Matt Leinart’s time in Arizona is Waning

It looks like Matt Leinart’s last game for the Cardinals could be in Preseason Week 4 against the Redskins

That beeping sound that you have been hearing throughout the 2010 NFL preseason is an alarm sounding on the Arizona Cardinals’ career of former 2006 first round pick QB Matt Leinart. 

To say the least, the former Heisman “Golden Boy” quarterback will soon have to pick up the pieces of his once promising career in another city.  All signs are pointing to the Cardinals not finding a trade partner – rumored to be offering him up for a late round pick to at least 3 teams – and the team simply cutting their expensive floundering passer at the 53-player roster cut deadline (Saturday September 4th).

This preseason has been a microcosm of Leinart’s time in the desert, filled with more ups and downs than a rollercoaster – namely under-performance and losing his starting job.  There has always been a schism between Leinart and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt – inherited the laid-back quarterback from Denny Green – and it appears to have grown to the size of the Grand Canyon. 

Whisenhunt had already been leery of Leinhart and his laissez-faire attitude before, but some fans and media thought that the pair’s troubles from 2008 were behind them after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner on January 29th, 2010.  Yeah right… Whisenhunt has said on numerous occasions over the past 2 years that his young quarterback wasn’t serious about the game. 

Even way back in 2008, it was obvious that inevitably the Whisenhunt / Leinart marriage was doomed.  First in April 200, the former USC superstar was photographed partying with some hotties and actor Nick Lacey, which immediately put a bull’s-eye on his back.  At the time Whisenhunt said publicly that he wished his young passer – only a 24-year old when the incident occurred – would spend more time rehabbing his injured shoulder and learning his playbook rather than partying.  Then during the 2008 preseason, Leinart, who had been handed back the starting job after shoulder surgery, finally lost his job to Warner for good.

The final straw was the young passer throwing 3 interceptions within a matter of minutes versus the Oakland Raiders in the Cardinals’ third preseason game.  After that point Leinart’s butt was firmly planted on the bench as Warner re-wrote his story by re-emerging as a Pro Bowl quarterback in his late 30’s.  The former Rams Super Bowl hero led the Cardinals to two straight NFC West titles and an improbable Super Bowl XLII berth, where they lost narrowly 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course during Warner’s magical 2008 season all Leinart could do was watch in awe as he only appeared in mop-up duty.

Even after all that water-under-the-bridge, it was assumed that the stage was finally set for Leinart aka “Hollywood” to take control as the Cardinals’ full time starter.  But unfortunately for the lefty quarterback, his story in the NFL has been nowhere near a feel-good script written by one of his fellow CAA colleagues.  Because for the second time in his career, Leinart has lost his starting job to a former journeyman quarterback.

During the 2010 NFL Preseason, free agent signee Derek Anderson, a 2007 Pro Bowl player, has done just enough and Leinart has been just bad enough that Whisenhunt is finally ready to move-on from a quarterback that he never really wanted o trusted with Anderson.  In his defense, Leinart has shown some accuracy on shorter passes — completed 82.6% of his 23 pass attempts for a 110.3 passer rating — but it also has been clear that the offense struggles to put points on the scoreboard with him under center. Last week it was announced by Whisenhunt that Anderson would start the Cardinals’ third preseason game and the fireworks began. 

After his benching became public, Leinart went on the offensive by talking to Cardinals beat writer Kent Somers. The disgruntled former starter said, “I’m disappointed. I’ve done everything to this point that they’ve asked me to and more. I’ve worked hard and been a leader. I’m trying to be that guy in this new role. I have high expectations for myself.”  He added, “I feel I’ve been efficient. I’ve been accurate. I haven’t turned the ball over. I don’t know how we judge performance when you have 13 pass attempts to the other guy’s 40. I’m not going to sit here and complain and point the finger. I have to get better and I ‘m going to get better… all I can do is really focus on just me.  I don’t make these decisions and sometimes you don’t know why decisions are made”.

It may sound crazy, but the Leinart of 2010 seems 100 years removed from the player who had an incredible college career at USC.  Over his four years in college, Leinart went from a formerly teased kid to a L.A superstar and naturally everyone thought that his magic carpet ride would continue right into the professional ranks. 

I am not going to lie to you…though I thought QB Vince Young and RB Reggie Bush were easily the top players in the 2006 NFL Draft, there was no denying what a great college quarterback Leinart had been – school’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes and completion percentage.  In 3 years as the Trojans starter, he had compiled an amazing starting record of 37–2, a Heisman in 2004, two National Championships, his #11 jersey being retired and a certified tinsel town A-lister.

Leinart also finished his college career with the following eye-popping numbers of 807 completions on 1,245 attempts (64.8% completion percentage) for 10,693 yards, 99 TDs and 23 INTs. It was only natural that most people thought that Leinart was going to be the left-handed version of 2003 NFL Draft first overall pick and Bengals QB Carson Palmer.  There were even more than a few pundits that chastised the Oakland Raiders and other teams for passing on the “Natural” as Leinart had to wait in the green room before the Cardinals selected him with the 10th overall pick.

But from the beginning Leinart’s time in Arizona seemed doomed.  He was involved in a prolonged holdout, which lasted until mid August 2006 – last pick from his draft class to sign. And not even the euphoria of signing a six-year, $51 million contract with $14 million guaranteed could change his stars. During down time, Leinart was often criticized for going back to L.A to hangout with his pals rather staying in Arizona.   On the field wasn’t much better as the 2006 Cardinals were a team floundering and it was obvious that former head coach Denny Green would soon be out the door. 

