Monthly Archives: June 2011

Chad Pennington moves to the booth

Miami Dolphins' Quarterback Chad Pennington si...

Chad Pennington. Image via Wikipedia

For the last two weeks, the day job had me at Wayfarer Camp, so I wasn’t able to keep up with NFL news. One of the items I missed was the fact that Chad Pennington is leaving the field – at least for a year – to move to the announcing booth with Fox. Below are some thoughts on the move; you can see how Pennington’s addition compares to other announcing moves in this updated post.

Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on what was Fox’s No. 5 team last year. It’s actually a pretty plum gig for Pennington – he leaps over recent retirees Trent Green, John Lynch, and Kurt Warner on Fox’s depth chart, falling below only Brian Billick and Jim Mora among recent additions. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. It’s unclear at this point whether Tim Ryan, Rosen’s former partner, will return to Fox. With Charles Davis moving to college games, Ryan could join the three-man booth with analyst Jim Mora. But Fox would be wise to keep Ryan, who isn’t a high profile name but who has consistently provided great analysis in his nine years with the network.

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From T.O. to HOF?

 

Jerry Rice vs NY Giants cornerback (1995)

Should Terrell Owens make the Hall of Fame? And where does he rank among all-time receivers? This week’s news that T.O. suffered a torn ACL got us to thinking. We’ve already considered the way Owens’ career may have ended; now, let’s think about his place in history. (Hat tip to the Open Mic Daily guys for raising the questions and getting me thinking. UPDATE: Here’s the podcast of our conversation.)

We went to Pro Football Reference to look at the numbers. Going through the list, we considered 17 receivers from the top 20 in all-time receptions. (We left out No. 6 Tony Gonzalez, since he’s a tight end; No. 19 Larry Centers, since he was a fullback; and No. 20 Steve Largent, since he’s clearly from another era.) Of that group, only two are in the Hall of Fame – No. 1 Jerry Rice and No.  11 Art Monk. And Monk is the only guy on the list who played a significant portion of his career in the pre-Jerry Rice era (which began in 1985.)

Of these 17 receivers, we knocked out six – Monk, whose peak began before the era began, and five players who weren’t among the top 30 in receptions, yards, and touchdowns – Derrick Mason, Keenan McCardell, Jimmy Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Rod Smith. We then added in four others – Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson, who don’t meet the numbers thresholds yet but should soon; and Michael Irvin, who has made the Hall of Fame.

So we set out to compare Owens to the other receivers of his era.

Hall of Fame level: Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter, Hines Ward, Michael Irvin, Marvin Harrison – We prefer Moss to Owens slightly, since Moss was the more dynamic threat, but both belong in the Hall. So does Carter, who may finally get over the hump now that Shannon Sharpe has gotten in to ease the receiver backlog. Ward has moved into the Hall of Fame level in the last few years as the leading receiver in the Steelers’ Super Bowl run; if Irvin is in, Ward should be in too. They’re equals. Harrison is an interesting case; his numbers say he’s in, but was he a really good player with a great quarterback, or a great player in his own right.

Current players: We’d also put Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson in this level at this point in their careers. They need to continue adding to their accomplishments, but they’re on track to get in. Reggie Wayne strikes us as a 50/50 case right now; could he eventually pass Harrison in line?

Just outside the HOF bubble: Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Art Monk, Irving Fryar – Brown’s numbers are great, but he strikes us as a really good player who compiled great numbers. Bruce and Holt played in a WR-friendly system with the Rams; how could you choose between them for the Hall? Reed falls short, and we believe Monk should have as well. But if any of these players made the Hall of Fame, it wouldn’t be a travesty. We were shocked Fryar hit the numbers standards, but he did so just barely. He’s a level below the rest of the bubble guys.

Current players: Derrick Mason, Chad Ochocinco, Donald Driver, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and Santana Moss have gaudy numbers but fall below the bubble as well. We don’t see any of this group crossing the HOF threshold.

Just missed the numbers thresholds: Keenan McCardell, Jimmy Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Rod Smith – These guys were good but not great. They may be Hall of Fame finalists, but they won’t find their way in.

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T.O. finds his manifest destiny as a diva receiva

Terrell Owens (T.O.) autographing for fans at ...

