Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.  Normally, I would caution folks about spending too much time imbibing at the local pub while adorned in whatever green clothing one might have; but in many parts of the country today, bars and restaurants are closed as we are learning the fundamentals of “social distancing”.  To demonstrate that I am in tune with the times, let me offer a suggestion for your “isolationist St. Patrick’s Day festivities”.

  • Wear that same hideous green outfit you would have worn to the pub.
  • Dig around and find that bottle of crème de menthe in the back of your liquor cabinet and pour that nasty green stuff on some vanilla ice cream.
  • Read some Green Lantern comic books.
  • Binge watch the old Bonanza TV shows starring Lorne Greene.

No need to thank me.  I’m just trying to do my part…

There is NFL news today even though this is not nearly the NFL season.  In the absence of real games, NFL Free Agency becomes an even bigger deal than it normally is.  And in the ramp up to the start of the free agent feeding frenzy, there have been two head scratching moves and trades:

  1. Two seasons ago, the Jags were in the AFC Championship Game and led the Patriots in the 4th quarter by 10 points.  Yes, they lost that game, but it was their young and aggressive defense that got them there because – remember – Blake Bortles was the one running the offense.  Since that game, the Jags have been dismantling that young, aggressive and competent defense.  Last year they parted company with Jalen Ramesy, Malik Jackson, AJ Bouye and Dante Fowler.  This year, they traded Calais Campbell to the Ravens for a 5th round pick – – that is NOT a typo – – and they put the franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue who has made it clear he wants out of Jax.
  2. The Houston Texans seemingly look at the Jags’ strange moves and call the bets.   Last year, the Texans traded away Jadeveon Clowney – who admittedly did not want to stay with the team – for the football equivalent of a ham sandwich.  They followed that move with a trade to acquire Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills but gave up two first round picks and a second rounder in the deal.  [Aside:  The 2020 season will be the final year of Tunsil’s contract…] Now it gets even stranger; the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins to the Cards for David Johnson.

If you can make sense out of the long-range strategic moves made by the jags and Texans over the past couple of years, you can probably also identify the man who put the “ram” in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong.  Don’t look at me for an explanation…

There have been a few other surprising moves – but not nearly at the same jaw-dropping level:

  • The Cowboys will pay Dak Prescott $31.5M next year to play on the franchise tag.  I recognize that QBs in general are “overpaid” but this one was a bit shocking until I also realized …
  • The Titans signed Ryan Tannehill to a 4-year deal that averages out to $29.5M per year.  [Aside:  All of a sudden, Nick Foles at $22M per year looks like a bargain?]
  • The Bills acquired Stefon Diggs from the Vikes for a package of draft picks including a first rounder this year.
  • Tom Brady will not be with the Patriots next year.  He said his football career will be “continuing elsewhere” – – but that destination is still TBD.

Quick QuizIf Brady’s departure from New England signals the end of the Pats’ domination of the AFC East, which team in that division is best poised to take over?

I was fishing around for more information regarding the new NFL CBA and ran across something I had missed in my first scan of the reports.  The CBA was approved in a very close vote; there were 1019 votes to approve and 959 votes to turn it down.  Even though that vote is very close, the decision to ratify the agreement seemed obvious until I ran across this tidbit:

  • Approximately 500 players who were eligible to vote did not vote.

I recognize that people do not vote in elections all the time; more than 40% of the voting age population in the US did not vote in the 2016 Presidential election.  However, the ratification vote here would have a direct impact on a player’s working life and career; so, I am surprised that such a large percentage took a pass on voting.

Bob Molinaro had this item in a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Money matters: For what it’s worth, nearly 60 percent of NFL players make the league minimum. It’s their chosen profession, sure. But the owners strike a hard bargain.”

If I have read the new CBA correctly on the issue of rookie minimum salaries, those folks on the bottom rungs of the pay scale will get a raise that translates to a significant percentage even if it does not translate into generational-altering wealth.  The rookie minimum last year was $495K and this year it will be $675K.  That is a 36% pay increase and that is nothing to sneeze at – – especially in these times of the coronavirus.

Finally, Dwight Perry had these observations in the Seattle Times a while back:

“With the specter of opposing pitchers plunking Astros hitters at a record rate over the team’s sign-stealing scandal, just have to ask:

“• Will Houston’s promotional giveaways include Astros Replica Jersey Night, sponsored by Target?

