The Bengals Sign Terrell Owens

Everyone around the NFL is wondering how the receiving duo of T.O and Ochocinco will work out in Cincinnati

Get your popcorn ready as pro football’s greatest reality show has landed in Cincinnati.  No, I am not talking about Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco’s Ray-J inspired VH1 reality dating show, “Ultimate Catch”.  Ochocinco (32) will now have to share marquee top-billing with the city’s newest star, Terrell “T.O.” Owens.

Since the start of the offseason in February, No. 85 had lobbied for his buddy to get a shot and now the fun can finally begin in Cincy. Bengals owner Mike Brown and charismatic head coach Marvin Lewis — trying to win the franchise’s first playoff game in 19 years — added yet another rogue player to their growing list of reclamation projects by signing the enigmatic Owens.  There is no doubt that the future Hall of Fame receiver must be part cat as he has found yet another NFL life – his fifth team overall and fourth since 2004.  The 36-year old receiver signed a one-year, $2 Million deal w/ incentives that could push the contract to $4 Million. 

The arrival of the player that some NFL fans love to hate is definitely stop-the-presses worthy news, even if Owens is closer to the end of his career.  Let’s face it, even as big of a star that Ochocinco has become recently, he is nowhere near T.O — league’s No.1 star attraction outside of posterboy quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  T.O now becomes the second VH1 star in the Bengals lockerroom – his “T.O Show” in its 2nd season of reality bliss has been very popular — but it is on the field that is really what matters most. 

Even T.O’s publicists/homegirls Mo and Kita will tell you that the megawatt star needs to have success catching the football to continue preparing for a Hollywood star life after football (modeling and acting). Owens’ resume is already Hall of Fame-worthy with 1,006 catches for 14,951 yards (14.9 ypc) and 144 TDs — currently ranked 6th all-time in career receptions and 3rd in receiving yards – but if T.O wants a ring he will need to learn to share the spotlight with the entire Bengals organization.

The reason the Bengals are looking to T.O to help them secure their first playoff win in forever was their end of 2009 difficulties.  Though Cincinnati handily won the AFC North – undefeated 6-0 record in division – the New York Jets cleaned their clocks in back-to-back weeks including a 24-14 home loss in the Wildcard round of playoffs.  In those two games, the Bengals were exposed as a one-dimensional running team only with former secondary receiver Laveranues Coles proving that he wasn’t much of a threat — outscored 61 to 14 by Rex Ryan’s Brash Bunch. 

The J-E-T-S’ No.1 ranked defense let RB Cedric Benson get his production – ran 21 times for 169 yards and 1 TD in the playoff loss – but everyone else on the Bengals offense, including Ochocinco and QB Carson Palmer were shutdown in the passing game.  In the Week 17 loss, Ochocinco was shutout by NY Jets Pro Bowl cover corner Darrelle Revis — first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games – and the playoff game wasn’t much better as No. 85 didn’t make a catch until 11:56 remaining in the game while finishing with two receptions for 28 yards.  Palmer wasn’t much better, especially in Week 17 where he finished with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  If can say it, the former 4,000-yard passer rebounded with numbers 18/36, 146 YDS, 1 TD, and 1 INT in the disappointing home playoff loss.

It will be real interesting to see if Owens after an almost 15 years in the NFL will be happy being Ochocinco’s sidekick and possibly the second-option in the passing game. Yes…last year in Buffalo, T.O kept his mouth shut for the most part and performed well in bad circumstances.  But there were moments where he disappeared and showed signs of slowing down despite looking in tremendous shape.  Playing on a 1-year, $6.5 million contract, T.O sometimes struggled to beat press coverage and his numbers sagged (55 catches for 829 yards (15.1 ypc) with 5 TDs) compared to his final season with the Dallas Cowboys — 69 catches for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008.  Some will point to the Bills’ offensive line and poor quarterback play as the main reasons for Owens’ decline, but it is now or never for the Bengals and this sometimes pain-in-the-butt receiver.

Other than Ochocinco and Owens, the two people that have to find a way to make it all work are Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and Palmer.  The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback will need to find a way to shut-up the two talkative receivers in the huddle while also spreading the ball around to keep everyone happy.  In addition to Owens and Ochocinco, the Bengals currently have an on-paper fantasy football player’s dream with an embarrassment of riches including Benson, first round rookie TE Jermaine Gresham, former Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), former Jags first-round pick Matt Jones, Wes Welker wanna-be Jordan Shipley, and emerging young receiver Andre Caldwell.  Wonder which receivers are going to make the team based on their valuable special teams play.

So even though T.O, Palmer, and Ochocinco continue to play kissy-huggy going into training camp, including Owens making a guest experience on Ocho’s show, eventually something has gotta give…right.  You know the old song, “T.O’s back and there’s gonna be trouble…Hey La…Hey La.. T.O’s back”.  The two veteran receivers/tweeting buddies have been stars in their own regard – both six-time Pro Bowler with a combined six-1,000 yard season — but they also have been accused at times of being “bad” lockerroom guys, especially Owens. 

However I still do believe even though T.O is approaching 37 in December that he still has enough gas in the tank to have a greater impact on the Bengals than Coles — 2009 numbers 43 rec, 514 yards, 12.0 ypc, long of 40 yards, and 5 TDs.  But the real fun will be if games are lost and one loudmouth receiver gets more targets / catches than the other. My PFWA colleague Don Banks of SI.com recently tweeted of Owens joining Mike Brown’s Wayward Home for players, “Bengals with T.O, Pacman, et al, now remind me of early in sub-prime mortgage era when there was no apparent thought of risks being taken”. 

