No Longer Your Dad’s NFL
ORLANDO, Fla. — The news here this week at the annual NFL meetings at a ritzy Ritz in central Florida? Officiating and an effort to create a more virtuous culture. That’s what you’ll be reading and hearing about from the meetings. Not expanding the playoffs from 12 teams to 14, which won’t happen until at least 2015. Not the push by the Patriots and some others to move the PAT from the 2-yard line to the 25. So that means officiating czar Dean Blandino is going to be the star of these meetings, not Roger Goodell or the rulesmeisters, Rich McKay or Jeff Fisher.
I’ll get to the virtue stuff in a bit. At the risk of writing too much about officiating, I’m going to do it again this week. The league has been working hard behind the scenes to improve the consistency of the replay system, as well as the communication between the seven officials on the field during games. In a 30-minute conversation with Blandino on Sunday night, he told me that members of the league’s 17 officiating crews will be able to talk to each other on the field during games.
“We’re going to implement an official-to-official communications system, so all seven officials can communicate wirelessly,” Blandino said. “Each official will have an earpiece, a microphone, and just a little radio pack where they can communicate in a closed system, encrypted.
“We’ve tested this the last two years, and we feel it gives us better communication, more efficient communication pre-snap—when you’re talking about coverages, especially downfield when you have three downfield officials. Who’s covering what receiver? Now they read the formation, they decide which receiver they’re going to cover, but there’s no check and balance. They’re 30, 40 yards away from the other officials they might need to talk to. Now they can communicate. ‘I’ve got the widest guy, I’ve got the second guy inside.’ ”
The benefit after the play, Blandino said, is that a back judge who sees pass interference from behind the line of scrimmage will no longer have to run 25 or 30 yards to tell the referee whom the flag is on. The system is not an open mike [that proved chaotic during preseason trials] but rather a push-to-talk system. In my example, the back judge would push his button and say to the ref, “I’ve got a DPI [defensive pass interference] on 24 Baltimore,” and save a few seconds. Said Blandino, “It’s just a natural progression in communications improvement.”
Replays are going to be fast and furious, and the officiating command center had better hope three reviews—or more—never happen simultaneously out of commercial.
That’s an inside-football change most fans won’t notice. The league hopes the major replay proposal gets passed—and that fans won’t notice this one either. Most often, fans only notice replay when it is administered differently by different crews. If the replay tweak that the Competition Committee hopes to see passed is indeed approved—allowing the NFL officiating department to have a hand in replay decisions—consistency should improve in 2014.
The replay proposal would work this way: Once the game referee announces on the field that he will be reviewing a play, a communications line from the league office will go live in the ref’s ear. On the other end he’ll have either Blandino or the NFL’s senior director of officiating, Alberto Riveron, a former ref. (In the case of simultaneous replays, Blandino can talk to one ref and Riveron the other. Blandino said there was never an instance in 2013 of three replays occurring simultaneously without the benefit of a TV timeout that enabled at least one of them to be put on hold for a few seconds, while the other two could be properly adjudicated.)
“Between me and Al Riveron,” Blandino said, “we feel we can adjudicate multiple reviews going on at once. Over 65 percent of our reviews go to TV break anyway, so we have a built-in two-minute window [to help us].”
One big benefit of communicating with the referee before he goes under the hood is that another set of eyes can use the extra time to study the play and advise him. While a coach throws a challenge flag, and while the referee goes over to hear what the coach wants to challenge—and while the ref gets into position and announces the challenge—Blandino might have already had the chance to see three or four replays. So as the ref jogs over to the monitor to see the replays for himself and judge the call, he can have two men who sit in judgment of all refs, Blandino and Riveron, scout the play to advise him on the best angles to watch.
“We can start reviewing it even before the challenge is initiated,” Blandino said. “Once a challenge is initiated, we would be in communication with the replay official. What is the issue? What are the angles we want to show the ref? Once the ref is done talking to the coach and making the announcement, now the ref can be a part of that conversation. We feel a lot of times we can have it set up and a direction for the referee before he even gets [under the hood].”
The issue came to the fore with a bad replay decision by ref Jeff Triplette last year in Cincinnati on a close play at the goal line. “That call obviously was a mistake,” said Blandino. “We have 17 referees and obviously we have a standard that’s consistent with visual evidence. But maybe all of our 17 referees … they’re not going to be 100 percent consistent. We know that some people may interpret certain plays a certain way. We feel from a standardization point and a consistency point, there’s a handful of people in New York who can oversee the process. We’re going to make more consistent decisions. In every review we will be part of the conversation.”
