Super Bowl XLVIII is awarded to New York/New Jersey and questions begin on “Weather” it was the right decision

Like it or not… the New Meadowlands Stadium will be the site of Super Bowl XLVIII

Start spreading the news….New York/New Jersey will host Super Bowl XLVIII at the new Meadowlands Stadium in 2014.  After the much ballyhooed removal of the NFL’s biggest game’s temperature parameter (average of 50 degrees Fahrenheit), the New York contingent led by NY Giants’ co-owner John Mara (wore his father’s 1956 championship game ring for good luck) and NY Jets owner Woody Johnson overcame some long odds to bring the crown jewel of the National Football League to the nation’s largest city.

I don’t know what Mara and Johnson showed in their 15-minute presentation or what they said in their last  5-minute plea session, but league owners were moved enough to give the impassioned owners and their new $1.7 billion dollar stadium the sporting world’s biggest game.  As is the case many times, the New Yorkers had to stay “tough” and in the end the New York/New Jersey region outlasted four other contenders to be the proud owner of a tourism revenue influx like none other seen in sports – Dallas expects to generate $150-200 million in revenues for Super Bowl XLV in 2011. 

The New York/New Jersey bid won on the fourth voting ballot of the league’s 32 owners by receiving a simple majority of votes over final contender, Tampa Bay.  The four regions originally involved in the bidding process for Super Bowl XLVIII were Arizona, who dropped out in February, leaving New York/New Jersey, South Florida, and Tampa Bay. On the first two ballots, none of the three remaining regions received at least 75% votes (24 of 32 owners), so by rule the lowest region (South Florida) was eliminated …BTW: boohoo as this area has hosted 10 Super Bowls.

A third ballot between New York and Tampa was once again did not produce the 24 votes needed for selection, so on the crucial fourth and final ballot, it was Mara and Johnson left standing – received the required 17 votes to gain a simple majority. The process did take some time, but in the end the New York/New Jersey got their wish.  And now the real fun will start as there are questions around weather, VIPs, traffic, hotel room, ticket prices — 95% of the tickets for the Colts-Saints game in Super Bowl XLIV were $800, $900 and $1,000 – parties in Manhattan, and did I mention the weather…oh I did.

It seems everyone that I have talked to around the NFL has had different reservations about the bringing the Super Bowl to the Northern region of the United States, but the biggest questioning point is around the expected weather in the New York/New Jersey region in February.  It is a huge gamble by the NFL to bring the world’s biggest game to an open-air stadium in the middle of winter, but I say, “Why not”.  The Super Bowl has already been played in cold weather cities before, like Minneapolis and Detroit without ticket sales suffering and not even a smidgen of fan apathy.  According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the coldest outdoor game in Super Bowl history was Super Bowl VI at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans in 1972, with a game-time temperature of 39 degrees.

Yes, this time the Super Bowl will not be played in perfect conditions inside a 70 degree air conditioned dome stadium and the elements will be in play, but the NFL has great history of big games played in bad weather.  “The Freezer Bowl”, “The Ice Bowl”, and even Super Bowl XLI where Tony Dungy led the Colts to a huge win in a rain storm — in Miami, Florida no less. Football since teams like the Akron Pros and Canton Bulldogs played in the 1920’s has been all about playing in the rain, snow, wind, sleet, mud, and just plain “Gettin’ Dirty!!!”  Just ask all-time greats like Sam Huff, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Dwight Stephenson or Jim Brown if they ever cared about planning in the muck and grime of the NFL and I am sure the answer would be an emphatic, “No”.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it best when announcing that his city would be getting the Super Bowl, “If it snows, it snows.  This isn’t volleyball…it’s football, for God’s sakes.”  However I think some fans, league officials, VIPs and media are really most unhappy about the “Party Scene” around Super Bowl week possibly being affected by bad weather than the actual game itself.  But trust me, I covered Super Bowl XL in Detroit and even though it was cold outside, everyone, including NFL-crazy fans, were more than able to have a frolicking great time.

The factors that I believe drove the NFL owners to accept the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl bid were:

  • New York City being the league’s headquarters
  • The league finally paying back the Mara family for over 70 years of keeping the sport’s revenue-sharing model together
  • A “Why Not” attitude amongst most of the owners to try something new – The New York/New Jersey bid’s slogan was “Make Some History.”
  • Other cold-weather city NFL owners wanting future shots at finally hosting a Super Bowl too – Miami and New Orleans have hosted 10 each
  • A possible back-door deal between Johnson/Mara and the NFL to give the league’s two biggest market teams an incentive for building a new stadium
  • Helping the NY Jets and NY Giants sell signage and seating in the new Meadowlands Stadium
  • And lastly…the great environment and show that you know only New York City can put-on even if there is a chance of wintery conditions…I wonder what Jay-Z and Alicia Keys have planned for February 2014

So now the precedent has been set with New York/New Jersey and the cold-weather/open-air new Meadowlands getting their Super Bowl.  Look for every finger to be crossed in NJ/NYC for a great game in 2014 and that they don’t “screw it up”.  And do not discount that if all does go well in 2014, that other cold-weather/open-air stadium owners like Pat Bowlen (Denver Broncos), Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins), Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia Eagles), and Robert Kraft (New England Patriots) will want to be the next host franchise to bump more established Super Bowl venues out of the way.

