Turn Down the Heat A Bit

The Bible tells us that in the apocalyptic time:

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled…”  (Matthew 24:6)

The sports world seems to be in a time – – not nearly apocalyptic – – where it would be a good idea to think in terms of:

  • “And ye shall hear of trades and rumors of trades; see that ye not be troubled.”

You cannot pick up a sports section or click onto a sports news website these days without hearing about rumored trades or trades that ought to be made or players wanting/demanding trades.  So, let me talk about a couple specific situations this morning…

The NBA trade deadline is about 4 weeks away; teams will decide if they are going to add or subtract from their starting lineups very soon.  That situation alone creates multiple scenarios for trade speculations.  For example, in the Eastern Conference, there are 9 teams within 3 games of one another straddling the cutoff line for the playoffs.  Some will decide to make a playoff push and others will not – – but at this point, there is no way to tell which team will be in which situation.  So, the rumor potential is exponentially increased.  See that ye are not troubled; I just want to look at five situations:

  1. Several pieces have been written with the following thrust: The Pistons want to trade Blake Griffin, but no one seems to want him.  Griffin is only 31 years old; it only seems as though he and Fred Flintstone were teammates back in the day.  A report at CBSSports.com says that Griffin has played 626 minutes this season and has not  yet dunked.  He has had multiple knee surgeries and is averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds per game (in his 19 minutes per game).  And here is the kicker.  His contract calls for a salary in 2021 of $36.8M PLUS a player option for next year at $39M.  Yowza…!
  2. Rumors of a Kyle Lowry trade have appeared in plenty of places.  At 18 points per game and 7 assists per game, he looks to be something a lot of teams would want.  Except … he is 35 years old and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.  Teams interested in acquiring him should probably have an eye on a deep playoff run this year.
  3. Bleacher Report said that Kristaps Porzingis might be “available”.  On one hand a guy who is 7’3” and can reliably make 3-point shots represents a special talent.  On the other hand, with him parked out in the 3-point area much of the time, he spends about 30 minutes on the court per game and takes down only 2 offensive rebounds per game.  Really?  From a contract standpoint, he is signed through the end of the 2023/24 season.
  4. Does your team need a 3-point shooter?  JJ Redick is still in the NBA (Pelicans this year) and he is on an expiring contract.
  5. Does your team need a shot-blocker/rebounder?  JaVale McGee is still in the NBA (Cavaliers this year) and he is on an expiring contract too.

The rumors of trades regarding NFL QBs are rampant this year.  Certainly, the fact that 3 starting QBs from last year have already been traded to new teams for next year has fueled the speculation.  Added to that unusual degree of movement are “inside stories” that about a half-dozen other teams plan to release or move on from their starter in 2021.  As of this morning, the two QBs at the center of the rumor vortex are:

  1. Deshaun Watson
  2. Russell Wilson

The narrative is that both men are chagrined because their team has not sought sufficient input from them about the direction of the team and/or the personnel on the team and/or in the team’s front office.  Multiple reports say that Watson has told the team he will not play there again; a few reports say that Wilson “stormed out of a meeting” with the coaches prior to a game last year over the offensive game plan.  Let me assume for a minute that all the reports are accurate and that the players are indeed far beyond being miffed.

If the players want a trade and that is their supreme objective, it should be in the best interests of all sides to prevent this from becoming a latter-day version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  In a pitched battle where neither side chooses to blink, everyone is a loser; let me explain.

  • Both QBs are under contract to their current teams and both contracts reportedly have a “no trade clause” in them.  Therefore, no trade is possible without the player’s side waiving that provision of the contract.
  • Rumors say that Watson and Wilson both have “favored destinations” should they be traded.  Let me assume those reports are 100% accurate.
  • That ”no trade clause” could be weaponized if the team side of this contretemps gets all pissy.  The gentlemanly way out of the clause is for the team to arrange a trade to a favored destination and then the clause is waived, and the trade goes through.  But suppose the team gets itself into high dudgeon and tells the player that either the clause is waived unconditionally, or the team will not entertain offers for his services.  See you in training camp…

All that sort of “in your face” exchange of views is detrimental to both sides.  If the player holds out, his contract tolls – – meaning it used to have three more years to run before free agency but now it has four.  Declarations of “never suiting up for those guys again” by the player reduces his trade value; while he may not care if his current team gets maximum value for him, he ought to care that the current team perceives that they are getting “sufficient value” for him or there may not be the trade he nominally wants.

The only thing missing from the reports about Watson and the Texans and about Wilson and the Seahawks is for one side to begin their “rebuttal” to the latest proclamation by saying, “Oh, yeah…?”  Elementary school playground arguments have proceeded in a more orderly fashion than these two have.

The one outcome of either confrontation that I believe is off the table is that either QB retires and goes off to “take their life in a different direction”.  Both have made enough money already to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, but both would also be leaving a ton of money on the table by retiring – the schoolyard equivalent of taking their ball and going home.

  • Deshaun Watson earned $13.8M from 2017 to 2021.  When he signed his contract extension (through the end of the 2025 season) he got a signing bonus of $27M.  So, he has already banked just over $40M; what he would have to be sure of in any sort of “retirement scenario” is that the team would have little recourse to claw back that $27M signing bonus.
  • However, the “retirement scenario” also leaves $146M on the table.  To put it bluntly, that is a lot of cheese.  Moreover, that humongous tail to the contract that exists today presents the Texans with a huge disincentive to make any sort of trade for Watson.  My calculation of the dead cap hit should the Texans trade him tomorrow is $66M.  Even if I am off by 10% – – which I doubt – – that would be about one-third of the estimated salary cap for the Texans in 2021.
  • Russell Wilson has earned $90M from 2012 to 2021.  His current deal runs through the end of 2023 and he stands to earn another $70M in those remaining years.  His signing bonus for this deal was $65M so he would certainly not want to be exposed to a claw back there.
  • There is little motivation for the Seahawks to entertain a trade for Wilson now.  Like Deshaun Watson, the Seahawks would take a massive dead cap hit should they trade him anywhere; my calculation is a dead cap hit of $58M.