Hopefully the Bengals will be able to look like the 1980 Oakland Raiders, who where able to turn a rowdy bunch of free-spirited players into a Super Bowl championship team.  But surely adversity awaits in the upcoming 2010 NFL season and you can expect the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to exert as much heat as possible on the Bengals.  I am officially setting the T.O / Ochocinco meltdown alarm for November 9 when the Bengals host the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. 

So now it is “Lights, Camera, Action” time as all of the Bengals’ players will report for training camp at Georgetown College in tiny Georgetown, Kentucky on Wednesday July 28th.  Too bad the Bengals were last year’s feature team on the NFL Films / HBO series Hard Knocks as this year’s training camp should be memorable. 

 

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 NFL Training Camp Questions – AFC South

One big question for 2010 is whether Colts QB Peyton Manning will be able to spread the ball around to his many receivers including Austin Collie

Houston Texans

After posting their first winning season ever (9-7), is it “playoffs or bust” for head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith?

Can QB Matt Schaub start 16 games for the second season in a row and will he be able to duplicate his Pro Bowl passing numbers from 2009 (396-583, an NFL-leading 4770 yards, 29 TDs and 15 INTs)?

Now that the Texans have jettisoned CB Dunta Robinson and given LB DeMeco Ryans a new deal, who is the next player in Houston in line for a big contract?

Who is going to be the Texans feature running back (rookie Ben Tate, Steve Slaton, or Arian Foster) and will they keep the position for all of 2010?

How will the Texans deal with Rookie of the Year LB Brian Cushing’s 4 game suspension for PEDs?

Indianapolis Colts

Can the Colts new revamped offensive line improve on protecting QB Peyton Manning in 2009?

Are there enough balls to go around to Peyton Manning’s plethora of offensive weapons (Garcon, Clark, Gonzalez, Wayne, Collie, and others)?

Who is going to be the Colts’ starting running back (Joseph Addai or Donald Brown) and can the starter be consistent enough to rush for 1,000 yards or more?

Will the addition of rookie DE Jerry Hughes (1st Rd from TCU – 31st) be the motivation that contract-hungry veteran Robert Mathis needs?

How healthy are the Colts defensively, especially SS Bob Sanders (shoulder) and DE Dwight Freeney (ankle) and will their unit be able to rebound from a Super Bowl loss where they could stop the Saints at times?

Jacksonville Jaguars

If the Jaguars have another losing season will it be the final push to send on-the-hot-seat head coach Jack Del Rio out the door?

Should the Jaguars continue to wait for quarterback David Garrard to look like the same guy from 2007?

Who is going to get defensive pressure for Jaguars’ DC Mel Tucker (only produced 14 sacks as a team in 2009)?

Can Pro Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew have another season of almost 400 touches (rushing and receiving) without wearing down?

If the Jaguars continue to have difficulty in selling tickets and not winning games on the field, will they be moving to L.A in the next couple of years?

Tennessee Titans

Can the Titans’ defense rebound after allowing 402 points including a 59-0 bludgeoning at the hands of the New England Patriots?

Now that RB Chris Johnson has received an almost $2M escalator early, will be a happy camper in 2010 and is he durable enough to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2105 yards)?

Who is going to replace MLB Keith Bulluck (NY Giants) as the leader of the Titans’ defense?

Is QB Vince Young ready to be the “consistent” leader that the Titans need and will continue with his 2009 success (8-2 as a starter)?

Who is going to replace RB LenDale White as CJ2K’s tag-team partner (Javon Ringer, LeGarrett Blount, Stafon Johnson or someone else)?

 

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 NFL Training Camp Questions – AFC North

Ravens DT Haloti Ngata and his defensive mates are definitely looking forward to starting 2010 NFL Training Camp

Baltimore Ravens

After leading his team deep into the playoffs two seasons in a row, is Ravens QB Joe Flacco ready to take over as the feature player in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s game plans?

Will the additions of WR Anquan Boldin, WR Donte Stallworth, and two rookie tight ends (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta) help to make the Ravens a more high-flying offense?

How much is left in the tank of MLB Ray Lewis and will the future HOF continue to be the Ravens’ leader on and off the field?

Can the Ravens’ defense overcome probably not having veteran S Ed Reed (hip surgery) until at least Week 6?

Will Ravens RB Ray Rice finally get the carries he craves to no longer be an “underrated” NFL rusher and how will his fellow running backs (Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee) handle the situation?

Cincinnati Bengals

After sweeping the AFC North division in 2009, can the “disrespected” Bengals repeat as division champs this season?

How is the health of quarterback Carson Palmer’s arm and will he finally be able to throw the ball down the field more?

Which receiver (Jordan Shipley, Matt Jones, Antonio Bryant, Andre Caldwell, or T.O) is going to step-up to replace the late Chris Henry as Chad Ochocinco’s receiving partner?

Can the Bengals continue to keep their myriad of “rogue” players (DB Adam Pacman Jones, WR Matt Jones, DE Carlos Dunlap, RB Bernard Scott, RB Cedric Benson and others) out of trouble in 2010?

