

It is clearly not a situation like baseball where you can just bring in a closer off of the bench. Momentum and execution of the players matter a great deal more in football. Having Manning simply come in and throw passes in the red-zone could lead to less points. Those points would bcome critical for a team that is only playing for pride.

No matter what happens, Manning would be the latest in a slew of veterans and elite players who have had to either restructure their deals  or be cut loose in the past week. Behind thhealth factors, the key question here is: will he be willing to restructure? The deal the Colts does not even guarantee him a spot on the Colts rosters for 2013.

Adding to the Colts’ delimma is the fact that teams are currently drooling at the prospects of Manning becoming an unrestricted free agent. Despite his health factors, there would be teams willing to drop cash for Manning. Think of a coach like Ken Whisenhunt out in Arizona who may have to fight for his job soon.

"Whiz" has been looking for a repeat.....but has fallen a bit short. http://www.cardinalsgab.com

Sure he has coached the Cardinals to two postseason trips in his tenure, but his last trip came in the 2009-2010 playoffs. The NFL is all about “what have you done for me lately?” And the Cardinals have struggled to a total record of 13-19 since losing horribly to the Saints in January of 2010. They would love a veteran like Manning.

The last thing that Jim Irsay wants as an owner is to see his beloved, future Hall of Fame quarterback go to another team and win a championship. Outside of Arizona, there will be plenty of suitors licking their chops. This is where Andrew Luck comes into play.

The Colts currently have the number one overall pick in this April’s draft. All signals are indicating that the Colts will take Luck. It seems like the only choice the team has with that pick. Watching Luck play in the Fiesta Bowl, he seemed an awful lot like a young Peyton Manning. It was not a perfect performance, but there are aspects of his game that appear professional.

The thing that separates Luck from other college quarterbacks is that this: when he comes to the line of scrimmage, he has three calls in the huddle he can audible to. That is trait that Peyton Manning had when Tom Moore was his OC. Now, Bruce Arians is the new offensive coordinator and that brings in ideas he used while he was in Pittsburgh.

Arians likes to spread things out and use a variety of formations. Luck appears to have no problem grasping that concept. Luck can also throw a mean bubble screen, which is no doubt going to excite Arians.

In the coming weeks, what the Colts end up doing with Manning will determine what happens once they draft Luck. Here are the two options the Colts have on the table:

  • Keep Manning and draft Luck
  • Release Manning and draft Luck

The first option appears to be the safest one on paper. But there are far too many unknowns with that choice. What if Luck decides to pull a John Elway and skip town for another team? That happened when the Colts tried to draft Elway in 1983. Of course Elway went on to win two Super Bowls with the Broncos and the Colts struggled to one AFC title game appearance in that time.

But it was a very close call......

I am not saying that history would repeat itself exactly in the manner. After all, Denver is still hung-up on Tebowmania. But what I am saying is this: if Manning ever heals fully, then he still has mileage left in tank. Luck is young and may not want to sit behind a legend for 3-4 years. Unless, of course, Manning plans on mentoring the young gun.

But no legend who values their starting job has ever really done that. Joe Montana didn’t hold Steve Young’s hand while he developed under him. Brett Favre scoffed at the idea of mentoring a young Aaron Rodgers. the comforting thing for Andrew Luck is that both situations worked out pretty well for both backups.

If it turns out that Luck is impatient, then Colts would have no choice but to let Manning enter free agency. Doing this would ensure that new head coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians get “their guy.”  They could shape and mold Luck however they choose without worrying about him being stuck behind a veteran.

For Manning, it would be strange territory. Seeing him in anything but a Colts’ blue uniform would be a weird site. But the NFL is a business and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay must do what he feels is right for his team. This is a team that has more problems than just at QB. The performance of Joseph Addai has dropped off due to injuries. In his place, Donald Brown was not much better either.

Part of this has to do with an offensive line that was not very good. On top of that, the Colts defense this past season was not much better. It may take a few years for the Colts to rebuild what was once a model for regular season consistency. A promising first-round QB draft pick is not going to help all of those problems. If anything, it was Manning’s presence under center that masked those flaws all these years.

