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The problem with the NFL on CBS

The NFL Today's Boomer Esiason during the Supe...

Boomer Esiason, part of CBS' 1980s brigade. Image via Wikipedia

One of our most popular posts this offseason has been our update on new and moved NFL announcers. And if you go through that post, you’ll notice that CBS has only one entry – Marv Albert replacing Gus Johnson as a play-by-play voice. CBS shuffled its pairings a bit, but the faces and voices are the same.

And that’s the problem with the NFL on CBS. The Eye network has remained so faithful to its announcers that its announcers are becoming irrelevant. As a result, CBS’s coverage sounds aged, spouting cliches and strategies of years gone by instead of the trends of the current day. And that’s because CBS’s analysts haven’t been in the league for years. None of the 12 analysts (studio and game) that CBS announced for 2011 has been in the NFL in the last four seasons. Only one – Bill Cowher – has been in the NFL within seven seasons. And CBS only has three analysts – Rich Gannon, Steve Beuerlein, and Shannon Sharpe – who played in the 2000s. (See below for more details.)

This isn’t the approach other networks take. Fox, for example, has added players like John Lynch, Chad Pennington, and Michael Strahan, as well as coaches like Brian Billick and Jim Mora to its NFL Sunday crew in recents years. The two dominant franchises of the 2000s – the Colts and Patriots – are represented by Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on NBC’s Football Night in America. And ESPN and the NFL Network regularly add recently retired players who bring fresh insight and relevant anecdotes.

CBS, meanwhile, trots out the same old, same old from Dan Dierdorf – and features it on its No. 2 team. It relies on quarterbacks from the 1980s – Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, and Phil Simms – as its stars. The age shows, as CBS game viewers settle for traditional, surface analysis far too often.

Will CBS ever have a changing of the guard among its analysts? Or do the veterans on the squad have lifetime contracts? Like the NFL itself, NFL announcers should have to fight off a new crop of rookies year after year. But at CBS, they don’t.

And until CBS gets its eye off the past when it comes to NFL announcers, its coverage won’t be anywhere close to what it needs to be.

The last year game analysts were in the NFL (as players or coaches)

CBS: Dan Marino 1999, Boomer Esiason 1997, Bill Cowher 2006, Shannon Sharpe 2003, Phil Simms 1993, Dan Dierdorf 1983, Dan Fouts 1987, Rich Gannon 2004, Solomon Wilcots 1992, Steve Tasker 1997, Steve Beuerlein 2003, Randy Cross 1988

FOX: Howie Long 1993, Terry Bradshaw 1983, Jimmy Johnson 1999, Michael Strahan 2007, Troy Aikman 2000, Daryl Johnston 1999, Tony Siragusa 2001, Brian Billick 2007, John Lynch 2007, Tim Ryan 1993, Jim Mora 2009, Chad Pennington 2010, Charles Davis DNP

NBC: Cris Collinsworth 1988, Tony Dungy 2008, Rodney Harrison 2008

NFL Network: Mike Mayock 1983, Marshall Faulk 2005, Steve Mariucci 2005, Warren Sapp 2007, Michael Irvin 1999, Kurt Warner 2009

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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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NFL announcing move: Gus Johnson moves to Fox

gus-johnson

Over the weekend, we posted the opening paragraphs of our comparison of new and moved announcers for the NFL 2011 season. This week, another couple of announcers moved, as Gus Johnson left CBS for Fox, where he will be teamed with Charles Davis on Fox’s growing college football coverage. Below are some thoughts on the move; the comparison will connect it to other announcing moves.

Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, mainly at the end of the year. That leaves Dick Stockton and 2010 rookie Jim Mora without Davis, which should be OK, and could mean that a solid team like Thom Brenneman/Brian Billick or Sam Rosen/Tim Ryan moves up the ranks. Meanwhile, on CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

(One extraneous thought that I tweeted: Attention @nbaontnt – Gus Johnson is available for next year’s playoffs. And Dick Stockton even older for next year’s playoffs. Just sayin’)

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FR: New and moved announcers for 2011

Each year, we compare the national TV announcers that enter the NFL business or find new gigs. We will do this using our Football Relativty scale, with 10 being the moves we like best, and 1 being the move that matters least. We’ll add to this comparison as more moves are announced.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via blog.49ers.com

10 – Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – Once again, the NFL Network revamped its announcing duo, but this time the network got it right. Mayock is NFLN’s franchise player as a draft analyst, and he proved his game analyst chops last year doing Notre Dame games on NBC. Mayock then went on to do one NFL game, the playoff game between the Saints and Seahawks, and his serious approach and insight into game strategy and trends was enlightening. He’ll be a massive improvement over ex-NFLN analysts Joe Theismann, who tends to be a blowhard and falls victim to a disturbing inattention to detail, and Matt Millen, a good analyst who tended to be brought down by Theismann’s act. Mayock works with Brad Nessler, a play-by-play vet who has done mostly college football for ESPN (among other sports) but has had a couple of NFL cameos on the opening-week Monday night doubleheaders. Nessler has a more authoritative voice than former play-by-play man Bob Papa, who merited staying over but won’t get the chance. Still, the Nessler/Mayock pairing feels like a big-time booth, which is something the NFLN has never hit on because of massive weak spots like Theismann or, before him, Bryant Gumbel.