Terrell Owens, at a rare sans-pushups press conference. Image via Wikipedia

The Terrell Owens biography added an incredible chapter today, as ESPN reported that Owens has had surgery for a torn ACL. It’s unclear how Owens hurt his knee. We know for certain that it happened away from the football field. But if the speculation that the injury happened as Owens taped his reality TV show, then he has reached his manifest destiny as a diva receiva.

Last year, we coined the term “diva receiva” to describe attention-hungry, me-first wide receivers. For some reason, such personalities gravitate toward wide receiver, where they can demand the damn ball, dance on the Dallas star, come up with elaborate touchdown celebrations, and make plenty of straight cash, homey. Owens – along with Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss, and Chad Ochocinco – has been an elite example of the diva receiva species. He’s extraordinary talented and productive, moody, sometimes unreliable as a teammate, and in search of the spotlight.

Given those traits, how else could his 15-year career end? It didn’t end when he held out on the Eagles and held press conferences while doing situps in the driveway. It didn’t end with a celebration on the Dallas star or with tears over Tony Romo. It didn’t even end with his two years of exile the last two seasons in Buffalo and Cincinnati. What could drive Owens out of the game?

It had to be something off-the-field – something so diva that only a receiva could do it. A reality show fits the bill perfectly. Owens says he’s coming back, and he might – he’s always been incredibly physically gifted. But s a free agent, Owens may find it even harder to find a third straight one-year deal with questions about his knee lingering. If his career ends this way, it’s only fitting.

Owens has been the receiver of his generation – because he is so good on the field, and because he is so diva as well. He has gotten leeway because of his talent, and he has used every bit of it and then some. Others have tried to follow his lead, but T.O. is, in large measure, an original.

And it just seems right that such an original would suffer what could be a career-ending injury in such an original way. T.O., meet your destiny.

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FR: Franchises on the LA Express

Los Angeles Stadium

Image via Wikipedia

The consortium that is trying to build a new NFL-ready stadium in Los Angeles revealed this week that it has talked to five franchises about moving – the Vikings, Chargers, Rams, Jaguars, and Raiders. A rival group has targeted the Bills and 49ers as well . So we thought we’d take the opportunity to use our Football Relativity tool to compare which of the seven we think is most likely to relocate, and why.

10. Chargers – Dean Spanos’ franchise has been looking for a new stadium to replace an outdated building that began as Jack Murphy Stadium and went through a major renovation in the late 1990s. But California and its municipalities are so broke that the only way a new stadium is going to get built is via private financing. The franchise has an out in its lease it can exercise each season, and the L.A. group has offered to pay the $24 million fee that goes along with breaking that lease. One hangup could be that Spanos doesn’t want to sell majority ownership, which the L.A. group wants, but that could be negotiated. Plus, if L.A. gets two teams for its stadium, a la the new Meadowlands in New York/New Jersey, a Spanos-owned team would work. There’s a very real possibility that the team which began its existence as the L.A. Chargers could once again take that name.

9 – Raiders – Al Davis has already proven he has wanderlust by moving the Raiders from Oakland to L.A. and back again. The Oakland deal he struck in the mid-90s resulted in a lower-tier stadium that keeps the Raiders from making maximum revenue. The lease hasn’t been smooth because of unmet ticket-sales guarantees and other issues, and the team is looking for a new stadium. But California economic problems make that difficult. One option is a new Bay Area stadium that the Raiders and 49ers (who also play in an antiquated arena) could share; but with little momentum toward such a building, Davis could simply turn south, where he has a built-in fan base.  And while it seems unlikely that Davis would sell his majority share in the team, L.A. money could provide him a nifty golden parachute.

8 – none

7 – none

6 – Vikings – If anyone doubted that the Vikings need a new stadium, the Metrodome roof collapse last season proved otherwise. The Vikings’ lease expires in 2011, so the franchise has leverage to push for a new stadium deal, as the Twins and the University of Minnesota have gotten in recent years. There seems to be an agreement in place, but L.A. is ready to pounce if that deal falls through. Right now, it looks as if the Vikings will find a way to get a new stadium and stay in Minnesota, but that’s not yet written in stone.