Also as Leinart was getting used to his new NFL home, Warner had been named the Cardinals’ starting quarterback by Green.  From the beginning the young rookie and the wily veteran were locked in a battle that would rage for 3 seasons and there were even stages where the two rivals rotated in 2007.  However, just like later in 2010, there has always been something amiss with Leinart.  Even though he has been surrounded by a great offensive supporting cast, including Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Leinart struggles with reading defenses and holding the ball too long (leading to too many sacks). 

With Leinart being owed $2.485 million this year and an incredible $12.86 Million in 2011 including a 7.36M salary and a $5.5M due in March, there is little to no chance  that the Cardinals will let him serve as a backup in 2010.  Also his contract, public troubles with the Cardinals and “perceived” bad attitude are major impediments to any team making a trade — even for a 6th or 7th round pick.  You can expect NFL GM’s to pursue Leinart only after he has been released.

I know the former USC star, just like Cardinals fans, will also be glad for a fresh start too.  But right now his NFL career is looking more along the lines of former notorious NFL draft bust quarterbacks Cade McNown and JaMarcus Russell. Even though it is vogue to pile on Leinart as he is being kicked out the door in Arizona.  Everyone needs to remember that former flameout starting quarterbacks Rich Gannon, AJ Feely, Byron Leftwich, and others got second chances in the NFL.  Remember… Leinart still is only the ripe old age of 27 so he may still have some football left in him.

If he does make it back to a starting role in the league, Leinhart will definitely have to prove his doubters wrong.  And surprisingly one his former teammates, Anquan Boldin, spoke-up on Leinart Leinart’s inability to win the team’s starting quarterback job.  105.7 The Fan in Baltimore about.  “Honestly? No (I am not surprised)”.  Boldin added, “I’ve … witnessed the relationship between both Matt and coach (Ken) Whisenhunt. So I’m actually not surprised.”

When Leinart is finally cut – probably after the upcoming Cardinals-Redskins preseason game — there is nowhere to go but up from here as shown by his passing numbers.  He currently has a starting record of 7-10, a 57.1 completion % on 595 pass attempts producing 3893 yards, 14 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 70.8 passer rating. 

Watch for quarterback-starved teams the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears (backup), Oakland Raiders (backup), Seattle Seahawks (Pete Carroll Connection), and New York Giants (backup) to pursue Leinart upon his release.

 

 

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)

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2009 NFL Season – Week 8 Review

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Houston Texans RB Ryan Moats was one of Week 8’s Game Ball winners for his efforts in the Texans 31-10 win over the Buffalo Bills

With the 2009 season officially hitting the halfway mark, the league celebrated with a magnificent week of action in Week 8.  This was a great week in the NFL filled with upsets, big wins, and playoff picture shaping moments.  Despite six teams on a bye (Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers) and some blowouts that have been too plentiful this season – 8 teams won by 12 points or more — there were compelling storylines everywhere that kept viewers glued to their seats.  The NFL is clearly winning the battle for sports fans weekly and I am sure Week 8 will be a landslide too when the numbers are reported, especially with FOX having both the Eagles-Giants NFC showdown and then Favre’s return game to Green Bay — during Week 7, FOX’s doubleheader drew 28.4 million viewers for the most viewership since the Super Bowl. 

You cannot review the action from Week 8 without talking about the highly anticipated Lambeau Field return of former Packers legend and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.  No. 4 playing for the hated Vikings not only returned back to his home of 16 years, but he clearly showed his “former” fans and employers that he has plenty left in his right arm.  Favre and the Vikings dominated the Packers 38-26 in a game very similar to the Vikes’ Week 4 win in Minnesota. The Vikings defense didn’t give Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (26-41, 63.4%, 287 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs plus 52 rushing yards) any time in the pocket (6 sacks) and Favre put up some big numbers with a little help from his friends.  Emerging rookie WR/KR Percy Harvin had a big game producing 5 catches for 84 yards and 1 TD plus five kick returns for 175 yards.  And All-World running back Adrian Peterson (25 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown) was tough till the end, but the day clearly belonged to Favre.

 After enduring a week of being called a “Waffler”, “Flip-Flopper”, “Drama Queen” and “Traitor”, Favre stepped on the field and put aside a booing crowd to “Stick It” to his old team.  Favre threw a season-high four touchdown passes and was never even touched in the pocket (zero sacks) as he piled up superb passing numbers 17-28, 244 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs.  And of course like he always seems to do every week, Favre set a record of most completions in one venue (passed John Elway’s record) and tied Dan Marino’s NFL record of 21 career games with at least four TD passes.  After the game, Favre hugged several members of the Packers team and staff including former favorite receivers Donald Drivers and Greg Jennings.  The future Pro Football Hall of Famer left the field surrounded by media everywhere and pumped his fist to a mix of cheers and boos.  Favre said after the game, “I’m not going to sit here and throw any daggers…We played about as good as we can play. We can play better, but that’s what it was going to take to beat that football team. That’s the satisfying thing.”  Favre added, “I’ve never been one to rub it in anyone’s face…The guys I’ve played with as a Packer, I’ve got a lot of respect for, as I do (for) this organization and these fans.”

So with Favre-a-palooza over for the second time in less than 1 month, let’s take an inventory of what happened.  Favre in two “big” wins over the Packers  (scores of 30-23 in Week 4 and 38-26 in Week 8) finished with passing numbers 41-59, 515 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INTs, no sacks allowed and a passer rating well over 130.  The Packers on the other hand have a 10-13 record since sending their former franchise quarterback to exile in the Meadowlands in 2008.  Favre stated at his postgame press conference, “What I’ve done here (Green Bay) speaks for itself.”  For those unable to interpret Favre’s last comments, I will translate them for you.  “Hey Packers GM Ted Thompson and the rest of you haters…How do you like me now, What!!”