9 – Kurt Warner, NFL Network – Warner, who called a few lower-level games for Fox last season, is moving to NFL Network full time to be a part of GameDay Morning each Sunday, as well as the network’s pre- and post-game for Thursday night games. That job fits Warner better than game analyst, because it will allow him to speak to macro issues and express his thoughtfulness. Plus, Warner adds a new dimension to a pre-game show that doesn’t have a quarterback on it right now. Warner should become a long-time fixture on NFLN, and he gives the network a fourth Hall of Fame caliber player with Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin (both already in) and Warren Sapp. It looks to be a great fit.

9 (con’t) – Bill Parcells, ESPN – Parcells has bounced between the NFL and broadcasting for nearly two decades now, and he’s proven that he’s an excellent analyst. Now he joins ESPN and jumps onto the Sunday NFL Countdown show. He’ll immediately become a key contributor, because his keen eye for talent and presentation makes him more valuable than fellow ex-coach Mike Ditka. Parcells will also get a draft confidential special and a Super Bowl confidential special, and he’s proven that such shows can be the equivalent of Jon Gruden’s QB camp in terms of insight. Parcells is a TV star, and he’ll be a huge asset to ESPN’s pregame show lineup.

8 – Marv Albert, CBS – Albert is best known for being the voice of the NBA for NBC, TNT, and also the Knicks and Nets, but he has a long legacy of calling NFL games. For nearly two decades, Albert was an NBC play-by-play announcer, spending most of them in the high-profile No. 2 position for the network. But his high-profile personal issues cost him that job in 1997. Albert returned to calling NFL games for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and playoff radio broadcasts in 2002, and he has called 10 Super Bowls for that network. Now Albert returns to the NFL with CBS, whom he first worked for after the network teamed with TNT to broadcast the NCAA tournament this spring. Albert has a big-time and distinctive voice, and his long history calling games will immediately add depth to the CBS bench. The question is whether Albert will slip into the CBS lineup in Gus Johnson’s former No. 5 spot, or whether he’ll jump a younger voice like Kevin Harlan or Ian Eagle. Given how old CBS’s game-calling crews are as a whole, moving Albert up too high would be a mistake. CBS needs to develop and feature younger voices like Eagle and Spero Dedes more prominently. But if Albert  stays in a mid-tier role, he’s certainly as good as a replacement for Johnson as was available.

7 – none

6 – Chad Pennington, Fox – 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 Fox’s seventh team. 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. Rosen’s old teammate, Tim Ryan, is now with Chris Myers on the No. 5 team as Fox shuffles its lineup.

6 (con’t) – Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, Fox – Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, filling in on eight-game weeks for Fox. On CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

5 – Jerry Rice, ESPN – ESPn hired Rice, perhaps the greatest player ever, to serve as an analyst for NFL Live, SportsCenter, and the Thursday night Audibles show. It’s an interesting move. Rice is one of the best players ever, but can he translate his expertise into succinct analysis? Many have tried and failed. Still, it’s worth the gamble for ESPN to add someone with Rice’s pedigree. If he works out, it’s a coup; if he doesn’t, he’s still Jerry Rice, which counts for something for the viewer. And since ESPN is easing him in, Rice will have the best opportunity to succeed.

4 – Hugh Douglas, ESPN – Since his retirement in 2004, the former pass-rush specialist has been an engaging and sometimes controversial commentator in the Philadelphia market. Now he moves to the national scene, joining ESPN as a studio analyst who’ll be used on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, ESPN News, and other platforms. It’s not ESPN’s glamour job, but Douglas should get plenty of air time in the role. He’ll definitely make an impression, and his willingness to call out players and coaches will make him memorable. Don’t be surprised if Douglas earns a promotion at ESPN before too long.

4 – Josina Anderson, ESPN – Anderson made a splash as a reporter for the Fox affiliate in Denver, consistently breaking national stories from a local beat. That’s not easy to do, and it led her to a correspondent role on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Now she moves to ESPN, where she’ll be an NFL reporter with chops. This is a deserved call-up to the national scene.

3 – Eric Mangini, ESPN – Mangini also joins the World Wide Leader as a studio analyst. He worked for ESPN during last year’s playoff run, bringing insight to the Jets/Patriots matchup since he is a Bill Belichick disciple and a former Jets head coach. We’re always all for hiring recently fired coaches, because they see the league in ways few others can. The question is whether Mangini can take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that fans understand and enjoy. Mangini won’t have the big personality of other former coaches turned broadcasters like Herman Edwards or Brian Billick, but like a Jim Mora, he should be able to make some keen insights. It’s a nice addition for ESPN.

3 (con’t) – Damien Woody, ESPN – Woody, who retired this offseason, also latches on with ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. The fact that Woody played all across the offensive line will add to his credibility, and being in the league up through last year helps as well. But Woody must establish his personality pretty quickly so that he’s not lost in the forest of ESPN’s uber-deep analyst roster (which did trim Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn).

