Monthly Archives: March 2011

The draft’s sure things

As we continue breaking down the NFL draft, let’s move for a moment away from the quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallett (and past DaQuan Bowers as well) t0 talk about the surest prospects in the draft. In our mind, there are three guys who fit this category. Let’s look at all three prospects and their perfect fits.

Patrick Peterson, via nola.com

CB Patrick Peterson – Peterson, an LSU prospect, is a speedy corner who’s also 6-foot-1. That’s an anomaly, and it’s what makes him so valuable. Peterson’s not going to get beaten deep because of his catch-up speed, and he has the size to present a devastating bump at the line of scrimmage. And if Peterson ever gets the ball in his hands, he has the potential to take it to the house. He’s more Darrelle Revis than Deion Sanders, and that’s a great thing for teams looking for CB help. Most mock drafts have Peterson going off the board by No. 7 (San Francisco) at the latest, but he would be a great fit for any of the teams at the top of the draft board. The Panthers are still considering him at No. 1, which is saying something – since no corner has ever gone higher than third in the draft. But Peterson’s flexibility will enable him to play in any system and therefore be a one-size-fits-all prospect anywhere between 1 and 7.

LB Von Miller – Miller, another supersafe prospect, is the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. While he has played as a 4-3 outside linebacker, he’ll bring his greatest value coming off the edge in the 3-4. That limits his market a little, since the top two teams and four of the top eight play the 4-3. But that means Miller fits like a glove for teams like the Bills at 3, the Cardinals at 5, and the 49ers at 7. Where Miller goes may depend on when Newton and Gabbert get selected, since both Buffalo and Arizona are QB-needy, but our sense is that he’ll be off the board by the time the Cards turn in their card and make their pick.

WR A.J. Green – There haven’t been many black marks against Green as a prospect. He’s been both a dependable receiver and a big-play threat, and although he doesn’t have quite the speed that fellow receiver prospect Julio Jones has, Green has stayed on the field more. Green looks to be a true No. 1 receiver, which would fill gaping needs in Carolina or for the Browns, who have the 6th pick. And as the Bengals, picking 4th, turn the page on the T.O./OchoCinco era, Green is appealing as well. Any of those spots would fit for Green, but you’d have the think the Browns would be especially thrilled to be able to bring him to Cleveland.

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Remembering the draft’s forgotten man

DaQuan Bowers. Photo via si.com

I watch a lot of Clemson football. (That’s what happens when you marry a Clemson girl and talk to a Clemson fan father-in-law.) So I’ve seen a ton of DaQuan Bowers over the past three years. It didn’t surprise me when Bowers was slated as a potential No. 1 overall pick as the college season wound down. Bowers is a complete player. Not only did he lead the country in sacks (15.5) and place second in tackles for loss (24); he also won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Nagurski Award.

Bowers is the prototypical 4-3 defensive end. He can get to the passer, but he’s also big enough to dominate against the run. In 2009 , I saw Bowers live against Wake Forest, and although he didn’t have a sack in that game he completely controlled the line of scrimmaged by blowing up running play after running play. The fact that Bowers is more than just a pass rusher makes him an extremely valuable player.

Bowers has been slipping on draft boards because of health questions, which makes his individual workout Friday (April Fools Day) very important. He needs to show he’s healthy enough to play right away if he wants to stay in the draft’s top five.

But NFL teams will be April Fools if they pass on Bowers without major medical concerns.  He’s still the best defensive end on the board (sorry Robert Quinn), and he’s going to be a game-changing player at the NFL level. If he slips a 4-3 team like Cleveland at 6 or Tennessee at 8, he could be the steal of the draft. He smells like the defensive rookie of the year to me. And that’s why we should remember the draft’s forgotten man.

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RP: Trading for backup quarterbacks

Kevin Kolb

Trade target Kevin Kolb. Image via Wikipedia

In the midst of the NFL lockout, one rumor that won’t go away is that the Eagles are looking to deal backup QB Kevin Kolb to a team that wants to make him a starter. Kolb, who is signed to a reasonable contract and who sits behind Michael Vick on the depth chart, says he’s ready to start, and his performance in fill-in performances supports that belief. And Eagles head coach Andy Reid seems open to granting Kolb’s trade wish if the price is right.