5 – Bills – The Bills play in one of the league’s smallest markets, which limits their revenue potential. But Ralph Wilson isn’t looking to move the AFL original; instead, he is trying to grow his market by playing in Toronto and getting that metro area into his fan base. That’s a wise move, and it makes the Bills less of a target for Los Angeles. Still, the small-market situation isn’t getting better anytime soon, and so the Bills will remain on the backburner of the L.A. discussion.

4 – Jaguars – The Jaguars have long been the target of relocation speculation, in large part because of the tarps that cover upper-deck seats for Jacksonville home games. But in 2005, the Jaguars signed a lease that keeps them in North Florida through 2030, and owner Wayne Weaver shows no desire to move. The question is whether the Jaguars’ flagging ticket sales have kept Weaver from turning a profit. If so, moving is a possibility. But if the bottom line is acceptable to the owner, he ain’t leaving Jacksonville.

3 -none

2 – Rams – The Rams moved to St. Louis in the mid-1990s into a brand-new dome stadium. But NFL stadia age quickly, and the franchise will have the opportunity to get out of its lease in 2014 if certain upgrades aren’t made. It doesn’t appear that new owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the team from St. Louis, where it has a strong fan following, or sell the majority share in the team he just finished buying. But the fact that the Rams have talked to the L.A. group shows that they’re covering all their bases.

1 – 49ers – Stadium woes put the 49ers on this list, but the team appears to have little to no interest in moving out of the Bay Area. Who can blame them – they own one of the country’s top markets in one of the nicest places to live anywhere. But if the stadium situation isn’t solved, Los Angeles rumors could at least provide leverage in the negotiations.

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Smith sticks with San Francisco

Alex Smith, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers

Image via Wikipedia

In a lockout offseason when NFL transactions are prohibited, Alex Smith’s declaration Thursday that he has decided to re-sign with the 49ers is news because it’s, well, news. Here are our thoughts on the match.

Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick, will always be compared to Aaron Rodgers, the other top quarterback in the 2005 draft. Of course, Smith can’t come close to measuring up in such a comparison, but it’s not all his fault. Smith has been through countless offensive systems under head coaches Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, and now Jim Harbaugh, with a different offensive coordinator in every season of his pro career, including the upcoming 2011 campaign. That lack of stability has made development no easy task. But he has been a league-average quarterback at best, and he lost the starting job to Troy Smith at points last year. But Smith will once again be a 49er, most likely on a one-year deal.

It’s a stopgap solution both for player and team. For Smith, the 49ers offer just about his best chance to start in 2011. Had he switched teams, it would have likely been as a backup, given the lockout and the lack of time to prepare and learn a new system. In San Francisco, he’ll enter camp as the favorite to start, at least until rookie Colin Kaepernick is ready. Since Kaepernick is viewed as a developmental prospect, that opens the door for Smith to revitalize his career and make the 49ers or someone else eager to start him in 2012. Plus, Smith will get to learn from Harbaugh, who has a reputation as a QB guru from his college days. If Harbaugh can help Smith unlock his still-present potential, it’s a win-win.

For the 49ers, signing Smith to a one-year contract (likely worth several million dollars) makes the best of a bad situation. Smith got to sit down with Harbaugh on the day when the lockout was briefly lifted in April, so he got the 49ers playbook and some pointers. Smith is actually running the 49ers’ players-only workouts, which speaks to his comfort with Harbaugh’s system. If the lockout were not in place, the 49ers might have looked for an alternate stopgap, because Smith has been disappointing and the last thing the fanbase wants is to see him under center again. But the lockout has forced teams into Plans B, C, G, and X. At least the 49ers and their fans can point to Kaepernick as a potential long-term answer – because Smith can no longer be considered a solution for anything more than the short term.

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RP: What’s next for Terrelle Pryor?

O'Brien Schofield chases Terrelle Pryor

Terrelle Pryor is on the move. Image via Wikipedia

Terrelle Pryor ended his Ohio State career on Tuesday, and the natural next question is where he will end up next. We’ve done some research looking at his options to see what his best path to being an NFL starting QB may be.