With everyone caught up in the Vikings-Packers and all the drama that followed Favre’s revenge homecoming, there were some other serious stories this week that I felt were a little neglected.

The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints were both tested but still continued on their unbeaten ways – both 7-0 — The Indianapolis Colts are the NFL’s number one team (very quietly), but even they have to sweat one out here or there.  In their 16th straight win (franchise record), the Colts rallied from a 14-12 deficit to finally beat the scrappy San Francisco 49ers 18-14 in Indy.  The win was a testament to how well rookie head coach Jim Caldwell is keeping a veteran group of players on track without future hall of fame coach Tony Dungy.  With the win, Caldwell joined Potsy Clark (1931 Portsmouth Spartans started 8-0) as the only rookie head coaches in the past 80 years to start the season 7-0.  Caldwell leaned on veteran quarterback Peyton Manning (31-48, 347 passing yards, 0 TDs, and 0 INTs) in the win, but it was a great halfback pass from RB Joseph Addai (former high school quarterback) to Reggie Wayne (12 catches for 147 yards and 1TD) that was the game-winning score.  Also special recognition needs to go out  to veteran kicker Matt Stover who was 4 for 4 on field goal attempts. 

The Saints, who tied their best start in franchise history (1991 team was also 7-0), were involved in a tough game too.  The Atlanta Falcons led by their quadruplets (QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, TE Tony Gonzalez, and WR Roddy White) and their attacking defense were not going to give New Orleans their usual 40 points and another easy win.  The game came down to the final seconds after the Falcons had recovered an onside kick.  But Saints S Darren Sharper (NFL leader with 7 INTs) intercepted Matt Ryan’s desperation heave with 3 seconds left to preserve a 35-27 win. The Falcons on offense ran the ball effectively with Turner (20 times for 151 yards and a touchdown) and their defense put more pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees than I have seen all season (2 sacks and numerous other hits).  However the Saints once again proved that they are the “real deal” and it is going to be difficult to stop them.  Right now their offensive line is providing good protection, Brees is looking like a MVP candidate, the Saints have too many offensive weapons to write down, and their defense has 6 TDs off turnovers – the Cleveland Browns offense only has 5 TDs total.  I won’t bring up the 1972 Dolphins’ undefeated season yet, because the Saints have a long way to go but other than games against the Patriots (Week 12), Falcons (Week 14), and Cowboy (15) every other team that the Saints face from here on out has a losing record through 8 weeks.

The St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans both got off the “schnide” by winning their first games of the season — The Rams broke their 17-game losing streak with a road win over the Lions by a score of 17-10.  I would like to have said that quarterback Marc Bulger had a lot to do with the win, but the star of the game clearly was RB Steven Jackson.  The hard-runner and perennial Pro Bowl player finally was rewarded for his efforts with some good blocking as he piled up 149 rushing yards and scored his first touchdown of the season.  The Rams other big play was a touchdown pass from kicker Josh Brown to FB Daniel Fells on a fake field goal in the second quarter.

The Tennessee Titans after a very long bye week decided to go back to the future by inserting 2006 Rookie of the Year QB Vince Young back into the starting lineup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The former franchise quarterback had not started in 22 games and was finally lobbied into the starting lineup by Titans owner Bud Adams.  Young responded passing for numbers 15-18, 125 yards, and 1 TD plus rushing for 30 yards including moving the chains on a couple 3rd down runs.  As good as Young was in the Titans 30-13 win, running back Chris Johnson (see Game Balls) was even better.  One of the NFL’s fastest players streaked to two long touchdown runs in the second half that closed the door on the Jaguars and plucky running back Maurice “Pocket Hercules” Jones-Drew.

There was also:

  • The rested Baltimore Ravens dominated the previously undefeated Denver Broncos 30-7, knocking them from the unbeatens.  The bye week sure was a good thing for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh’s team as the Ravens were focused and energized by their home crowd.  The Ravens defense limited the Broncos to a season-low 200 total yards, forced 1 turnover, produced 2 sacks and on special teams they had a kickoff return for a touchdown.
  • The Carolina Panthers pulling a total reversal from their 2008 playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  Quarterback Kurt Warner (see Lloyd’s Lackey) looked like Panthers QB Jake Delhomme in an embarrassing 34-21 home loss.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles tore apart the NY Giants on “Sports Sunday” in South Philly
  • The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans jumping back in the playoff hunt
  • The Cleveland Browns continuing to look like the NFL’s most pathetic team in a loss to the Chicago Bears

Game Balls

Miami Dolphins WR/KR Ted Ginn – Who needs to play offense anyway?  After being demoted from his starting job (too many drops), Ginn made the most of his opportunities on special teams in the Dolphins 30-25 win over the J-E-T-S.  A special returner coming out of Ohio State, the former track star looked like the real deal again.  Ginn helped pick up the Dolphins’ flagging offense by producing two touchdowns on lengthy 3rd quarter kickoff returns of 101 and 100 yards.  Ginn became the first player in NFL history with two touchdowns of 100 yards in the same game and is the eighth player in NFL history with two kick-return touchdowns in a game.  Ginn also became the first player to record two KR-TDs in the same quarter since Green Bay’s Travis Williams in 1967.