It seems obvious to me that the best way to arrive at a resolution acceptable to both sides in both disputes – – note I did not say optimal for both sides, I said acceptable – – is for the two sides to cooperate and not aggravate the other side.  Of course, that behavior does not make for “Breaking News” or for an ”Insider Report” so there is a benefit to outsiders in keeping the level of rancor from going to zero.  Too bad…

Finally, perhaps the two sides in these two player/team disputes should heed the words of poet/playwright, Oscar Wilde:

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

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



Nike Stuff Today …

Yesterday I pointed out two examples of cookie cutter coverage by the sports media in Spring Training stories and in coverage of golf through the prism of Tiger Woods.  There is another one to add today.  It has only been going on for a couple of weeks, but I think every aspect of the story has been covered – – except for the one that would resolve the issue.  I refer to the NBA All-Star Game.  Let me do a reset:

  • The All-Star Game was not in the NBA schedule at the beginning of the season; there was to be a short break but no game or festivities.
  • TV execs want the game; it draws ratings; they can sell ads.
  • Adam Silver announced there would be a game in Atlanta; the NBPA concurred.
  • The mayor of Atlanta asked people NOT come to her city to take part in the festivities and that public health restrictions on gatherings would be enforced.
  • The players have griped and said they do not want to be part of the game.
  • Adam Silver says, “The show must go on.”

Enough already…  Look, if the NBA stars think this is a bad idea, they have it in their power to make things right from their perspective.  Just do not show up for the game.  There is no need to talk about it; there is no need to issue statements; there is no need for any more debate.  To paraphrase Nancy Reagan:

  • Just stay home.

The league and the union have agreed to stage this game – – but as the players always love to remind folks during CBA negotiations, there is no game without the players.  So, here is their chance to stand up for what they think is the right thing to do.  It might  damage their “brand” with their fans if they pull a no-show, but anything that is worthwhile comes at a cost.

  • Memo to NBA All-Stars:  No need to paraphrase Nike here.  Just do it!

In the last NFL season, the NFC East was an embarrassment; in the upcoming MLB season, the NL East could be very interesting.

  • Atlanta is loaded with excellent young players; I enjoy watching Ronald Acuna as much as any other player in MLB now.  Their “greybeard” would be Freddie Freeman who is all of 31 years old.  The Braves won the division last year and certainly will be part of that chase again this year.
  • Miami shocked the world last year making the playoffs and then sweeping the Cubs in the wildcard round.  The Marlins’ pitching staff makes them a team to watch.
  • The New York Mets have a new owner who is spending money.  The Mets’ acquisition of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco and James McCann should offset the fact that Noah Syndergaard will not be available until about July 4th.
  • Philly made a significant change in the front office hiring Dave Dombrowski who had been involved with pennant winning squads in the past.  Last year, the Phillies’ Achilles Heel was their bullpen; there have been changes made in the offseason; if the changes are for the better…
  • Washington under-achieved last year finishing tied for last in the division.  The Nats have an excellent starting rotation and two excellent young players in Juan Soto and Trea Turner.  The Nats are hardly going to be an “easy out” this year.

I mentioned the major acquisitions by the Mets and the new owner there.  While the three acquisitions I cited there are important ones, I believe that two other teams made even more significant roster additions in this offseason:

  1. St. Louis acquired Nolan Arenado from the Rockies PLUS they got the Rockies to pay part of Arenado’s salary in 2021 and 2022.  To get that sweet deal, the Cardinals gave up a young pitcher with a smattering of MLB experience (Austin Gomber) and gave up 4 other minor league prospects who have yet to progress beyond AA baseball.  A couple years ago, the Cardinals looked to the NL West and acquired Paul Goldschmidt to play first base; now they grab Arenado to play third base…
  2. San Diego acquired a lot of pitching in this offseason signing/acquiring Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell.  Additionally, they signed the highly sought-after infielder from Korea, Ha-seong Kim.  It is not as if the Padres were bereft of talent before this winter; remember they still have Manny Machado and the newly signed Fernando Tatis Jr. (14-years and $350M).  And with all that, the Padres are a distant second choice according to oddsmakers to win the NL West.  As of this morning, the Dodgers are minus-200 to win the NL West while the Padres are +210.

Finally, since I referred to Nike and its ad slogan above, let me close with a statement from Phil Knight – the major domo at Nike:

“We wanted Nike to be the world’s best sports and fitness company. Once you say that, you have a focus. You don’t end up making wing tips or sponsoring the next Rolling Stones world tour.”

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



Tiger Woods Survives A Car Crash

The single car crash that put Tiger Woods under a surgeon’s knife and in a trauma unit has been reported everywhere.  We have been reminded of his accomplishments on the golf course, of his surgical history, of his previous “single car crash” and of his celebrity status.  I think we should take a moment here and remind ourselves to keep some degree of perspective on this event:

  • Everyone must be glad to know that Tiger Woods survived the crash.  Anyone who does not fall into that category is a monster.
  • Everyone must hope – and pray if you will – that he will recover and put his life back together in time.
  • No one should give a fig if he ever plays in another PGA golf tournament; if he can walk and play a round of golf with friends – even if he has to use a cart to get around the course – that is a plus.
  • The golf media who created his celebrity persona – and then feasted on it to provide that media with “stories” – needs to let this man recover and find the life he wants for himself without 24/7 inspection and intrusion from outside.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I am very happy to know that Tiger Woods survived that crash.  The last thing on my mind now is whether he will “be back” to play in major golf tournaments this year, next year or on the Twelfth of Never.

In addition, I hope the golf media finds a way to do a bit of introspection here.  The amount of coverage for this single car crash with severe injuries and zero fatalities is only justified because of the hyper-attention focused on Tiger Woods for about the last 25 years.  If you doubt that, compare the coverage here of a single car crash and no fatalities to:

  1. The Humboldt Broncos’ bush crash a few years ago that killed 16 people.
  2. The Swift Current Broncos’ bus crash about 30 years ago that killed 4 people.
  3. The air crash that killed 45 members of the Marshall football team 50 years ago.
  4. The air crash that killed 14 members of the Wichita State football team about a month before the Marshall air crash.
  5. The boating accident that killed two Cleveland Indians’ pitchers about 30 years ago.