The NFL handled 423 replay reviews last year, about 1.6 per game. In the busiest time slot, early in the afternoon on Sundays, there can be as many as 10 games going on at once. It’s going to be fast and furious, and the officiating command center had better hope three reviews—or more—never happen simultaneously out of commercial.
Now for the logical question: When will the league go to centralized officiating review out of New York, with all replay reviews being handled in-house by Blandino’s staff? Hockey does it that way. Baseball will start doing it that way this year.
“We want to look at how the consult process goes,” Blandino said. “Maybe there’s some unintended consequences of what we’re proposing. In hockey they have far fewer reviews. They all revolve around goals, for the most part. In our game, the biggest issue is inside the last two minutes, when the replay official has to initiate a review of a play. To do that in New York, how would we initiate a review of the play without actually being there to see it take place? That’s probably the biggest hurdle to going to a fully centralized operation.”
The NHL has shown that the disconnect between the ice and Toronto is unimportant; all that matters is getting the play right. Eventually, I think the NFL moves replay review to New York, run by Blandino. The first step is making sure Blandino and Riveron don’t exacerbate the inconsistency of replay reviews by making a Triplette-like error. You never know, because of the whole human-error thing. But I think the extra set of eyes in New York will help the process.
* * *
Guns Junior Is on the Way
The worst-kept secret around the NFL is no long under wraps: If he passes his physical and his background check, Shawn Hochuli, son of Ed “Biceps of Stone” Hochuli, will make his NFL officiating debut this fall. That’s what Blandino told me Sunday night.
“We’ve hired or extended offers to some of the officials in our advanced development program,” said Blandino. “But it is contingent on a physical exam, and then we take it to the next level with the background check. But once that clears, yes, we have offered Shawn a position.”
“Will he be on his dad’s crew?” I asked.
“That remains to be seen,” Blandino said. “I’m leaning in one direction, but we’ll see.”
Ed Hochuli, 63, enters his 25th NFL officiating season this fall. His son has been a back judge and referee in the Pac-12 and has been a prospect in the league’s developmental program. No word if he’s as verbose (hey, I like the verbosity!) as his dad. And though he looks to be in good shape, Shawn’s no match for the pumped-up Ed Hochuli.
* * *
The league’s coaches and general managers will hear about team-building and sportsmanship this morning from a man named Dov Seidman, an ethicist and author of HOW: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything. That’s in line with the initiative Goodell and others in the league are working on, to improve the locker-room culture and ensure that no Incognito-Martin scandals happen again.
Seidman was the keynote speaker addressing the league Sunday evening—the NFL has been big on stars like Bill Clinton and Condoleezza Rice in the past, but Seidman’s appearance was fitting this year because of the recent bullying scandal—and he hit some of the notes you’d expect. “Command and control as a way of running a business is gone,” said one league veteran who heard Seidman on Sunday night. “Collaboration is in now … Pete Carroll’s way, we’re all in this together. I think it was a good message on building values and a workplace culture on doing what’s right.”
Expect to hear that as a refrain when owners and club officials talk about the lessons of the week. There’s no doubt the league will soon hand down whatever discipline is coming from the Miami bullying case, and I’m told it’s going to be instructive and treatment-based rather than simply punitive.
* * *
The State of Manziel
So the long awaited pro day workout for Johnny Manziel will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. in College Station, on the Texas A&M campus. It will be a scripted 50- to 60-pass workout designed and run by Manziel’s personal quarterback coach, George Whitfield. Manziel will have four familiar receivers: college mates Mike Evans (himself a likely first-round pick), Travis Labhart, Ben Malena and Derel Walker. Because of the wide disparity of opinions around the NFL (including those among opinion-swayers in the media) about Manziel, this is probably the single most important workout any player will have before the May draft.
Manziel returned to Texas on Thursday. He’ll gather with Whitfield and the receivers and go through two or three dry runs of the script between now and late Wednesday, so when Thursday comes Manziel will know exactly what’s coming—as if he doesn’t already.
“It’s going to come down a cold, isolated execution of a workout the NFL wants to see,” said Whitfield.