Honorable Mention

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – “Every Coach’s Dream” was in full affect as the mercurial running back sprinted the Titans to a much-needed 30-13 win over the Jaguars, for their first win of the season. Johnson ran for a franchise-record 228 rushing yards on 24 carries and scored on two long touchdown runs (52 and 89 yards) that displayed his game-breaking speed.

Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre – In the ultimate “In your face” moment of this week, Favre returned to Lambeau with both guns blazing.  The former Packers legend and current Vikings quarterback threw a season-high four touchdown passes and was never even touched in the pocket (zero sacks) as he piled up superb passing numbers: 17-for-28, 244 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs.  Favre also in his 90th win at Lambeau (2nd only to John Elway’s 95 wins at Mile High) tied Dan Marino’s NFL record of 21 career games with at least four TD passes.  Favre’s record since the second half of the 2006 season is 33-10 games (.767 winning percentage), which is amazing considering the guy is 40 years old.   

Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers — And you thought his salary of $1M per week salary was too high (2009 salary of $16M).   Peppers in leading the Panthers to a revenge road win over the Arizona Cardinals had 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 force fumble, and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats – This former Eagles running back, who many in Philly thought didn’t have the football smarts to play the game, busted out in a big way this week.  With starter RB Steve Slaton fumbling his way out of the lineup, it was Moats turn to carry the rock in the Texans 31-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.  The small speedy back ran for 126 yards and 3 TDs plus he was able to block when needed and catch the ball, which are two things Moats had trouble with in Philly.  The Texans are now two games over .500 for the first time in franchise history.

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd – If you don’t know this rookie’s name, you better learn it quick.  Byrd, a second-round pick from Oregon, had two more interceptions in the Bills’ loss to the Texans.  Byrd also tied an NFL record with three straight games of at least two interceptions. Byrd now has 7 INTs in only 8 games and is on pace to break former Bears’ hard-hitting safety Mark Carrier’s NFL rookie record of 10 picks.

Other Honorees: Titans QB Vince Young (was efficient finishing with solid numbers 15 of 18 passes for 125 yards, 1 TD, and ran 12 times for 30 yards in the Titans first win of 2009); Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner (rushed 20 times for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ MNF loss to the Saints); Saints CB Jabari Greer (had a crucial 48-yd interception return for a touchdown in the Saints’ MNF win); St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson (had 149 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season in the Rams’  first win since  October 2008); Eagles FB Leonard Weaver (had a career-high 75 yards rushing yards including a 40-yard touchdown run in the Birds 40-17 win over the G-Men); San Diego Chargers LB Shawne Merriman (registered his first 2 sacks in nearly two years in the Chargers win over the Raiders); Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (scored on a 54-yard touchdown reception in the Eagles’ 40-17 win over Giants.  Became just the second player in NFL history with six touchdowns of 50 + yards in his team’s first seven games of a season – tied HOF Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, LA Rams 1951); Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew (MJD only eight carries  but rushed for 177 yards and two scores 80 and 79 yards in the Jags’ loss to the Titans); Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (Had 121 yards from scrimmage, including 90 rushing yards, and two touchdowns in the Bears’ win over the Cleveland Browns); Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing (produced 10 tackles, one sack and an interception to end Buffalo’s final drive of the game in the Texans’ 31-10 win over the Bills); Baltimore Ravens CB Lardarius Webb (had three tackles and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Ravens’ 30-7 win over the Broncos); Carolina Panthers’ two-headed running back combo DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (the pair thrashed the NFL’s former #1 rushing defense with Williams finishing with 23 carries for 158 yards and Stewart adding 83 yards and 2 TDs).

Lloyd’s Lackey

Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner – In a game that could have shown that the Cardinals were truly back, Warner was awful in a bad home loss to the Carolina Panthers 34-21.  To make matters worse the Cardinals could have gained ground on the Niners and Seahawks, who both lost.  Warner looked like his counterpart QB Jake Delhomme who was awful and frazzled in the Panthers 2008 playoff loss to the Cardinals.   Warner’s final numbers tell the whole story (27/46, 242 YDS, 2 TD, career-high 5 INTs and 1 lost fumble). In all the Cardinals had six turnovers, all committed by Warner.

Dishonorable Mention

The New York Jets – It is so much easier to talk trash and eat hotdogs on the sidelines when you are beating up the hapless Oakland Raiders.  A week after saying they were going to turn the tables on the AFC East rival the Miami Dolphins this time.  The Jets might have suffered their worst loss of the 2009 season, going down at home by a score of 30-25.  Even though the Dolphins had only 104 yards, they scored on special teams (Ted Ginn) and on defense (Jason Taylor’s fumble return for a touchdown) to put the J-E-T-S away.  And embarrassingly Jets LB Bart Scott refused to give the Dolphins credit for beating his team twice this season.  Maybe their upcoming bye week will be the cure that the Jets need as they are 1-4 record in their last five games.

Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson – With rumors swirling that the Browns don’t want to pay incentives on backup QB Brady Quinn’s contract, inexplicably the Dawgs have stuck with Anderson.  In another horrible performance in a bad 30-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, Anderson threw for putrid numbers 6/17, 76 YDS, and 2 INTs.  Anderson’s 2009 statistics stand at a passer rating of 40.6 (lowest-rated quarterback in the NFL), 605 passing yards, 2 TDs, and 7 INTs.  Maybe the Browns should put WR/KR Josh Cribbs (former college QB0 as he is the best quarterback on their roster.  Anderson said after the game as a personal policy he doesn’t look at his statistics, because he knows they’re not pretty.”Honestly, they are garbage,” Anderson recently said.   According to STATS LLC, only Ryan Leaf (34.5 in 2000) and Kerry Collins (37.5 in 2006) have started a season more poorly.

Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason — Totally lost his cool in the Ravens win over the Broncos.  Granted he was upset about a bad call by the officials – imagine that…sorry head of officials Mike Pereira – where they missed a defensive holding call. But Mason went too far screaming an official’s face and then slamming his helmet down on the sideline.  Of course he was flagged for his actions for unsportsmanlike conduct, but enough was enough.  Eventually Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had to calm his star receiver down and cooler heads prevailed.

St. Louis Rams safety James Butler – Made a boneheaded move after picking off Lions QB Matthew Stafford.  Butler caught the ball in the endzone ran out then went back into the endzone where Lions RB Kevin Smith tackled him for a safety. Luckily for Butler the gaffe only cost the Rams two points and they won the game anyway for their first win of the season.

Houston Texans RB Steve Slaton – The former 1,000-yard rusher in 2008 lost the ball again (5 lost fumbles in 2009 including one in the win over the Bills) and may have lost his starting job to emerging runner Ryan Moats.

Seattle Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant – Returned from a back surgery for the first time this season and really struggled as he committed 3 Pass Interference penalties.

Week 8

Sunday, November 1

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) over Denver Broncos (6-1), 30-7

Houston Texans (5-3) over Buffalo Bills (3-5), 31-10

Chicago Bears (4-3) over Cleveland Browns (1-6), 30-6

Dallas Cowboys (5-2) over Seattle Seahawks (2-5), 38-17

Miami Dolphins (3-4) over New York Jets (4-4), 30-25

Indianapolis Colts (7-0) over San Francisco 49ers (3-4), 18-14

Philadelphia Eagles (5-2) over New York Giants (5-3), 40-17

St. Louis Rams (1-7) over Detroit Lions (1-6), 17-10

San Diego Chargers (4-3) over Oakland Raiders (2-6), 24-16

Tennessee Titans (1-6) over Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4), 30-13

Minnesota Vikings (7-1) over Green Bay Packers (4-3), 38-26

Carolina Panthers (3-4) over Arizona Cardinals (4-3), 34-21

Sunday, November 2

New Orleans Saints (7-0) over Atlanta Falcons (4-3), 35-27

Byes: Bengals (5-2), Buccaneers (0-7), Chiefs (1-6), Patriots (5-2), Redskins (2-5), Steelers (5-2)

 

 

 

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

The Arena Football League Closes down after 22 years

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The Arena Football League that gave players an opportunity from future Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner to little known guys like QB Raymond Philyaw (above), closed down operations on August 5, 2009

As a self-proclaimed “Football Junkie”, I have to admit that I liked the scoring, commonality, and toughness of the Arena Football League.  The minor indoor football league helped bridge the gap between  long boring summers and the start of NFL training camps for many.

But after 22 years of thrills, pinball machine-type scoring, family value priced fun, and guys crashing into padded walls and each other, the indoor Arena Football League this week announced that it would be no more.  The league that gave anyone gutsy enough to put on a helmet a shot – for basically peanuts — from former college stars (Major Harris, Woodrow Dantzler, and Michael Bishop) to future NFL players (Kurt Warner, Mike Furrey, Oronde Gadsen, and Troy Brown) to NFL washouts (Todd Marinovich, Quincy Carter, and Marcus Nash) did not have enough backing in this bad economy to keep afloat their very flawed economic model.

Despite a modest television contract with ESPN, the league clearly had become two worlds of the “Have’s” and “Have Nots” as teams in Philadelphia, Denver, and Dallas – all backed by high-powered owners – clearly could not carry the leagues weaker teams (Los Angeles and others) any longer.  The AFL had previously called off play for the 2009 season, but had said it planned to return in 2010.  However a to-thee-point one-paragraph statement announced that the league had suspended operations. The statement said the AFL’s board had been “unable to reach any consensus on restructuring the league over the past eight months.”

The AFL’s board also added, “there are no other viable options available to the league right now.”  By all apparent accounts the league is likely to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.  The loss of another professional football league may seem like the National Football League ruling the block again. But unlike past failed other professional leagues (WFL, USFL, and XFL), the AFL never tried to compete with their larger cousin as they marketed themselves completely different.  The excitement built from playing in a hockey arena type environment’s 50-yard field with 8-on-8 player action on the field – many players played both on offense and defense, nets, smaller goalposts, and padded walls thrilled crowds from Utah to Albany. 

The AFL went from a little over 130,000 fans attending games in their inaugural season (1987) to their on EA Sports video game.  The AFL brought a football to the masses at a good price and most importantly they gave fans what they wanted most, scoring – I attended a game once that ended 70-68.  Even though the majority of players were largely unknown, fans flocked to places like Veterans Memorial Auditorium (a/k/a “The Barn) in Iowa to see guys play their guts out and then sign autographs for it seemed every fan in attendance. 

The league’s last champion will be rocker Jon Bon Jovi’s Philadelphia Soul, who broke the City of Brotherly Love’s Championship drought in June 2008 by winning ArenaBowl XXII with a score of 59-56 over the San Jose SaberCats.  With the AFL going by the wayside along with NFL Europe in recent years, you have to now wonder where players not of NFL caliber will apply their trade.  The NFL clearly needs a developmental type league as rosters are only 80 players in training camp until their cut down the regular season limit of 53 players and an 8-player practice squad. 