There is good news here.  That good news is that nowhere in this piece need I write the words, “Rest in peace, Tiger Woods”.  My hope is that the golf media can find a way to express their sorrow for his pain and to wish him a speedy and full recovery – – and then to find someone else to focus on.

Get well, Tiger Woods…

Switching gears … Spring Training is under way; and while everyone gets ready for the 2021 season to start and everyone hopes that MLB can be as successful at playing a full regular season as was the NFL at the end of 2020, we should be prepared for an avalanche of “cookie cutter stories” emanating from the training camps:

  • Grizzled vets have returned to Spring Training n the best shape of their lives hoping to hang on to a spot on the squad that heads North.
  • Young players are thrilled to be here; it has been their dream since they were 7-years old; they are just going to give it everything they have got every day and then leave it to the baseball gods.
  • Joe Flabeetz lost 15 pounds over the winter hoping to add some speed to his game.
  • Sam Glotz gained 15 pounds over the winter hoping to increase his stamina over the course of the long season.

And in that tsunami of tripe, there is an interesting story that has already been reported – – but did not catch on.  My suspicion is that it is too complicated – and potentially meaningful – to survive while the tsunami of tripe is going on.

Max Scherzer is more than a dominant pitcher who will have a bust in Cooperstown one of these days.  He thinks about baseball and how to make baseball better.  Recall that I said about a week ago that something MLB needed was for owners and players to find ways to improve the game for the fans; Max Scherzer has an idea that deserves consideration.

  • Scherzer wants to scrap the wildcard games and the division series games and substitute a round-robin tournament in both leagues.  The two survivors of the round-robin tournament would play in the World Series.

Scherzer asserts that a round-robin format would be a better way to identify the strongest teams in the playoffs instead of relying on the potential quirkiness of a three-game wild card series.  He is probably right; and for me, having the two “best teams” square off in the 7-game World Series is a goal worthy of pursuit.  The “problem” here is that a round-robin tournament would take more time than the current system allowing for travel days and the like.  However, Scherzer says that there are ways to “trim the regular season” and/or to start earlier in the year to accommodate those couple of “extra days”.

I am not saying this suggestion is a panacea for baseball.  However, it provides two things baseball needs desperately:

  1. New ideas to create more fan interest.
  2. Cooperation between players and owners on ways to make the games better.

Max Scherzer hits both of those points with his idea here; he should be lauded for it and folks should be scrambling to figure out what it might mean for scheduling and for the presentation of the playoffs to the public.  It will be interesting to see if the idea gains any traction…

Finally, since I began today with an item related to golf, let me close with this comment about golf from three-time Masters’ Champion, Jimmy Demaret:

“Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them.”

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



An NFL Winter Of Discontent

If all you do is read headlines, you would conclude that at least 75% of the NFL teams are fed up with their QBs and want to make a change.  Indeed, there have been three major QB moves already this offseason with reports that – just maybe – franchise QBs in Houston and in Seattle and in Pittsburgh could be moved on or moved out.  Shakespeare had Richard III say in a soliloquy:

“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

You might just begin to think that this winter, NFL teams as a whole have become discontented with their QBs.  If you buy into that view of the NFL, you might want to credit or blame Tom Brady and the Bucs for creating this environment.  The Bucs just won the Super Bowl and that is the Prime Directive [Hat tip to Starfleet] for every owner, player, coach and GM involved with the NFL. Look at how the Bucs went from “after thoughts” to “champions” and you might conclude:

  • The Bucs had drafted well in terms of solid players for the previous 3 or 4 seasons – – except at QB where they had an erratic performer.
  • The Bucs added a proven QB to replace their erratic one on a short-term deal.
  • The Bucs also went out and built offensive weapons that fit their new proven QB and put them around him on short-term deals.
  • Abracadabra …  Also-rans are magically transformed into champions.

Various folks can modify or embellish that simplistic scenario, but the key elements remain.  And since the NFL is a copycat league, there are lots of owners and GMs and coaches who are saying to themselves, “Why can’t we do that?”  Moreover, there are some very talented QBs who look at that scenario from the perspective of Tom Brady as the QB and ask themselves, “Why hasn’t my team done that with me?”

Let all that fester for a while and you have the potential for an NFL winter of discontent with its QBs…

The headline this morning that caught my eye relative to this issue is that – supposedly – the Seahawks want 3 first round picks in exchange for Russell Wilson.  That comes on the heels of rumors that it would take an offer of 5 first round picks to get the Texans to listen to an offer for Deshaun Watson and the reality that Matthew Stafford commanded a price of 3 draft picks (not all in the first round) plus Jared Goff.

Last year, there were two major QB moves in the offseason – – Brady to the Bucs and Rivers to the Colts, but neither of those moves involved a trade.  And there is the essence of the difference for this offseason.  There will be free agent QBs looking for new venues for their services, but all that drama is overshadowed by the rumors of trades involving top shelf players and draft picks.

I have written before about the inflated value of NFL draft picks and I stand by that position.  In this NFL winter of discontent with QBs, the NFL Draft has 5 QB draft candidates that the scouts and reporters have made out to be – potentially – the next coming of John Unitas.  They are:

  1. Justin Fields
  2. Mac Jones
  3. Trey Lance
  4. Trevor Lawrence
  5. Zach Wilson

I said all these players are “potentially” the next coming of John Unitas – – and the key word there is “potentially”.  After Carson Wentz was traded, it struck me that the two players taken overall #1 and overall #2 in the 2016 Draft had just been jettisoned by the teams that took them so early in the Draft.  Wentz is the old greybeard here; he is all of 28 years old; I wondered how other “top-rated” QBs from 2016 had fared.

I found one other first round QB from the 2016 Draft; that was Paxton Lynch, and he is no longer with the Broncos who took him later in that first round; in fact, it has been a while since he was with the team.

