Saturday, February 28, 2009

Former Bills TE Robert Royal visiting

With Dustin Keller and long snapper James Dearth being the only tight ends on the roster (and Dearth in title only), someone will surely be brought in as depth. Former Bills tight end Robert Royal is visiting, much to the dismay of Brian Bassett.

But in reality, Royal would be a decent second tight end. He spent time starting in Buffalo last year, and he got exposed with a lot of playing time. But as a backup tight end, he would be a quality blocker, even if he gets flagged for holding a little too often. He also has average hands and athleticism. In terms of talent, think somewhere between Chris Baker and Bubba Franks.

Lisa Zimmerman has the scoop.

More on the Sheppard deal


Erik Boland reports that the Jets are likely to receive the Eagles' 5th round pick in 2010, and that the deal will most likely end up being Sheppard and a 2010 5th rounder for a 2009 5th rounder and a 2010 3rd rounder. His source said it was "very unlikely" that the Jets would have to give up a 2nd rounder at all.

Sheppard and Moore's acquisitions were both finalized today, so don't worry about getting Antoine Winfield'ed.

The big news in the AFC East today is that the Patriots moved Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for the 34th overall pick. There was no way New England could give so much money to two quarterbacks, so they ended up getting a decent recovery. Vrabel has one year left on his deal, so the Patriots likely wanted to get something before he was a free agent. It also helps them get younger.

It's very interesting from a Chief perspective. Scott Pioli is their new general manager, so it's not too surprising that he would go after his old team's offensive and defensive leaders from last season. If the Chiefs keep building their offensive line, they now have a few talented pieces in place to be a mild surprise in 2009.

UPDATE (7:26 PM): According to PFTthe Jets have added two years to Lito Sheppard's contract. Essentially, he's on a five-year, $30.2 million contract if he reaches playing time baselines, if not, it's five for $25 million. The deal includes a $10 million dollar option bonus due on the fifth day of the 2010 league year.

After a busy day one, who's next for the Jets?


The Jets made a lot of moves to fortify their defense in day one of free agency.

Bart Scott will make $48 million dollars over the next six years. While the contract is definitely more than he's worth, the former Raven is the type of player who leaves his emotions on the field and is unlikely to be a total bust. The "Mad Backer" comes with high praise from Rex Ryan. "When he’s on the field against somebody, he plays the way you’re supposed to and that’s a violent and physical game." A lot of pieces are in place on the defense, but the attitude and intimidation factors weren't there. Scott brings both.

RG Brandon Moore was resigned to a four year, $16 million dollar contract. The Jets made a run at Chris Kemoeatu, but he returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers for less money. They then realized that Moore was the value guard on the market for their team and made the deal, skipping his $7 million dollar roster bonus in the process. He will bring cohesion and strong run blocking to the team's offensive line, and his signing is a shrewd move after his questionable release.

Finally, Lito Sheppard was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles. The former Pro Bowler cost a 5th round pick in 2009 and a conditional pick in 2010 ranging from rounds two through four. He slacked off in 2008 after the Eagles held onto him despite signing Asante Samuel. Before then, he was one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL, though injuries were a nagging problem. Still, it's not unrealistic to think he can return to top form at age 27, and if he does, the Jets suddenly boast one of the best cornerback tandems in the league.

Those three acquisitions answered three of the questions the team had going into the offseason. The most pertinent ones now regard safety, wide receiver, and of course, the quarterback position. However, don't expect a veteran QB to be brought in, at least not a big name. The team seems content to give Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff a chance to earn the job. We'll see if they stick to that plan.

But a safety could be next on the horizon as the Ravens' Jim Leonhard is visiting Florham Park Saturday (later today). Leonhard had 85 tackles, one sack, and one interception last season, starting 13 games after three non-descript years with Buffalo. He's undersized and his athleticism doesn't jump out at you, but he made a lot of plays last year, and he's very smart. Expect him to sign tomorrow, as the Jets need a safety, and Leonhard may need Rex Ryan.

Scott and Leonhard may not be the only former Ravens brought in. Cornerback Corey Ivy has a chance to sign as a new nickel back. He's drawing interest around the league, and he left the facilities without signing a contract, but the Jets are certainly a strong candidate for his services.

As for wide receiver, the market is a little dry right now, and nobody is immediately in sight at that position. They may target somebody in the draft or sign a bargain free agent later, but it seems like wide receiver is a skill position on the backburner.

Kicker Jay Feely is likely to resign at some point as well.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Scott signed, Sheppard acquired, Moore resigned

Wow. I've been gone 5 hours, and look how much I missed.

*Bart Scott finally agreed to terms with the Jets after some back-and-forth negotiations with Baltimore. The final contract appears to be 6 years, $48 million dollars. Scott will slide in next to David Harris in the middle, but he will most likely be the captain of the defense. The last year is an option.