The new United Football League (UFL) starting in September 2009 maybe an option for some, but I don’t know how any league can compete with the NFL in the fall even if games will be played on Thursdays and Fridays.  For those that still need their indoor football fill there is still af2.  The AFL’s offshoot is currently playing this season and is in the midst of the ArenaCup playoffs. There are 25 teams in the af2 and there has been talk that the AFL’s former little brother — the AFL owns 50.1 percent of the af2 – might be able to absorb some of the AFL’s stronger teams. According to af2’s Iowa Barnstormers co-owner Jeff Lamberti, the af2 is solvent, self-funded, and pays its bills so it should keep going despite the AFL going bankrupt.

Philadelphia Soul All-AFL receiver Chris Jackson said of the bygone league, “I feel bad for the fans because for 22 years it was one of the most unique, most loved, most fun sports I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a shame there’s no more Arena Football League for people.” I guess people seeking some minor league sports action will have to go to tractor pulls and bull riding contests at their local arena.

Many thanks go out to AFL players like Shedrick Bonner, Connell Maynor, Hunkie Cooper and many others for 22 years of “There’s a Rumble in the House” memories. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 Free Agency Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – Free Agency comes in like a quick storm at 12:01 AM on the first day and it soon slows down about a week later.  With March 4th marking the ending of the first week of Free Agency, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at the initial feeding frenzy around the NFL. 

Remember there is still a long way to go before training camps open in July so teams have plenty of time to reshape their rosters.  But I am a firm believer in using the NFL Draft to build a team.  Having a nucleus of homegrown talent fortified by draft picks builds cohesion, which is essential in building perennial winners.  Too often history has shown too many new free agents is usually not the best way of catching up with the rest of the league.

 Best Signing

St. Louis Rams C/G Jason Brown — The St. Louis Rams signing of versatile center/guard Jason Brown from the Ravens showed that new head coach Steve Spagnuolo was looking for a cornerstone player and he got one.  Coming off a stellar 2008 season, Brown wanted to be paid as if he was one of the NFL’s top centers and he was by the Rams. Brown signed a five-year, $37.5 million (w/ $20 million guaranteed) contract. The Rams beat the Ravens and Eagles to the punch for one of the NFL’s ascending interior lineman, who barely missed out on the Pro Bowl in ’08.  The Rams offensive line got a much-needed boost and often-injured quarterback Marc Bulger should be feeling better.

Honorable Mention:  Cardinals re-signing QB Kurt Warner, Jets signing LB Bart Scott from the Ravens, and Washington Redskins signing DT Albert Haynesworth

Worst Signing

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall – I know that Redskins owner Dan Snyder puts his checkbook where his mouth is, but he went overboard signing inconsistent DeAngelo Hall to a six year, $55 million deal ($23 million guaranteed) when there was really no clamoring for the talkative corner was unnecessary.  If you remember back in November of 2008, Hall who had been traded to the Raiders –signed seven-year, $70 million contract with $24.5 million guaranteed — was released by the Oakland after “he failed to adapt to the Raiders’ man-to-man style of defense.  Hall was regularly beaten and was known to be a malcontent in the locker-room.  Hopefully the Redskins get more out of him than $8 million ($7 million signing bonus and $1 million in base salary) for eight games that the Raiders got.

Winners

Denver Broncos – New head coach Josh McDaniels is going about building his team in free agency as the Broncos signed 8 players and counting.  Among the top-level players relocating to the Rockies were S Brian Dawkins (Eagles), RB Correll Buckhalter (Philadelphia), RB JJ Arrington (Arizona), RB LaMont Jordan (Patriots), WR Jabbar Gaffney (New England), S Renaldo Hill (Miami), LS Lonie Paxton (New England), DT Darrell Reid (Indianapolis), CB Andre Goodman (Miami), DT Ronald Fields (San Francisco) and LB Andra Davis (Browns).  I like the signing of Dawkins, as he will bring leadership to a young team and coach.  Now McDaniels will need to soothe quarterback Jay Cutler’s ego as his star learned he was almost out of town for Matt Cassel.

Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs boosted their roster by adding 2008 wonder quarterback Matt Cassel for the value price of a 2nd round pick going to New England.  Chiefs new GM Scott Pioli knew that the Chiefs needed a signal-caller, so he called his old buddy Bill Belichick and got the Patriots “franchised” quarterback.  Cassel should work well with young receiver Dwayne Bowe plus boost the spirits of malcontent tight end Tony Gonzalez.  The Chiefs also brought in veteran LB Mike Vrabel (traded for a conditional pick) to teach the “Patriot” way to a young locker-room.

New York Jets — New head coach Rex Ryan waited in the driveway of prized linebacker Bart Scott to get a deal done.  Ryan knew Scott well from their days with the Ravens and now Scott, who was six years younger than veteran LB Ray Lewis, will bring his swagger to the Big Apple.  Scott was also joined by another former Ravens teammate, safety Jim Leonhard.  The hard working Leonhard replace injured starter Dawan Landry well in Baltimore and did a great job returning kicks.  Leonhard will join existing Jets starter Kerry Rhodes to form a tough combo for Ryan’s new attacking defense. The Jets also acquired CB Lito Sheppard from the Eagles for a 5th Rd pick and he should be rejuvenated playing next to Pro Bowl corner Darrell Revis.

New York Giants – Proving you can never have enough defense, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin brought in more disruptors.  The G-Men signed Cowboys DE Chris Canty, Seahawks DT Rocky Bernard and Falcons LB Michael Boley to go with Umenyiora, Tuck, Kiwanuka, Robbins and rest of the gang.