One thing is very clear here: no matter what decision the Colts make, Manning’s health will be the key. This applies to teams interested in Manning as a free agent as well. Teams like Arizona and Washington will be bidding for like no tomorrow if he hits the market. The clock is ticking and the Colts have until March 8th to make a choice.

What is your take on the Manning drama? Should the Colts keep him or cut him? Post your comments below.

Random Notes

  • Randy Moss is officially trying to come back to the NFL. He joins Terrell Owens as two once-great-but-old receivers trying to make a comeback. The funny part is how few team seems to be interested in either receiver. It might have something to do with age, but most likely with how big of a lockerroom liability both are. Moss is the laziest receiver who will ever get into the Hall of Fame. But hey at least an IFL franchise has extended an offer.
  • Speaking of players trying to comeback, ESPN is reporting that former Redskins’ back Clinton Portis is trying to do what Moss and Owens are (or aren’t?). Portis is an older back and it is not clear how effective he can be.
  • Hines Ward’s career in Pittsburgh may be over pretty soon. According to rumors floating around, the franchise plans to cut ties with the Super Bowl XL MVP wideout. Talk about a business. Ward is one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise. While it will be sad for many to see him go, the Steelers have plenty of talent at wide receiver. If they can somehow keep the three-headed monster of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders, then new OC Todd Haley will have a lot of toys to play with.
  • Ron Jaworski has been let go from the ESPN Monday Night Football broadcasting booth. Jaws was one of the more reliable analysts on that staff and his insight will be missed. On the other hand, Jon Gruden has proved himself to be a potent analyst. This will be the first time in 15 years that MNF has had a two-person broadcast team. The Tirico-Gruden combination does not have the ring, the résumé, or the name that Michaels-Madden had back in the day. Time will tell on this one, but it appears to be a very risky move.

And so it begins……the search for answers……..


When Tom Brady’s last-gasp Hail Mary fell incomplete, the 2012 NFL offseason began. Super Bowl XLVI will go down as a very good installment in the greatest sporting event on the American Sports calendar. With the beginning of the offseason comes slew of rumors, heresay,, and oddball news. The shocker of the past week goes to Roger Goodell for talking about closing down operations for the Pro Bowl.

In this Pro Football Talk post,  it says the Goodell met with DeMaurie Smith to talk about closing it down. This is a very usrpring move, if it is done, by a league that is headed down the path of high TV and flag football a more passive style of play. The rules in recent years have been adjusted so that:

  1. Quaterbacks are well protected. These are priceless commodities and the NFL simply cannot have guys like Brady, Brees, and/or Rogers go down like the older Manning brother did.
  2. Offenses could score a boatload of points. The new way of NFL fans love high-scoring games. A lot. Which is funny because the NFL playoffs this season featured one game in which both teams were in the 30s in points.

Now the NFL is nowhere close to ending the Pro Bowl.  Even still, what is the big deal if the NFL All-Star game is a bust? It is only a pointless football game played between the Super Bowl and Conference Championship Sunday. But that might be one of the game’s current downfalls. No matter what game or games are in that two week gape before the super Bowl, the focus will always be on the Super Bowl.

Or a member of the Manning family (more on this later). http://blogcertified.com

More to the point: the ratings were up for the Pro Bowl this season. According this article, the ratings were the higest of any program on TV that night and day. this is due largely to the popularity of the NFL and not the interest of the game. Fans are still excited to see some of the games super stars . The problem is that some of the stars fans want to see are in the Super Bowl.

If the game already means nothing, then moving it . There are only two options moving forward for the NFL: make it matter or make it fun. The fun aspect is probably the more important of the two. I do not see a way for the NFL to make it matter in terms of post season play. Beyond just conference pride and money, there is not much there.

Although the game is not going anywhere any time soon, here are some things I believe would improve the quality of the game:

Move it to the end of the season

The NFL is one of the few sports that has its all-star game at or near the end of the season. Moving it back to the week after the Super Bowl gives the season a nice fun closing act. It reinstates players who would normally miss due to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are two names this seasons Pro Bowl desperately needed. Not only do these players provide better entertainment but they are bigger names.

No offense to Andy Dalton, but he is not biggest draw in the world. What he did as a rookie was phenomenal, but he has a ways to go in terms of Marketabilitiy. The point of an all-star game is to conceivably have all the good eggs in one basket. Although ratings have been good, if every player the fans voted in played, then TV ratings might just rise.