After drafting Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham in the first round, will the Bengals finally get some production from their tight ends (last year John Paul Foschi led the group with 27 rec, 260 yards, and 2 TDs)?

Cleveland Browns

Can Football Czar Mike Holmgren and new GM Tom Heckert change the culture of the downtrodden Browns’ franchise?

Will new QB Jake Delhomme resemble a former starting Super Bowl quarterback or the guy that threw 8 TDs and 18 INTs in his final season for the Carolina Panthers?

Will “surviving” head coach Eric Mangini be able to avoid Holmgren’s chopping block in 2010?

With over 20 new faces on the Browns, what is a reasonable amount of wins for the franchise this season? (I am predicting they will win 5 to 6 games)

After paying jack-of-all-trades receiver Josh Cribbs, will the Browns be able to placate unhappy players S Abraham Elam, RB Jerome Harrison, LB Matt Roth and LB D’Qwell Jackson?

Pittsburgh Steelers

How will quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, backup Byron Leftwich and the rest of the Steelers handle Big Ben’s offseason turmoil (4 to 6 game suspension)?

After being pass-happy last year, will Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians get back to running the more with 3rd year RB Rashard Mendenhall?

Can Steelers much-injured safety Troy Polamalu return to being the game-changer that he was in the past?

After focusing on the O-line in the draft, will the Steelers’ guys up front do a better job in pass protection (Roethlisberger hit 92 times during 2009 season)?

After firing Bob Ligashesky and hiring Al Everest, will the Steelers’ special teams be any better against returns (allowed four kickoff return touchdowns while ranking 30th on kickoffs and 24th on punt returns)?

 

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 NFL Power Rankings – Pre Training Camp

Even without Big Ben to start the regular season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be looking to get Pittsburgh back in the playoffs in 2010

With training camps set to open soon for most NFL teams, I thought it was a good time to unveil my first ranking for the 2010 season.  The great part about this time on the NFL Calendar is that rankings don’t matter as hope has sprung eternal around the league.

Every team is 0-0 heading into training camp and “Yes” even the St. Louis Rams (1-15) believe they have positively upgraded their roster and drafted well enough that training camp two-a-days can’t get here soon enough.  And why not…since 1996 there have been at least 5 new playoffs teams that had been sitting home the year before – highest total was 8 teams in 2003.

80-man rosters are pretty much set for every team…Sorry T.O… – still need to sign rookies as only Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is the only first rounder signed — so here we go with our rankings of all 32 NFL Teams.

1.  Saints – The 2009 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch.  In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!!  The Saints only lost players that they believe already have replacements on their current roster. Sean Payton’s offensive squad has more weapons than almost every team in the NFL, including an O-line that returns all of it’s starters from the Super Bowl.  However there are a couple things that New Orleans will need to shake out in the pre-season, which are their defense not relying on turnovers too much – produced an NFL best 39 fumbles and INTs plus 8 turnovers into touchdowns.  And the usual Super Bowl winner problems of complacency, money, and injuries.

2.  Vikings – All off-season it had to have bothered the Vikes that they were so close to playing in the Super Bowl (lost in overtime).  Keys for sustaining their success from last season will be veteran QB Brett Favre coming back (already a done deal…trust me), RB Adrian Peterson concurring his fumbling woes, and the Vikings’ defense getting better performances from everyone outside of Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen.  Head Coach Brad Childress has now tasted success, so it is easy to think that Minnesota will be right back at the top of the NFC North, but I think the Packers and Bears might have something to say about that.

3.  Colts – Another season, another 12 wins for Indy (NFL Record seven Consecutive).  The Colts are a regular season buzzsaw, but once again the playoffs, it was a different story.  QB Peyton Manning’s team lost in Super Bowl to the Saints and at some points in the game, the younger team from New Orleans “Out Physical-ed” Indy.  There is no doubt that Manning and his plethora of receivers will continue to put up yards and points.  But the Colts need more of a running game from veteran RB Joseph Addai and 2nd year RB Donald Brown plus their defense needs to get more physical at the point of attack.

4. Cowboys – Maybe the curse of Quincy Carter is over as the Cowboys won in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 by demolishing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard round.  Unfortunately the Cowboys got a quick taste of reality in the divisional round as the Viking pasted them 34-3.  However owner Jerry Jones obviously thinks that his team has a chance of playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium so Dallas’ roster pretty much is set.  The keys for Dallas will be QB Tony Romo continuing to make big plays with WR Miles Austin, RB Felix Jones gaining a more prominent role and the Cowboys defense improving in their back four.

5.  Ravens – An already dangerous team just got a little bit tougher this offseason as John Harbaugh’s squad had a very good draft and also obtained quality veterans like WR Anquan Boldin.  With QB Joe Flacco coming off an impressive season (posted a 95+ passer rating in 9-of-16 games in ’09), underrated RB Ray Rice looking like the second-coming of Marshall Faulk and a hungry defense returning just about everyone, Baltimore is a scary bunch.  Expect team leaders MLB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and WR Derrick Mason to show younger players, like Terrence “Mount” Cody, how it is to make a playoff run.  But don’t forget the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals should be ready to fight for the AFC North crown.