Whitfield’s goal for Manziel’s pro day is to have him take a snap from center and drop back as though he’s been doing it for years, even though he was mostly a shotgun quarterback for his seven high school and college seasons. Usually, a workout shows NFL scouts and coaches what a player is going to have to do in the NFL, but it isn’t always that way.
No matter how good a day Manziel has on Thursday, there still will be questions about his ability to operate in an NFL pocket until he proves himself against a pass rush.
Two years ago, Andrew Luck went to great pains to show teams at his pro day that he was more mobile than he was perceived to be. Similarly, Manziel will throw more than half of his attempts from the pocket, because anyone who’s watched tape of him understands how good he is at improvising and throwing on the run.
But no matter how good a day Manziel has on Thursday, with no defenders on the field, there still will be questions about his ability to operate in an NFL pocket until he proves himself against a pass rush. Most often in college, Manziel took off instead of taking a quick read of the defense and firing an accurate throw from the pocket when faced with pressure. “For better or worse,” said the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock on Friday, “what he needs to show the NFL, he can’t show in shorts and a T-shirt, and he won’t be able to show until training camp. I’m guessing the throws he needs to make from the pocket he’ll make on Thursday. People will want to see his arm strength and his accuracy from the pocket.”
We’re really in a fascinating time, 45 days out from the first day of the draft. We’ve gone from feeling it’s a sure thing that the top three quarterbacks—Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Manziel—are locks to be picked in the top eight to wondering if one or more of them could plummet to late in the first round, or out of it. Bridgewater’s workout was surprising last week because the ball didn’t come out of his hand with the kind of velocity NFL teams hoped to see. Bortles did well in his workout, but his deep balls weren’t accurate. Manziel goes third, in front of some skeptical NFL coaches and scouts, with a drumbeat of negativity growing louder in the backdrop. Last week, respected ESPN tapehead Merril Hoge said Manziel “has absolutely no instinct or feel for pocket awareness. When traffic comes around him, he runs, and that’s dangerous in the NFL.”
Mayock seems wary as well, but he’s also open to the seductive powers of Manziel’s playmaking ability, a trait that few quarterbacks on any level can match. “I’m a big believer in playmakers,” Mayock said. “Last year, I didn’t know how good Russell Wilson would be—and [in 2012] I didn’t know where he’d be drafted. But I did know he was like a basketball player in the gym, and when you’re picking teams, you want him on your team because you know your team will be winning all day and never have to leave the floor. It’s the same with Johnny.”
So now it’s up to Manziel to see where he fits in this draft, with so many teams at the top of the draft needing a passer, and so many that are unsure if they can trust the confident 5-11 7/8 kid with the keys to their franchise. And it’s up to Whitfield to orchestrate the show on Thursday.
“We are where we set out to be,” Whitfield told me over the weekend. “For a quarterback who took the majority of his snaps in high school from the shotgun and the majority of his snaps in college from the shotgun, he had a lot of work to do. But now five- and seven-step drops are routine for him. He can drop with his eyes closed, on grass, on turf, at full speed, at slow speed. He’s got it down. I feel the responsibility is owed to those evaluating you, to answer the perceptions people have for him. That is job one Thursday.
“This day is very important for Johnny. With him, you’ve got people saying he’s purely an improviser and has no business playing on Sundays. In this workout, he can go verify or validate a skill set he’ll need in the NFL. That’s important. I think he’s done a good job of increasing his power throwing the football. He knows at the next level he has to be able to contest the game’s best corner on the perimeter. And he is going to have throw competitive balls in the middle of the field.”
It’ll be must-see TV on Thursday, Manziel from the pocket.
* * *
Someone Smarter Than Me Must Explain This
Blaine Gabbert was traded on March 11 from the Jags to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick.
Matt Schaub was traded on Friday from Houston to Oakland for a sixth-round pick.
Their career stat lines:
|Age||W-L||Comp. %||TD-Int.||Rating||Approx. Pick*|
I’d be worried about Schaub, a lot, because last season it looked like he had Steve Sax disease—it appeared he was aiming many of his throws, and his decision-making was way off compared to his history. But the stunner in this comparison is not really the sixth-round pick the Texans got for a quarterback who hit a wall so smashingly in 2013. It’s that Jacksonville GM David Caldwell got anything at all for Gabbert. Lucky for him, San Francisco sees something in Gabbert that GM Trent Baalke thinks his coaching staff can salvage.