But is this wise for the Eagles? And is trading for Kolb a good move for a quarterback needy team? Let’s do a research project to see the results other trades in which teams dealt for someone else’s backup quarterback and made him a starter.
*If  you can think of an example we forgot, leave a comment and we’ll add it in below.

2010 – Chargers trade Charlie Whitehurst and 2010 second-round pick (60th overall) to Seahawks for 2010 second-round pick (40th overall) and 2011 third-round pick – Whitehurst, a former third-round pick, was never going to surpass Philip Rivers in San Diego, but he had also fallen behind vet Billy Volek on the depth chart. So when the Seahawks wanted Whitehurst to compete for their starting job, the Bolts made the deal. The Seahawks didn’t give up as much as other teams had for QBs they knew would start for them, but it was a fairly hefty price for an unproven backup. In his first year in Seattle, Whitehurst couldn’t beat out veteran Matt Hasselbeck, and he started just two games. While his numbers weren’t great, he did lead the Hawks to a Week 17 victory over St. Louis to clinch a playoff spot. Hasselbeck is now a free agent, and the Seahawks want to keep him, which speaks to Whitehurst’s current value. But the jury is still out on whether Seattle got what it paid for in this deal.

2009 – Patriots trade Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for second-round pick (34th overall) – Cassel, who had been a backup at USC and with the Patriots, got his chance to play in 2008 when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Cassel acquited himself well, to the point that the Patriots put the franchise tag on him after the season. That was really a move to protect his value, and New England soon traded Cassel to Kansas City for an early second-round pick. That was a pretty nice return on investement for the Pats, who were obviously going to turn back to Brady as their starter. Cassel struggled a bit in his first year as a starter, but he really came on in 2010 to show he can be at least an above-average NFL starting QB. At this point, K.C. has to be thrilled to have Cassel, even after paying a hefty price.

2007 – Falcons trade Matt Schaub and 2007 10th overall pick to Texans for 2007 8th overall pick, 2007 second-round pick, and 2008 second-round pick – This is the one example that worked out far better for the team acquiring the backup quarterback. Schaub had started two games behind Michael Vick in Atlanta before the Falcons were able to get a pretty nice ransom for the former fourth-round pick. Schaub went on to the Texans, where he supplaned disappointing No. 1 overal pick David Carr. Schaub has developed into a prolific passer and has started every game when healthy over the past four seasons. The Falcons, meanwhile, didn’t know that their first season without Schaub would also be their first season without Vick, whose legal troubles began that year. So under first-year head coach Bobby Petrino, Atlanta started a poo-poo platter of Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich that season. Petrino bailed and went to Arkansas, and the Falcons ended up drafting Matt Ryan as their new franchise QB. Atlanta bounced back from this trade, but it was as disastrous at first for the Falcons as it was shrewd for the Texans.

2004 – Eagles trade A.J. Feeley to Dolphins for 2005 second-round pick – Andy Reid learned from Ron Wolf, the GM of the team he had been an assistant coach for, when it came to trading quarterbacks. So once Donovan McNabb was an established starter, Reid dealt third-stringer Feeley to the Dolphins for a pretty high price – a second-rounder. Feeley had been a fifth-round pick, but when McNabb and backup Koy Detmer were injured in 2002, Feeley went 4-1 as a starter, helping the Eagles land a playoff berth. He was stuck on the bench another year before the Dolphins anted up to get him. But Feeley started just eight games in Miami and played poorly, losing the starting job to Jay Fiedler as coach Dave Wannstedt got forced out. Within two years, Feeley was gone. The Eagles, meanwhile, got WR Reggie Brown out of the deal as a draft pick, and actually got Feeley back as a backup a few years later. Philly won in this deal, and Miami definitely lost.