Selfishly, I am hoping for snow on Super Bowl Sunday 2014 as I love football in elements especially when running backs have to put on their “snow tires”.  But bad weather or not, Super Bowl XLVIII will be a precedent setting event where a lot of NFL fans and media will be saying, “I told you so”, afterwards.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010-11 NFL Season Key Dates by Lloyd Vance

Taking It to the House’s 2010 NFL Season Key Dates, which you know are circled on many people’s football calendar (including Peter King)

Here is a list of key dates that I believe every football fan will need to know going into the 2010 NFL season.  I am sure every NFL talking head including Anthony Munoz, Peter King, Chris Berman, Fran Charles, Solomon Wilcots, and myself will have these dates circled on their calendars.

2010

Jan. 3: Clubs may begin signing free-agent players for the 2011 season.

  • February 4 – The first opportunity for clubs to designate franchise and transition players.
  • February 25 — Deadline for clubs to designate franchise and transition players.
  • February 24 – March 2 — NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, Indiana – The NFL’s annual pro prospect poking and prodding event
  • March 4 — Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to their restricted free agents (fewer than 6 years of free agency credit) whose contracts have expired and to whom they desire to retain a right of first refusal/compensation
  • March 4 — Deadline for clubs to submit offer of minimum salary to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with fewer than three seasons of free agency credit whose contracts have expired.
  • March 4 — Expiration date of all player contracts due to expire in 2010
  • March 5 — Veteran free agency signing and trading periods begin
  • March 21-24 — NFL Annual Meeting, Orlando, Florida
  • April 15 — Signing period ends for restricted free agents.  After this date, unsigned restricted free agents (i.e. Have not signed their “tender”) can only sign with their own team.  Usually this is the day that players sign their “tenders” to secure a good salary for the upcoming season or to work out an extension.
  • April 20 – 2010 NFL Schedule was released on this date (schedule maker Howard Katz)
  • April 21 — Deadline for old club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.
  • April 22-24 — NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
  • April 30 – June 25 – Various Rookie Camps and OTAs (voluntary and mandatory) for all NFL teams
  • May 24-26 — NFL Spring Meeting, Dallas, Texas
  • June 1 — Deadline for old clubs to send tender to unsigned unrestricted free agents to receive exclusive negotiating rights for rest of season if player is not signed by another club by July 22.
  • June 1 — Deadline for old clubs to send tender to unsigned restricted free agents or to extend qualifying offer to retain exclusive negotiating rights.
  • June 1 — Usually a big “cut” day in the NFL.  But without a salary cap in 2011, unneeded veterans can be cut at any time this year without ramifications.  So this date doesn’t have the significance as in years past.
  • June 15 — Deadline for old clubs to withdraw original qualifying offer to unsigned restricted free agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting the tender with an offer of 110 percent of the unsigned player’s previous year’s salary.
  • June 27 – June 30 — NFL Rookie Symposium, Carlsbad, California. This is the yearly NFL freshman basic skills prep course
  • July 15 — NFL Supplemental Draft – The NFL’s “special” draft for players wishing to enter the NFL for a number of reasons (Academics, Family Obligations, etc) that missed the main NFL Draft in April.  If a team elects to use a supplemental draft pick on one of the eligible prospects, that team will give up its pick in the same round in next April’s draft (2011).
  • July 15– The last day for “Franchised” players to sign a long-term deal with their teams otherwise they will have to play under the terms of their 1-year franchised deals. 
  • July 22 — Signing period ends at 4:00 PM ET for unrestricted free agents who received a tender.  This means that a player unhappy with the contract tendered to him can either sign the deal or holdout. Once the deadline passes, franchise players can sign only one-year deals with their current teams.
  • July 25 — NFL Training Camps “officially” open with the Buffalo Bills reporting to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, NY.  The last teams to report on August 3rd will be the Colts, Jaguars, Panthers, and Seahawks.
  • August 7 – Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 Enshrinement Ceremonies.  The newest class of enshrinees (RB Emmitt Smith, OT Russ Grimm, WR Jerry Rice, OLB/DE Rickey Jackson, RB Floyd Little, CB Dick LeBeau, and DT John Randle) will be formally inducted into the PHOF in a ceremony held at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
  • August 8 – Pro Football Hall of Fame Game featuring the Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals – NBC, 8pm ET.  The NFL’s 2010 season kicks off with the preseason opener featuring at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
  • August 12-16 — First preseason weekend with featured match-ups: Thursday, August 12 – Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens – ESPN, 8pm ET; Monday, August 16 – New York Giants at New York Jets – ESPN, 8pm ET
  • August 19-23 – Second preseason weekend with featured match-ups: Thursday, August 19 – New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons – FOX, 8pm ET; Friday, August 20 – Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals – FOX, 8pm ET; Sunday, August 22 – Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers – NBC, 8pm ET; Monday, August 23 – Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – ESPN, 8pm ET
  • Aug. 20-23 – After a 1-year hiatus the arena football league is back and the 2010 AFL season will culminate with the playing of the 2010 ArenaBowl Championship game (NFL Network) 
  •  August 26-30 – Third preseason weekend with featured match-ups: Thursday, August 26 – Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers – ESPN, 8pm ET; Friday, August 27 – San Diego Chargers at New Orleans Saints – CBS, 8pm ET; Saturday, August 28 – Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans – CBS, 8pm ET; Sunday, August 29 – Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos – FOX, 8pm ET
  • August 31 — Roster cutdown to maximum of 75 players. 
  • September 2 – The NFL preseason ends as every team playing their fourth preseason game on Thursday night with featured match-ups: NY Jets at Philadelphia Eagles – ETN, 7:30 PM ET; New England Patriots at NY Giants – 7 PM EST; and San Diego Chargers at SF 49ers – 10 PM EST
  • September 4 — Roster cutdown to maximum of 53 players.
  • September 6 — NFL teams can sign up to 8 players to their practice squad.
  • September 9-13 — 2010 Kickoff Weekend. For the seventh consecutive season the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the champion New Orleans Saints hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.  The Sunday night (9/12) primetime game will feature a division match-up as the Dallas Cowboys host the Washington Redskins (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET). On Monday, Sept. 13, ESPN will host a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader with the first game being Baltimore Ravens at NY Jets (7:00 p.m. ET) and MNF nightcap San Diego Chargers at the Kansas City Chiefs (10:15 p.m. ET)
  • September 19 – The Manning Bowl as Eli Manning leads the NY Giants into Lucas Oil Stadium for a showdown against older brother Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (8:30 PM ET on NBC)
  • October 3– QB Donovan McNabb leads the Washington Redskins into Lincoln Financial Field  to take on his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles (4:15 pm. ET – FOX)
  • October 11-14 — NFL Fall Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • October 17 – 2009 NFL Playoff revenge game as the Dallas Cowboys visit the Minnesota Vikings (4:15 PM ET on FOX)
  • October 19 — NFL Trade Deadline @ 4 PM EST – This is the last chance for teams to grab players from other teams via a trade, but don’t hold your breath.
  • October 31 – Regular season NFL football returns to London, England for the 4th year in a row at Wembley Stadium in London as the San Francisco 49ers “host” the Denver Broncos at 1 PM EST (5:00 p.m. UK). The game will be broadcast on CBS in the United States and on Sky Sports and BBC in the United Kingdom
  • November 7 – The NFL returns to Toronto, Canada with the Buffalo Bills hosting the Chicago Bears at 1:00 PM on FOX
  • November 15 – Players on NFL teams’ Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list must be activated by Week 10.  If they are not moved off the list, they must be removed from the team’s active roster to injured reserve or being released.
  • November 16 – Deadline for clubs to sign drafted players. If player remains unsigned after this date, he is prohibited from playing in the NFL in 2010.
  • November 21 – The annual meeting between the NFL’s most decorated quarterbacks (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) as the Indianapolis Colts visit the New England Patriots (4:15 PM EST – CBS)
  • November 25 – NFL Thanksgiving Day Games:  New England Patriots at the Detroit Lions (CBS, 12:30 p.m. ET), New Orleans Saints at the Dallas Cowboys (Fox, 4:15 PM ET); Cincinnati Bengals at the NY Jets (NFL Network, 8:20 p.m. ET)
  • November 26/27 – The second season of the United Football League (UFL) will conclude with the playing of the league’s championship game (Versus).  After the UFL’s champion is crowned, the league’s free agents are free to sign with NFL teams for their late season push.
  • November  28 — The Canadian Football League (CFL) season will commence with the playing of the 98th Grey Cup game in Commonwealth Stadium – Edmonton, Alberta (TSN)
  • December 9 – Big AFC South showdown on NFL Network Thursday Night Football as the Indianapolis Colts travel to Tennessee to face Vince Young and the Titans (NFL Network, 8:20 p.m. ET)
  • December 25 – A Christmas Day special game as the Dallas Cowboys travel to the desert to face the Arizona Cardinals (NFL Network, 7:20 p.m. ET)