Losers

Baltimore Ravens – Got leader LB Ray Lewis back and signed veteran center Matt Birk, but they have a lot of holes to fill with the loss of Scott, Brown, and Leonhard.  Also I am not sure if corner Dominique Foxworth is physical enough to replace departed corner Chris McAllister.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Entered free agency with the most under the cap in the NFL ($41 Million under) and visions of signing Albert Haynesworth, but all they have to show for it so far is RB Derrick Ward (NY Giants) and K Mike Nugent (Jets).  They also spent a lot on signing underachievers QB Luke McCown, WR Michael Clayton, and DT Ryan Simms.  It will be real interesting to see how franchised WR Antonio Bryant and recently traded for TE Kellen Winslow (Browns) get along.

Philadelphia Eagles – The Birds have let go of too many quality veterans this off-season in RB Correll Buckhalter, S Brian Dawkins, and OT Tra Thomas when the younger players at their positions may not be ready to step up.  However I did like signing veteran right tackle Stacy Andrews (right guard Shawn Andrews’ older bro) to replace broken-down warrior Jon Runyan.

 Best Available 

1. QB Byron Leftwich – This big (6’6) passer has the arm and smarts to still be a starter in the NFL.  If he doesn’t receive a good offer soon look for him to go back to being a backup in Pittsburgh.

2. OT Tra Thomas – Even at age 34, Thomas still is a quality left tackle in the NFL.  He only allowed 2 sacks in 2008 and this former Pro Bowl player is an excellent pass blocker.

3. DE Demetric Evans — A versatile two-way end, who can rush the passer and hold his ground on running plays.

4. LB Kevin Burnett – Came on strong for Dallas at the end of the 2008 season.  Very good in the nickel and on special teams plus can get after the quarterback on blitzes.

5. FB Leonard Weaver – Great hands, Solid Blocker, and is good in short yardage.  Probably would still be in Seattle if Mike Holmgren stuck around.

Others: OT Mark Tauscher QB Chris Simms, RB Kevin Jones, WR Ronald Curry, DT Igor Olshansky, S Sean Jones,

Hoping for a Chance in Training Camp

WR Terrell Owens, S Mike Brown, LB Willie McGinest, QB JT O’Sullivan, QB Jeff Garcia, RB Ahmad Green, TE Darnell Dinkins, LB Mike Peterson, CB Adam Jones, CB Duane Starks, S Lawyer Milloy, and K John Kasay

Status of 2009 Notable Free Agents

 Quarterbacks

Kyle Boller, UFA Baltimore Ravens  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Matt Cassel, UFA New England Patriots (Traded to Chiefs for a 2nd Rounder, #34)

Kerry Collins, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Re-Signed w/ Titans)

Jeff Garcia, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Rex Grossman, UFA Chicago Bears  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Byron Leftwich, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

J.P. Losman, UFA Buffalo Bills  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dan Orlovsky, UFA Detroit Lions (Signed w/ Texans)

JT O’Sullivan, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Chris Simms, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Kurt Warner, UFA Arizona Cardinals  (Re-Signed w/ Cardinals)

Running Backs

J.J. Arrington, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Signed w/ Broncos)

Tatum Bell, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Cedric Benson, UFA Cincinnati Bengals  (Re-Signed w/ Bengals)

Correll Buckhalter, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Signed w/ Broncos)

Warrick Dunn, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

DeShaun Foster, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Ahmad Green, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Brandon Jacobs, UFA New York Giants (Re-Signed w/ Giants)

Edgerrin James, UFA Arizona Cardinals  (expected to be released)

Rudi Johnson, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Kevin Jones, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)

LaMont Jordan, UFA New England Patriots (Signed w/ Broncos)

Deuce McAllister, UFA New Orleans Saints (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Chris Perry, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dominic Rhodes, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Darren Sproles, UFA San Diego Chargers (Franchised)

Fred Taylor, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Signed w/ Patriots)

Derrick Ward, UFA New York Giants  (Signed w/ Buccaneers)

Fullbacks

Heath Evans, UFA New England Patriots  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Lorenzo Neal, UFA Baltimore Ravens  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Tony Richardson, UFA New York Jets  (Re-Signed w/ Jets)

Leonard Weaver, UFA Seattle Seahawks  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Wide Receivers

Miles Austin, RFA Dallas Cowboys  (Tendered by Cowboys)

Hank Baskett, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Tendered by Eagles)

Drew Bennett, UFA St. Louis Rams (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Antonio Bryant, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Franchised)

Michael Clayton, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (Re-Signed w/ Bucs)

Ronald Curry, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jabar Gaffney, UFA New England Patriots (Signed w/ Broncos)

Joey Galloway, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Marvin Harrison, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Devery Henderson, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints)

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Signed w/ Seahawks)

Michael Jenkins, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Bryant Johnson, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Signed w/ Lions)  

Brandon Jones, UFA Tennessee Titans (Signed w/ SF 49ers) 

Brandon Lloyd, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dane Looker, UFA St. Louis Rams (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Justin McCareins, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Shaun McDonald, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Lance Moore, RFA New Orleans Saints (Tendered by Saints)

Terrell Owens, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jerry Porter, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Amani Toomer, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Javon Walker, UFA Oakland Raiders (Re-Signed w/ Raiders)

Nate Washington, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Signed w/ Titans)  

Reggie Williams, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Tight Ends

Mark Bruener, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dominique Byrd, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered by Rams)

Desmond Clark, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

Tony Curtis, RFA Dallas Cowboys (Tendered by Cowboys)

Owen Daniels, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Darnell Dinkins, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Bubba Franks, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jeff King, RFA Carolina Panthers (Tendered by Panthers)