*CB Lito Sheppard is on the verge of being acquired from Philadelphia. The Jets will reportedly give up two draft picks, a 5th rounder in 2009 and a conditional pick in 2010. The conditional selection ranges from a 2nd to a 4th round pick depending on how much he plays. The former Pro Bowl cornerback has hoped for a trade ever since Asante Samuel was signed. He finally got his wish, and he will start opposite Darrelle Revis.

*In other cornerback news, Corey Ivy of the Ravens is close to being signed as well. He and Dwight Lowery will likely compete for the nickel and dime back roles, assuming a deal gets done. The deal could take a couple days because Ivy is visiting other teams, but the Jets are confident he will sign eventually.

*In a surprising move, RG Brandon Moore was resigned to a four year, $16 million dollar deal, including $10 million dollars in guaranteed money. This is a big signing for the Jets, as Moore is a quality guard who will keep the line cohesive from one year to the next, and they're paying him a similar contract to what Chris Kemoeatu got, and Moore is the better player.

*Finally, S Jim Leonhard, who was considered the most obvious choice to sign with New York, is visiting Saturday, so he could be next.

All in all, a very productive and eventful day for the Jets. Scott and Sheppard should work wonders for this defense, which on paper looks very impressive now. Still, Vernon Gholston will likely end up being the key, as the Jets still lack a pure pass rusher. Gholston can provide that, if Ryan can coax anything out of him. Either way, if the former #6 overall pick can't contribute in 2009, it's time to panic.

But the Moore signing is extremely astute. As it turns out, the team saved money in the long run for this year after they passed up his $7 million dollar roster bonus.

The question will be what other moves are made to improve the offense. It's looking less and less likely that the team will bring in a veteran quarterback, and the Jets will surely need to bring in at least one more weapon to help out either Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff. That could be how they use the draft.

Ravens up ante for Scott

The latest news in the Bart Scott saga is that the Ravens have bumped their offer to 5 years, $42 million dollars, which would be more than what the Jets offered by $2 million total.

Rex Ryan wants the Jets to up the ante, while Scott wants assurances from either team that he would be the main guy on defense.

Mike Preston has the scoop.

Time for Plan B? Scott and Kemo call back former teams

While I posted earlier that Scott and the Jets agreed to terms, and that was true, reports now indicate that Scott is giving the Ravens a chance to match.

No time to hit the panic quite yet, but hold off on your celebrations. It wouldn't be the first time a big Jet free agent target went from a lock signee to go somewhere else. Remember Antoine Winfield?

I did say Scott would take his time last night. I can't say I expected it to happen this way, though.

As for Chris Kemoeatu, he called back the Steelers, hoping to return to the Steel City, and he has signed a 5-year, $20 million dollar contract with Pittsburgh, taking less money from his old team to stay.

I have work from 5:00-10:00 PM, so if any news happens between now and then, follow Boland, Cimini, TheJetsBlog, and TheGangGreen.com. If anything happens before then, I will try to post it.

But as it is now, no one has been signed. Scott could easily still be a Jet, but it's time for Plan B for the offensive line.

LB Bart Scott to Jets, LG Kemoeautu next? TE Baker to Pats

News is flying in the first day of free agency. The biggest news of which is that Bart Scott is now a member of the New York Jets! The two sides have agreed in principle for a 5 years, $40 million dollar contract, which will insert him as the clear defensive captain alongside David Harris in the middle.

As for LG Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers have dropped out of the bidding, leaving the Jets as the clear favorite. He hasn't been signed yet, but don't be surprised if he's a Jet by the end of the day. The contract allegedly is worth about $4 million dollars a year.

But the most interesting defection has to be tight end Chris Baker, who flocked up to join divisional rival Bill Bellichick and the hated New England Patriots*. With Dustin Keller in the fold, Baker was surely to leave, but the pipeline between these two teams is never-ending.

As for the Jets, Scott and Kemo are the two biggest news items so far. Bills CB Jabari Greer and Ravens CB Corey Ivy are also on the team's short list. Greer would be a huge addition for the Jets, as he's been a playmaker in the Bills' secondary. Putting him opposite Darrelle Revis would be scary for opposing quarterbacks. Ivy would have familiarity with Rex Ryan, but he's undersized and not particularly fast. Consequently, he would also be cheaper to sign.

Also, a crazy rumor, but the source is good. Erik Boland posts a comment on his own blog, saying that the Jets could still sign Ray Lewis, then offer David Harris to Cleveland, where Eric Mangini loves him. That could net Braylon Edwards, whom the Browns are trying to ship out.

Lewis, by the way, is not happy that Scott went to the Jets because the younger 'backer had a lot more options in free agency than the elder Lewis. Ray Ray now is probably going back to Baltimore, unless the Browns rumor actually has legs to it.

Bart Scott offer details

Rich Cimini reports that the Ravens are offering 7.5 million dollars per year for Scott. I apologize for misreading Cimini's post before as if the Jets made an offer.

UPDATE (1:27 AM):
But Erik Boland reports that Scott and his agent are probably going to take some time to let the market bid up his price. So expect a decision to take days, if not weeks, as he is sure to draw interest around the league. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine's presence should give the Jets a leg up on most competition though. Here's what Scott had to say in an interview on ESPN.