Pay these men

I know it is their job to play football and that some players have contract clauses with Pro Bowl benefits. I get that. But sometimes it seems like the players are lolly gagging out there. Aaron Rogers blasted his NFC teammates for their lack of effort. If that is the case, then there need to be added incentives outside of just conference pride. These men need a payday.

the NFL is a billion dollar franchise that can throw money at teams for a new stadium. I think they can provide money to get the effort of players up. But in case that does not work……

Insert some real football rules

Having real football being played is a key. The game has just gone too vanilla with simple plays that even the dumbest coach would not call during a preseason game. The current rules take any intensity out of the game. Let the defensive players run wild and hit people. After all that is their job and why they were selected.

Let them play! Let them play! Let them play! http://media.sacbee.com

People still talk about the hit that Sean Taylor (may he rest in peace) put on former bills punter Brian Moorman. It was a vicious hit and (while yes it was on a punter) it is something this game needs.I know it kills some of the more intense players like Patrick Willis and James Harrison that the game has gotten soft.

While player safety is important, so is their right to play. They know full and well what it could mean to their health to to play this game. So in that case, just let them go out there and play. They do not need to loosen up the rules to playoff level, but do not make it so we are one unnecessary roughness away from touch football. That is no fun.

Keep it in Hawaii and broadcast it on ESPN

When people think of the Pro Bowl, I can almost garauntee that the first image that pops into their head is Alhoa Stadium in Hawaii:

It is simply a beautiful venue for a sporting event. The weather is almost always perfect down (unless there’s a hurricane). So why would the NFL change it to where the game is being played at the same site of the Super Bowl? For marketing purposes alone, the NFL just needs to keep it in Hawaii.

However, the NFL is once again messing with the location. Pro Football Talk is reporting that the game is in talks to be held in New Orleans, the site of Super Bowl XLVII. changing sites like this is a bad idea when the appeal of Hawaii is so much greater.

If they do not stick with one site, then they need to stick with on broadcast station: ESPN. Look at the last time the game was on ESPN. It set a ten year record for the Pro Bowl. MLB and the NBA both use ESPN as an outlet to broadcast their respective all-star games from. It is time for ESPN to buy the exclusive rights of that game. The fact that ESPN’s one-year stint as the game’s outlet should have sent a huge signal to the NFL.

Instead they kept experimenting with different locations, times, andgimmicks. I mean what was having players tweet from computer kiosks supposed to do? It is not like we were likely to see Megatron tweet something outrageous. This was a lame attempt at connecting with an audience the NFL thinks it is bound to lose.

I'm sure fans were dying to know what players had to say........ http://media.whosay.com

They will not lose them if they make the experience fun for the fans. Think of the MLB and NBA all-star games once more. Major League Baseball has the Homerun Durby and the Celebrity All-Star Game. The NBA has the Dunk and Three-point contests. That is exactly what the NFL should be doing.

Fun and creative events and challenges during the week leading up to the game

Why exactly did the NFL get rid of the strongest man contest again? I thought fans loved that stuff. where is the NFL’s version of the Homerun Derby? They should be pitting Maurice Jones-Drew against Clay Matthews in an Oklahoma drill with no blockers. They should be having foot races between Devon Hester, Mike Wallace, and DeSean Jackson. They should be having Brees, Rodgers, and Brady go head-to-head in passing competitions.

Alas, they are not doing these things to engage fans. They sit and watch while the game’s popularity and positive PR goes out the window. If the NFL really cared about this game, then it would be exerting every creative juice it has to make it better. It is a profitabe product and if they insert some of these modifications, it might make it better. One can only hope.

P.S.: I also hope that the competition committee will consider revoking the defensive rules put in place last year. But that won’t happen.

The Latest on the Coaching Carousel

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The NFL offseason is home to a lot of sideline drama. Part of that drama is what is often called the “coaching carousel.” In short, this is the process by which coaches are hired, fired, and sometimes even hang up the headset. Already a whopping seven coaches have found homes with new teams.