3 (con’t) – Heath Evans, NFL Network – Evans retired during training camp and landed with NFL Network. He has experience playing for both the Saints and Patriots, which means he should bring good insight to two of this year’s contenders. He also has an outspoken personality that should help him make a mark. While he wasn’t a big name as a player, Evans has a nice future in television.

2 – Rodney Harrison, NFL Network – Harrison isn’t leaving his high-profile studio job at NBC; he’s merely adding midweek responsibilities with NFL Network. From our perspective, that’s a great thing – we always want to see more of Harrison.

1 – Michelle Tafoya, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – Tafoya has long been a fixture as a sideline reporter, most recently with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now she moves to Sunday nights to work with the crew that she did MNF with back in 2004-05. Tafoya is a professional, and she adds good information on the sidelines without devolving into the prepackaged stories that so many other sideliners do. As MNF lessened the duties of its sideline reporters, it makes sense for Tafoya to find a more prominent role. It’s unclear at this point whether Tafoya is joining or replacing current SNF sideliner Andrea Kramer.

1 (con’t) – Alex Flanagan, NFL Network – Flanagan replaces Tafoya as the sideline reporter on NFL Network’s Thursday night games. Flanagan has proven to be a terrific sideliner doing NBC Notre Dame games, as well an NBC playoff game last year, and she’s also a NFL Network host. That makes her a perfect fit for an enhanced role.

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NFL bookshelf

My recent vacation provided plenty of reading time to go through some of the NFL books on my reading list. I thought I’d share my thoughts about a few of these books here.

More than a Game by Brian Billick – If you’re a football geek, this is a must-read. Billick’s book (written before the 2009 season) gives an inside look at how the league works on a day-by-day basis and what it takes to succeed. Billick then gives his thoughts on the labor strife that looms larger and larger on the NFL horizon. I found Billick’s honest, insider perspective fascinating, and I felt like I knew more about the league after reading the book. Those are both good reasons to recommend this read.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer – Krakauer, who wrote Into Thin Air among other books, takes on the story of former Cardinals S Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after he enlisted in the Army following 9/11. Krakauer spends most of this book on the political side of the conflict in Afghanistan and the cover-up of the friendly-fire aspect of Tillman’s death. But despite that emphasis, the book gives good insight into Tillman as a man and why he chose to leave the NFL to join the Army. There was enough interest there to keep me turning the pages of this sometimes dense book.

The Long Snapper by Jeffrey Marx – Marx hit the best seller list a few years ago with Seasons of Life, a book about a high school football team. In this book, Marx tells the story of Brian Kinchen, who came back after a three-year absence to fill in as the long snapper on the 2003 New England Patriots for the final two weeks of the regular season and the run to the Super Bowl. Marx tries to imbue tension in Kinchen’s struggles as a 38-year-old long snapper, and while that comes off as melodramatic at times, it reflects Kinchen’s honest thoughts and doubts throughout. That makes it an interesting read about the periphery of the NFL.

Monday Morning Quarterback by Peter King – King’s weekly column by the same name is a must-read throughout the year, but his book felt more like filler than an essential read. It includes some of his favorite MMQB stories through the years, along with features that mirror some of his usual column sections and a few lists of their own. King is working on an updated paperback version of the book, and at this point if you’re interested in the book it’s worth waiting. The book has some interesting tidbits and opinions, but it’s not an essential part of the NFL fan’s bookshelf.

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FR: Offseason rumor mill

Per Chase’s request (yet again), and with the help of many (from SC to CO to CA to everyone on this post) we’re going to do a football relativity comparison with the major rumors that have circulated through the NFL this offseason. 10 is the rumor with the most importance AND most substance, while 1 is the rumor with the least importance OR substance. We haven’t addressed every rumor out there this offseason, or every rumor suggested, but we’ve tried to hit the major ones, with a focus on some of the gossip that is still percolating.

10 – Broncos will trade QB Jay Cutler – This rumor ran rampant leading up to the draft, and it ended up being true. The Broncos’ pursuit of Matt Cassel put the team’s new regime at odds with their supposed franchise quarterback, and as both sides dug in, things deteriorated quickly. (Click the link to find out who we blamed for the whole mess.) Before long, owner Pat Bowlen pledged to deal Cutler, and that’s what happened, with Cutler going to Chicago for a King Street ransom. This rumor tops the list because it actually proved to be valid.

9 – Regular season will expand to 17 or 18 games – Commissioner Roger Goodel has expressed his desire to lengthen the season. It makes sense, at least financially. Owners can get full sellouts for an extra home game that will replace a preseason game, and the TV contracts would go up as well. For players, though, money isn’t the only consideration. The cost of two extra games and all those extra snaps could shorten careers, heighten injury risks, and make life more difficult. So this will be an issue in collective bargaining. Extra games could also make international games easier, not only in London and Toronto but also in other locales like Mexico City, China or Japan, Germany, and others. This will be a marquee issue in the upcoming round of CBA negotiations, along with the question of a rookie salary cap and others. We will hear a lot about this over the coming year.