2011

  • January 2 – The 2010 NFL Regular Season ends with the league scheduling 16 divisional games (all on Sunday) in hopes that teams will shy away from “resting” players.  One of the bigger games should be ARI @ SF  Candlestick Park FOX, 4:15 PM
  • January 3 – NFL teams may begin signing free-agent players for the 2011 season.
  • January 8-9 — Wild Card Weekend (NBC, CBS, and FOX)
  • January 9 – NFL Assistant coaches under contract to playoff teams that have Wild Card Weekend byes may interview for head coaching positions through the conclusion of wild card games.
  • January 15 -16 — Divisional Playoffs (CBS and FOX)
  • January 23 — AFC and NFC Championship Games (CBS and FOX)
  • January 29 – College Football’s Top Senior football players culminate a week of training by playing in the 2011 Senior Bowl at 3PM on NFL Network (Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, AL)
  • January 30  — NFL Pro Bowl with AFC All-Stars vs. NFC All-Stars in Honolulu, Hawaii (FOX)
  • February 6  — Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas  (FOX)

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The NFL is OTA Happy by Lloyd Vance

If you can believe it… NFL teams, including rookies and veterans (Bucs QB Josh Freeman pictured), will soon be back to work as OTAs take place

The time between the end of the draft in April and the start of training camp in July is supposed to be a quiet time in the National Football League (NFL).  Coaches and players are supposed to recharge their batteries during the months of May and June in anticipation of a hot tough training camp.  However the quietness of these months has since past as a new and overused term “OTA” has crept into NFL teams’ vocabulary.