The most curious of these hires were by the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs. Jacksonville went with former bills head coach and seasoned coordinator Mike Mularkey. Mularkey’s tenure with the Bills was less than stellar. He was 14-18 in two seasons and was then promptely fired. Mularkey is more of a coordinator than a head coach. He can put together a good to great offensive attack, but his weakness appears to be managiong a big picture.

This is a must for a head coach. Mularkey led promenint attacks in Buffalo and before that Pittsburgh. He should have just stayed as an offensive coordinator. The same can be said for Romeo Crennel who was just hired as the Chiefs successor to Todd Haley. Crennel was head coach of the Browns for fours season.

Crennel will need to step his game up in KC. http://cdn1.sbnation.com

His work under Bill Belichick as a defensive coordinator was great. His work as a head coach leaves a lot to be desired. It remains to be seen whether or not these men can deliver as head coaches. The problem for both is that neither is inheriting a great roster. There are good players on both, but these are hardly teams that scare anyone.

Last week, it was reported that Chuck Pagano would take over for Jim Caldwell as the Colts head coach. Pagano is the latest young coach to be hired. It is interesting to see his staff form as the days count down to Super Bowl XLVI. Pagano made his first move hiring recently retired Steelers OC Bruce Arians.

Arians was the much maligned coordinator of the Steelers offense for five years before he was let go by the Rooneys. This was without consulting their $100 million franchise quarterback first. Roethlisberger was in love with Arians and went on record saying how upset he was. But it should be interesting to see how Arians works with Pagano.

Arians ran an offense that was good between the 20s, but pretty mediocre in the red zone. The Steelers were a bland 17th in red zone efficiency. Among the complaints about Arians’ system was the lack of a true fullback (Arians doesn’t believe in the position), bad calls on third down, and slow-developing red zone plays.

Back from retirement so soon? http://www.inquisitr.com

The Colts also nearly snagged the Steelers linebacker coach Kieth Butler. Back in 2009, Butler was all but garuanteed the defensive coordinator once Dick LeBeau decides to retire. It does not look like LeBeau is leaving anytime soon either. Given his track record as defensive genius, he has earned the right ot decide for himself.

As for the vacancy at the Steelers offensive coordinator, it appears that the Steelers are targeting former Chiefs headman Todd Haley. Haley was the offensive coordinator with the Cardinals when they went to Super Bowl XLIII. If nothing else, Haley has shown a great ability to work with what he gets.

That being said, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that it is unlikely that Haley will get hired. This might have something to do with the fact that Haley constantly fueds with players and coaches. Pittsburgh is a franchise that prides itself on integrity and doing things right. The last thing they need is ah hot-head coach arguing with Ben Roethlisberger on what play to call.

Other coaching hires in the last month include former Titans headman Jeff Fisher going to the Rams. Fisher had a good amount of success with the Titans and had them within one yardof forcing overtime the Super Bowl. It is extremely ironic that Fisher will be the next head coach at St. Louis. He has some  pieces in place that could help right away. Sam Bradford is young quarterback who has showed some promise early in his career.

Can Bradford rebound and avoid being a bust? http://images.askmen.com

However Bradford did have the unfortunate sophomore slump that claims many young quarterbacks. That should not be an issue because it takes a few years for a quarterbacks true colors to form. For all we know, Bradford could still be an all-pro in the making. But St. Louis is going to have to work fast to surround him with weapons. As Bleacher Report wrote yesterday, the Rams have options.

Fisher and whoever their new general manager is really have a few questions to answer. As Bleacher Report so rightly pointed out, the Colts likely will not surrender that number one pick. ESPN came out with an article back when the playoffs start where Colts owner Jim Irsay came out and pretty much said the Colts will be drafting Luck.

With that in mind, what is the best option for the Rams? Given the amount of money they have invested in Bradford, the smart move would be to draft a wide receiver. Just looking at the kinds of receivers in this years draft, that would be a great move. Their leading candidate, and most likely selection, is Justin Blackmon. Black is the explosive wideout out of Oklahoma State. He is difficult to cover and makes big plays in the clutch.

Blackmon will be a playmaker for years to come. http://nflsoup.com

Time will with the Rams and other newly-hired coaches. Once the super Bowl is over, the offseason and free agency will kick into over-drive. With no lockout this time, there will real offseason news to discuss. That will be a big relief in its own right.