8 – Cardinals will trade WR Anquan Boldin – This is a TBD situation, in part because the Cards really don’t want to trade Boldin and are therefore asking for the moon and a star or two. Boldin wants to be paid like teammate Larry Fitzgerald, who’s pulling down $10 million a year, but Boldin just isn’t quite on that dominant level. Still, Boldin would be a clear-cut No. 1 option for a contender like Tennessee, the Giants, or Philly. A deal seems unlikely now that the draft is over, but Boldin is still holding out hope.

8 (con’t) – Panthers will trade DE Julius Peppers – This is another TBD situation. Peppers, a free agent, was franchised at huge cost by the Panthers, but he’s made it clear that he wants out so that he can play in a 3-4 defense somewhere. The most prominent rumor connected Peppers to New England, but nothing happened before the draft. The Panthers say they are determined to keep Peppers, and so a trade still appears unlikely. But if Peppers declines to report to training camp, the chatter will hit high gear once again.

7 – QB Brett Favre will come out of retirement to play for Vikings – Favre has pulled this retirement-oops-changed-my-mind routine before, and if he comes back with the Vikings this year, he’ll probably do it again next year. The difference this offseason is the Vikings’ admitted interest in Favre, who is free after the Jets removed him from the reserve/retired list. Count on this dragging out at least past some of the team minicamps, because Favre’s desire to stay home in Mississippi during the spring and summer is a tick stronger than his desire to play football. (That doesn’t start winning until the spotlight goes on in September.) This rumor is down on the comparison list because it feels stale after being on the mill for two or three years in a row.

6 – Coaching carousel – There has been an unbelievable spate of Super Bowl winning coaches either pushed out (Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden) or stepping away (Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren) this offseason. They join fellow Super Bowl winners-turned-announcers Bill Cowher and Brian Billick off the sidelines. And already, we’re hearing multiple rumors about where people will end up. Shanahan was linked to Kansas City this offseason, and he’s already been attached to Chicago and Dallas for 2010. Holmgren, who is ostensibly retired, could land in San Francisco or elsewhere as a GM or team president. Cowher continues to be linked to Carolina becuase of his roots there, even though John Fox’s job appears stable at this point. Gruden, perhaps noting the coaching market is flooded, is joining Monday Night Football, which will keep him in the public eye until he’s ready to get the job he wants. Regardless, with quality resumes like these out there, the coaching carousel in 2010 will be high-powered and high-octane, as it revolves more rapidly than usual.

5 – QB Michael Vick will return to the NFL – This rumor is gaining steam with Vick’s imminent release from prison. Once he is released, there are two huge shoes that still have to fall. One seems pretty natural — the Falcons will release Vick rather than having him clog up their salary cap over the long term. But Atlanta first must get Vick to repay the signing bonus he has promised (either $6.5 million or $7.5 million, depending on a court ruling). Now that they’ve agreed to the amount, that seems to be a natural, but Vick is so cash poor that this step could take a while. More importantly, Vick must avoid NFL suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell could let Vick slide, citing the high price (in prison time and money) he has already paid for his mistake. He could sit Vick for an entire season. Or it could be something in between. But this should be a huge NFL story through the otherwise quiet days of June and July.

4 – London wants to host a Super Bowl – This was an interesting business rumor that cropped up during the offseason. London, host of the 2012 Summer Olympics as well as NFL regular-season games the last two years, has expressed interest in bringing the Super Bowl over. The NFL has not shot this idea down, most likely for business reasons. As long as London thinks a Super Bowl is still a possibility, don’t you think ticket sales and sponsorships for NFL projects in the here and now will be brisker? I don’t think it will ever happen, but the NFL has a vested interest (that means $$$$) in making London believe it could.

3 – Browns will trade WR Braylon Edwards – Edwards isn’t as accomplished as Boldin, and his performance in 2008 was well below his standout ’07 campaign. But Edwards’ height, speed, and talent still makes him a potential No. 1 receiver for a contender, and so the fact that the Browns were willing to deal him before the draft (and maybe after) is still important. Edwards’ name was most often connected with the Giants, but the Eagles and perhaps the Titans made sense as well. Of course, all three of those teams picked receivers in the first round, and so chances of a trade now seem slim. The Browns would actually be better served to keep Edwards, especially after dealing Kellen Winslow, because that team has precious few impact guys right now. For all his faults and foibles, Edwards is still a checkmark in the impact category.

2- Bengals will trade WR Chad Ocho Cinco – This was a red-hot rumor in the ’08 offseason, with the Redskins reportedly offering two first-rounders for Chad Johnson. (Can we call him a player to be named later because he soon thereafter changed his name?) There were rumblings again this offseason, in part because so many contenders needed No. 1 receivers. But the Bengals were not inclined to deal 85, especially after his former running mate T.J. Houshmandzadeh left for Seattle via free agency. That meant the rumor never really got traction, and Ocho Cinco will be locked into Cincinnati once again this offseason.