“• By season’s end, will Houston — not Boston — be laying claim to the title of “Bean Town”?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



What Happened?

I have a simple question this morning:

  • What is wrong with you people?

I leave you folks in charge of the sports world for 3 weeks as I go on a road trip with my long-suffering wife and I come back to the sporting equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland.  If there are no re-starts in US sports over the next month, the best I can look forward to is the beginning of the Mongolian National Premier League – that’s soccer don’t you know – in April.  [Just so you know, Ulaanbaatar City is the defending champion there.]

Let me dispose of four minor items from the past several weeks before getting to the only major sports news of the day:

  1. I read that Alex Rodriguez “chastised” the Astros’ players for not showing sufficient remorse over the sign-stealing scandal.  That goes well beyond the pot calling the kettle black; that is akin to Dr. Mengele accusing a physician of malpractice.
  2. Tony Romo got a new contract with CBS paying him $180M over 10 years.  He is really good as a color analyst, but I doubt that many folks tune in because of him on the microphone; I think they tune in to see the “big game” that CBS has assigned him to do and then are happy to hear his commentary.
  3. While on the road, I succeeded in missing every second of the televised coverage of the NFL Combine.  Moreover, I do not feel like a lesser person for having done so…
  4. The NBA proved the old adage that it is an ill wind that blows no good.  Before deferring all regular season games, the NBA changed the coverage of its games to get rid of in-game interviews with coaches/players/fans.  That had to improve the telecasts and it had to make “appropriate social distancing” more easily attainable.

The big sports story of the day is the ratification of a new CBA by the NFL players.  The proposed agreement had previously been approved by the owners, so it is now a fait accompli.  There are loads of things to unpack in there, but I think a critical inclusion is this:

  • The agreement is in effect through the end of the 2030 season AND neither side has an “opt-out clause” prior to that time.  There will surely be squabbles and critiques along the way, but fans can look forward to ten years of as much peace as is possible in a labor-management situation.

In terms of the changes to the NFL under this new CBA, there is only one change that I don’t really like.

  • As of the upcoming season, the playoffs will expand from 12 teams to 14 teams.  That means there will be 6 games on “wildcard weekend” instead of the current 4 games on that weekend.
  • That my not sound like a big deal, but the addition of that seventh team will almost always put a mediocre team in a playoff game and that is not appealing to me at all.

Other than that, there is plenty to like in the new CBA and there are things in there that are OK but not earth-shattering:

  • The addition of a 17th regular season game is OK.  It gives fans another weekly fix for their favorite sports league on TV and more wagering opportunities.  Many players opposed this for health/injury reasons, but it seems that the added money that will accrue to players via the increased salary cap levels prevailed.  One estimate I read said that players will receive an added $675M in salary in 2020 based on added cap room under the new deal.
  • The elimination of at least one Exhibition Game – and maybe two? – in exchange for that added regular season game is a huge plus for fans.
  • Reductions in practice time in training camp and limitations on practices in full pads could result in sloppier play – – but if coaches are really worth the salaries they are pulling down, they should be able to account for that.

I will dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back for a moment here.  The new CBA adopts – partially – a position I have advocated for the past 5 years.  Roger Goodell is the commissioner but not the disciplinarian under the league’s personal conduct policy.  As I suggested all the way back to the “Ray Rice Incident”, the initial findings of fact and issuance of discipline will be done by a third party appointed by both the league and the NFLPA.  Goodell’s disciplinary authority falls into two categories:

  1. If someone appeals the disciplinary decision of the “neutral arbiter” that appeal goes to the Commissioner.
  2. If the issue at hand involves a threat to “the integrity of the games”, that is the responsibility of the Commissioner.

Sounds like a step forward to me…

There is one potential fly in the ointment here.  Russell Okung has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFLPA.  Okung was until recently part of the NFLPA Executive Committee, so this is a very strange situation to me, and it sounds as if it could inject some uncertainty into all of this.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had these two comments about sports and the coronavirus recently:

“Because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, five Serie A soccer matches — including the big Juventus-Inter Milan showdown — were slated to be played without any fans in attendance.

“‘Playing in an empty stadium? So what’s the big deal about that?’ asked the Miami Marlins.”

And …

“The phobia over spreading germs has reached such epic proportions, we hear, that college boosters have replaced $100 handshakes with gift cards.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………