OTA stands for “Organized Team Activities”.  It is a term that was created in the legal jargon of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to keep a close eye on team’s off-season preparations before training camp.  Much like the NCAA’s rules around “practices” in the spring, the NFL has tried to define a strict code of who can practice, what types of drills can be run, voluntary/mandatory attendance and the amount of contact in OTAs. Rules around these activities are strict enough that teams can get themselves in hot water easily, if violations are found.  The Philadelphia Eagles in the spring of 2005 lost a week of activities for the simple violation of reportedly several players showing up to train before the official off-season start date the club had sent to the league.

NFL Teams may differ on X’s and O’s, however they all can agree that OTAs are essential to building the foundation of a winning cohesive football team.  Many times when I talk to players and coaches during the crucial season ending playoff-stretch months of November and December, they point to OTAs and training camp as keys where everyone got on the same page.  Most OTA sessions are in clandestine settings with players, coaches, and a few members of the media allowed to watch.  But with everyone’s year around fascination with the NFL exploding, OTAs have become big news even though it is just players running around in helmets, t-shirts, and shorts. 

Key areas to keep in mind when talking OTAs

Are sessions voluntary?? – Some head coaches may have as many as 14 OTA’s during the NFL’s “down period”, but all of them cannot be mandatory.  In the “Good Old Days” of legendary coaches George Allen and Vince Lombardi, there was never the term “voluntary” in their vocabulary.  Players knew they better be at every practice in or out of season if they wanted a job.  But with today’s modern athletes of the NFL – many of whom make more money than their coaches – some them don’t respect the coach enough to attend all OTAs whether the coach wants them to or not.  So head coaches walk a thin line when it comes to “voluntary” OTAs.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid recently said after the Eagles post-draft mini-camp, “This is not a mandatory camp coming up, these are OTAs, and players have the option of being here or not being here”… Sure they do coach.  Don’t be fooled most coaches subscribe to the thought what happens in June usually has a distinct affect on training camp and into the season.

Contract incentives and fines are used to improve attendance — Most teams use contract incentives (ex.  Attend “X” number of OTA sessions and receive a bonus of “X” dollars) as a way to make players attend OTAs.  But every year there are holdout type players that won’t attend OTAs for one reason or another, usually contract squabbles.  Fines are another tactic used by teams to motivate players to attend mandatory OTAs.  The catch with fines is they are only affective if a player is currently under contract. But when you are talking about thousands to a guy with a multi-million dollar contract, sometimes fines don’t work either.  Sometimes when push comes to shove, some players will show-up to OTAs just to avoid fines.  But players and their agents have even found injury loopholes, like a mysterious “pulled hamstring”.  Teams really don’t have much leverage in terms of player holdout fines until training camp when fines can pile-up at a cost of $14,000 or more per missed day.

Potential OTA Holdouts

Rams FS O.J. Atogwe (unsigned restricted F\A)

Saints OT Jamal Brown

Saints OT Jermon Bushrod

Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton

Browns K Phil Dawson

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett

Broncos DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil

Browns safety Abe Elam

Ravens OT Jared Gaither

NY Jets LB David Harris

Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth

Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson

Texans WR Andre Johnson

Titans RB Chris Johnson

NY Jets center Nick Mangold

Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis

Chargers LB Shawne Merriman

Redskins LB Rocky McIntosh

NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis

Titans TE Bo Scaife

Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

Rookie Participation is affected by some colleges – There is a long-standing controversial rule between the NCAA and NFL that stipulates rookies cannot participate in more than one mini-camp before their college class has finished for the Spring Semester.  The rule was put in place years ago in an attempt to keep kids in school and progressing towards graduation even if they intended to go to the NFL. But in today’s NFL, the rule is total non-sense as most drafted players have left their universities months – usually in January after Bowl Games — before the NFL Draft in April to prepare or they have no intention of graduating as they are underclassmen.  The rule usually affects players from larger school that start and end their spring semesters late (Ohio State and UCLA don’t end until June) causing some players from these programs to get a late start as rookies.  With 80-man roster limits, competition is everywhere so, in my opinion, rookie players drafted or undrafted should be allowed to hit the practice field as soon as they are officially part of an NFL team.

How much contact is allowed?? – The CBA says, “No contact is allowed anytime (during OTAs).”  But we all know coaches and teams will push the envelope.  Almost all practices are no pads, but there is always jostling and pushing as teams try to figure out who is close to mid-season form.  But the amount of contact can have repercussions as seen a couple of years ago when three clubs were penalized for OTA violations (Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, and Detroit Lions). 