2 (con’t) – A team will move to L.A. – This is a back-burner issue right now, but there are a few teams that still seem to be candidates to move. One is the Chargers, who hold outs and want an upgraded stadium. They face similar challenges building in the San Diego area that the league has tried unsuccessfuly to hurdle in L.A. for years. The other may be the Jaguars, who face declining attendance in a market that has never really caught fire. The Jaguars’ owner denies such a move, but the lack of an ideal situation in Jacksonville means the rumor will persist. A long shot is the Vikings, who are working toward a new stadium in Minnesota but who have an out after the 2011 season.

1- Franchises opting out of league pension plan – This is admittedly very wonkish, but the approval of potential changes to the NFL pension plan led to widespread rumors of veteran assistant coaches either retiring or moving to the college ranks to protect their retirement savings. The rule was credited, at least in part, for the retirements of Colts aides Tom Moore and Howard Mudd. It’s yet to be seen whether this ends up being sound and fury signifying nothing or something that’s actually substantive.

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Gruden is the new Mr. Monday night

Big NFL announcing news, with Tony Kornheiser stepping down from Monday Night Football and ex-Bucs and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden stepping in. Gruden has the energy and the knowledge to be good in the role, although his growl of a voice might sound a little funny. It’ll also be interesting to hear how he and Ron Jaworski interact, because Jaws has drifted a little too far into blowhard territory for my tastes. (I detailed full thoughts on the MNF trio and other announcing teams in this post.)

Gruden has a sense of humor and even a sarcasm that should play well on TV, as long as he doesn’t come across as condescending. But he should bring a youth and an energy to the booth right away. Plus, he’s relevant and knows the league really well, which is something that precious few announcers have now. The NFL game changes so quickly now that we need to have younger players/coaches calling games. That’s a big part of why Brian Billick was so good behind the mic in his first season. He knew the players, the personalities the strategies so much better than most other announcers, and it showed.

So Gruden as Mr. Monday Night is a great experiment for ESPN to undertake, and it has a great shot of working out.

And another thing… If you like following announcing stuff, Awful Announcing is a great clearinghouse for what’s happening.

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RP: Coaching trees

Per Chase’s request, we spent some time this offseason researching the coaching influences of NFL head coaches. We compiled this information into coaching trees. There are four dominant trees in the league right now: the Bill Walsh tree, the Tony Dungy tree, the Bill Parcells tree (thanks in part to Bill Belichick), and the Marty Schottenheimer tree (thanks in large part to Bill Cowher). Two other trees connected to Buddy Ryan and Jimmy Johnson are also worth noting.

Let’s dig into each tree to see how it has grown and what the distinguishing characteristics are. One note: While many coaches have apprenticed in several of these trees, we’ve tried to locate them in the area that most describes their coaching styles and philosophies. So, for example, while Herman Edwards could be listed under Dick Vermeil, we’ve put him under Tony Dungy because his defensive approach is more like Dungy’s.

You can see an illustration of all of these trees at the bottom of this post.

THE BILL WALSH TREE
Inspiration:
Paul Brown
Distinguishing characteristic: Short, timing-centric passing game a.k.a. the West Coast offense
History: Walsh, who learned under Hall of Fame coach/GM Paul Brown, perfected those lessons in a career that earned him three Super Bowls and spawned at least five other Super Bowl winners — George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick, and Jon Gruden. This coaching tree has spread like wildfire since the early 1990s, when Holmgren, Shanahan, and Dennis Green first got their shots as NFL head coaches. Because those guys are all long-time NFL coaches, they too have “fathered” assistants who went on to get head coaching jobs. Holmgren’s early Green Bay staffs included significant head coaches such as Andy Reid, Gruden, Steve Mariucci, and Mike Sherman. Similiarly, recent head coaches like Billick and Gary Kubiak trace their lineage back to this line.
Current status: As we get further away from Walsh’s fine 49ers tenure, this tree is starting to die off. Of current NFL coaches from this tree, only Brad Childress, Kubiak, Jim Mora, and Jim Zorn truly are true West Coast offense believers. Others — including as John Fox, John Harbaugh, Tom Cable, and Raheem Morris — are defensive guys who coached under Walsh disciples but who haven’t demonstrated the same affinity for the West Coast offense. The fact that West Coast offense stalwarts Gruden, Shanahan, and Holmgren left the coaching ranks after the ’08 season (at least for now) limits the current impact of this tree significantly.
Importance: This coaching tree dominated the league through the 1990s and most of this decade, but it’s now nearing the end of its run unless Kubiak, Childress, Mora, and Zorn produce another generation of coaches who embrace Walsh’s favored West Coast offense.