"I have a special part in my heart for those guys," Scott said, referring to Ryan and some of his Ravens' defensive assistants, including Pettine. "They taught me to play defense. They're just as much a part of my success as I am."

*As for actual news, fullback Tony Richardson agreed to a one-year, $500,000 dollar contract as per Adam Schefter.

*Jay Feely is also close to a contract to return as kicker. Both he and Mike Nugent are free agents, but Feely looks like the choice.

OG Chris Kemoeautu being targeted as well?

TheJetsBlog.com reports that Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu could be the Jets choice to replace Brandon Moore at right guard.

Kemoeatu was ironically the player who replaced Alan Faneca in Pittsburgh. He's a mauling, 350 pound guard who sometimes struggles in pass protection. He'd be the road grader many Jets fans have wanted for years.

Free agency started 15 minutes ago. News is coming in fast. Stay tuned, information could come any time tonight, tomorrow, or in the coming days.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bart Scott to actually hit free agency? And visit the Jets first? Pinch me.


It appeared for a while as if ILB Bart Scott was going to resign with the Baltimore Ravens, but there has been no deal, and Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun reports that he's on his way to New York to visit! Boland and thejetsblog.com also have the story.

I am firmly on the Bart Scott bandwagon. He has all the attitude of Ray Lewis on the field, but he's younger and makes just as many if not more plays at this point of their careers. He would be a terrific leader for this defense and provide an attitude that would make everyone around him better. And he could be Rex's eyes and ears on the field.

Signing Scott would make up for losing both Coles and Moore. Receiver and guard would both still need to be addressed later, but Scott is the type of player that turns a defense from good to fearsome.

Let's hope the Jets don't let him leave Florham Park without signing a contract. Lock the door. Throw away the key. Make him a Jet.

Brandon Moore officially released

The Jets have officially released right guard Brandon Moore. I'll have more on this later (working on a paper I have due at midnight), but on the surface this does not look particularly bright. Still, I've trusted Tannenbaum in the past, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt until we see what the offseason plan is.

After all, while Moore is a very solid guard, he does play one of the most replaceable positions on the offensive line, and let's face it, before Alan Faneca and Damien Woody arrived, he wasn't so highly regarded. He'll get a big deal in the open market for sure.

Those who want OG/C Jason Brown from Baltimore to come here better be forced to pay up. ESPN's John Clayton reports that he wants to get $8 million dollars annually.

Jets give Abram Elam tender offer

While Jim Leonhard may be the next starting safety opposite Kerry Rhodes, that doesn't mean there won't be a role for Abram Elam. The hard-hitting safety was given the lowest possible $1.01 million dollar tender offer as a restricted free agent. As a result, there's a good chance he sticks around, but if he chooses to go elsewhere, the Jets get no compensation. They would get a chance to match the offer though.

Rich Cimini has the story.

As for Brandon Moore, Cimini still seems to think it's a foregone conclusion that he's gone. But he also provides a compelling case for keeping Moore after obtaining a copy of the guard's contract.

I like Ryan trying to place his own stamp on a team, but why ruin offensive line cohesiveness if you don't have to? This shouldn't have to be another Pete Kendall situation. At least in this case, the Jets would have several months to find a replacement rather than a few weeks, but they should not pull the trigger on this move.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jets part ways with WR Laveranues Coles!

Rex Ryan's first imprint on the New York Jets has been made with the first offseason stunner.

Laveranues Coles, who had his last two contract seasons made guaranteed money last offseason, was made a free agent today, ending his second term with the team. Coles was set to make $6 million dollars in 2009, but he wants a long-term deal. He wants it so badly that he was willing to essentially void the last year of his contract in order to get a multi-year deal here or elsewhere.

For the Jets, it clears off even more cap space to go after some free agents. This could be back to back years the Jets spend money. Ryan will likely look for some defensive help in the offseason. Bart Scott and Ray Lewis have been mentioned a ton. Scott would be the much better option, as he provides the attitude and perhaps better production.

But the more pressing question becomes the receiver position. The receivers seemed to underachieve last season, but none played poorly enough to lose their job, and it would have been tough to significantly revamp the position without getting rid of Coles.

The unrestricted free agent market isn't particularly appealing. The best options are TJ Houshmandzadeh and Nate Washington. Anquan Boldin and Lance Moore could be available, but either would cost compensation. Boldin might also demand too much money for the Jets' blood. June 1st always creates new candidates but rarely gamebreakers.

In the draft Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin will probably be gone by 17. But cutting Coles to spend a first round pick on a receiver with other needs is not prudent. There is a good a mid-late round guy will be brought in, but it's not easy to find one that produces as a rookie.

Still, it would be hard to imagine the Jets going into next season with Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith, David Clowney, and Marcus Henry. None of the candidates ouside Cotchery have proven anything on the professional level. Someone will have to be brought in. Losing Brandon Moore will likely hurt the running game, and who knows what the quarterback play will be like? If the Jets want to be able to score consistently, they'll need another option.