That took me down a rabbit hole; I decided to find out how the first round QB picks from 2015 had done and then 2014 and then…  I had to go back a while to find a lot of productive picks as you can see here:

  • First round QBs 2015:  Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.  Neither is still with the team that took them.
  • First round QBs 2014:  Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater.  None remain with the team that took them.  Bortles and Manziel were sub-standard; Bridgewater is good-not-great.
  • First round QBs 2013:  EJ Manuel.  No comment necessary…
  • First round QBs 2012:  Andrew Luck, RG3, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden.  Luck was excellent but retired early; all the others have moved on to other teams or to other professions.
  • First round QBs 2011:  Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder,  Newton had plenty of success; the others not so much.  None remain with the team that drafted them.
  • First round QBs 2010:  Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow.  No comment necessary …
  • First round QBs 2009:  Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman.  Stafford was just traded; the others were moved on by the teams that drafted them long ago.
  • First round QBs  2008:  Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco.  Bingo!!!  Finally, we have a first round QB who has been with the team that took him for a long time as the centerpiece of that team.  Kudos to the Falcons…

First round picks used on QBs appear to me to have been more like fool’s gold for that stretch of time.  There were 24 QBs taken in those drafts in the first round; I would say only 5 of them panned out:

  1. Flacco (Ravens) – – the did win a Super Bowl with him at QB…
  2. Luck (Colts) – – short career plagued by injury but played very well in Indy…
  3. Newton (Panthers) – – took the Panthers to a Super Bowl and was MVP…
  4. Ryan (Falcons) – – took the Falcons to a Super Bowl…
  5. Stafford (Lions) – – hey, he survived 12 years with the Lions…

You do not get into the Hall of Fame with a .208 batting average.  Moreover, at that rate, only 1 of the projected elite QBs in this year’s draft will be a long-term asset to the team that takes him.  Bonne chance…

The uncertainty of the NFL Draft marketplace reminds me of an observation by Al Capp the creator of Li’l Abner:

“Abstract art is a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”

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



Secondary Football Stuff Today …

The American Football Coaches Association has petitioned the NCAA rules committee to consider a rule change.  I like the idea because I believe that it closes a loophole in the existing rules that is not exploited all the time, but it is exploited.  Here is the deal:

  • Whenever an official sees that a player is injured – especially if he is on the ground and cannot get up – the official will stop the clock to allow the player and/or training staff to get him off the field.
  • While that is not a “charged timeout”, it has the same effect as a timeout.  It stops the clock and it changes the tempo of the game; so, it has a similar effect to a “charged timeout”.
  • The injured player must remain out of the game for one play because of his needing attention for the injury.

I have long been amazed how frequently injuries take place late in games when the team that is behind needs to preserve time on the clock and how rarely those injuries seem to happen to the team in the lead.  I believe the reason for such a disparity in the injury rate is that the penalty for a team to have a player “take a dive” – so to speak – is minimal; he can come out for a play and then run back on the field and resume his position.  It is also curious how often injuries happen to defensive units once an offense decides to raise the tempo of the game.

Evidently, the members of the American Football Coaches Association have seen something similar and think the rules mavens should put a stop to it.  Here is their proposal:

  • An injured player for whom the clock is stopped so that he can receive assistance on the field should not be eligible to return to the field until there is a change of possession in the game.

I like that rule; I think it will go a long way to preventing injuries that are about as real as the ones suffered by pro ‘rasslers when the bad guy sneaks in a punch to the face of the good guy without the referee noticing it.  So, who makes up the NCAA Rules Committee for football?

  • There are 13 members.  Some are coaches; some are school  administrators; some are conference officials; some represent officiating interests.
  • There are quotas for the sort of expertise brought to the committee as well as quotas for representation for Division I, Division 1a, Division II and Division III.
  • For the current composition, the most recognizable name is the Chairman, David Shaw, who is the head coach at Stanford.

A year ago, the Football Rules Committee said that “flopping” was a problem and said that it would be a “point of emphasis” for officials in the 2020 season.  Frankly, officials had enough “new stuff” on their plates in 2020 given COVID-19 protocols and scheduling uncertainties to bring that issue to the top of anyone’s list of things to do.  Here is what David Shaw said back before any of the COVID shutdowns took place last Spring:

“There are a lot of teams in pretty much every conference now that are going up-tempo.  [Feigning injuries] is viewed as a way to stop it. For us as coaches, it’s a tactic that lacks integrity. We as coaches should not be having our guys do things that [lack] integrity.”

Coach Shaw also noted at the time that it was not practical to ask the officials to change their behavior when they see a player down on the field.  The officials bring a knowledge of the rules and a knowledge of officiating mechanics to the field; they are not trainers or doctors; it would be foolish to have them enforce any rule that required even a modicum of “medical judgment”.  Shaw said this was a problem that needed to be handled by coaches themselves.

There is a potential downside to this proposed rule.  I acknowledge its existence and still favor implementation of the rule.  Here is the downside:

  • A player who is genuinely injured may want to try to “tough it out” through a real injury simply not to be sidelined for a lengthy period – – or perhaps for the rest of a game.  In such a case, the player may take his injury to a more severe level because he felt the penalty associated with the rule is too severe.

I think the NCAA Football Rules Committee will have an interesting discussion on its agenda this year.  It had considered this sort of thing in the past and now the Coaches Association is recommending its adoption.

Moving on …  I want to talk for a moment about the Eagles’ trade of Carson Wentz.  A few weeks ago when the Rams traded Jared Goff, there were reports that the Rams would take a $22M “dead cap hit” in 2021 and that was the largest “dead cap hit” in the history of the NFL.  [Aside:  “Dead cap hit” means that amount of money counts against a team’s cap for a given season but that player will not be on the team.  In Goff’s case, he would be playing for another team – the Lions.]

I mention that because I have read reports that the Eagles will suffer a “dead cap hit” for Carson Wentz that is much larger.  One report has it at $34M; another calculation had it at $32M.  The NFL salary cap for 2021 is expected to be somewhere between $180M and $190M; if the cap hit for Carson Wentz is “only” $32M, that means he will consume about 18% of the Eagles’ salary cap while playing for the Colts.  And that leads me to conclude:

There is more to the impetus for this trade than simply the terrible year Carson Wentz put on tape from 2020.  If this were only a physical/mechanical/psychological issue, I would think the team would try to work that out over the course of one more season.  Something else was afoot inside the Eagles’ braintrust as they evaluated their future with Carson Wentz.