Remaining OTA Dates

ARIZONA —            May 18-20, May 25-27, June 1-4, June 7-10 

ATLANTA —           May 25-27, June 1, June 3-4, June 8-11, June 15-18

BALTIMORE —       May 17-20, May 24-27, June 7-10, June 15-16             

BUFFALO —            May 25-27, June 1-3, June 4-6 (voluntary), June 8-10, June 15-17, June 21-22, June 23-25

CAROLINA —         May 24-27, June 2-4, June 7-10, June 14-16

CHICAGO —            May 21-23, June 2-3, Jun 7-10, June 14-17, June 21-24

CINCINNATI —       May 11, May 13, May 18-20, May 25, May 27, June 1-3, June 8, June 10, June 14, June 15-17

CLEVELAND —       May 17-19, May 24-25, May 27, June 1-3, June 7-8, June 10-12

DALLAS  —             May 17-19, May 24-26, June 1-3, June 8-10, June 11-13

DENVER —             May 17-19, May 24-27, June 2-4, June 7-9, June 11-13

DETROIT —             May 13, May 18, May 20, May 24-25, May 27, June 1, June 3, June 21-22, June 23-25

GREEN BAY —        May 17-20, June 1-3, June 8-10, June 15-17, June 21-23

HOUSTON —          May 17-20, May 24-27, June 1-3, June 8-10  June 14-16

INDIANAPOLIS —  May 18, May 20, May 25, May 27, June 1-2, June 4-6, June 8, June 10-11

JACKSONVILLE —  May 17-18, May 20, May 24-25, May 27, June 7-8, June 10, June 14-15, June 17, June 21-22           

KANSAS CITY —     May 17-19, May 24-25, May 27, June 1-3, June 7-9, June 14-15, June 11-13

MIAMI —                May 18-19, May 25-26, May 28-30, June 1, June 3, June 7, June 9-10, June 14, June 16     

MINNESOTA —      May 18-21, May 24-27, June 1-4, June 7-8, June 11-13

NEW ENGLAND — May 24-27, June 1-4, June 7-8, June 10-11, June 15-17

NEW ORLEANS — May 25-28, June 7-10, June 14-17, June 4-6

NEW YORK GIANTS — May 18, May 20-21, May 24-25, May 27, June 2, June 4, June 7-8, June 10-11, June 15-17

NEW YORK JETS —  May 17-18, May 20, May 24-25, May 27, June 2-3, June 8, June 10, June 14-16

OAKLAND —          May 18-20, May 25-27 June 8-10, June 15-17              

PHILADELPHIA —  May 19-20, May 24-27, June 1-4, June 7-10 

PITTSBURGH —      May 18-20, May 25-27, June 1-3, June 8-10 

ST. LOUIS —            May 18, May 20, May 24-25, May 27, June 1-3, June 7-8, June 14-17, June 10-12

SAN DIEGO —        May 18-21, May 26-28, June 8-11, June 14-17             

SAN FRANCISCO — May 17-20, June 7-8, June 10-11, June 14-16, June 18-20

SEATTLE —              May 17, May 19, May 24-27, June 8, June 10, June 15, June 17, June 22-24 (voluntary)

TAMPA BAY —       May 17-19, June 1-3, June 7-10, June 14-17, June 21-23

TENNESSEE —        May 18-19, May 25, May 27, June 14-15, June 17, June 22, June 24-25 

WASHINGTON —  May 17-19, May 24-26, June 1-3, June 7-8, June 10-11, June 16-18  

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Former Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell at a Crossroads

It is either time to work or assume his spot next to Ryan Leaf as the NFL Draft’s “Biggest Bust Ever” for former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell

After the Oakland Raiders’ Draft Day trade for former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, it was only a matter of time before “Too Much, Too Soon” poster player JaMarcus Russell was going to be cut. 

The inevitable finally came last week as the Raiders — only scored 197 points (31st in NFL) and 17 touchdowns (tied for 32nd) in 2009 — decided to part ways with Russell.  Parting seemed to be mutual, but the worst part for the Raiders of getting rid of their former franchise quarterback was that the team had paid the kingly ransom of $39 Million Dollars over three inglorious years to Russell — roughly $100,000 per completion or $5.6 million per win. 

Hard to believe, Russell in only 3 years in the NFL sank quickly from a Pro Day performance that many called the best ever to “Ryan Leaf” comparisons.  Back at his Pro Day, former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin — who some say Russell got fired – was smitten with his future first rounder. 

The one-year Raiders’ coach said, “Obviously, I’m very impressed. We were very impressed. He had a great day. He seems very first class, very easy to get along with. No doubt he was a great leader here. That’s why everybody wants him now.”  The Raiders drafted Russell with the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft and then signed their perceived future star to a six-year contract worth up to $68 million which included $31.5 million guaranteed at the time.

However as great of a fall that Russell has had in his short time in the NFL, I am not ready to brand him the “Biggest Draft Bust Ever” and say he has no chance.  “Not So Fast My Friends”…as the NFL, especially at the quarterback position, is all about second and sometimes third chances. There are numerous examples of former one-time flameout quarterbacks that became Super Bowl champions later in their careers — Trent Dilfer (Ravens), Kurt Warner (Rams), Jim Plunkett (Raiders), Brad Johnson (Bucs), and Doug Williams (Redskins). 

Astonishingly, even arguably the greatest quarterback ever, Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, was once left on the NFL’s scrap heap by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955.  The Steelers cut their former 9th-round draft pick, leaving him to play sandlot football, before he later found greatness with the Baltimore Colts, starting in 1956.

In each and every case,  every single one of the quarterbacks received a second opportunity to show the world that they still had what it took to succeed in the National Football League. I am not saying that Russell – 2009 numbers of 120-246, 48.8%, 1287 yards, 3 TDs, and 11 INTs in 9 games started (2-7 record) —  is the next Unitas , Williams, or even David Carr (still earning a check with the Niners), but he does deserve is another chance away from Al Davis. 

