Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think if there’s any question about America’s appetite for pro football, consider this: The Broncos got 21,933 to watch an early-camp practice Sunday, and the Patriots got a total of 25,000 over the weekend for two practices.
2. I think this would worry me—a lot—if I were Cleveland coach Mike Pettine, and Cleveland owner Jimmy Halsam: the photo of first-round rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel tightly rolling a $20 bill in the bathroom of a bar, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There’s no crime in that, obviously. But it’s certainly suspicious. And even if Manziel was kidding around (I have no knowledge of what he was doing), it’s not funny, and it gives every Manziel hater the fodder they need to say, “I told you so. I told you it was a waste to pick party boy in the first round.” Good for Pettine to call Manziel immediately upon learning of the photo. That’s got to stop.
3. I think if you’ve read me since March, you know I’m a champion of Manziel the player. I think he has a chance to be a terrific NFL player and game-changer. I don’t want him to go to a monastery every night. I want him to understand this is the big leagues, not the big party leagues. And image counts. It’s not everything, but it counts.
4. I think Doug Marrone sure looks like the smart one for passing on Ryan Nassib, his quarterback at Syracuse, in favor of E.J. Manuel in the draft last year. Nassib’s had a poor start to his second camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Curtis “House” Painter win the Giants backup job in the next month.
5. I think you can tell his contract is weighing on Ben Roethlisberger, and not just because he told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, “Playing this year at my current salary, it’s like I’m taking a hometown discount.’’ Roethlisberger is due to make $12.1 million this year and $11.6 million in the last year of his deal in 2016, and Steelers president Art Rooney II said over the weekend to Steelers.com the team would not be re-doing the contract this year. Thirteen quarterbacks currently have a higher average salary than Roethlisberger’s 2014 base. This is Roethlisberger’s 11th season. He’s been beaten up his share in his career. It’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers pay him what the going rate for playoff quarterbacks is—somewhere between $19 million and $21 million a year. I think he’d have to come through this season healthy and having played well for the Steelers to commit another $100-million deal to him over the next five years.
6. I think one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in Week 1 of the camp trip is the undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players. I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal. The NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.
7. I think the way the league operates this will not happen, but if I were Roger Goodell, I’d take time this week to explain why I suspended Ray Rice for two games and not more. The reason he won’t do this is because it will extend an ugly story for another couple of news cycles, because whatever he says he’ll get bashed over the head for it by people who think he went far too soft on Rice for domestic violence on his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. But this is the one time, even if the criticism continued sharply, I think Goodell needs to come out and explain himself. Too many women, and plenty of men, feel outraged over this.
8. I think one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a while is Buzz Bissinger’s claim in his Nick Foles story for Philadelphia Magazine: “Acolytes get to heaven. Strut gets you to the Super Bowl.” It makes a good story, that quarterbacks need to be Joe Namath or Johnny Manziel or Brett Favre to be great, but it’s absolutely false that they have to be. Let’s look at the last four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks:
- Super Bowl 48. Seattle (and Russell Wilson, altar boy) 43, Denver 8.
- Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (and Joe Flacco, who does have a little bit of counter-culture to him) 34, San Francisco 31.
- Super Bowl 46. New York Giants (and Eli Manning, sleepy and totally non-controversial) 21, New England 17.
- Super Bowl 45. Green Bay (and Aaron Rodgers, a swell guy who, like Manning, hates all aspects of fame) 31, Pittsburgh 25.
Foles is a boring guy in front of the press and maybe even throughout his real life. Fine. In his fraternity, that makes him neither a winner nor a loser.
9. I think that was a touching thing you did, Christian Ponder and Samantha Ponder, naming your daughter Bowden, after Bobby Bowden, and surprising him with the news over the phone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Great to see Liz Clarke, a pro’s pro, in Richmond, back covering the hometown team for the Washington Post.
b. Two other media shout-outs to indefatigable peers: Alex Marvez of FOX Sports and Sirius NFL Radio, and Steve Serby of the New York Post. I get tired just keeping up with Serby’s bylines, and Marvez simply cannot sleep. If he did, no way he’d be able to be as voluminous and productive.
c. The MMQB crew had a pleasant evening at the Potomac Nationals’ ramshackle home ground in Woodbridge on Friday night. We have Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus on the trip, and I tried to show off my massive baseball intellect in the first inning. Carolina had the bases loaded with none out in the top of the first. Next batter walked. Potomac pitcher can’t find the plate. Goes to 2-0 on the next hitter. I announce: “Neil, the batter won’t swing here. Manager will make him take a pitch until this pitcher can throw a strike.” Words are just out of my mouth. Windup. Pitch. CRACK! A Puig-like laser lines into the trees high over the left-field fence. Boy, I know my baseball.
— John De Petro (@John_DePetro) July 26, 2014
d. Tough call, whether to pay Jon Lester. I have no doubt the Yankees would sign him if he became a free-agent after the season and the Red Sox didn’t come close to the New York offer. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “You’ve got to pay him! He’s your ace!” I lean toward agreeing—but at what price for a pitcher who’s 31 next opening day? Look at the track record of paying thirty-something players $20 million-plus, and it’s not good at all. I think if Boston offers $105 million over five, or something like that, it almost certainly wouldn’t get the deal done. But $25 million a year, for a 31-year-old pitcher? Count me out.
e. Coffeenerdness: Thought it was funny to see at the Hampton Inn in Lewisburg, W.Va., a coffee urn labeled “robust” put out with breakfast. It jut might have been robust if they put 8 ounces of water instead of 64 through the grounds. That coffee was as weak as a two-week-old Calico.
f. Beernerdness: Thank you, Potomac Nats, for having SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale from Atlanta on tap at your game. I think Bedard and Hornsby are hooked.
g. Caught snippets of the Hall of Fame speeches from Cooperstown. Greg Maddux should teach a graduate class in Cool at Harvard. And so much admiration for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. I love the way they managed, always adjusting their styles to their talent. Great day for baseball.
The Adieu Haiku
Why I love these camps:
Rob Ryan’s a blast to watch.
And the voice. Priceless.