* * *
Jim Kelly Has a Lot of Friends in Buffalo
That might be the most understated line of the year. “I’ve never met anyone in life who cuts a wider swath across racial, social, age and gender lines than Jim,” Kelly’s friend and former Bills teammate Steve Tasker said over the weekend. “The support group he has right now, including people who weren’t born until 10 years after Jim retired, is absolutely unbelievable. He’s beloved in Buffalo.”
Kelly, 54, is fighting a recurrence of the cancer that struck his jaw in 2013, a cancer he thought he’d beaten after part of his upper jaw was removed. His wife and two daughters have been blogging and posting photos to Instagram and Twitter and urging friends and strangers alike to pray for Jim. “The cancer’s back, aggressive, and starting to spread,” his wife, Jill, blogged. On Friday, the student body of a Buffalo elementary school lined up in the shape of a heart to send its love to Kelly. Also on Friday, three Bills’ Hall of Famers—Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas—gathered at Kelly’s house to lift his spirits.
Tasker has also visited Kelly. They worked together doing a weekly football talk show last fall, and Kelly told Tasker he was cancer-free. But earlier this month, Kelly acknowledged it was back, and apparently it’s taking a heavier toll than the first fight last year.
“This is not a common cold,” Tasker said. “He is loaded for another fight, and he is going to fight it hard. I don’t want to give the impression that this is catastrophic because it’s not. But it’s going to be a tough fight. Jim knows that.”
On Sunday night, older daughter Erin Kelly Instagrammed a photo of her and her dad walking down the hall at the Buffalo hospital where he’s being treated for the cancer. She wrote: “So thankful that he was up for a little walk today!!! God is good!!!! And He HEALS!!! #prayersforjk”
“Everybody in the area grows up a Bills fan,” Tasker said. “The Bills become a part of your clan. Right now, Jim’s got the prayers of an entire region being said for him.”
Quotes of the Week
“His skill set does not transition to the National Football League, and it is a big, big risk. In fact, I see bust written all over him, especially if he’s drafted in the first round.”
— ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“Narrowing the goal post: We have talked about that a lot this year. We are at a place where field goals are made 86.6 percent of the time, which is really an amazing thing because in 1970 that number was around 59 percent. We have really moved up. We have had some really good discussions about that. I do not think there is enough momentum to do it this year, but I think there will be discussions with the goal post going forward.”
— Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay of the Falcons, on the possibility of future NFL meetings taking up the debate of narrowing the width of the goal posts to make field goals and extra points more challenging.
“When I took this job, Jim wanted me to have a dynasty-type mindset to win championships, plural. You can’t just put all of your eggs in one basket one year—and then after a year those guys are gone or are too old. Then your roster gets blown back to the Stone Age. You want to continue to infuse the team with draft picks and young players that can grow together and be great together.”
— Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson, talking about his team-building philosophy and referencing team owner Jim Irsay, who is now undergoing substance-abuse rehab after his arrest a week ago.
“I’m a servant leader. I’m someone who wants to make everyone else around me better people, better players, with nothing in return. I’m not looking for any recognition or anything like that. I’m a team player, someone that’s willing to go the extra mile, willing to come in early and go the opposite way. Not go in that locker room and try to win guys over, but win guys over by going in that film room and that offensive room and learning the playbook right away, breaking down film, showing the guys that I understand what’s going on. Once guys see that you know your job, you know what you’re supposed to do, you’re responsible, then they’ll begin to trust you more. I feel that I have that capability. From a playing side, I feel that I’m an accurate passer, I’m smart with the football, I’m a winner.”
— Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, to the NFL Network on Friday, about why he thinks he should be the first pick in the May 8 draft.
Not sure what a “servant leader” is, but it sounds pretty unselfish.
“My past is irrelevant.”
— Michael Vick, upon signing with the Jets on Friday night.
The headline writers at the New York Post and Daily News will be the judges of that, Michael.
Mark Sanchez Timeline of the Week
As the month wound down and the Jets started running out of time to cut Mark Sanchez and save $8.3 million on their salary cap, somehow Rex Ryan equivocated about Sanchez’s chance of remaining with the team.
Right down to the very end.
Friday, 3:27 p.m.
“That could happen. That’s still a possibility.”
— Ryan, on the chances of Sanchez remaining a Jet, to ESPN Radio in New York.
Friday, 6:32 p.m.
“It’s official. We’ve signed QB Michael Vick.”
— @nyjets, the team’s official Twitter feed.