NFL Supplemental Draft

Pryor’s lawyer has already indicated that entering the NFL supplemental draft would be his preference. This is a little dicey in the midst of a lockout; while the CBA provides for a supplemental draft in a lockout, just as it did for a draft, none is currently scheduled. And with no opportunity to join a team immediately, being a supplemental draft pick could be even more tenuous than usual.

Amazingly, there have been just five quarterbacks taken in the supplemental draft since it began in 1977, and all five were first round picks. One, Bernie Kosar going to the Browns in 1985, was an unqualified success. The others – Dave Wilson to Saints in 1981, Timm Rosenbach to the Cardinals and Steve Walsh to the Cowboys in 1989, and Dave Brown to the Giants in 1992 – didn’t work out for player or team.

It’s hard to picture Pryor as a first-round pick, because even though he’s talented he has not been a consistent passer in his three years at Ohio State. But NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said he had heard Pryor connected with the first round. Would a team that needs a QB of the future (the Redskins come immediately to mind) take a shot at Pryor with an early-round pick? We could certainly see that happening.

The supplemental draft works like this: teams must submit “blind” bids on players – basically an email that indicates they would spend a certain round pick on the player. The winning team is the team that bids the earliest round, with ties broken by 2010 record. The winning team surrenders a 2012 pick in the equivalent round. Under this system, we could see Pryor being at least a third-round pick, and a team that falls in love with Pryor could take no chances and would have to spend an even higher pick to lock him up.

If Pryor were to enter the supplemental draft, 2011 would likely be a lost year, but he could be attractive to a team as a developmental project.

UFL

The UFL is only two years old, and only three QBs – J.P. Losman, Chris Greisen, and Richard Bartel – have moved from the minor league to the NFL. But the strategy has worked with other minor leagues – for example, Tommy Maddox used strong play in the XFL to become the Steelers’ starting quarterback. Playing the short UFL season would also lessen Pryor’s injury risk and potentially make him available to the NFL late in the 2011 season. Plus, several of the UFL teams are coached by ex-NFL head coaches. A good word from Marty Schottenheimer, Dennis Green, or Jim Fassel would make Pryor more marketable to the NFL, and spending time with such coaches would help Pryor’s development immensely. The UFL salary won’t be much, but the opportunity could be attractive to Pryor.

CFL

The CFL style of game favors running quarterbacks, so Pryor could absolutely tear up that league with his physical gifts. Could one amazing year in Canada set him up to move to the NFL? The path has been taken before – Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Joe Theismann, Erik Kramer, Joe Piscarcik, Sean Salisbury, and Dieter Brock are all quarterbacks who parlayed CFL success into an NFL shot. Moon, Theismann, and Garcia all turned those shots into significant success. (Props to this site for the CFL to NFL research.)

But the CFL season is an 18-game grind, and so playing there would present far more injury risk than the UFL. And most CFL contracts do not allow players to jump to the NFL until Jan. 1, which would put Pryor a couple of months behind the UFL timetable in terms of connecting with an NFL team. For those reasons, the UFL seems like a better fit for the future – even though in the present Pryor could be an immediate star above the border.

An FCS school

Pryor couldn’t transfer to another FBS (formerly I-A) school and play in 2011, but he could go down a level and play right away. That ploy has worked to get some players into the NFL in the past – most notably Joe Flacco, a first-round pick by the Ravens. Current Vikings third-stringer Rhett Bomar (who had a similar situation to Pryor at Oklahoma) also took this route. (Here’s a great blog on Bomar and Pryor.) But given the fact that Pryor already faces a five-game NCAA suspension and the possibility that he could be ruled ineligible for the whole year. And playing 6-8 games in the UFL would probably help him more than playing an equal number of games for an FCS squad. Still, this possibility should at least be on his radar.

The bottom line

If Pryor is going to be at least a mid-round pick, he should opt for the NFL supplemental draft. But that means he will be unlikely to see the field at all in 2011, and the lockout would also keep him from cashing in right away. Finding a way to work a one-year deal in the UFL or CFL would get Pryor on the field sooner, and if he played well he could actually advance his NFL draft stock for 2012. That’s a riskier way to go, but it would be a whole lot more fun for all of us to watch.