I will not pretend to know what the issues with “management” or “the locker room” might have been, but it just feels to me that there had to have been significant problems somewhere in the mix.  The Eagles now need to make a quick assessment:

  • Is Jalen Hurts “the guy”?.  He looked good in one game against the Saints and looked very ordinary in his other appearances.
  • After the performance in the final quarter of the final game, I think the Eagles recognize that Nate Sudfeld is not “the guy” and may not even rise to the level of “just a guy”.
  • I think the Eagles are in the QB market either for a free agent or for a QB in the draft.

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times recently:

“Lions RB Adrian Peterson has been ordered to pay $8.3 million to DeAngelo Vehicle Sales, LLC after defaulting on a $5.2 million loan in 2017.

“Now that’s what you call getting thrown for a loss.”

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



Some Are Predicting A Disaster…

More than a handful of sports observers have commented on a looming potential disaster for women’s sports at the collegiate – – and possibly at the high school – – level(s).  Predicting dark days ahead for women’s sports is not something novel for 2021; what is different this time around is the identified source of the threat:

  • An Executive Order signed by President Biden on the day of his inauguration.

The Executive Order in question declares that “laws that prohibit sex discrimination … covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”  One of the laws specifically cited in that Executive Order is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  Title IX creates the relatively level economic playing field for women’s sports by denying institutions the ability to use any sort of “revenue proportionality” calculation to allot funds for women’s sports.

The Executive Order here intends to bar discrimination for the LGBTQ segment of society.  Let me say simply and clearly that I support any action that removes discrimination for every segment of society that is not performance based or scientifically impossible.  I have no problem with “gay marriage”; I have no problem with “same sex couples adopting children”; I would prefer not to have females use the same public restrooms that I do, but I will not go on any crusade to stop that from happening; I do have problems with any sorts of laws or regulations or even social customs that alienate individuals on the basis of their gender or their sexual preference(s).  Having said that, some folks believe that President Biden’s Executive Order could be disastrous for women’s sports.

Here’s how:

  • If “gender identity” is absolutely protected against discrimination, then a biological male can “gender identify as a female” – either permanently or merely conveniently – and be eligible to compete against females in athletic competitions.

Rather than make a universal statement here that would get me labeled as a chauvinist troglodyte, let me say that male athletes who would likely not be “championship material” competing against other elite male athletes could likely be dominant in competitions against female athletes.

  • The male who runs 10th in the Olympic 100-meter dash would be a force majeure in a sprint of the same distance with only female opponents.
  • The male sitting at the end of any NBA bench who gets to play only in epic blowout games would likely dominate the WNBA.
  • Top level females would be hard pressed to beat good-but-not-championship-caliber males in virtually all the field events at a track meet.

My point here is that – – if you extrapolate all of this to a logical and negative end point – – women’s sports could become dominated by males who “gender identify” as females.  And that situation might not be a good end point for women’s athletics.

Can it happen?  Well, evidently there are at least two of the States whose legislatures believe it can happen and those legislatures in Mississippi and North Dakota are in the process of passing bills requiring participation in sports there to be solely based on the gender assigned at birth.  So, that would seem to settle all of this; consider that as “problem solved”.  Except that would set up the situation where a State Law could conflict directly with a Presidential Executive Order.  Such conflicts get resolved in courts and in various legislative bodies – – and that is not the kind of “publicity” that women’s sports needs.

Obviously, the most malignant outcome here for women’s sports is some nightmarish twist wherein the Executive Order is deemed to have overreached AND that Title IX itself is somehow unconstitutional.    The gloom-and-doom prognosticators here would be proven right under that scenario; women’s sports would be gutted in that circumstance.  But the only way for that to happen is for this to go to court in the first place and setting up a potential conflict between an Executive Order and State Law is one way to do that.

I think the gloom-and-doomsayers are well ahead of themselves at this point.  Here is a link to the Executive Order in question in case you want to read it and make your own interpretation.

Moving on …  there is no real women’s equivalent to college football, so this is a total break in focus here.  Nick Saban was on Rich Eisen’s show recently and was asked about the possibility of expansion of the CFP.  Moreover, Saban was asked if he was in favor of such expansion.

Nick Saban has been around the block enough times not to answer that sort of question directly but still to offer an answer that touches on the central portion of the question.  What he did here was to express his concerns about the secondary effects of expanding the CFP:

“I just wonder sometimes if having a playoff and bowl games, and that was the unique thing about bowl games in college football, a lot of players got self-gratification for having good seasons.  They got to go to a bowl game, their families, the program, everything sort of got some positive self-gratification of what they were able to accomplish even though they weren’t national championship caliber or playoff caliber.  Now that’s all been diminished a bit. You just wonder, can playoff and bowl games co-exist, or should we just have more teams in the playoff? I’m not saying I’m for it or against it. I think that’s the question people need to answer.”

That statement brings home to me the glass half full versus half empty perception:

  • I see most of the “minor bowl games” as useless spectacles.
  • Nick Saban sees them as a reward for good-but-not-great teams.
  • Po – TAY – toe … Po – TAH – toe.

Finally, apropos of exactly nothing, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson formerly of the Omaha World Herald:

“I asked my 4-year-old nephew what he plans to do for a living. He says, ‘I want to shave goats.’ Me: ‘Good. I was afraid you wanted to be a writer.’”

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



Serious Business Today?

The Houston Texans released JJ Watt over the weekend.  Granted, Watt is entering that window of time when many – – if not most – – defensive linemen become measurably less effective.  Having said that, JJ Watt is also THE best defensive player in the history of the Houston Texans and JJ Watt had a more than respectable season in 2020 even if it was not comparable to those years when he was the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.  Reports say that Watt asked for his release and the Texans agreed to give that to him; assuming that is the case, here are three ways it may have happened:

  1. The Texans wanted to have JJ Watt end his relationship with the team in the best possible light – – and this exit ramp is certainly better than other potential ruptures.
  2. The Texans realized that releasing him would incur no “dead cap money” for 2021 and would save them his salary of $17.5M against their 2021 cap.
  3. The Texans did not think they could get anything of value for Watt on the trade market.