2001 – Packers trade Matt Hasselbeck plus 2001 17th overall pick and seventh-round pick to Seahawks for 2001 10th overall pick and third-round pick – Hasselbeck was the third Packers backup under Brett Favre who was traded to become a starter elsewhere, and he was the most valuable. For one, GM Wolf had built up the value of his backups enough to show that they were worthwhile investments for trading partners. Plus, the Seahawks made the trade under GM/coach Mike Holmgren, who had been in Green Bay when Hasselbeck was drafted in 1998. Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick who developed into a preseason star in Green Bay, but he was never going to get a chance to start with Favre in place. So he moved on to Seattle. It took a while for Hasselbeck to beat out Trent Dilfer for the starting job in Seattle, but Hasselbeck eventually developed into a three-time Pro Bowler who led the Seahawks to several playoff berths and one Super Bowl. The fact that Seattle lost just one draft pick (a third-rounder) while giving up a few spots in the first round was a solid investment. Both teams came out of this deal as winners.

2000 – Packers trade Aaron Brooks and TE Lamont Hall to Saints for 2001 third-round pick and LB K.D. Williams – Brooks was the Packers’ third-string quarterback as a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, but after a year Ron Wolf was able to deal him to New Orleans for a third-rounder. The move was worthwhile for the Saints, as Brooks became a starter his first year and ended up starting 82 games for the team. Meanwhile, the Pack once again took advantage of Favre’s durability and turned a backup quarterback into a better pick than the one it had spent on him. So this deal was another win-win.

1999 – Broncos trade Jeff Lewis to Panthers for 1999 third-round pick and 2000 fourth-round pick – The Panthers, looking for a franchise quarterback, dealt for Lewis, who was a former fourth-round draft pick who was backing up John Elway in Denver. But Lewis couldn’t beat out veteran Steve Beuerlein in Carolina. Lewis was a backup for two years, in part because of a severe knee injury, getting only nominal playing time after the Panthers were eliminated from the playoff chase in 2000. And after George Seifert cut Beuerlein following the 2000 season to clear the way for Lewis, he fell flat on his face and was released at the end of training camp. The Panthers, led by rookie Chris Weinke, fell to 1-15 in 2001. The Broncos, meanwhile, dealt Lewis at the top of his value, because they already knew that Brian Griese had surpassed Lewis on the depth chart. After Elway’s retirement in 1999, Griese surpassed Bubby Brister and became a four-year starter for Denver. Denver fared fine in this trade, but it was a disaster for the Panthers.
(The short-lived Lewis era was when I covered the Panthers. Two funny stories: First, Lewis referred to himself as No. 8, leading reporters to joke that he was the first athlete to talk about himself not in the third person but the fourth person. Secondly, when Lewis saw a group of out-of-shape reporters going to play basketball during training camp, he looked at them and said, “Don’t blow a knee,” pointing back to the basketball injury that had derailed his career. It was the only time we saw a sense of humor from Lewis.)

1995 – Packers trade Mark Brunell to Jaguars for 1995 third-round pick and 1995 fifth-round pick – Brunell, who had spent two years backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay, was Jacksonville’s choice as their franchise quarterback for their first season, despite the fact that he had thrown just 27 NFL passes. It was a great move for the Jags, who got a three-time Pro Bowler for a very reasonable price. The Packers, meanwhile, had figured out that starter Favre was not just a Pro Bowl player but also an iron man who wouldn’t miss any time. So Wolf turned Brunell, a former fifth-round pick, into third- and fifth-round picks. The deal ended up as a win-win for both sides.

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FR: NFL Coaches in the UFL

Jerry Glanville

New UFL head coach Jerry Glanville. Image via Wikipedia

As the NFL lockout persists, we’re scouring the internet for football news. Today, the news came from the upstart UFL, which announced that ex-Oilers and Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville would be the head coach of its Hartford team. Rumors indicate that Marty Schottenheimer and Jim Bates may soon make the leap to head coaching spots as well. That news gave us an idea to compare the former NFL coaches who have moved to the UFL to continue their careers.

10 – Marty Schottenheimer, Virginia Destroyers 2011 – Schottenheimer, a highly successful coach with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins, and Chargers, moves to the UFL this season. His MartyBall style – strong defense and running games – never allowed for enough of a margin for error in the playoffs, but it piles up wins, and it should be a nice fit for the UFL given the fact that he can find a running back who is a bit small or slow but still talented. So Marty goes to the top of the charts of ex-NFLers in the upstart league.