THE TONY DUNGY TREE
Inspiration: Chuck Noll, Monte Kiffin
Distinguishing characteristic: Zone defense with two deep safeties a.k.a. the Tampa-2
History: Dungy’s temperment reminds us of Chuck Noll, his Steelers head coach, while his strategy owes a debt to Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Dungy is probably the youngest coach to have spawned a coaching tree, but you can trace three current head coaches and two former head men to him. Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith are the current success stories, and Jim Caldwell gets his shot this year. Two others, Herman Edwards and Rod Marinelli, apprenticed under Dungy before getting their shot. Given that Tomlin has already won a Super Bowl and that Smith has been to one (losing in the game to Dungy’s Colts), this tree has already grown roots throughout the NFL.
Current status: With Dungy’s retirement, it’s left mostly to Smith to continue his style of coaching and style of defense. While Tomlin echoes Dungy when it comes to temperment, he kept the Steelers’ zone-blitz scheme when he took over in Pittsburgh. Caldwell also seems to be moving away from the Tampa-2 defense as he replaces Dungy. That leaves Smith as the best example of a second generation of the Dungy tree. Marinelli is unlikely to get a second head-coaching shot given his failure in Detroit, and Edwards has already had two chances with decent but not eye-popping success.
Importance: This tree might have already seen its peak days. The future depends on whether Smith can continue as Chicago’s head coach and how successful Caldwell is in continuing Dungy’s legacy in Indy. But this tree is significant in that it represents the first three African-American head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl. The fact that Dungy had hired the other two as assistants speaks volumes about his ability to surround himself with the right people.

THE BILL PARCELLS TREE:
Inspiration:
Ray Perkins
Distinguishing characteristic: Size over speed and “Parcells guys”
History: Parcells was a college assistant who moved to the NFL under former Giants coach Ray Perkins and ultimately succeeded him. Since then, Parcells has been a success in five stops (New York Giants and Jets, New England, Dallas, and Miami) as head coach, GM, or both. Given his 25-year-plus NFL tenure, he has spawned many head coaches, including current head men Tony Sparano, Tom Coughlin, Todd Haley, Payton, and the most influential, Bill Belichick. Coughlin, a long-time head coach in Jacksonville and the Giants, has seen Dick Jauron and now Steve Spagnuolo branch off from his assistants, while Belichick has mentored Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, and Charlie Weis. Scott Linehan, a former Saban aide, gives this tree its first fourth-generation branch.
Current status: This is the dominant tree in the NFL today because of Belichick’s influence, Coughlin’s success, and the fact that three of Parcells’ recent Dallas assistants — Haley, Sparano, and Payton — have recently gotten head coaching jobs and succeeded. This tree looks like it is ready to continue branching out, although some of Belichick’s lieutenants (Crennel and Mangini) whiffed in their first head-coaching tries.
Importance: This is a dominant tree, with Parcells having two Super Bowl rings, Belichick three, and Coughlin one, and there appear to be chances for more rings to come. Plus, Saban has a national championship in the college ranks, adding to the luster. In a decade, we’ll look at this tree in much the same way that we current look at the Walsh tree.

THE MARTY SCHOTTENHEIMER TREE
Inspiration:
Joe Collier
Distinguishing characteristic: Smashmouth style
History: Schottenheimer, a longtime AFL player, became a head coach in Cleveland back in 1984, and since then has spent more than 20 years as an NFL head coach in Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington, and San Diego. His coaching tree includes Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and also its most notable member, Bill Cowher. Cowher’s long run as head coach in Pittsburgh is where this coaching tree gets its depth, as at least five head coaches — Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett, and Marvin Lewis — served as coordinators under Cowher. Surprisingly, it is Lewis and his time in Baltimore that created the next generations of this tree, as Jack Del Rio learned under him, with Mike Smith took the Schottenheimer approach to Atlanta last year.
Current status: Cowher’s influence is still felt in the league, and the spread of the 3-4 defense throughout the league has a lot to do with the influence of Pittsburgh’s style under Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Whisenhunt, Del Rio, Smith, and Lewis are current coaches from the Cowher line, while McCarthy is a direct Schottenheimer disciple.
Importance: This tree doesn’t have the breadth of the Walsh or Parcells editions, but the long tenures of Schottenheimer and Cowher have definitely left a mark. If a second coach from this tree can join Cowher as a Super Bowl winner, the tree will be viewed with more historical importance.

THE BUDDY RYAN TREE
Inspiration:
Weeb Ewbank/Walt Michaels
Distinguishing characteristic: High-pressure defense a.k.a. the 46 defense
History: Ryan first burst onto the scene as the defensive line coach with the New York Jets in Super Bowl three. He went on to become the coordinator of Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters in the 1970s before bringing the 46 defense to Chicago, where he famously led the crew that won Super Bowl 20. Ryan went on to become the head coach in Philadelphia. He is the mentor to Jeff Fisher, the long-time Titans coach who played for Ryan in Chicago and coached under him in Philadelphia. Ryan also has twin sons — Rex, the new head coach of the Jets, and Rob, a longtime defensive coordinator now in Cleveland. Jim Schwartz, a former Fisher aide who is now the head coach in Detroit. Mike Singletary, like Fisher, is former Ryan player who is bringing the coach’s aggressive defensive attitude to the sidelines.
Current status: This is a tree that might be growing into prominence thanks in large part to the Ryan twins and to Fisher. The longer Fisher coaches and succeeds in Tennessee, the more of his assistants will become head men in the NFL. And if Schwartz turns the Detroit wasteland into football utopia, or if Singletary returns the 49ers to prominence, then this tree will take off.
Importance: It’s growing, but Rex Ryan, Singletary, and Schwartz will determine its future. My father-in-law says this of trees: “The first year they sleep, the next year they creep, and the third year they leap.” This coaching tree is the creep stage, and it remains to be seen whether it will leap in the coming years.