Of course, it could also be an admixture of any pair or all three of the above … but the bottom line is that the Houston Texans have now lost another high-quality player and have gotten bupkes in return.  Ad JJ Watt to this list:

  • Jedeveon Clowney
  • DeAndre Hopkins
  • Deshaun Watson – – potentially

I do not pretend to be able to read minds – – but given the actions of the Texans’ personnel wizards as evidenced by the above, I would not want to have the power to read those minds.  I prefer to reside is a far more rational region of space, and in a rational space, JJ Watt could have brought at least a draft pick or two back to the Texans as part of an exchange – – and the team needs draft picks given the way they have squandered them in past dealings.

Speculation about where Watt might sign immediately focused on the Steelers because his two younger brothers – – TJ Watt and Derek Watt – – are on the Steelers’ roster.  Since I do not read minds, I have no idea if that situation is appealing or repulsive to JJ Watt but if he is going to be “chasing a ring” with his next team, perhaps he might think about signing with the Packers – – as a native of the State of Wisconsin – – or the Ravens.  Wherever he signs, he will have absented himself from the drama and the vaudeville that is the Houston Texans’ organization; that change of pace for him would have to be a plus for him.

Dwight Perry “analyzed” the release of JJ Watt like this in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“Those wild and crazy Houston Texans agreed to release star pass-rusher J.J. Watt — still under contract — instead of trying to get some return value in a trade.

“Veteran team watchers say you’d have to go back weeks — weeks — to find a Texans move this confounding.”

In another bit of NFL news that is not nearly as confounding or head-scratching as the release of JJ Watt, former NFL defensive back, “Pacman” Jones has been arrested yet again.  [Aside:  He has been arrested enough times that I suspect he can correct a police officer if the officer misstates the Miranda Warning.]  This time the arrest is for and the charge is “misdemeanor assault”.

When I read that as the charge, I figured this was no big deal; probably what Pacman had done was to get into a shouting match with someone where pushing and shoving ensued and then – – as a pro athlete – – Pacman asserted himself a bit more than his adversary and the police were called.  No big deal here; nothing to see here; move along…

Later in the report I read was the description that Pacman had punched and kicked another person in the head until that person was unconscious.  [Aside:  If that is “misdemeanor assault” in Cincinnati, I guess I do not want to know what “felonious assault” might entail.]

Pacman Jones was a Pro Bowl caliber DB in the NFL – – and was named All Pro one time – – during his career.  He was drafted by the Titans high in the first round of the NFL Draft notwithstanding the fact that he had “off-field issues” while he was in college.  Jones was indeed an on-field talent when he was available for his team; during his career, however, he was arrested and involved in “police matters” more than a handful of times and spent an entire season on suspension by the NFL for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Jones’ explanation for the situation last weekend was that he was at a bar and was trying to get the DJ to play some song or songs when he heard a ruckus behind him and saw the club bouncer fighting with Jones’ younger brother.  At that point, Pacman went into action like Popeye the Sailor and according to Pacman, “I did what I needed to do.”  There are lawyers in Cincinnati drooling over the potential billable hours here…

Finally, having cited Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times above, let me close today with his assessment of potential Valentine’s Day gifts:

“Among the worst reported Valentine’s Day gifts, according to Dating.com, are wilted flowers, a pet hamster and an online workout subscription.

“Somehow not making the list: Jets season tickets.”

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



Off The Beaten Path Today …

Until I read a report last weekend about CheerSport, I was unaware that there was an annual national cheerleading competition.  Well, there is.  And it was in Atlanta GA last weekend drawing “40,000 people from across the country.”  I might suggest a motto for the organizers here and the participants:

  • “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor a pandemic stays these cheerers from their appointed routines…”
  • [Apologies to US Postal workers here…]

Participation is “significantly smaller this year” according to the organizers; only about 800 teams from around the country will compete.  Naturally, the organizers assert that they have strict and thorough health and safety standards in place and that they will be enforced.  I hope they are right because if they are wrong, this could be super-spreader event.

The danger of viral spread in, around and during the competition may be manageable with some precautions that are in place:

  • Teams will perform in isolation; only the team and family members will be in the arena during a performance.
  • There will be cleaning/sanitizing between the routines of all teams.
  • Masks will be worn at all times and there is to be no “high-fiving” or “hugging” after the performance.
  • You get the idea…

However, there is the potential for community spread because in the counties around Atlanta, more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 have been detected.  The participants and their families will need to be “out and about” in that area for some of the time to get to and from lodgings and to eat etc.  Hopefully, everyone will go home from this event virus free.

The cheerleading competition will go on and at the same time a high school basketball season had to be abandoned.  Yesterday, I got an email from a friend with a link to a story from mlive.com.  A high school in Michigan – Mio High School – has had to cancel its basketball season this year because its players have chosen to play for “travel teams” due to the uncertainty in Michigan regarding high school athletics this year.  The Michigan High School Athletic Association basketball season has not started yet but evidently “travel teams” are up and running.

The season was supposed to start on February 1st but an order from the governor put it back to “no sooner than February 21st.”  Evidently, that was enough for the players at Mio High School and their parents to “take their talents elsewhere”.  There is an irony here.

After the governor’s proclamation of no season prior to February 21st, the Michigan Dept of Health and Human Services reversed course and said the season could start on February 8th.  The problem is that kids had signed up and joined “travel teams” by then and in doing so those players were now ineligible to play on Michigan High School Athletic Association teams.

The linked story above calls Mio High School’s boys’ basketball team:

“ … the home of basketball heroes, legends and icons.   It is the home of a basketball heritage, tradition and pride.”

Even allowing for a lot of rhetorical license there, one might ask if the season was lost to the pandemic or to political/bureaucratic kabuki theater which then led parents to do something for their kids that made them ineligible to come back to their high school team.  Perhaps Alphonse and Gaston are alive and well and living in Michigan…

Another off-the-beaten-path event took place over the weekend.  FCF – – Fan Controlled Football – – made its debut and Johnny Manziel was back in action for the first time in a long time.  The last time Manziel was in a professional football game was in 2019 when he was with the Memphis Express of the briefly interesting Alliance of American Football.  Here in FCF, Manziel is part of a 4-team league that plays indoors with 7 players on a side.  His team is the Zappers, and they lost their opening encounter to the Beasts by a score of 48-44.  Manziel was 1 for 5 passing for 11 yards in the game and ran the ball 8 times for 68 yards and a TD.