But there is still the chance that this means that the Jets will actually keep Brandon Moore instead. After all, they have yet to cut the right guard. With the extra money, maybe Ryan decided it was more important to keep Moore and dump Coles. It would be a creative way to afford Moore and keep the offensive line cohesive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Your next starting safety: Jim Leonhard?


The first Raven to fly away to New York may not be Ray Lewis or Bart Scott. Rather safety Jim Leonhard is said to be on Rex Ryan's radar. Michael Lombardi of NationalFootballPost.com reports that "all indications" point to the Jets signing the former Ravens' safety when free agency starts. He would be an athletic, playmaking fit next to Kerry Rhodes in what could be a very intriguing combination at safety.

Expect Leonhard to sign close to the start of free agency, which begins on Friday. He loves Rex Ryan. Ryan loves him. The Jets need a starting safety. Leonhard wants to start. It's a perfect match.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jets release TE Chris Baker, RG Brandon Moore next?

The salary cuts keep coming. Chris Baker will be cut soon. He was due a $2.1 million dollar roster bonus and $9 million dollars over the next three years. Dustin Keller all but rendered Chris Baker as a blocking tight end, and the Jets will likely target a blocking tight end either in free agency or in the draft.

More sobering news regards Brandon Moore. The starting right guard is due a $7 million dollar roster bonus, an amount the Jets clearly don't want to pay. On Friday night the Jets met with Moore's agent and offered him a restructured contract. Moore balked, and it appears as if the Jets will let him go.

This is a big loss for the Jets. Despite being the only non-first round pick on the offensive line, he was the best run-blocker on the team. But it's hard to handsomely pay all five starters on the offensive line in the salary cap era, and Moore appears to be an unfortunate casualty.

He came in as an undrafted free agent defensive tackle before the 2002 season. He could be leaving seven years later as the top offensive guard in the free agent market.

Friday, February 20, 2009

LBs Bowens and Kassell axed

Joining David Barrett on the unemployment list are linebackers David Bowens and Brad Kassell, as the Jets today released both. Bowens has been a valuable member of the Jets' linebacking corps the past two seasons as a situational pass rusher and a fill-in for David Harris, but he was due to make $2 million dollars, and that was simply too much to pay for a veteran backup linebacker when the team is so close to the salary cap. He will be missed on special teams as well, where he was a team captain.

Kassell was signed before the 2006 season, playing 32 games with Gang Green until a major knee injury ended his 2008 season before it ever began.

The Jets also signed the following players to reserve/future contracts.

CB Tyron Breckenridge
CB Marquice Cole
DE Sean Conover
LB Nate Harris
DT Nate Robinson

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Trading Thomas Jones


With the additions of Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, it was assumed that the New York Jets would be able to run the ball better in 2008. But no one could have expected Thomas Jones to lead the AFC in rushing.

The former Bear ran for 1312 yards last year with a club record 13 rushing touchdowns. His 2008 campaign set a new career high in total yards and was a far cry from his mediocre 2007 output.

But I'm here to tell you that trading Thomas Jones could be a smart move in the offseason.

Will it happen? It's highly doubtful, but I'm a big proponent on buying low and selling high. Moving Jones now would be trading him at his peak value. He is coming off a great season, but at 30 years old, his prime years are likely behind him.

Check out Tristan Cockroft's breakdown on ESPN.com.

Statistical evidence points to 30 years old being the magic age of runningbacks in decline. It's why Fred Taylor and Deuce McAllister could have trouble finding jobs. It's why Shaun Alexander's career essentially ended just three years after breaking the NFL rushing touchdowns record. It's a big reason why Edgerrin James was completely phased out halfway through the season in Arizona.

The problem with those examples is it shows that other teams have caught on to this trend. Older runningbacks are having trouble finding jobs or contracts they feel they have earned. That could be trouble in terms of finding a market for Jones. After all, the Jets only traded down 26 spots in the second round to acquire him in the first place. They would be lucky to get that same value two years later, even after his big 2008 season.

The problem with trading Jones, as far as the Jets are concerned, is the lack of depth behind him. Leon Washington is a gamebreaker, and moving Jones would create more opportunities for the scatback, but there's nothing behind him. The only other halfback on the roster is Danny Woodhead, the 5'7" 195 pound NCAA Division II star who was on injured reserve last season.

Clearly, if the Jets were to trade Jones, two things would have to happen. First, they would need to find a replacement through the draft or free agency that could complement Leon Washington and fill in for him in case Washington broke down carrying the full load. They would also need to find decent value for Jones. The best case scenario would be a second or third round pick, probably the latter. Is that enough?

If you believe in the curse of 30, yes. If not, the Jets would be wise to stand pat and stick with their current combination, and give Washington some more carries to keep Jones fresh longer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Broncos Release DT DeWayne Robertson

*Former Jets' first-round pick DeWayne Robertson was released from the Denver Broncos today. Denver gives up on Robertson just one season after trading for him from New York last year. What did they give the Jets? Absolutely nothing. But don't lynch Mike Tannenbaum: getting D-Rob's salary off the books was worth it. He only managed 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks this past season.