There is a fork in the road and Russell, who some Raiders’ fans have derisively called “Fat Albert” (300-pound QB), can either take the money and run (Leaf) or write a few more successful chapters in his NFL career (Warner), but it is all up to him. The former first overall pick has been blessed with all of the talent in the world, including a rifle of a right arm and there is no denying that Russell — career starting record of 7-18 with numbers 354-680, 52.1%, 4083 yards, 18 TDs, and 23 INTs – has “potential” but that can be a dirty word in NFL circles and it can only take you so far. 

There are apparently more than five NFL teams contemplating signing Russell to a training camp “Make Good” contract.  Some of the teams rumored to have interest in the former Alabama native are the Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals – Ochocinco already Tweeting about it – and surprisingly the Indianapolis Colts.  

No matter which team signs Russell, it is now time for the hefty thrower to go to work.  In the past, he has been his own biggest obstacle. As he was notably many times the first Raiders’ player leave practice and film study after many time being the last one in the door.  The former LSU star needs to show the NFL that he is not indifferent or the lazy “Fat Cat” that some have labeled him after his much-publicized underachievement. 

Plain and simple, if he doesn’t want to be the star of the NFL Network’s “Top 10 Draft Busts Ever” show, Russell has to now look in the mirror and commit himself to bouncing back.  He has to get in shape and commit to being an NFL quarterback or he will be out of the league quicker than you can say, “Cade McNown”.

Russell’s “Redemption Road” is a long one, but there are plenty of examples to show him how to pick himself up and succeed.  If I were Russell’s agent, I would work hard to place him with the Colts or Redskins as working with Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb maybe the best motivator to save the former high draft pick from a regretful path headed for Arena Football or worse yet the local Arby’s. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Bengals to sign Pacman Jones

It seems the Cincinnati Bengals have room for one more “maverick” as notorious NFL problem player Adam “Pacman” Jones will soon be joining the team

It used to be a running “joke” around NFL circles that the Oakland Raiders and their patriarch Al Davis were the “Statue of Liberty” for NFL reclamation projects — Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  In the past, Davis had been a master of picking-up cast-offs, usually players with “character” issues like former high motor pass rusher Lyle Alzado, and turning them into productive players on winning teams. 

Well anyone looking for the NFL’s new version of Father Flanagan’s Boys Town doesn’t have to look any further than the Cincinnati Bengals – noteworthy problem players on the team’s current roster include DE Frostee Rucker, WR Matt Jones, WR Antonio Bryant, WR Maurice Purify, DT Tank Johnson, DE Carlos Dunlap, and others.  However it seems that Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis are willing to take-on another “rap-sheet” player. 

As multiple sources are reporting that Cincinnati is very near to signing free agent cornerback and notorious NFL Bad Boy Adam “Pacman” Jones — suspended in the past for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 season (player misconduct policy) for numerous run-ins with the law including a much-publicized strip club shooting in Las Vegas.

Jones must have looked better in his recent audition than an earlier tryout in February, where it was reported that he was grossly out of shape.  Pacman will be trying to return to the NFL for the first time since the end of the 2008.  During the 2008 season, the NFL had suspended the former 2005 first round pick (6th overall) from West Virginia again (4 games) after foolishness that included allegedly fighting a paid Cowboys’ security staff member in a hotel.

During his brief time with the Cowboys in 2008 — 9 games w/ 6 starts – Jones didn’t appear to still have the same burst and coverage skills that once made him an in-demand player despite his off-the-field problems.  So at age 26 and having missed almost two full years away from the field over the course of 5 years, that the 2009 AFC North champion Bengals are clearly Pacman’s last stop in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if the former Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys talented yet infamous corner can return to the dangerous player that he once was – in his second season for the Titans in 2006, he had 51 tackles, 12 pass deflections, 4 INTs – returned one for a touchdown — and 3 TD’s on punt returns.

I am figuring that the Bengals will use Jones in the nickel, dime, and on special teams as they already have talented corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.  There are also rumors that the Bengals may try Pacman at free safety in competition with 2010 third-round pick Brandon Ghee and holdovers Tom Nelson and Chinedum Ndukwe (currently in the team’s doghouse) .  For his career, Jones’ numbers are 146 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack, over 2000 return yards and 4 TDs in 39 games played.

If the Bengals do sign Jones, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer – took Cincinnati’s defensive ranking from 21st to 4th in just one year – will be his new best and worst friend.  Zimmer, who has been in contact with former player Deion Sanders (Pacman’s friend), has made it abundantly clear that Jones is not coming in to start and that he will need to play with more discipline than he has shown in his career.

Though the Bengals have given second chances to multiple players, like the late Chris Henry, team chemistry is everything to Zimmer, Lewis, and Brown.  Zimmer recently said of the potential Pacman signing, “If we sign him…I’ll be on him at all times.”