After the game, Manziel said:

“The product will keep getting better as the weeks go on.  Good start even with the loss.  You know, win or lose we booze on the Zappers.”

Johnny Manziel has been out of the NFL since 2015.  I suspect that any folks at NFL HQs who heard or read that post-game statement had to feel a sense of relief that he was not representing an NFL team when he said that.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this note in a column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.  I could not agree more that far too many writers and broadcasters have jumped the gun on the idea of “legacy” here:

Such nonsense: Anyone who honestly thinks — as apparently some talk-show hosts pretend to — that Patrick Mahomes seriously damaged his legacy by losing a Super Bowl at age 25 a year after winning the big game, should consider adjusting their meds. And why would anybody talk about a 25-year-old athlete’s legacy?”

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



Character Counts

In case the name is not familiar to you, Jack Easterby is the Executive VP of Football Operations for the Houston Texans; his name frequently comes up in various reports about the turmoil that supposedly exists in the Texans’ front office.  I have no idea what is going on there but there was a report this week that Easterby hired Dylan Thompson to be the “character coach” for the Texans.  Several points here:

  • Easterby had been the “character coach” for the Patriots prior to his arrival in Houston.
  • Easterby hired Thompson in that role after Thompson had been the “character coach” for the Lions under Matt Patricia’s regime in Detroit.
  • That means at least 3 teams in thee NFL (Pats, Lions and Texans) have “character coaches”.
  • When I read about this personnel decision, I had no idea what a “character coach” did for a living.

A not-so-thorough bit of research revealed that one of the more specific duties for the position is to assist young players in the transition to life as a professional athlete on the field, in the locker room and in society.  That is certainly not a bad idea although I would have no clue as to how to do that should anyone ask me to give it a try.  Evidently, these are some of the skills and abilities necessary for the job:

  • Be available as a guiding counsel for players and their families when issues arise in their mental/emotional lives.
  • Facilitate communication and relationship building among players, coaches and staff thereby creating unity and harmony.

I learned three things from reading about this hiring decision by the Houston Texans:

  1. I learned that at least 3 teams have a position known as character coach.
  2. I learned – sort of – what a character coach does with a team.
  3. I learned that I would last less than 8 hours as a character coach before leaving in a dense fog.

Sticking with the NFL, in one of his interactions with the press around the time of the Super Bowl, Roger Goodell expressed his disappointment with the outcomes of the most recent hiring cycle for head coaches – – referring clearly to the fact that only one Black man was hired for seven open positions.  Specifically referring to that hiring record, he said, “It wasn’t what we expected and it’s not what we expect going forward.”

The poster child for the successful Black assistant coach who cannot seem to land a head coaching job at the moment is Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the KC Chiefs.  Everyone who pays even fleeting attention to the NFL for the past several years recognizes the success that the Chiefs have had as an offensive unit – – and yet Eric Bieniemy will be back in his same job in KC again next season.  The most common conclusion drawn for that situation is that he has not been hired because of racial prejudice in the hiring process itself.

I am confident that racial prejudice is part of the “problem” here, but I think it is too easy to pass off the problem with a declaration that it is the entirety of the “problem”.  It is almost glib to say that NFL owners are predominantly white men of European ancestry and that they hire people “who look like themselves”.  There is a glaring counterexample from the sports world to that easily arrived at answer.

Donald Sterling was forced to sell his NBA franchise and was banned from the NBA for life after his obvious and odious feelings about Black people were made indelibly clear to the public.  At the same time, Donald Sterling hired – and retained for a long time – a Black GM (Elgin Baylor) and he hired/approved the hiring of about a half-dozen Black head coaches.  A man whose public image is far more tainted with “racial prejudice” than any current NFL owner found a way to hire people who did not look like himself.  I am not trying to justify Donald Sterling nor am I trying to justify the NFL hiring decisions for new head coaches in 2021.  All I am trying to point out is that this issue is not simplistic.

Moreover, because it is not simplistic, it is not something that should lead the NFL Commissioner to say that it did not come out “as expected”.  Things can come out “as expected” under two conditions:

  1. They are well understood and have been observed many times.  Example:  Drop a pencil off a desktop and it will fall to the floor and not rise to the ceiling – – as expected.
  2. Serendipity is at work.  Many complicated and generally unnoticed factors are at work and the outcome is the result of unseen processes and interactions.  Translation:  You may think you know why it happened – – but you do not.

It is easier for folks to seize upon the first situation here because it offers the comfort of letting folks think they understand the hows and whys of a complicated situation.  That convenience and that comfort level, however, do not make the first situation above necessarily correct.

According to reports, Eric Bieniemy interviewed for the Jets’ head coaching job and for the Texans’ head coaching job.  He probably interviewed for others as well, but those two are important to note here because both the Jets and the Texans hired a minority candidate in this hiring cycle.  But they did not choose to hire Eric Bieniemy – – so how might we come to think about that situation?  Let me offer two possibilities here while acknowledging that there must be several more factors involved:

  1. Eric Bieniemy interviews terribly.  I do not know that to be the case but given his record of success as an offensive coordinator and the fact that he was interviewed for jobs where minority candidates were eventually selected reduces the impact of the “racial factor” just a bit.
  2. There is a structural flaw in the NFL’s hiring system that has disadvantaged Eric Bieniemy as compared to other minority head coaching candidates.

Let us explore that second possibility.  Bieniemy’s success means that he is employed and working full time for a team in the playoffs for up to 5 weeks after the teams with “failed coaches” have fired their incumbents and gone looking for someone to come in and “change the culture”.  Coaching candidates who were unemployed at the time the coaching searches began could have been contacted/interviewed prior to the end of the previous season.  Coaching candidates on teams that did not make the playoffs could have been interviewed the day after the season ended.  Eric Bieniemy had a full time job with the Chiefs and could not be conveniently/thoroughly interviewed until after the AFC Championship Game three weeks after the season ended.