But for as mediocre as his play was last year, that wasn't the main reason he was cut. His salary cap number next year was going to be $16 million dollars! No, that is not a typo. He'll latch on elsewhere, but the chances of him ever living up to his vast potential are slim and none.

**Speaking of first-round busts (too soon?), Vernon Gholston has a mildly interesting interview with Rich Cimini. The sixth overall pick didn't even manage one sack last season, but he thinks last year was "tremendous" for his growth. He doesn't exactly sound fired up, but he's always been a rather quiet person. The problem is that he was just as silent on (though usually off) the field.

But bravado only goes so far. This was DeWayne Robertson after his rookie season.

"My goal is to dominate. Can't nobody block me. ... People are going to see the real Dewayne Robertson this year. Whatever they're saying about last year, well, they'll be singing a different tune now.”


You still wish he would show some fire, though. I'm not asking for the next "Can't nobody block me," but I would like him to sound a little angrier for his disappointing rookie year, rather than coachspeak. Everything he says is correct, but this outward lack of fire was one of his knocks coming out of school, and so far, he has yet to disprove that notion.

*So in the offseason, I'm curious to what readers want to hear most. I can stick to Jets news, focus more on the upcoming draft with a Jets' slant. I could incorporate other sports into the blog; for example, I'm working on my very own bracket, which I plan on finishing by tomorrow afternoon and updating down the stretch. If people want, I can post it here, if not, I'm sure I'll post it and update it on BleacherReport.com.

Let me know, vote in the poll leave comments...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Favre tells Jets he plans to retire


Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Brett Favre has told the Jets he plans on retiring! If this is true, then good for Brett for making an early decision and giving the Jets ample time to secure a replacement. Of course, he could always change his mind, but let's assume for the time being that someone else will be behind center in 2009.

The move would save $13 million dollars in salary cap space and singlehandedly put the Jets under the salary cap. Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff, and Erik Ainge remain on the roster and will battle for the starting job, probably with one newcomer as well.

Favre would be retiring with 464 career touchdowns, 310 interceptions, 65,127 yards, and a QB rating of 85.4. It's been a phenomenal career, but it's time for him to go.

More news as it breaks...

Update (11:22 AM): Here's Favre's e-mail to Ed Werder, in which he expresses gratitude to the Jets organization.

"Mike and Woody, as well as the entire organization, have been nothing short of outstanding," Favre said in an e-mail to Werder. "My teammates -- Thomas and Kerry included -- were a pleasure to play with. Eric [Mangini] could not have been any better. I enjoyed playing for him. My time with the Jets was short, but I'm honored to be given that chance."

UPDATE (10:18 PM): The Jets will receive a 7th round pick in the 2010 draft from Green Bay as compensation for Favre retiring after just one season in New York.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CB David Barrett Released


Everyone's favorite whipping boy in the secondary, David Barrett, is the first cap casualty of the Rex Ryan era. The move saves almost $4 million dollars and brings the Jets closer to getting under the 2009 cap. More moves are sure to come.

Barrett signed in 2004, playing in 69 games with the team (37 starts), playing mostly cornerback. This past season he was phased out in the secondary as he appeared in just 11 games. His lone 2008 highlight was a pick-six against Philip Rivers on his first pass against San Diego in week three.

You wonder how Jets fans would remember Barrett had Doug Brien made his second field goal against Pittsburgh in the 2004 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Remember, it was he who intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to give Brien a second chance at a potential game-winning field goal. If that team goes to the AFC Championship (and possibly beyond), Barrett's perception is likely much more positive.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jets hire new DL coach Kerry Locklin

Dan Quinn's replacement on the defensive line is former Fresno State defensive line coach Kerry Locklin. The 49-year old Locklin is considered an excellent teacher, coaching the Bulldogs defensive line for the past eight years. He developed two WAC defensive players of the year (including former Jet draft pick Alan Harper) and has had at least one of his linemen earn all-WAC honors for five years running.

On the surface, it looks like a good hiring. We'll see how it translates to the field when the time comes. For his full Fresno State biography, click here.

In other coaching news, Mike Devlin will return as assistant offensive line/tight ends coach. It will be his fourth season with the Jets.

But if you really want some juice, check out Rich Cimini's blog and these quotes by Ray Lewis regarding a possible move to follow his coordinator to the Jets.

"That opportunity by itself seems attractive. It sounds right. It's like, wow, if something does happen where I'm not back in Baltimore, hmm, the Jets wouldn't be bad."

"It's a young Jets team that has a lot of talent across the board where if you (add) 52 in that equation, that team goes from being okay to 'Let's go win this.' That scenario by itself is always attractive."