6.  Chargers – After dominating in the regular season and looking like a strong Super Bowl contender, the Chargers were out-physicaled by the NY Jets in a tough 17-14 home loss.  Fiery quarterback Philip Rivers could do very little as the J-E-T-S pounded the rock and played attacking defense.  Of course, recently jettisoned RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be blamed for some of the Chargers problems.  But in the end, the NY Jets dug deeper and Norv Turner’s team appears to be in need of a spark.  In the 2010, San Diego is hoping an influx of younger players including first rounder RB Ryan Matthews will be what they need, but the Chargers better be leery of the Broncos.  Also they better figure out what to do with unsigned players OT Marcus McNeil, WR Vincent Jackson, and LB Shawn Merriman.

7.  Patriots – Was it just me… or did the Patriots look like an old rusty team in 2009 as the Ravens hammered them out of the playoffs.  Though I am not ready to totally bury the 3-time Super Bowl champs, I do believe that head coach Bill Belichick also saw his team aging and went about give it an offseason makeover.  Veterans Junior Seau, Shaun Springs, Jarvis Green, and others are long gone, leaving a mix of former Super Bowl players and some youngsters.  It will be incumbent on Belichick to lean on former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and future HOF Randy Moss as the Patriots try to re-tool while holding off the hungry NY Jets.  Of course Brady doesn’t play defense, where Belichick’s unit needs to be better in deep coverage.

8.  New York Jets – Everyone’s pick for the team that won the offseason, the New York Jets, will be trying to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row.  Last year after an up-and-down regular season, Rex Ryan’s team got hot at the right time beating the Bengals and Patriots to make it to the AFC Championship game.  However this year everyone will be gunning for the “cocky” J-E-T-S as there are high expectations on them due to the additions of OLB Jason Taylor, WR Santonio Holmes, L.T and others.  But you know and I know that everything will boil down to whether QB Mark Sanchez is ready to be more than a “Caretaker”.

9. New York Giants – It was a rollercoaster ride for the G-Men in 2009.  They started out like gangbusters as they jumped out to a 5-0 record against some cupcakes, but from there injuries – mostly in their secondary – and big plays against their defense caught up with the Giants.  An 8-8 record just is not good enough in New York City and volatile head coach Tom Coughlin knows it.  Expect a rejuvenated team based around bruising RB Brandon Jacobs, newly acquired veteran LB Keith Bulluck and an attacking defensive line – highest sacker in ’09 was DE Justin Tuck with only 7 sacks.

10.  Cardinals – The Matt Leinart era is about to kick-in out at University of Phoenix stadium.  The Cardinals’ former first round pick in 2006 finally will get his chance to replace veteran Kurt Warner after the future HOF retired.  Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is preaching that the Cardinals will be a more balanced team on offense, which means 2nd-year RB Chris Wells should be more active.  I will be interested in seeing how their defense plays after surviving a pinball machine against the Packers and being throttled by the Saints in the 2009 playoffs.

11. Steelers – A year after winning the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in 2009 as they finished with a 9-7 record.  Some big reasons for the Steelers fall from grace were inconsistency, injuries (see Troy Polamulu), and a pass-happy offense.  Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who just received an extension, is preaching that his team is going to play “Steelers Football” again i.e. Run the football and play tough attacking defense.  Of course any talk about where the Steelers are as a team begins and ends with QB Ben Roethlisberger who is currently suspended for the season’s first 6 games.

12.  Bengals – It will be real interesting to see if last year’s feel-good team, the Bengals, can get back to the playoffs.  2009’s Beast of the AFC North (swept the division) looked good until the playoffs when the NY Jets hammered them.  Offensively QB Carson Palmer needs to produce more bigger plays and the rest of the unit needs to live-up to loudmouth receiver Chad Ochocinco’s boasts.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis is trying to get an extension so he will need another great season from his defense which is led by CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

13.  Falcons – After battling through many injuries in 2009, the Dirty Birds seem to be everyone’s pick to be a rebound playoff team in 2010.  A good reason for optimism in Hotlanta is that this young team has bought into the teachings of fiery head coach Mike Smith and his staff.  The Falcons have the modern version of the quadruplets as they sport a leadership type quarterback in Matt Ryan, a workhorse running back in Michael Turner, a pass-catching tight end in veteran Tony Gonzalez and a big-play receiver in Roddy White.  If their O-line is stable, I am not really worried about their offense.  However their defense needs to rally around big-ticket free agent CB Dunta Robinson.

14.  Texans – You have to hand it to Houston as they accomplished a major goal in 2009 by producing their first winning season since their inception in 2001.  But as nice as it was to be over .500, the Texans still have a ways to go to catch the Colts.  Head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith were given a half-hearted vote of confidence, but you can tell management wants a playoff contender now.  The Texans will need to lean on the offensive firepower of Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and NFL receiving yardage leader WR Andre Johnson. But it will be interesting to see if their defensive unit is better without disgruntled defensive back Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and you know that will fall on DE Mario Williams (9 sacks in ’09).

15. Titans – Tennessee is another team stuck in the NFL’s ever increasing middle.  After a disastrous 0-6 start, everything seemed to finally click once Vince Young was named the starting quarterback.  However it was too much too late as they finished 8-8 and their defense was continually beaten deep.  In their first season sans Albert Haynesworth, Jeff Fisher’s team allowed a whopping 402 points and their former 2008 Pro Bowlers in their secondary looked average at best.  With an eye on fixing their defense, the Titans went heavily on that side of the ball in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will see if they have enough to catch the Colts and Texans, but If nothing else the Titans will be exciting with CJ2K running the ball.