9 – Jim Fassel, Las Vegas Locomotives 2009-present – Fassel spent seven years as the Giants’ head coach, but since then he’s had just one other NFL coaching spot, an offensive coordinator gig with the Ravens. So when the UFL was hiring, Fassel jumped on board. He’s won league championships in both seasons thus far, and he also serves as the team’s general manager and president. He is perhaps the standard bearer for the UFL at this point, and that makes for a good closing act to his coaching career now that he’s in his 60s.

8 – Dennis Green, Sacramento Mountain Lions 2009-present – Green, who has had head-coaching gigs in Minnesota and Arizona, is like Fassel an original UFL head coach. His team – called the California Redwoods the first year when it played in San Francisco and now known as the Sacramento Mountain Lions, ties him back to the Bay Area, where he was a Bill Walsh assistant with the 49ers and also Stanford’s head coach. At age 61, Green is unlikely to get another NFL shot, but he could remain in the UFL for years given his name recognition and national profile.

7 – none

6 – Jim Haslett, Florida Tuskers 2009 – Haslett, one of the UFL’s first four head coaches after head-coaching shots in New Orleans and St. Louis, went 6-0 in his single season before losing the league championship game. He translated that job into a gig as Mike Shanahan’s defensive coordinator in Washington. As basically the head coach of the defense, Haslett has a plum coordinator job, and if he is successful he’s still young enough at 55 to get one more head-coaching shot. It looks like the UFL was a good career move for Haslett.

5 – Jay Gruden, Florida Tuskers 2010 – Gruden, who spent time as an assistant to his more famous brother Jon in Tampa Bay, spent nine years as a head coach in the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators. (That tenure was interrupted when the four-time AFL championship quarterback came out of retirement to play two more seasons.) He took over Haslett’s head-coaching job in Florida, and after one year at the reins got his best NFL job to date by becoming the Bengals’ offensive coordinator. Gruden’s UFL time definitely opened an NFL door for him, and at age 44 he should have plenty of chances to continue to move up the ladder.

4 – Chris Palmer, Hartford Colonials 2010 – Palmer coached in the UFL’s second year, and the former Cleveland Browns head coach used that job as a springboard to become the Tennessee Titans’ new offensive coordinator. He had retired from the Giants QB coach position before taking the Hartford job, but apparently his time there reminded him that he still wants to coach. At age 61, Palmer isn’t going to get a new head-coaching job, but the Colonials job helped him move back up the ladder in the NFL.

3 – none

2 – Jeff Jagodzinski, Omaha Nighthawks 2010 – Jagodzinski, best known as a former Boston College head coach, had been an offensive coordinator for the Packers and then for the Buccaneers before spending the 2010 season in the UFL. Jagodzinksi’s resume is strange – he was fired by Boston College for interviewing for other jobs, and his tenure in Tampa ended during training camp. He was fired in Omaha after one year, and now we’ll have to see if he can rebound. He’s a talented coach, but his career arc is headed the wrong way, and the UFL didn’t turn it as it did others.

1 – Ted Cottrell, New York Sentinels 2009 – Cottrell, a long-time NFL assistant who served as a coordinator in Buffalo, San Diego, Minnesota and with the Jets, never got a head-coaching job in the NFL. So when the UFL began, he took advantage of the chance to be the head coach of the New York team. But after one year, Cottrell gave up his job, and was replaced by Palmer as the team moved to Hartford.

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Yo Gabba Gabbert

Chum in the water

Blaine Gabbert on the run. Image by vagabond by nature via Flickr

Let’s take a break from the ongoing lockout to dive back into the draft. Now, after analyzing Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, we move to another prominent QB – Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert is the buzzworthy guy this week, even before his Thursday pro day. He’s shown up atop mock drafts on ESPN and Sports Illustrated, and he’s now considered the safest option among the top QB prospects.

But I’m not so sure.

For some reason, Gabbert reminds me of Tim Couch and Joey Harrington. Couch was the first of five quarterbacks taken in the top 12 picks of the 1999 draft. I was in NYC for that draft, and it was shocking to see how Couch rose to the top of the list. He had the size, the arm strength, and the accuracy, which is why the Cleveland Browns opted for Couch. Of course, Couch busted out (as did No. 2 pick Akili Smith of the Bengals and No. 12 pick Cade McNown of the Bears). Instead, Donovan McNabb, at No. 3, emerged as the best quarterback in the draft, with Daunte Culpepper at No. 11 also meriting his spot.