It's way too early to have any definitive clue, but that's what the early offseason in any sport is for: mindless speculation. But imagine Ray Ray next to David Harris in the middle behind Kris Jenkins...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Joe Willie Namath Saved Football from Itself and Changed a Nation Forever


40 years after the Jets' lone Super Bowl win, Joe Willie Namath handed out the Lombardi Trophy to the champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That has sparked a number of articles about Namath, the Jets, and the 1969 team's legacy. One such article that piqued my interest was by L.J. Burgess of BleacherReport.com. With his permission, I have re-printed it below. For the original link, and instructions to contact L.J. personally, click here.

"I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow...'Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day"...words to live by.

I was a 10-year-old farm boy when Joe Namath signed the biggest contract in pro football history.

The war between the AFL and NFL had reached its apex, and the news of Namath's choosing the upstart AFL traveled far and wide—even to our local weekly, the little ol' "Reidsville Review" down in Carolina.

At that point in my life, my knowledge of professional football was gleaned from family gatherings around a huge woodstove on Sundays and an occasional peek at a snowy black and white TV that the men huddled around after church...As long as I was quiet.

Out of those bull sessions, I surmised that Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts were, and always would be, the greatest group of athletes in the history of the game...Forever, 1958's "Greatest Game Ever Played" being the benchmark against all who would challenge their superiority.

Six months later, my father uprooted us and followed his company north to the Dalmarva peninsula and the heart of Colts country. We left behind the red clay tobacco fields, the mule and milk cows, and moved into a suburban life of middle-class America.

Instead of biking the graveled back roads with the same three friends for hours on end, I was shoved into a group of 100 or so children of the suburbanite culture, crazy about sports and crazy about heroes.

The one constant was...the Baltimore Colts...but I kept watch out of the corner of my eye on this AFL deal and this guy, this incredibly cocky No. 12 of the Jets.

By the close of 1965, the official escalation of the second Indochina war was almost 12 months old, and we were losing an average of 155 22-year-old men per month—1,863 officially for the year. The nation cringed and the seeds of doubt were planted.

That year, a street busker from Berkeley by the name of Joseph Allen McDonald penned the now infamous "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" and the infant "counter-culture" had its anthem.

The AFL had finagled a lucrative contract with ABC to televise it's games nationwide and our move north meant no more fuzzy black and white games fighting their way from Raleigh-Durham, but a choice of games from Philadelphia or Baltimore...in freakin' COLOR.

That's what sold me on the AFL. They had better uniforms, they threw the ball...a lot...and there was that tall, lanky dude from Beaver Falls, PA who was not only playing football with abandon, he was living the high-life that every man-child dreamed of.

He was "Broadway Joe" now or "Joe Willie" as Cosell called him.

There was the Fu Manchu, a mustache wasn't enough, it had to be a "spectacular" mustache, there were the white shoes, so easy to find in a sea of black high tops, the mink coat on the sideline. It all screamed "Individuality" in a world of Madison Avenue conformity.

Still, there was a war coming into our living room every night—a war brought to you by Gillette, DOW Chemical, and Chevrolet; a war sanctioned, blessed and sponsored by the 'establishment'—a war that ended up erasing almost 60,000 members of one generation.

As my family stood the last goal-line defense for the great '50s American Dream...I hooked it wide left.

By 1968, my freshman year of high school, I was no longer that little country bumpkin from Rockingham County. I had grown to a 6'0", 215-pound wannabe quarterback on the famous late '60s Middletown, DE Cavalier JV squad.

I played center. I played fullback. I played tight end...I played none of them well. Perhaps as a consolation, perhaps only because it fit, I was issued the No. 10. I wanted No. 19...or No. 12.

I was forever resigned to 'lineman eligible' status...and I blew that, too.

In a season and a half, I created more chaos in that locker room than Bill Billings had ever seen. Beer, long hair, girls, drag racing, joy rides in the town police car, all under the radar and hidden from public view...the coaching staff put up with all of that and more because I was big and could long snap like a QB.

What straw broke the camel's back?

Those white shoes...I wore white shoes to a pregame scrimmage one day. I crossed that unseen line in the sand between the past and the future and I had unknowingly slipped into the evil counter-culture that had infected this great nation in her time of crisis.

See, on the field, the royal blue and white Middletown Cavaliers were the spittin' image of the Baltimore Colts minus the horseshoe, even down to the black hightops we were required to wear. White shoes weren't part of that image. I had made my last snap.

Thank you, Joe Willie Namath.

1968 was a year of transition as well for this country and for the New York Jets. The war had turned bad by then and it's various opponents had finally united to stop the slaughter.

After the Tet Offensive exposed the strategic weakness of America's base defense systems, the U.S. military indiscriminately bombed, burned and destroyed anything it viewed as a threat to South Vietnam's security and the phrase "We had to destroy the village to save it." entered the American lexicon.

This nation was torn apart, and I rolled with it.

The NFL was the "establishment" as were my beloved Colts. The AFL were "counter-culture" all the way.

No more "three yards and a cloud of dust", Namath had thrown for 4,007 yards in 14 games, Joe Willie had made Don Maynard and George Sauer household names in 1967.

Namath had taken the Jets from a football joke to championship contenders in three short seasons.