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Finding a Fit: Tyson Clabo

It’s time to focus on an offensive lineman in our Finding a Fit series, and as we do we’re going to focus on one of the grittiest (or should we say nastiest?) right tackles around – Atlanta’s Tyson Clabo. This is the sixth edition in a series that will continue as long as the lockout drags on. In this series, we’re going to look at free agents and try to match them to their perfect fits. We’ll consider opportunity, skill specificity, personality, and even money as we do this.

Previous Finding a Fit features focused on Matt Hasselbeck, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ray EdwardsAubrayo Franklin, and Plaxico Burress. Click through to check those out, and if you’d like to suggest a player for finding a fit, leave a comment or let us know on Twitter.

Tyson Clabo of the Falcons, via bleacherreport.com

Synopsis

Clabo, a Wake Forest product (Go Deacs!) was undrafted in 2004, and he tried to hook on with the Broncos, Giants, and Chargers before landing in Atlanta in 2005. He broke into the starting lineup in 2006 at right guard, and since then has basically been a full-time starter at right tackle. He finally earned some national recognition this past season with his first Pro Bowl trip. Along with right guard Harvey Dahl, he’s one of the “Nasty Boys,” a pairing that is physical and sometimes plays in the gray area. Clabo has become known as a solid run blocker, but he’s not as strong in pass protection at times. Still, he’s a solid starter who can add some attitude to the run game of a team that wants to be more physical.

Potential Fits

Atlanta– Obviously, Clabo fits the Falcons’ run-first philosophy. The question that will determine whether he returns is price. Dahl and fellow starting OG Justin Blalock are both free agents, and it’s unlikely the Falcons will pay to keep all three. Will Clabo or Dahl be the priority? Clabo will be an unrestricted free agent no matter what system the lockout yields, so the price tag may simply get too rich for the Falcons’ blood. Plus, the Falcons may feel they can develop a replacement such as Garrett Reynolds, and holdover Will Stivek is an acceptable stopgap. Our sense is that price will keep Atlanta from keeping a player they like.

Tampa Bay – The Buccaneers could steal a player from a division rival and fill a need at right tackle. Neither Jeremy Trueblood or James Lee is a comfortable starter, and investing in the running game could help Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and company as they continue their ascension. Plus, Clabo’s  style of play would continue to help the young Bucs develop an identity.

Kansas City – The Chiefs are developing right tackle Barry Richardson, a physical specimen whose play has been inconsistent to this point. If they are frustrated with his development or want more of a sure thing to support a run-first offense, Clabo would be a nice option. Both the Falcons and Chiefs use the same Patriots style of play, so Clabo would be a fit, and he’s the kind of veteran who would be a nice addition to a young locker room. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have to be rooting for the addition of a vet like Clabo.

Cleveland – The Browns have a terrific left tackle in Joe Thomas, but the right side of the line lacks talent or stability. Tony Pashos, Shawn Lauvao, and Billy Yates are all aging players with injury histories, and none provides the kind of stability that a young offense needs. And Peyton Hillis’ running style fits the kind of play Clabo has provided the Falcons in recent years. If you’re looking for a darkhorse in the Clabo race, Cleveland may be it.

Oakland– The Raiders played vets Langston Walker and Khalif Barnes at right tackle last year, but neither is a long-term answer. They hope rookie Joe Barksdale will become the right tackle of the future across from Jared Veldheer, but Clabo’s physical, nasty style could be so valuable to the Raiders that they jump into the market. Clabo plays like an old-time Raider, and owner Al Davis’ habits die hard.

Buffalo – The Bills have a massive hole at right tackle despite their serious offensive line investments in recent years, and they’ve paid top dollar for free-agent linemen in the past. But given where they are in the rebuilding process, it looks to us like they’re far more likely to develop rookie Chris Hairston than to pay big bucks for Clabo.

The Best Fits

1. Atlanta – The grass isn’t greener for Clabo on the other side of the fence. The main question is whether the money will be.

2. Kansas City – If Clabo wants to move, he should be looking for a contender that’s at least as close as the Falcons are. The Chiefs rank just above the Bucs by that criteria.

3. Cleveland – If the Browns are looking for a veteran to lead their line, Clabo fits. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want blocking in front of Peyton Hillis in bad weather.

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