So with Adam “Pacman” Jones soon to be entering the fold, I am wondering if the Bengals have any room left in their wacky locker-room for malcontent receiver Terrell “T.O” Owens, who is having trouble finding a job this offseason.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 Philadelphia Eagles – Mini Camp review

The recent 2010 Philadelphia Eagles mini-camp, sans McNabb, gave a chance for younger players and veterans (backup quarterback Michael Vick pictured) to shine

As runners from the Broad Street Run pounded the pavement outside the NovaCare Complex, the new version of the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles was beginning to take shape inside.  Clearly the Birds are younger at several positions as several veterans that were once lockerroom mainstays (McNabb, Westbrook, Brown, and others) are no longer there and the atmosphere around the team was “energizing”.  Which was a term that was flowing around the team’s practice facility.

Head coach Andy Reid, who is entering his 12th season in Philly, spoke Sunday of being “Invigorated” by the massive influx of young talent including almost forty new faces on the team’s current 80-man roster.  Reid even said that he and his staff have enjoyed getting back to “coaching” and teaching the new group of Birds that includes 13 wide-eyed draft picks.  Though the team’s recent turnover and all of the new faces has caused a getting acquainted period, the young Birds came together to work and learn.  During the practices that I observed, there were some good things that I saw from the team (camaraderie, players coming back from injuries, quickness at the skills positions, and a willingness to receive coaching). However there were also some things that the Eagles will need to improve upon through OTA’s into training camp (understanding assignments, reading coverage, and for the rookies just getting used to the “speed” of NFL players).

Overall, What I did see was that 2010 Eagles are a re-tooling team and not a rebuilding one.  They have solid veteran holdovers and depth at key positions (quarterback, receiver, linebacker, D-line, and O-line) plus there were some excited new players like LB Ernie Sims, who are glad to be part of a team that has won over 100 games in the last 10 years.  The interesting part will be that the 2010 Eagles will be leaning on new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, emerging 3-year Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson and former free agency big fish cornerback Asante Samuel for leadership.  During practices you could hear the three new cornerstone players leading their teammates and showing the youngsters how it is to work as a professional. 

Many of the players that I talked to after practice said that they would be staying in the Philadelphia area to continue the progress and momentum that they had started in this brief 3-day post-draft minicamp.  And even though training camp opening in mid-July in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a ways from now, I still believe that the young Eagles are focused on not only growing up quick but also competing with the Dallas Cowboys – outscored the Birds 58-14 in their last two games (Week 17 and in the Wild Card round).

Some observations from the sidelines

Kolb’s team now – No longer in the first stalls of the Eagles’ lockerroom are players like Brian Dawkins or Donovan McNabb.  Now youthful quarterback Kevin Kolb’s locker is one of the ones front and center, which you know is not a coincidence.  The former second-round draft pick from 2007 is now the Birds’ unquestioned leader and it showed.  Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Reid often took time in practice to give Kolb praise or teaching.  Kolb was very good in redzone drills where he made some nice throws to RB LeSean McCoy and Jackson for touchdowns.  He had good command of the huddle and showed good zip on his passes, including fitting a couple tight ones into TE Brent Celek despite some good coverage by linebacker Stewart Bradley.  However there was also a reminder that Kolb has some learning to do as safety Quinton Mikell picked him off in the endzone and raced the length of the field to the delight of a yapping Samuel.

Mike Vick version 2.0 – After a year where he seemed unsure of himself in Eagles’ green, backup quarterback Michael Vick clearly looks to being closer to the guy that used to be one of the most exciting players in the NFL.  While running the Eagles’ second team offense, Vick, who looked to be in tremendous shape, had his familiar snap of the wrist quick dart passes and speed.  In the redzone portion of practice, the former 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback also displayed the jaw-dropping speed and burst that many had grown accustomed to before his almost 3-year absence.  Vick dropped back, didn’t see anything and took off running for the corner of the endzone.  Near the goal-line, he cutback past a defender and beat a couple of defensive backs to the corner for a touchdown.  His second teammates erupted with a “Yeah, Mike” cheer.  I talked to Vick after practice and he seemed a lot more confident and comfortable.  “To be honest, last year I thought I had it,” Vick said. “Mentally, I thought I had it. As a competitor, as an athlete, you always feel like you’re the greatest. But, in reality, I wasn’t there.” No. 7 added, “Now I’m running with the two’s and it’s full-time and this is my permanent job.  So it’s a different feel but at the same time what I say to myself is just try to get better as a quarterback.”  It will be interesting to see if the Eagles keep Vick around or finally find a trading partner so they can bring in a more West Coast type backup (Jeff Garcia??).  But for now, Vick seems to be rounding himself back into form and you should have seen the glimmer in Reid’s eye when he talked about his backup’s “burst” being back.

Players coming back from injuries – One of the biggest stories of most offseasons is seeing how players are able to return after serious injuries.  Key defensive player and starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley easily was one of the stars of the Eagles returning M*A*S*H unit.  Bradley showed no ill effects of the knee injury (ACL) that cost him the entire 2009 season.  The former Nebraska star did not wear a knee brace while looking good cutting and dropping back in coverage.  Bradley even had some of the best defensive plays in the redzone dropping back in coverage to knock away some passes from tight ends.  Other players making back to the field were tight Cornelius Ingram (taking it slow after two ACL tears in a row) and offensive guard Stacie Andrews (said ACL was 100% and added that he is more comfortable this year with his knee and the Birds blocking schemes).  Other injury news was DE Victor Abiamiri missing camp due to microfracture knee surgery in February; center Jamaal Jackson missed all of camp with his ACL injury and some are saying he may not be back until the end of training camp; LB Omar Gaither didn’t practice as he returns from Lisfranc Foot surgery; and OG Max Jean-Gilles missing camp due to recently having Land-Band surgery to control his weight, which many believe he is the first professional football player to have.