Friday, 6:48 p.m.
“I’d like to thank Mark for everything he’s done for this team and me personally.”
— Ryan, in a team-issued statement announcing the release of Sanchez.
Stat of the Week
One of the things I’ve noticed about Denver’s contracts in free agency is that—unlike some teams’—they’re not heavily back-loaded, so if the Broncos have to cut underperforming players before the deals are up, they’re not hamstrung on the salary cap.
Denver signed four marquee free agents—safety T.J Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib, pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders—to deals worth, on paper, $125 million. But let’s say the four players last only two seasons each. It’s reasonable to expect the team wouldn’t give up on any of them after one year (except maybe Ware, who declined for Dallas last season and will be 32 on opening day this fall). If that happens, here’s how much Denver will have paid each, plus how much each player would cost to cut in “dead money” after the 2015 season:
|Two-Year Cost||Dead Money in 2016||Age After the ’15 Season|
|DeMarcus Ware||$20 million||$3 million||33|
|Aqib Talib||$18 million||$3 million||29|
|T.J. Ward||$13.5 million||$3 million||29|
|Emmanuel Sanders||$10 million||$1 million||28|
The two-year commitment for the four players: $61.5 million
The dead money if all are cut after two years: $10 million
So if the sky falls, and all four players bomb and are cut after two seasons, it will cost the Broncos about 6% of their 2016 cap dollars, seeing that the cap is projected to be somewhere in the $160 million area in 2016.
In other words, Denver GM John Elway and his cap lieutenant, Broncos director of football administration Mike Sullivan, have done a good job of spending today and not crippling the team tomorrow.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
From the Remnants of JaMarcus Russell Dept.:
In the wake of the Matt Schaub trade from Houston to Oakland on Friday, and assuming Schaub starts at least one game for the Raiders in 2014, this will be the sixth consecutive year a non-homegrown quarterback will start for the Raiders.
In order: Charlie Frye (2009), Bruce Gradkowski (2009, ’10), Jason Campbell (2010, ’11), Carson Palmer (2011, ’12) and Matt Flynn (2013). If Schaub does start, that means six imported quarterbacks starting in six seasons.
Football people sometimes say if you take a quarterback very high in round one and he bombs, it could set the franchise back five years. Well, Russell was the first pick of the 2007 draft, and that colossal mistake has set the Raiders back seven years—and we may not be done counting yet.
Oakland’s records since the day Al Davis drafted Russell: 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 8-8, 8-8, 4-12, 4-12.
Tweets of the Week
“Ferrari… I’m sorry #MYBAD”
— @68INCOGNITO, free agent guard Richie Incognito, apologizing last Saturday night to the car he recently beat up with a baseball bat.
“@DHoyt77 if mercer beats duke I will give you season tickets 50 yard line first row.”
— @roddywhiteTV, the Atlanta wide receiver, to football fan Dylan Hoyt, after Hoyt proclaimed on Twitter that Mercer would beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Well, Mercer beat Duke. And White didn’t keep his word. When the upset was official, Hoyt tweeted at White that he owed him some tickets. And White tweeted back: “I lost a bet and I will give him tickets to the bears game since he is a bears fan done with this bet.”
Hoyt doesn’t look like a Bears fan. His Twitter photo is a Falcons picture with team slogan “Rise Up” on it, and he is from Georgia.
White has some explaining to do. On Sunday, he claimed he would not pay up, saying, “Y’all people are crazy” for thinking he’s going to honor his words against a Twitter follower who had nothing to lose in the bet. If you’re going to break a promise, you should explain why instead of blaming the guy you made a deal with.
“We can land a man on the moon but can’t find this plane on earth… smh”
— @DougBaldwinJr, the Seattle wide receiver on the Malaysian jet that has been missing for 17 days and is presumed lost in the Indian Ocean.
“Obviously you have your checklist of we’ve got these holes we needed to fill. That’s one that we feel like we’ve been able to check off the list. We filled that. I think he’ll play well for us. I don’t worry about that.”
— Oakland coach Dennis Allen, to Don Banks of SI.com, at the league meetings on Sunday afternoon, asserting his belief that former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who was acquired last Friday in a trade, will be a good starter for the Raiders in 2014.
That’s the kind of leap of faith that can cost GMs and coaches their jobs, or can earn them contract extensions. Lots of pressure on Schaub, who didn’t deal with it well in Houston last fall.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Tweeted from the Orlando International Airport on Sunday afternoon by free agent safety Ryan Clark: “Why do people who are in Zone 4 line up in front the gate when they announce they are getting ready to start the boarding process?”