With this nation in flames and our government in paranoid denial, racial tensions spilled onto the front page, and the population poised to split along generational, racial and political lines, we needed a hero, someone who could do battle with the status quo.

With the "establishment" maintaining control in a manner that would shame the KGB...the "other" America needed someone cool, someone young, brash and willing to tell the NFL "establishment" to "stick it."

We found that hero in Joe Namath.

The details of Namath's war with the league and his proclivity for the spotlight are well chronicled and need not be rehashed ad nauseam.

He stood his ground, the league submitted, a compromise was reached and the league thrived because of it. If this handsome gunslinger had anything on his side it was the destiny to evolve and control his environment.

On that humid, overcast day in Miami, Namath evolved, he tossed aside his gunslinger ways and took the game to my Colts on their terms...and won.

Joe Namath beat the "establishment" with their own weapons...a solid run game, timely throws and clock management.

Something died in me that day in Miami...but in every death there is a re-birth. The Colts and my boyhood icon had aged before my very eyes but my faith in social change and it's righteousness was re-born that day as well. I don't think I've ever given up hope since.

In a precursor to American history, the leagues merged and became one of the most successful capitalistic ventures in history, it became the flagship "establishment" enterprise and Joe Namath, his outrageous contract and his legitimizing his own personal 'counter culture' made that happen.

It took a few more years for the American "counter culture" and "establishment" to merge, to kiss and make up if you will. A war had to end, veterans had to rejoin the mainstream sans guilt and mothers had to bury their 58,913 children once and for all.

As the AFL and NFL recognized that their "war" was self-defeating, eventually so did we as a nation.

By the time I mustered out of the Infantry in 1975, the nation seemed to be back on track...and Joe Willie became just another bad kneed quarterback with a porous offensive line. The nation had begun to heal, if not Joe Willie's knees.

Namath passed from our view as his career and the war wound down. His star shown bright and blew by us in a quick blaze of glory. It was our loss, Joe. It was our loss.

It took two extra years to see him elected to Canton, but in the end, the old "establishment" and new "counter-culture" Hall of Fame voters hugged and got it right, embracing Namath not for the numbers, the white shoes or the mink coat, but for the impact he had on the NFL and a nation at its apex of crisis.


*For a further, more comprehensive discussion of Joe Namath's place in American history I leave you with Rob Kirkpatrick's "1969: The Year Everything Changed"



(dedicated to Lisa Horne)

Schottenheimer meets with media

Brian Schottenheimer's day to face the fire has finally come! Today, he fielded questions from writers in a conference call, and we'd finally get some more answers on Brett Favre both about his past and future, what went wrong with the offense down the stretch, and how he truly felt about not getting the head coach's job! Finally, we Jets fans could receive some closure to what happened down the stretch and to the various mini-dramas surrounding Schotty Jr.

Just kidding. You didn't really believe all that, did you? But he did meet with the media, answering various questions, but in typical Jets' fashion, he didn't add a lot of insight. Here's the supremely abbreviated version.

*He hasn't spoken with Favre yet, but he would "welcome" him back and that he enjoyed their relationship.

*He was admittedly disappointed at not getting the head coaching job, but he felt good working with Rex Ryan and with the team.

*Ryan will have a say in the offense, so Schottenheimer will not have complete autonomy. No surprise here, the head coach should be involved.

He also spoke highly of Leon Washington, saying they want to get the ball in his hands and they know how good he is. But I also wanted to share a quote from Erik Boland's blog that he made about David Clowney when he was asked if the speedster can be the deep threat the team needs.

"One play sticks out in my mind: we had him on an inside fade route against Seattle. He got on top of him [the defensive back] and Brett underthrew him a little bit...David’s a guy when at you’re at practice, you feel his speed, even if you're not watching him. You know he’s around because he’s so fast. To answer your question, yes."


It's all well and good to say that and write that now. But the kid needs a chance to play for him to prove anything. Last year, the Jets couldn't even get him on the field. He has the potential to be a major deep threat, but how can you be too excited if he couldn't get on the field down the stretch? As good as Brad Smith is on special teams and as versatile as he can be offensively, if Clowney can help the passing game, he needs to be out there.

*Hell of a Super Bowl, wasn't it? One of the best I have ever seen from start to finish. We're getting spoiled after the last two games went down to the wire. Parity is in full effect, but the game is due for a blowout next year. Hopefully, Rex Ryan can deliver his promise and it can be the Jets on the winning side of that. This year would have been ideal with Joe Namath handing out the trophy, and Jersey's Finest, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band playing at halftime, but you can't always get what you want, especially with the green and white.

*Early prediction for halftime next year? Bon Jovi. The band has done opening day before, and they are coming off the highest-grossing tour of 2008. Maybe not next year, but they will do it at some point.

*Oh, and speaking of Namath, Ryan has already reached out and spoken to the franchise's most popular star. How can you not love the guy so far? In October we may be singing another tune, but he's done almost everything right so far.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl Thoughts


For a Super Bowl with so many subplots, this Super Bowl really hasn't piqued my interest. The general public seems to agree as well.