16.  Eagles – The winds of change are blowing around the Philadelphia Eagles.  Former veterans like QB Donovan McNabb, CB Sheldon Brown, S Brian Dawkins, and RT John Runyan are long gone leaving a younger team searching for an identity.  The trade of McNabb to the Redskins changed the entire feel around the team and now it is up to first-time starter Kevin Kolb to take the reins of Andy Reid’s young squad.  Kolb will not have to do it on his own as he has Pro Bowlers WR DeSean Jackson, OT Jason Peters and TE Brent Celek to help him, but the defense is the Birds’ biggest question mark (allowed over 200 passing yards per game).  We will see if the Birds have made enough offseason changes to close the gap between themselves and the Dallas Cowboys – outscored 58-14 in last two games of 2009.

17.  49ers – To me last year was a tease in terms of the Niners.  You can clearly see that energetic head coach Mike Singletary had his team playing well at times, but consistency was not there enough – finished with an 8-8 record.  In order for San Francisco to finally pass the Cardinals and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They will need to have better quarterback play from Alex Smith, improved O-line play behind their two coveted first rounders and more defensive pressure — didn’t have a single player top 6.5 sacks last season.

18.  Dolphins – After shocking the NFL in 2008 by going from worst to first in their division, Miami came back down to earth in 2009 with a 7-9 record including a 1-4 stretch to end the season.  A lot of change is afoot in South Beach, but the Dolphins are hoping that are is more than just LeBron going to the Heat. Surprisingly the Dolphins biggest problem was their defense that allowed 390 points.  With Football Czar Bill Parcells watchful eyes over head coach Tony Sparano, the Dolphins attempted to fix their woes in the draft by going heavily on defense.  They also brought-in WR Brandon Marshall to help their offense.  We will see if these changes are enough to vault them over the Patriots and NY Jets.

19. Packers  –  There is no doubt that Green Bay and QB Aaron Rodgers have the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the NFL – 461 points scored — but the Packers’ 2010 hopes directly hinge on Dom Capers’ defense.  I know his unit allowed only 297 points in the regular season and they were ranked near the top of the entire NFL.  But against the Vikings –you know who torched them – and the Cardinals in the Wildcard round put up points too (lost 51-45) so they needed more than Defensive MVP, DB Charles Woodson. It should be another fun year when the Pack lock horns with Favre and the hated men in purple.

20.  Bears – The head coaching seat in the Windy City is getting extremely hot and it is incumbent on Lovie Smith to return the Bears to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Smith thought that he had solved his Super Bowl loser hangover dilemma by trading for talented QB Jay Cutler, but a 7-9 season in ’09 made the spotlight hotter.  With new offensive coordinator Mike “Mad Scientist” Martz and big-ticket free agents DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor on the team, it is now or never for Smith and GM Jerry Angelo.

21.  Broncos – Another year and another controversial player was kicked out of town by brash head coach Josh McDaniels.  In 2009 it was QB Jay Cutler (to Chicago) being ushered away and in 2010, it was talented malcontent receiver Brandon Marshall’s turn to leave the Rockies – shipped to the Dolphins before the draft.  McDaniels better hope he is right as his team badly slumped down the stretch of the 2009 season — 4-game losing streak to end the season — and some fans’ patience is running thin.

22.  Redskins – There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is “Mike Shanahan”.  The two-time Super Bowl winning head coach, veteran QB Donovan McNabb and new GM Bruce Allen have been called-in to restore the nation’s capital’s franchise.  Already Shanahan and Allen have brought in over 20 new players with many being veterans (McNabb, Larry Johnson, Joey Galloway, Jammal Brown, and others).  We all know this team will be nowhere near their 4-12 record in 2010, but you have to wonder if all these new faces can jell quickly enough.  All the NFL’s entire eyes will be on Philly for the October 3rd, McNabb-Eagles Grudge Match.

23.  Raiders – For once the Raiders don’t seem like the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.  Yes, they have the league’s worst record since 2003 (24 wins and 72 losses).  But already I have seen some positive moves including the jettisoning of underachiever quarterback JaMarcus Russell, bringing in veteran QB Jason Campbell, a solid draft that produced players like LB Rolando McClain, and the same head coach (Tom Cable) for the second year in a row for the first time in a long while.  Al Davis’ boys should be shooting for .500 this season, which would be a big step forward.

24.  Jaguars – It seems everyone in this organization is fighting for survival.  The team is trying desperately to sell enough season tickets to avoid a proposed move to L.A, QB David Garrard is trying to prove he can play like his 2007 form to justify his big contract and lastly head coach Jack Del Rio is fighting to stay in town after two losing seasons in a row.  Well at least the Jags have one of the NFL’s most dangerous players in RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

25.  Panthers –  If it now or never for head coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney who are both entering the final year of their contracts.  Owner Jerry Richardson is healthy now and he will have a greater say in the Panthers this year, so it is incumbent on the team to continue helping their on-the-hot-seat head coach again – finished 4-1 in 2009.  Expect another great year of the NFL’s best two-headed backfield (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), but Carolina’s defense must recover from losing DE Julius Peppers. Expect QB Matt Moore (6-2 as a starter) to hold-off rookie Jimmy Clausen and establish himself as an NFL starter.

26.  Lions – Head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew had one of the best drafts in 2010 as they brought in potential difference-makers DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best to continue their rebuilding.  With QB Matthew Stafford firmly at the helm, there is no reason why the Lions could not win 3 to 4 more games this year.  I am going to make an early prediction…watch out for the Lions in 2011, if there is not a lockout of course.