Youngsters looking good – Clearly there is open competition everywhere for the Eagles and a lot of rookies, both drafted and undrafted will be trying to turn some heads in mini-camp , OTA’s and training camp.  Some of the youngsters that I thought stood out were

  • Michigan rookie DE Brandon Graham (Drafted in the 1st Rd) – He is not overly big (6’0 range), but he impressed me with his quickness and speed.  Graham also was impressive because he came to camp Friday, flew back to Michigan on Saturday to graduate (had team’s permission  as first in family and met President Obama), and then returned to practice on Sunday.  Seems like an overall great kid and the competition between Graham, Darryl Tapp, and Juqua Parker should be fun in training camp.
  • Northwestern rookie QB Mike Kafka (Drafted in the 4th Rd) – Showed good pocket presence, was able to zip some passes in the redzone, and read his reads well.
  • Missouri State rookie TE Clay Harbor (Drafted in the 4th Rd) – Definitely has developed a connection with Kafka and in the redzone the young quarterback was looking for No. 82.  Harbor is an athletic tight end that looked comfortable in space and did well in coverage against the safeties and linebackers.  With the status of Cornelius Ingram unsure, look for Harbor to get a long look as the Birds’ number two tight end.
  • Florida rookie WR Riley Cooper (Drafted 5th Rd) – A big physical target that has very good size (6’3, 222) and better speed than expected.  Cooper and Hank Baskett will probably be looked at to help in the redzone on jump-ball plays.  Tim Tebow’s former favorite target fit right in with the second team and gives the team a bigger target than Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
  • Air Force first-year player WR/KR Chad Hall – A sturdy built smaller (5’8, 190) receiver who showed great quickness and hands.  Hall was very good in the slot and made a nice leaping catch in the redzone.  A former Air Force standout at running back and receiver, Hall should help the Birds in the return game which should preserve Maclin and Jackson.  I am not saying he is… but Hall reminds me of the early Miami Dolphins version of current Patriots star slot man Wes Welker.
  • South Florida rookie safety Nate Allen (Drafted 2nd Rd) – Looked the part of a ballhawking centerfielder, but it is going to take some time for him to learn defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s scheme.  Allen looked good in his backpedal and was tough fighting receivers for the ball.  It looked like 2nd year player Victor “Macho” Harris got most of the first team snaps.

No McNabb banter or laughing – In covering the Eagles over the last few years, whether it was around practice, in training camp or the lockerroom after games, you didn’t need to listen hard to hear now former Eagles and current Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb.  The since departed passer often would fill the air with this his hearty laugh and now after 11 years it was odd to not see a red No. 5 jersey on the practice field  or hear McNabb.  But clearly the team and McNabb have moved on and the mantle has been passed from McNabb, Dawkins, Westbrook, and Brown to younger guys like Trent Cole, Samuel, Jackson, and Kolb.  Other than us reporters talking amongst ourselves, I didn’t hear one mention of McNabb.  However though no one in NovaCare will admit it, you know October 26th is circled on every calendar since that is the Monday Night where the Eagles travel to Washington to face their former franchise quarterback.

Competition at the center position??? – With starter Jamaal Jackson sidelined indefinitely by his ACL injury from lat in 2009, I found it interesting that Mike McGlynn and not Nick Cole got most of the reps with the first team O-line.  McGlynn seems to know the down-distance and the blocking assignments while appearing to be more of a “technician” than the bigger Cole or Jackson.  Right now it appears that the Birds would rather have McGlynn hold down the fort for Jackson than Cole, who some in the Eagles’ staff think is a better swing player/backup.  Also in the center competition, don’t rule out former Penn State O-lineman A.Q Shipley, who is a tough battler that came over from the Steelers late last year.  For those interested in how the O-line setup most of the time for Kolb and the first team it went LT Jason Peters – LG Todd Herramins – C Mike McGlynn – RG Stacie Andrews – RT Winston Justice.

Versatility from the linebackers – With the NFL now being built on 3-4 schemes and versatility in the linebacking corps, it seems the Eagles may have finally started to add some playmakers at their three positions.  The starters lined up Moise Foiku at Strongside, Stewart Bradley in the Middle, and new comer Ernie Sims at Weakside.  This group has speed and good coverage ability on paper, which should come in handy in a division where tight ends had huge years in 2009.  The keys will be Foiku being physical enough to play over the tight end, Bradley returning to near Pro Bowl form after a lost year to an ACL, and Sims playing like the “shark” that McDermott described him as in his press conference.  The competition for the all linebacking spots should be good at Lehigh as backups Joe Mays, rookie Ricky Sapp, Alex Hall, rookie Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan, and Gaither should all be in the mix.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

The best part of mini-camp for me was watching and listening to the yapping between the DB’s and WR’s.  The two biggest talkers were veterans DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuels, who kept a running score of who was ahead offense or defense.  After scoring in the redzone, Jackson could be heard saying “Don’t Let Me, Get Loose”.  While Samuels kept a running commentary including saying over and over to the offense, “Don’t Throw It Over Here!!!”

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)