Most of it has to do with my indifference in finding a rooting interest. Last year, it was easy: the Giants are a much lesser evil than the Patriots, so I rooted my ass off for New York. Two years ago was another story. Chicago and Indianapolis? Yawn.

This year was supposed to be easier, but it was not meant to be when Philadelphia and Baltimore, two very hateable teams, fell in the championship games. Pittsburgh and Arizona are weird teams for me to consider. I have family in Pittsburgh who always tried to sneak some black and gold in me, but I also don't like the team much.

Arizona seems like a solid alternative, with the resurgence of Kurt Warner and of a franchise that hadn't hosted a playoff game since 1947. They're a great underdog story, and the Jets destroyed them this year, so there's that added bonus, but I need to be honest with myself.

Can I seriously view the 2008 football season with the Arizona Cardinals as champions? That's just too difficult to fathom. It would make the Jets' collapse look even worse by comparison.

But enough about that, let's get onto the game itself, starting with its most intriguing matchup.

Coaching
Read in-depth about my thoughts on the coaching here. It's a very intriguing matchup. Think back two years. Bill Cowher just retired. The final coaching candidates for the Steelers job? Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Tomlin, and Russ Grimm. Most thought Whisenhunt or Grimm, already assistants with the team, would get the job. Instead, it went to the outsider Tomlin and the two bolted to Arizona.

Now Whisenhunt gets to show the world why he should have gotten the job. He knows the Steelers personnel inside out. Don't believe me? Ask Willie Parker. "Whiz knows everything about all of us," Parker said. "He's a smart coach and I know he's going to try to take advantage [of his familiarity]."

However, Tomlin is a good coach in his own right. He has helped ratchet the defense's play to a whole new level as head coach, even though he hasn't had a rebuilding project like Whisenhunt.

Slight edge to Whisenhunt due to the familiarity factor, but it's a close one.

Edge: Arizona

Arizona passing game vs Pittsburgh pass defense
This is where Arizona must flourish if they hope to spring an upset. It's no secret that the Cardinals rely on their passing game to win games, and Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston are the most dominant attack in the league.

But no defense is more fit to stop the Cardinal attack than the Steelers' top ranked unit. As much as Arizona likes to throw, Pittsburgh likes to blitz. Warner will be under siege by defensive player of the year James Harrison as well as LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and the rest of the fearsome front seven. And any errant passes could find their way to Troy Polamalu.

The key to this battle will be whoever gets out to the lead first. If Arizona can jump out on top early or at least stay tight, they can maintain a balanced attack and keep the Steelers honest. They could even pull off an upset in that case. But if Pittsburgh gets ahead, Dick LeBeau will send the hounds.

Advantage: Push

Arizona rushing offense vs Pittsburgh run defense
The Cardinals have the worst rushing offense in the NFL statistically. Pittsburgh has the second best unit at stopping the run. Arizona will try to get Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James going, possibly to the outside, but if they get 100 yards between them, it will be a major success.

Advantage: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh rushing offense vs Arizona run defense

After starting the year off strong, Willie Parker ended up with just 791 yards and five touchdowns. Still, the extra week of rest should help him more than many players. A healthy Parker can reach a gear few other backs can get to, and Mewelde Moore has been more than capable giving Parker blows during the season.

Arizona's opponents have averaged 110 yards on the ground. Karlos Dansby leads the charge, and he has the ability to be one of the top linebackers in the league any given Sunday.

Pittsburgh's balance on offense depends on Parker's ability to gain yardage when he has to. Arizona is too good to just be pushed around, but Pittsburgh should be able to get 100 yards from Parker and Moore.

Advantage: Push

Pittsburgh passing offense vs Arizona pass defense

Just how injured is Hines Ward? The Steelers' number one receiver will play but will not be 100% for the Super Bowl. Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington are capable wideouts, and both can stretch the field, but Ward's toughness and ability to get open on third downs have helped out Ben Roethlisberger all year. Heath Miller may need to play a bigger role if Ward is hurt more than he's letting on.

In three playoff games, the Cardinals have eight interceptions. This may be more fluke than trend, but Whisenhunt will likely draw up a play or two that cause Roethlisberger to make a mistake, and his team may get a pick or two. Adrian Wilson is one of the best safeties in the league, and while he's no Polamalu, the Super Bowl gives him a forum to show the world how good he is.

Third downs will be the difference between Pittsburgh having success or not. Arizona has allowed a 44% conversion percentage, below the league average, and if Roethlisberger protects the ball enough, Arizona shouldn't be able to make enough big plays, while Washington or Holmes will be streaking down the field at some point.

Advantage: Pittsburgh


Prediction.

As is the case with almost every Steelers game, turnovers will be the difference. Arizona has been careless with the ball too often this season, and that will come back and bite them against an aggressive defense. Warner will have a turnover in a key moment to ice the game for the Steelers, who will win comfortably enough. Don't count out the Cards though. You who voted in my poll certainly did not.

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 17