There is some pressure for a team to hire the new coach early in the process; that new coach needs to assemble his staff and the longer he waits the greater the chance that one of the assistants he wants will have taken a job elsewhere.  So, the process itself puts someone like Eric Bieniemy at a disadvantage.

The NFL has tried to encourage the hiring of minority coaches – and specifically Black coaches – for a while now.  The Rooney Rule and the Amended Rooney Rule which offers compensatory picks to teams that groom and develop minority coaches who get head coaching jobs are well meaning.  But there is a disincentive built into the whole process and it effects assistant coaches on the more successful teams; it penalizes success.

The obvious solution is to have a new rule – – call it Rooney Rule III – – that says there will be no hiring of new head coaches in the NFL until some time after the Super Bowl game.  Teams will still be required to interview multiple minority candidates and the compensatory picks can still be in place – – although I am on record thinking that is not such a good idea, but what the heck – – and then hiring season can be declared open.  The problem here is so obvious that I hesitate to mention it,

  • Good luck trying to enforce the delay in the hiring decisions.  There will be more accidental circumstances where team officials and coaching candidates just happen to bump into one another in the month of January than can be counted.  Coaching candidates will use so many “burner phones” that cell phone manufacturers will see an uptick in sales.

What is the solution here?  Frankly, I do not know.  What I do know is that if the powers that be in the NFL – – and to a much lesser extent in the NFLPA – – continue to make hiring decisions into transactional events and if it decries outcomes after the fact instead of stating what “ought to happen” before the fact, not a whole lot is going to change.

Hold on a minute; I have an idea …  Maybe the NFL needs to hire itself a “character coach”?  It can’t hurt.

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



A Strange Mixture Today …

Yesterday, I wrote about the investigation into the sexual harassment issues alleged to have happened in the front office of the Washington Football Team about a decade ago.  By total coincidence, the headline on the lead story in the Washington Post sports section today reads:

  • “Ex-cheerleaders, team settle lewd videos case”

As is always the case, no details of the settlement were available.  That means – theoretically – that it is equally probable that the women dropped the suit because they knew they would lose in court OR that the details of events that took place back then were sufficiently skeezy that the team did not want them publicized regardless of the outcome of the case.  Of course, it could also be an admixture of those two possibilities as well.  You make the call here.

In addition, the team has decided not to have any cheerleaders at least for the moment; the team has decided to:

“… temporarily pause offseason activity of game  day programs including cheerleading and music.”

The team also demonstrated that it has not lost its grip on management-speak with the following pronouncement:

“The time is right to reimagine out entire game day experience, to reinvent it in such a way that reflects our modern identity and aligns with what today’s fan seeks.”

So, in the spirit of “reimagination” and solely with the intent of  suggesting what this fan seeks in terms of a “game day experience”, let me make two suggestions to the new leadership in the Washington Front office:

  1. Upgrade the food selections.  The status is that food at the stadium is better than “sushi at the 7-Eleven” but not a whole lot better.  I am not suggesting the team reincarnate Julia Child to oversee the food offerings, but there is a mile and a half of improvement potential here.
  2. Cut the parking fees back.  Fans should not have to tap into their personal lines of credit just to pay to park their car on game day.

About two years ago, I mentioned that there was a push to include break dancing as a demonstration sport in the 2024 Paris Olympics.  Well, that is indeed going to happen.  As with all sports involved in the Olympics, the IOC relies on international organizations to codify and regulate the sport itself.  Break dancing falls under the umbrella entity known as the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) which also intends to have ballroom dancing, salsa dancing and Lord know what other dances entered into the sports world and accepted around the world.

Based on a recent report in the Washington Post a “breaking competition” involves a “series of dance battles”:

“The dancers don’t know the music ahead of time and have to improvise on the spot.  Judges score them based on personality, technique, variety, creativity, performance and musicality.”

In other words, it is ice dancing without the ice.

The IOC is interested in attracting a young audience to maintain the allure of the Olympic Games as a television property.  Break dancing is something that “skews young” demographically; so, the acceptance of break dancing as a demonstration sport is not a huge surprise.  The fact that it will take place in the Paris Olympics is not a shock either; break dancing is very popular in France where it is evolving into a team sport and has caught the fancy of product managers in the “energy drink sector”.

Here is my guess as to my reaction to the competition in 2024:

  • I will check out break dancing because it is new and different.
  • After about 2 or 3 routines where I have been unable to discern any elemental differences in “personality” or “musicality” and I have concluded that the lines between “technique” and “performance” are opaque to me, I will move on and do something else.

Since I seem to be referring to things in the Washington Post this morning, let me point you to a column today by Sally Jenkins.  I was unaware that the NFL and a team of medical experts were working toward gathering and analyzing data about controlling the spread of COVID-19 and that all that data has been shared with the Center for Disease Control.  Moreover, the data show that the NFL managed to achieve an extremely low positivity rate over the last season – – and there are lessons to be learned.

Based on testing of about 7500 players and staff with over 950,000 tests administered, the NFL’s positivity rate for coronavirus was 0.08%; that compares to the US population at large with a positivity rate of 7%.  The difference there is a factor of 100; that is not an accident.

From the outset of the pandemic, medical folks have hailed the need for and the value of “testing and tracing”.  In addition to the 950,000 tests, the NFL also deployed contact tracing and used proximity trackers to highlight potential contacts that may not have been recalled and relayed to the tracers.

This column is worth reading because it shows what can be achieved in terms of limiting the spread of COVID-19 when a concerted and organized effort is in place to do that.  There are kudos that need to go out to the league, the league’s medical folks and the players’ union.  There is information for everyone to learn about the efficacy of various procedures to limit COVID-19 spread here.  Almost everything Sally Jenkins writes is worth reading; this one is definitely worth the time.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times from a while ago regarding the addition of some “modern sports” to the Olympics:

“Skateboarding has been added to the medal events for this year’s Olympics, and break dancing will likewise be in the lineup at the 2024 Paris Games.

“Somehow not passing IOC muster: a motion to change the Olympic motto to ‘Sicker, Hipper, Gnarlier.’”

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