27.  Buccaneers – Some good young building blocks (QB Josh Freeman, TE Kellen Winslow and S Tanard Jackson) are in place for 2nd-year head coach Raheem Morris, but 2010 looks like another rebuilding year for Tampa.  However there still should be hope as the NFC South since 2003 has had 6 out of 7 years where a team went from worst to first including the New Orleans Saints last year.

28.  Seahawks – New head coach Pete “runaway” Carroll has brought in a ton of new faces (over 25 new players) including retread receiver Mike Williams, former NY Jets RB Leon Washington and former Chargers restricted free agent QB Charlie Whitehurst.  But Carroll’s team still has too many leftover players from the Mike Holmgren era (i.e. QB Matt Hasselback, WR Deion Branch, and others) that will need to figure out where they stand before the entire organization can move forward.

29.  Bills – Can you say, “Oh Canada”?  Right now the reality of playing more than two games a year in Toronto, Canada maybe facing this team.  I am not even sure if new head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have any idea of the mess on their hands.  The Bills have 3 quarterbacks competing and I don’t think any of them can be a week-in-week-out NFL starter and whoever is the starter, they will be playing behind on of the league’s leakiest O-lines.

30.  Chiefs – Head Coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli are trying like crazy to make the hapless Chiefs into New England West, but something is amiss.  QB Matt Cassell after finally getting a chance to start regularly put-up even stats of 16 TDs and 16 INTs while the defense couldn’t stop anyone in 2009, letting up 424 points.  There is nowhere to go but up for Cassell and the rest of this young team who are looking like one big rebuilding effort.

31.  Browns – Football Czar Mike Holmgren took over early as he came in during the end of the 2009 season to start evaluating a roster that looked like multi-purpose threat Joshua Cribbs and not much else.  What Holmgren did find was that there were a few talented players (Cribbs, OT Joe Thomas, and CB Eric Wright), but unfortunately he still will need to put on his janitor’s suit as there is much more housecleaning to be done.  It looks like another long year awaits on the shores of Lake Erie, especially with washed-up QB Jake Delhomme under center.

32.  Rams – Just like the Saints at the top of the food chain…I have to start the Rams at the bottom.  However I do believe that head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Bill Devaney are making positive changes on this team. Hopefully RB Steven Jackson (back) and first rounders QB Sam Bradford, OT Jason Smith, and DE Chris Long will get some help to move this young team out of the basement. 

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 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories – CBA Negotiations

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith are the principal figures in the ongoing NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations

The impending end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) slated for March 2011 should be first and foremost in everyone’s minds associated with the NFL.  Right now the league is in the midst of its first “uncapped” season in 2010, but that will be a hill of beans, if there is an NFL owners’ lockout in 2011 – i.e. “No Football”. 

All anyone needs to do is go back and do some research from the 1987 NFL Players’ Strike – the last labor strife in the league which led to the owners playing “regular season” games with replacement players – to see the damage that labor unrest caused to the league and it’s fans.  There is no doubt that the NFL is the “Golden Goose” of sports with a model that produced approximately $9 Billion in revenues for 2009 and an unprecedented almost 25 years of uninterrupted play. 

The two sides involved, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA DeMaurice Smith, have begun talks but everything is very preliminary at this time.  There are so many negotiating issues around the NFL’s new CBA with the tip of the iceberg including:

Revenues — NFL owners are saying players are taking 60% of revenues, Smith is saying the owners want an 18% rollback on player revenues in the new CBA and the NFLPA is insisting that the league open the books. 

NFLPA talking about possible owner collusion — The owners are pointing to the 30% rule, but overall player salaries for 2010 are lower and it has been a very slow offseason for signing free agents / giving out big deals. Also owners will not say it, but they do not want to pay a signing bonus on new player deals which could potentially cover lost salary during a lockout – did you know the owners TV money for 2011 is guaranteed.  That is why future Hall of Famer and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who is in the last year of his 2004 contract extension – 7 years, $99.2M with a $34.5M signing bonus (due $15.8M in 2010), has not received a new deal yet.  Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady are expected to get new contracts with at least $50 million guaranteed. Is something up??? Recently on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike Show, DeMaurice Smith said, “You guys want me to say the collusion word, of course….Oh, wait a minute. There it goes.”

An owners’ proposed 18-game regular season schedule — Mostly supported by the owners, there are already many veteran players talking about long-term risks.  The NFLPA and it’s players are commissioning reports to see about the long-term health/injury risks from playing an 18-game regular season – 16 game schedule since 1978.  Let me go on record that I completely agree with getting rid of 1 or 2 preseason games.  But you know the players will definitely need extra incentives to approve more games. Patriots QB Tom Brady recently said of the 18-game proposal, “I’ve taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games. The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care. Our Union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans.”

Retirement Benefits — Led by a very loud contingent of former players, including HOF Joe DeLamiellure, NFL retirees want to be heard regarding health benefits and pensions.  Every current NFL player better be thinking about life after football as the average NFL career is 3 to 4 years and a player that has accrued 3 years of play receives only 5 years of health benefits after their retirement.