Here’s why Gabbert reminds me of Couch. The Missouri quarterback has prototypical size at 6-5, and he has pretty good feet as well. He also spread the ball around effectively in a college spread offense with good accuracy. But neither was known for his deep-throwing arm, which begs the question of whether Gabbert is a system quarterback, like Couch was.

And that’s where the Harrington comparison comes in. Harrington was the golden boy at Oregon when the Lions picked him third overall in 2002. The Panthers, who held the second overall pick that year, passed on Harrington in favor of DE Julius Peppers. Peppers went on to have a terrific career in Carolina, while Harrington was a failure in Detroit.

Maybe that memory is why I don’t see the Panthers, picking first overall this year, pulling the trigger on Gabbert. GM Marty Hurney, who made the 2002 pick, is still in charge, and he isn’t going to take a quarterback as a fallback. That’s what Gabbert feels like – the “safe” quarterback pick who isn’t the dynamic talent that most No. 1 QBs are.

Gabbert was good, not great, in college, and our sense is that’s his NFL ceiling as well. Later in the top 10 – to Tennessee at 8, for example – he makes sense. But any quarterback known more for efficiency than talent is a question mark. Making that pick is how you end up with a Harrington/Couch/Matt Leinart kind of disappointment. 

I don’t believe the Panthers will fall victim to that trap. And that means they won’t be saying Yo Gabba Gabbert at No. 1.

(And I didn’t even have to make this point to come to that conclusion.)

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Hey fans: The NFL lockout is all your fault

Roger Goodell and NFL owners

Welcome to a world without football. It’s time for all of us to learn legal terms like lockout and decertification and injunction. There are a lot of questions, and the foremost among them is who to blame.

And fans, it’s time for you to admit: It’s all your fault.

You were the ones who stopped coming to terrible preseason games. Don’t you know you were killing the golden goose? The NFL teams who wanted (10 home games worth of revenue figured the only way to recoup that money was to go to 18 regular-season games – damn the players and their health. The players had the temerity to question the side effects of extra games from a health standpoint, and 18 games became a sticking point in negotiations. Who knew that would create such difficulty?

(OK, so maybe the negotiations got past the 18-game issue, and in plenty of time – at least 8 hours before the extended deadline on Friday. The bottom line is that it never would have been an issue if you would have just gone to the damn preseason games and bought a couple of drinks and hot dogs.)

Don’t try to wriggle out of the blame, fans. It’s your fault, because you’re voters too. As franchises (yes, their values now top $1 billion) asked for publicly financed stadiums, you finally rebelled. You let Minnesota’s Metrodome age until the roof fell down. You let San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium age to the point that the venue (yes, it was good enough to host a Super Bowl just 12 years ago) is no longer an acceptable venue. You forced Jerry Jones to (gasp) spend his own money on the new Cowboys Stadium – and then you got mad when he tried to make money by selling more Super Bowl tickets than he had seats.

At least you anted up personal seat license money to finance part of those stadiums. But it’s still your fault, because you didn’t give these billion-dollar corporations a completely free ride. No wonder the owners’ profit margin is shrinking.

That means it’s your fault, fans, that players wanted owners to open the books and see why the profits were shrinking. It’s your fault that players wanted to see how franchises do business – and how much these billion-dollar franchises finance their lifestyles. If you fans had just done your civic duty and voted for new stadiums, there wouldn’t have been any problem, and we could have all continued with business as normal.

And now, fans, you’re siding with the players. Why the hell do you care if they stay healthy after they retired? They already entertained you. Forget about them and watch the cheaper (meant to say younger) guys.

Yes, fans, it’s all your fault. So when you get your season ticket renewal forms in the mail, write the check and send it back. Watch the draft in record-setting numbers, just like you did the combine.

Actually, we have a better idea. Let’s just make this college football. We’ll take advantage of the players, give them a little something for their trouble just to soothe the conscience, and make rules that make the players disposable. Doesn’t that sound swell? Everyone loves college football, right? (Let’s get our lawyers on that.)