That, friends, is not the travel question of the week. It is the travel question of the millennium.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I would have the same dilemma right now that Bengals owner Mike Brown verbalized at the league meetings on Sunday: Do you step out on a ledge now and pay Andy Dalton the going rate for a good quarterback—say, $15 million a year—with a year left on his rookie contract, or do you let the deal run out and risk losing him in 2015?
Dalton has been a good and durable player in the regular season: 48 games, 48 starts, 30-18 record, 85.7 rating and a plus-31 TD-to-interception rate. And he is the only quarterback in Cincinnati history to lead his team to the playoffs in three straight years. But he’s been awful in the playoffs (0-3, 56.2 rating, minus-5 TD-to-pick rate), losing his three playoff games by an average of 14.7 points. To say he’s looked rattled in the postseason would be an understatement, as his meltdown against San Diego in January illustrated.
As Brown said to the Cincinnati Enquirer and Bengals.com: “When you go forward in this league it is not clear which is the better way to go. Do you have a high-priced quarterback and less elsewhere, or do you try to have as many guys as you can have and maybe a quarterback that is young and not so highly paid? Seattle, for example of that. In fact, you look at the statistics and it is rather surprising how few quarterbacks that are old in recent years—saying over 30—have won the Super Bowl. They’ve gotten there but they haven’t won it. Is that a better formula, to go with a younger guy and spread the money around? That’s a dilemma for us. We are trying to work through it. It’s slow going. I can’t predict when we are going to get that matter resolved.”
Do you show faith in Dalton, or do you collect more evidence?
2. I think I know which way I’d vote. I’d want to see one more season of proof out of Dalton before paying him close to Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler money. If he leads Cincinnati deep into the playoffs this year and it costs me a few million extra, so be it. But what I’ve seen so far doesn’t convince me he should be paid $15 million a year. If you’re going to cast your lot with a young quarterback, he has to be the man you believe will lead you to a Super Bowl. Watching Dalton, I like what I see, and I’ve liked his toughness in winning some big games. But he hasn’t shown me yet that he’s a January quarterback.
3. I think the Ravens’ acquisition of center Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick on Sunday was an acknowledgment that their fourth-round pick from 2012, center Gino Gradkowski, can’t cut it. Gradkowski, in his first season as a starter last year, was second-worst in the league at allowing quarterback pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. He surrendered 36 quarterbacks sacks, hits or pressures in 2013.
4. I think the one thing I heard from new NFL Players Association president Eric Winston that I liked upon his recent election is his view that an 18-game regular season is a non-starter for players. That should be his line in the sand with NFL owners. Sounds like it will be. Players take too many injury risks as it is to even consider playing 13% more snaps in a season.
5. I think you can talk about Mark Sanchez getting jobbed by the Jets if you’d like, and I agree that holding him off the market for the first 11 days of free agency because the Jets wanted an insurance policy in case they couldn’t sign Mike Vick was wrong—because the team never had any intention of paying Sanchez his March roster bonus. But for those who say the Jets should have kept Sanchez, I’d cite two important factors: The team had lost faith in his ability to be its long-term answer at quarterback, and he completed just 55.1% of his throws as a Jet. Though he was a solid player his first two seasons and showed signs of that play before getting hurt last summer, Sanchez just isn’t accurate enough for a team to count on him as its answer at the position.
6. I think you’d have a fair argument if you said, “Mike Vick’s not accurate either.” He is just a 56.2% passer for his career, but in his three Philadelphia seasons with Marty Mornhinweg—who will be his play-caller and instructor with the Jets—Vick’s accuracy rate was 63%, 60% and 58%. And Vick is hardly being imported to be the quarterback savior in New York. He is signed for one year and $5 million, and the team still thinks Geno Smith could be the man of the future.
7. I think Jameis Winston’s pitching line as Florida State’s closer this spring—0.69 ERA, 4 for 4 in save opportunities, 13 strikeouts in 13 innings, .133 batting average against—shows he might have some pretty good leverage in his future.