A possible Rookie Wage Scale – Something has to be done to make sure that “proven” NFL players are getting larger pieces of the pie than unproven rookies.  All anyone needs to do is look at the $39M that JaMarcus Russell basically stole from the Raiders.  This year, first overall pick, the Rams QB Sam Bradford, is expected to receive a contract greater than Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s – 6 years, $72M with $41.75M guaranteed.

Player Misconduct Administration — Goodell has a ton of leeway under the current CBA to administer justice as he sees fit and some member of the NFLPA want to look into the “legality” of some of the commissioner’s decisions.  Owners are also talking tough about going after bonuses already paid, if a player screws-up.

Drug Testing — NFL currently doesn’t test for the performing enhancing drug Human Growth Hormone (HGH) as it requires blood.  And the NFL also needs to think about testing for codeine (i.e. the “Sizzurp”) after the recent events with the Packers DL Johnny Jolly and former Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell.

Roger Goodell recently said of the CBA negotiations, “There will be an agreement at some point…Everyone would like it sooner rather than later, whether it’s the players, the owners or the fans.  It’s important for us all to get more productive dialogue. Sometimes, these things don’t happen until you get a little closer to the end (of the CBA). That’s just the reality.”

DeMaurice Smith also has been on the offensive lately too.  He recently said on ESPN Radio about the on-going CBA negotiations, “As you guys know, we haven’t been shy about being aggressive in protecting players’ rights. If we have to be aggressive to enforce the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you can bet that we will.”

FIGURE IT OUT GUYS as NFL fans don’t want to see a season lost, because a bunch of Billionaires and Millionaires cannot agree.

 BTW:  Anyone worried about seeing NFL replacement games, like during the 1987 NFL Players’ Strike, you don’t have worry as the current CBA does not allow the owners to play “Scab” games.

Other 2010 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories

  • New York Jets winning the NFL offseason and can they reach the Super Bowl heights many are predicting for them
  • Position Battles (Carolina Panthers QBs, Philadelphia Eagles Safeties, Dallas Cowboys WR’s, NY Giants DE’s, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WRs, Arizona Cardinals QBs, Buffalo Bills QBs, etc)
  • T.O, Flozell Adams and other free agents still looking for jobs
  • Coaches on the hot seat trying to stay alive (Panthers John Fox, Texans Gary Kubiak, Jaguars Jack DelRio, Bears Lovie Smith, Broncos Josh McDaniels, and Browns Eric Mangini)
  • QB Donovan McNabb changing teams inside the NFC East
  • Brett Favre’s “Possible” Retirement / Return
  • Slow rate of rookie first rounder signings
  • Future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady getting new deals or not
  • The Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, and San Francisco 49ers being popular picks as NFL’s surprise team of 2010

 

 

 

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 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories – Player Misconduct

Leading up to 2010 NFL Training Camps there have been too many stories of player misconduct.  Recently Green Bay Packers DL Johnny Jolly (pictured) was suspended for the season by the league for drug charges

Hard to believe 3 years after NFL Commissioner Roger “Hang’em High” Goodell instituted a Player Conduct policy that gave him much latitude in its application, we are still talking about players putting themselves in bad situations.  Sure the majority of the NFL’s over 1500 players are good up-standing types, but since the Super Bowl ended in February there has been a steady stream of player misconduct that has fans, media, and league officials concerned about a pattern. 

And to make matters worse, now the players involved seem to be more “high profile”.  No longer is everyone talking about the misdeeds of a 2nd string nickelback (i.e. Adam “Pacman” Jones), now quarterbacks who are the league and franchise’s faces are producing negative front-page news too, that may have implications going into the 2010 NFL season. 

Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Michael Vick (a shooting occurring after his 30th B-Day Party), Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (Bar hopping gone array in Milledgeville, GA), Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (misdemeanor assault citation after allegedly punching a guy in a strip club for an upside down hook’em Horns sign), Tennessee Titans back-up QB Chris Simms (arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana in New York City), former Oakland Raiders QB / 2008 NFL Draft first overall pick JaMarcus Russell (arrested for illegal possession of Codeine to allegedly produce a drink called “The Sizzurp”) and too many others. 

The situation that Roethlisberger got himself into was most distressing to Goodell and everyone else as he is the marquee player of one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises.  Though eventually the authorities in Georgia decided to not press charges for sexual assault against Big Ben, the salacious details and accusations, including the showing of taped interviews with the alleged victim, will follow Roethlisberger, the Steelers and NFL for a long time. 

The former 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback has been suspended for the first 6 games of the 2010 Season, but it is looking like his early summer good behavior could have his suspension lowered to 4 games instead.  However good behavior by Roethlisberger and the NFL’s other bad boys withstanding, it will be interesting in CBA negotiations if NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith wants to call Goodell and his sometimes heavy-handed administration of the Player Conduct Policy to task.  Because you know the league will counter with tales of how disorderly players have taken signing bonuses and other guaranteed money and not lived-up to their end of the bargain.

Hopefully the final days before training camps begin (Cleveland Browns rookies report on July 23rd) will be free of player misconduct as fans and media should be looking forward to the action on the gridiron rather than NFL players on the police blotter.