So it’s all your fault. And since we didn’t get our TV-network funded lockout fund, go ahead and pay for those tickets for games that may not happen. You know, the same games we’re cancelling by locking the players out, just so we can get our piece of the pie and the piece that you took away from us by actually expecting us to make business decisions.

Do the right thing, fans. After all, it’s all your fault.

Signed, your friendly neighborhood NFL owner

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Torching Tiki

IMG_0749

Image by jacorbett70 via Flickr

Apparently, this is criticism week here on Football Relativity. After pounding Ryan Mallett yesterday, we have a new target – ex-Giants running back Tiki Barber, who announced Tuesday he was going to try to come out of retirement and return to the field at age 36.

Barber’s announcement sent me into a bit of a Twitter tirade that I wanted to bring back here to start the discussion:

If Tiki Barber is trying to make sure his announcement makes a splash, making it while no other transactions are allowed is the way to do it
Does Tiki Barber really have a chance to make it back to the #NFL? Let me put it this way: I think I’d rather bet on Maurice Clarett
(After retweeting this from Ross Tucker: 3 reasons to un-retire: 1)Love the game. 2)Need money. 3)Crave relevancy/the spotlight again. I’m going with 2 & 3 for Tiki.) … Love @RossTuckerNFL ‘s 3 reasons to unretire. Taking it further: Favre has 1&3 (& maybe 2; who knows). Carson Palmer may not have any of ’em
Heard someone call Tiki Barber a Hall of Famer- No way. He’ll settle for @espnsmitty ‘s Corridor of the Capable. Enjoy your Formica Tiki

I’ll explain the Hall of Fame comment below. But first, let’s think about why Tiki is trying a comeback, and whether he realistically has a shot. And suffice it to say, I’m skeptical on both counts. Most running backs hit the wall at age 30, so it’s foolhardy to think that Barber at age 36 will be anywhere close to his prime years. While he hasn’t taken a pounding on the field in four years, there’s no way he still has the quickness or the durability he did when he was four years younger. And yes, Tiki’s twin brother Ronde is still playing and playing well, which speaks well to Tiki’s genetics. But coming back from being away is far different than keeping the body in shape for one more run, and playing cornerback is a lot less physical than playing running back. We’ve seen several cornerbacks – Darrell Green, Deion Sanders, etc. – play into their late 30s, but finding a late-30s running back is like spotting a unicorn.

If Tiki’s return is such a longshot, why is he doing it? Tiki left the game early in large part because he was ready to start a TV career. He had a great opportunity with NBC not only to be on Football Night in America every Sunday night but also to be a contributor to the Today Show. In many ways, Tiki was being groomed for the morning-show landscape. But he proved to be bland on camera, and then personal issues turned his blandness into outright dislike. Now it appears network TV isn’t an option.

That truth makes this announcement – perfectly timed, as I tweeted – at the very least an attention grab. It may also be a money grab, based on his costly divorce. But either way, it’s impossible not to be skeptical of Tiki’s motives. Tiki developed a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer, and this seems to be a natural move for a guy who’s all about himself.

For those reasons, if I were a team I’d consider Tiki as not worth the hassle. The Giants have already decided as much, saying they’re going to cut him free as soon as it’s allowed. That isa big-time sign about Tiki’s reptuation and his chances.

Now that the playing question is settled, let’s address the Hall of Fame question. Actually, it’s not much of a question. Barber falls significantly short of that level. While he played 10 years, his peak was closer to five years. And while he was a threat both running and receiving, he wasn’t the player recent electee Marshall Faulk was. I’d say Barber was 70-80 percent of the player Faulk was. Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, both running backs from Barber’s era, were left unelected this year, and I’d take both before electing Barber.

Instead, Barber belongs in the Corridor of the Capable. (That’s my term for Matt Smith’s idea of a Hall of the Very Good. It’s a place where the busts are made not of granite but of Formica and where, instead of getting a yellow blazer upon induction, you get a nice argyle tie. The induction dinner isn’t steak and lobster, just a perfectly acceptable chicken breast with some steamed vegetables.) So don’t hold your breath for Canton, Tiki. Instead, enjoy your Formica.

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