THE JIMMY JOHNSON TREE
Inspiration:
Frank Broyles
Distinguishing characteristic: Speed over size
History: Johnson was a successful college head coach at Oklahoma State and Miami before his ex-Arkansas teammate Jerry Jones brought him to the NFL to be head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. There, Johnson created a dynasty by drafting speedy athletes all over the field. He preferred to draft a speedy guy and bulk him up instead of drafting a bigger guy. That college recruiting tactic worked, and Johnson won two Super Bowls (and provided the pieces for a third) in Dallas. Three of his major assistants became high-profile head-coaching hires — Dave Wannstedt in Chicago (then Miami and now the University of Pittsburgh), Butch Davis (at the University of Miami, then the Cleveland Browns, and now the University of North Carolina), and Norv Turner (in Washington, Oakland, and now San Diego). One of Turner’s assistants in Washington and San Diego, Cam Cameron, has had head-coaching stops with the Dolphins and also the University of Indiana.
Current status: This tree is all but dormant now because Wannstedt, Davis, and Turner have all struggled as NFL head coaches.  Turner is on his third shot and has had marginal success with the Chargers. Davis and Wannstedt have returned to the college ranks, both with some success.
Importance: This coaching tree never lived up to its potential because Wannstedt, Turner, and Davis weren’t the coaching stars that they appeared to be on Johnson’s staff. While Johnson is an iconic NFL coach, his tree won’t be remembered as all that impactful.

There are three significant recent coaches who don’t fit into these 6 primary coaching trees. Wade Phillips’ primary influence was his father, Bum Phillips. Mike Nolan first established himself under Dan Reeves with the Giants. And Mike Martz wasn’t known until he worked with Dick Vermeil in St. Louis.

As promised, here’s a visual-learner-friendly look at these coaching trees:

coachingtrees6

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FR: NFL game announcers

With apologies to the great Dr. Z, who for years did a far better version of this, I thought I’d put the NFL announcers on the relativity scale. 10 is the best, 1 is the worst.

I also omitted several teams that I just didn’t hear this year, because I didn’t use Dr. Z’s 4-VCR system. Those teams included: Solomon Wilcots/Ian Eagle; Steve Tasker/Gus Johnson; John Lynch/Chris Rose; any of the NFL network teams.

10- Cris Collinsworth/Al Michaels or Tom Hammond, NBC – He is the gold standard of announcers today. Interesting in the studio or in his occasional on-game appearances. What separates him is that he’s not afraid to criticize players, which isn’t always the case with other announcers. He’ll be a worthy successor to John Madden when Madden steps down.

9-  Brian Billick/Thom Brennaman, Fox – (Billick also worked with Brian Baldinger and Dick Stockton in a 3-man booth at times.) Back when I was at PFW, Billick was the gold standard of assistant coach interviews, because he knew what he was talking about and he was interesting as he talked. Nothing has changed in 10 years. This guy is great in the booth. He explains things thoroughly but in an approachable manner. Plus, he has at least a little bit of an edge. I wish he had been in the booth with Troy Aikman for Fox’s playoff games, because he would have added an extra something that Fox hasn’t had since Collinsworth was in that booth.

8 –  John Madden, Al Michaels, NBC – I’ve been down on Madden in recent years, but I thought he took a step back up this season. He still sees things on first glance that most analysts don’t see until the replay. And his excitement at the end of the Super Bowl showed that he still loves the game. Madden still veers into being a caricature of himself at times, but when he’s on the game he’s still one of the best.

7-Troy Aikman/Joe Buck, Fox – While many on the internet are anti-Buck, I’m in the pro camp. He gets a little preachy at times, and he can be too storyline driven, but he’s very willing to be combative in the booth, and his smarmy sense of humor works for me. He has big game chops, too. Aikman would be best in a 3-man booth, because his personality still comes off kind of bland at times. But Aikman makes decent points and has credibility. The bottom line is that I’d rather a big game be on Fox than CBS, which means these guys are on a level above the Simms/Nantz crew.

6- Brian Baldinger/Dick Stockton, Fox (sometimes with Brian Billick) – Baldinger is a solid broadcaster who seems to see just a bit more than the typical announcer, and because of that he’s overcome an obscure profile as a player to move up to Fox’s No. 3 team. This team knows how to handle a good game, even though Stockton isn’t as precise as I would prefer. When Billick joined this team, it took things to a whole other level. Were Fox to take my advice, they’d put Baldinger and Billick with Kenny Albert on its No. 2 team and move the Moose and Goose combination down to No. 3.

5- Phil Simms/Jim Nantz, CBS – I don’t know why, but this team just doesn’t do it for me. Simms seems to be kind of a master of the obvious at times, and Nantz tries to figure things out, out loud and then comes off like he thinks he’s a genius when he does. They had great games to broadcast this year, but this team just didn’t convey the emotional feel of the big game with their words or tones. It’s time for CBS to do better with its No. 1 team.