2010 Player Misconduct Suspensions

  • Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, 6-game suspension (Player Conduct – two sexually related incidents) — Out until at least Week 8 vs. New Orleans, but could be shortened to 4-games based on league review
  • San Diego Chargers WR Vincent Jackson, 3-game suspension (Player Conduct – Multiple DUIs) — Out until Week 4 vs. Arizona
  • Atlanta Falcons OT Quinn Ojinnaka, 1-game suspension (Player Conduct – Domestic Violence) — Out until Week 2 vs. Arizona
  • Seattle Seahawks LB Leroy Hill, 1-game suspension (Player Conduct – Drug Charge) — Out until Week 2 at Denver (also their could be an additional suspension coming for Player Conduct – Domestic Violence)
  • Green Bay Packers DE Johnny Jolly, indefinite suspension with the minimum for all of the 2010 season (Player Conduct – Drug Charge)
  • Free Agent WR Plaxico Burress, indefinite suspension (gun charges) that will end once he is released from prison

*** It should also be noted that when a player serves a suspension, he does not get paid and misses out on game checks.

Other possible misconduct violations

  • Miami Dolphins DE Phillip Merling – Domestic Violence
  • Cleveland Browns DT Shaun Rodgers – Carrrying a weapon into the airport
  • Atlanta Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux – Drug Chrages
  • Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson – Assault
  • Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young – Citation for Assault
  • Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Michael Vick — Possible probation violation from a shooting that occurred after his 30th B-Day Party
  • Tennessee Titans back-up QB Chris Simms — Arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana in New York City
  • Free Agent QB JaMarcus Russell – Drug Charges

 

 

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 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories – Holdouts

Even 3-time Super Bowl winning QB Tom Brady is a potential holdout before training camps start

Holdouts are a rite of passage leading up to training camp. When one player gets a shiny new contract (See Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall’s deal for four-year deal worth $47.5 million with $24 million guaranteed), there are five other players who are saying they deserve equal or more.

Of course NFL owners are pointing to the 30% rule, an uncapped 2010 season and the certain times around the CBA (owners want an 18% roll-back on player revenues), as the major reasons that they are taking a tough stance with potential holdouts.  But the NFLPA also is monitoring potential holdouts as overall player salaries for 2010 are lower than last year and it has been a very slow free agent market — can you say, “Collusion”… I know NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith can. 

Also owners will not say it, but they do not want to pay a signing bonus on new player deals which could potentially cover lost salary during a lockout.  That is why future Hall of Famer and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who is in the last year of his 2004 contract extension – 7 years, $99.2M with a $34.5M signing bonus (due $15.8M in 2010), has not received a new deal yet.  Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady are expected to get new contracts with at least $50 million guaranteed.

However I have found most players talk tough about holding out during OTAs and the offseason until the prospect of fines — $14,000 to $16,000 dollars daily for missed training camp days — and missed game checks in the regular season come into play. The dollars can pile-up quickly — Seahawks receiver Deion Branch lost over $600,000 dollars in fines and 1 game check of $65,625 dollars during his 2006 holdout with the Patriots.

Holdout players under contract definitely need to understand that a prolonged stay away from their team could cause them to lose accrued seniority towards free agency. Under NFL rules, players under contract must report at least 30 days before the overall first NFL regular season game (August 10th deadline) or they will forfeit an accrued season of seniority.  Players talking tough about a holdout that might end up in this category are Brady, Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth, NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis, Titans RB Chris Johnson, Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley and others.

As for unsigned draft picks, franchised players and restricted free agents that are thinking “Holdout”, the Week 10 of the regular season is huge.  Because players not under contract, who eventually sign after a holdout, need to be part of the team for at least in six regular season games in order to earn an accrued season towards free agency.  The biggest potential 2010 holdouts in this category are Chargers restricted free agents WR Vincent Jackson and OT Marcus McNeil.

Everyone associated with the league also is monitoring “Holdout” talk around unsigned rookie players. With training camps about 2 weeks away (Cleveland Browns rookies report on July 23rd), there are currently no first round selections signed at this time including first overall pick St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford —  expected to receive a contract greater than Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s – 6 years, $72M with $41.75M guaranteed.  Hopefully the NFL will avoid the rookie signing problems that force San Francisco 49ers WR Michael Crabtree to sit-out well into the 2009 regular season — 20 of the 32 first-round picks in 2009 were unsigned when their teams opened up training camp. As of July 14th, there have been 138 of 255 players from the 2010 NFL Draft signed.  My guess for the longest 2010 first rounder holdout is Buffalo Bills RB CJ Spiller (9th overall pick)

In the end… if McNeil, Vincent Jackson, Haynesworth and the rest of the NFL’s many holdout candidates do continue to stay away, they need to understand that holdouts are a no-win situation everyone involved. The holdout game also usually produces animosity, lost team chemistry, and injuries. Plus most players coming back from holdouts quickly realize that their team’s have moved on without them as the “NFL Never Sleeps”. 

2010 Holdout Watchlist

Patriots QB Tom Brady

Colts QB Peyton Manning

Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth

NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis

Titans RB Chris Johnson (received a $2M escalator payment early)

Saints OT Jermon Bushrod

Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett

Chargers OT Marcus McNeil

Chargers WR Vincent Jackson

Colts WR Reggie Wayne

Broncos DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil

Ravens OT Jared Gaither

Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson

Texans WR Andre Johnson

NY Jets center Nick Mangold

Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis

Chargers LB Shawne Merriman

Redskins LB Rocky McIntosh

Titans TE Bo Scaife

Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

Bills RB Marshawn Lynch

Vikings DE Ray Edwards

SF 49ers NT Aubrayo Franklin (Unsigned Franchise Player)

 

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)