8. I think this is a pretty good postscript to the short piece I wrote on the incredible fall of Josh Freeman last week. He’s gone, in six months, from a solid starting quarterback to a man who, at best, will struggle to be a backup or even a third quarterback this year. Gil Brandt of NFL.com checked in with his opinion the other day: “When Freeman was jettisoned by the Bucs, ending a rocky relationship, I thought he still had a chance to do something in the NFL, because he did have some talent. But I think I was wrong about him. I’m not sure if he has the desire to get better. At this point, I think Vince Young, who is out of football altogether, is better than him. I’m not sure if Freeman will get another chance in the league, though I could see someone bringing him into camp on a minimum salary.” Consider that a good season last year in Freeman’s walk year could have netted him a $15 million-a-year deal this offseason, and you see what a crazy story this is.
9. I think I like the observation of Len Pasquarelli on his pickthedraft.com site about Denver’s offseason spree; it’s one I wish I’d made: There’s a good chance the best acquisition the Broncos will have in 2014 is one coming back from injured reserve, left tackle Ryan Clady. Now, if only John Elway can do something about the leaky right side, where tackle Orlando Franklin was turnstiled in the Super Bowl by Seattle’s pass rush.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Welcome to the world, Caleb (son of The MMQB editor Matt) Gagne! Keep wearing this gear and your life is going to be a dream. [Ed. Note: The hat no longer fits and the dog felt left out. Neither has a clue what’s going on.]
b. For someone who cares little about basketball, I, like so many Americans, am entranced by the NCAA Tournament.
c. I actually used Harvard, North Dakota State and Dayton to win my Montclair pool’s first weekend. Thanks, Pete Thamel and Jay Bilas.
d. Story of the week: The frightening and incredible ability of Jared Remy—the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy accused of murder—to escape jail year after year despite a pattern of abuse and assault, in a chilling account by Eric Moskowitz of the Boston Globe.
e. Is it a rule that every athletic event played by a University of Oregon sports team must feature the Ducks wearing new uniforms?
f. I did like those screaming-green ones on Saturday, Ducks.
g. UConn is going to play in Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16. That’s a home away from home.
h. I love North Dakota State’s coach, Saul Phillips. Talk about a guy who loves his players and whose players look like they love playing for him. Cool stuff.
i. Nice hospitality by the city of Holyoke, Mass., for Saturday’s 39th annual 10K St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. (I had to drop out after a mile with a bum hamstring.) But it was a great event and there was good community spirit. Any race with bagpipes serenading runners at the start is my kind of race.
j. Coffeenerdness: Sorry, Starbucks. The vanilla macchiato doesn’t make it. Too sugary. My tip for your R&D people: When in doubt, give it more of an intense espresso flavor and less a sweet one.
k. Beernerdness: Thanks to the Broad Brook Brewing Company for the cool experience at your brewpub in East Windsor, Conn., on Saturday. I vote yes on Chet’s Pale Ale (bold, hoppy) and no on your new Pink Dragon Wit Belgian white ale (a little too sweetish). Actually, I vote yes on many of your terrific offerings. Good to see my old stomping grounds in northern Connecticut with a strong brewery and brewpub.
l. Tragically, Mick Jagger’s longtime girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, committed suicide a week ago. The New York Post quoted a “source” as saying, “The strange thing is that she had a small dinner party at her home Sunday night with a few friends, but nobody knew that she planned to take her own life the next day.” Strange. I thought it was customary for a person planning to kill herself to tell all of her friends the night before she did it.
m. Can’t wait to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anyone seen it yet? Thoughts?
n. Good effort, Devils. Sad to see you go out with such a fizzle.
o. Happy wedding, Zach Line. The Vikings fullback's rookie year was chronicled by our Jenny Vrentas. Have a great life, you lovebirds.
p. Starting Rotisserie lineup in my 12-team Jersey league: Evan Gattis (catcher), Victor Martinez (1B), Dustin Pedroia (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), Josh Donaldson (3B), Jay Bruce, Billy Hamilton and Brandon Moss (OF), Xander Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks (DH). Starters: Michael Wacha, Alex Wood, Bartolo Colon, Jon Lester. Relievers: Kenley Jansen, Koji Uehara, Glen Perkins. Hopeful. Need one more bat and a starter, but I’ll let ’em play for a month or so and see where we are.
q. Headline after two games of the Dodgers’ season (and they’re 2-0, mind you): “Mattingly miffed at Puig.” Store that headline. You'll be able to use it every couple of weeks.
The Adieu Haiku
DeSean on market.
Something’s rotten in Denmark.
Chip weary of him?