5 (con’t) Ron Jaworski/Tony Kornheiser/Mike Tirico, ESPN – I want to like this team; I really do. But this team doesn’t reach the like level for me. Maybe it’s the over-saturation of Jaworski, who’s on PTI weekly, on ESPN radio multiple times weekly, and more. I know Jaws does as much prep as any analyst, but he comes across as condescending at times. Plus, given his amount of research, he spends a lot of time stating the obvious. I admire Jaworski’s work, but I don’t like it. Kornheiser doesn’t add much to the team. I like the idea of having someone on a team to bring humor and ask questions about what’s going on, but the niche just isn’t defined enough for Kornheiser to truly be an asset to this group. I think this trio can work, but for it to do so, Kornhesier’s role must be clearer from the outset, and Jaws must hold back a little during the week so he has his best stuff on Mondays.

5 (con’t) – Tim Ryan/Sam Rosen. I’ve always thought Rosen was one of the underrated NFL play-by-play guys, and Ryan is serviceable. This team doesn’t get the prime games, but it does a decent job with the games it has.  Teams like this are why Fox has a lot more announcing depth than CBS does.

4 – Daryl Johnston/Tony Siragusa/Kenny Albert, Fox – I really want this team to work, because I like the innovative approach of having one analyst in the booth and one on the field. But this Moose and Goose combination isn’t clicking on all cylinders. Unfortunately, Siragusa (who is on the sidelines) too often tries to simply be funny instead of bringing insights. Johnston, like his ex-teammate Aikman, tends toward the bland side at times as well. I believe a similar-shaped team with a different former lineman (such as Mark Schlereth or Mike Golic) on the field and someone like Billick in the booth would work. But the concept just isn’t working that well as it stands here. Fox does get credit for putting Albert here on its No. 2 team instead of Stockton.

4 (con’t) -Randy Cross/Dan Fouts/Dick Enberg, CBS – This was a weird team to listen to. I don’t think Cross brings much beyond ordinary to a game, and Fouts is occasionally OK but rarely better than that. The problem was that they sound a lot alike, and so it was hard to distinguish who was talking when. It was just a strange combo that didn’t meld.  A nice try by CBS to do something different (which I’m all for), but ultimately it didn’t really work.

4 (con’t) – Tony Boselli/Ron Pitts, Fox – This is another decent but not great Fox team that doesn’t add a ton but doesn’t take anything away from a game either. Pitts is a former player who was better as an analyst than he is on play-by-play. That’s the only reason this team falls below the Ryan/Rosen duo.

4 (con’t) – Steve Beuerlein/Bill Macatee, CBS – I wanted to give a shoutout to Beuerlein, whom I covered when he was with the Panthers. For falling where he does on CBS’s food chain, Beuerlein does a nice job. In fact, I would propose that he and Rich Gannon should probably switch spots in the CBS hierarchy. Beuerlein also does college games for CBS well.

3 – J.C. Pearson/Matt Vasgersian, Fox – I like Vasgersian, but Pearson isn’t quite at the level as Tim Ryan or some of the other Fox announcers.  I do like the fact that Fox has given some guys who didn’t have major NFL profiles a chance, but Pearson is the one person on the roster who could pretty easily be replaced. Still, he’s better than some of the options CBS has given a mic to.

2- Rich Gannon/Kevin Harlan, CBS – This ranking pains me because I’m a Kevin Harlan fan (I wish he or Gus Johnson did the Final 4 instead of Jim Nantz), but Rich Gannon just doesn’t add a lot to a broadcast to me. He makes simple, obvious points but not much more. Gannon was thought of as a potential broadcasting star when he entered the game a couple of years back, but it seems that star has dimmed, and he’s destined to be little more than a mid-level game announcer. That’s frankly about right given his performance.

1- Dan Dierdorf/Greg Gumbel, CBS – Dierdorf is still a broadcasting star, but it’s been many years since he was on Monday Night Football, and he’s lost his fastball. He loves making grand pronouncements about the simplest things, and all that pontificating gets old fast. It’s hard to make it through a 3-hour game listening to Dierdorf anymore. If he wants to stay in the game, he needs to move down the ladder instead of taking up space as CBS’ No. 2 color guy.

To conclude, a few overarching thoughts: CBS needs to do better with its roster of announcers. It’s No.1  team just isn’t special, and its No. 2 and 3 teams have guys (Dierdorf, Cross) who to be honest have passed their prime. Plus, the No. 4 team depends on Gannon, who hasn’t delivered on his potential. Fox’s No. 2 team is lacking, but its top team is basically working, and it found a superstar in Billick this year. Also, Fox’s 3-4-5 teams all bring something to the table, and if John Lynch delivers next year, they will have tremendous depth. Sunday Night Football is getting it right, while Monday Night Football needs some work. And the NFL network should be thanking its lucky stars that Collinsworth likes working so much, because he adds instant credibility to those broadcasts.

Let me know what you think by leaving  a comment. And do you want to see a studio analyst relativity piece? That’ll have to come by popular demand…

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