Jim Kleinsasser, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Re-Signed w/ Vikings) 

Ben Patrick, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals)

Leonard Pope, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals)

**Bo Scaife, UFA Tennessee Titans (Franchised)

L.J. Smith, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jerramy Stevens, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Daniel Wilcox, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

Offensive Line

OT Stacy Andrews, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Signed w/ Eagles)

OT Khalif Barnes, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

C Matt Birk, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Signed w/ Ravens) 

C Jason Brown, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed w/ Rams)  

C/G Nick Cole, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Tendered by Eagles)

OT Marc Colombo, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

OT Willie Colon, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered – 1st Rd by Steelers) 

OG Jahri Evans, RFA New Orleans Saints (Tendered by Saints)

OT George Foster, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

C Melvin Fowler, UFA Buffalo Bills (Unsigned as of 3/3)  

OG Pete Kendall, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

OG Richie Incognito, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered low by Rams) 

OG Seth McKinney, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

OT Jon Runyan, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

C Jeff Saturday, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Re-Signed w/ Colts) 

OT Marvel Smith, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

**OT Max Starks, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Franchised)

OT Jon Stinchcomb, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints) 

OT Mark Tauscher, UFA Green Bay Packers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

OT Tra Thomas, UFA Philadelphia Eagles  (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

C Ben Wilkerson, UFA Atlanta Falcons  (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Defensive Line

Victor Adeyanju, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered low by Rams)

Rocky Bernard, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Signed w/ Giants)

Bertrand Berry, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Demetric Evans, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Chris Canty, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Signed w/ Giants)

Tommie Harris, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Albert Haynesworth, UFA Tennessee Titans (Signed w/ Redskins)    

Tank Johnson, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Stanley McClover, RFA Carolina Panthers (Tendered by Panthers)

Jerome McDougle, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Igor Olshansky, UFA San Diego Chargers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**Julius Peppers, UFA Carolina Panthers (Franchised) 

Kenny Peterson, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

DeWayne Robertson, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Antonio Smith, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Signed w/ Texans)

**Terrell Suggs, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Franchised) 

Jason Taylor, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3)

John Thornton, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Gabe Watson, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals) 

Linebackers

Eric Barton, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Monty Beisel, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Michael Boley, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Giants)

Keith Brooking, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Cowboys)

Derrick Brooks, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**Karlos Dansby, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Franchised)

Andra Davis, UFA Cleveland Browns (Signed w/ Broncos)

Kalimba Edwards, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

James Farrior, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Tyjuan Hagler, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

**Leroy Hill, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Franchised)

Napoleon Harrison, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Larry Izzo, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)       

D.D. Lewis, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Ray Lewis, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Re-Signed w/ Ravens)

Willie McGinest, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Quentin Moses, ERFA Miami Dolphins (Tendered by Dolphins)

Mike Peterson, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Junior Seau, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Bart Scott, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed by Jets) 

Zach Thomas, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)       

Jonathan Vilma, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints)

Nate Webster, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Cornerbacks

CB Phillip Buchanon, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

CB/KR Chris Carr, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Cortland Finnegan, RFA Tennessee Titans (Tendered High by Titans) 

CB Domonique Foxworth, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Ravens)

CB Chris Gamble, UFA Carolina Panthers  (Re-Signed w/ Panthers)

CB Andre’ Goodman, UFA Miami Dolphins (Signed w/ Broncos)

CB Charles Gordon, RFA Minnesota Vikings  (Tendered by Vikings)

CB Jabari Greer, UFA Buffalo Bills (Signed w/ Saints) 

CB DeAngelo Hall, UFA Washington Redskins (Re-Signed w/ Redskins)

CB Joselio Hanson, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Re-Signed w/ Eagles)

CB Corey Ivy, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Adam “Pacman” Jones, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

CB Eric King, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Signed w/ Lions)

CB Ty Law, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Bryant McFadden, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

CB R.W. McQuarters, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Justin Miller, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

CB Deltha O’Neil, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**CB Dunta Robinson, UFA Houston Texans (Franchised)

CB/KR Allen Rossum, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

CB Duane Starks, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Safeties

FS Mike Adams, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Will Allen, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)  

**FS Oshiomogho “O.J” Atogwe, UFA St Louis Rams (Franchised)

SS Atari Bigby, RFA Green Bay Packers (Tendered by Packers) 

SS Mike Brown, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Brian Dawkins, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Signed w/ Broncos)

SS Rodney Harrison, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Renaldo Hill, UFA Miami Dolphins (Signed w/ Broncos) 

SS Sean Jones, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS Dawan Landry, RFA Baltimore Ravens (Tendered by Ravens)

SS/KR Jim Leonhard, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed w/ Jets)

FS Anthony Madison, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered by Steelers)

SS Jon McGraw, UFA Kansas City Chiefs (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS Lawyer Milloy, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

SS Jermaine Phillips, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS James Sanders, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

SS Darren Sharper, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Anthony Smith, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered by Steelers)

SS Roy Williams, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)

FS Eugene Wilson, UFA Houston Texans (Re-Signed w/ Texans)

FS Gibril Wilson, UFA Oakland Raiders (Signed w/ Dolphins)

Kickers and Punters

PK John Carney, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

PK Robbie Gould, UFA Chicago Bears  (Re-Signed w/ Bears)

**PK Shayne Graham, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Franchised)

P Craig Hentrich, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

PK John Kasay, UFA Carolina Panthers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**P Michael Koenen, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Franchised)

P Sam Koch, RFA Baltimore Ravens (Tendered by Ravens)

PK Mike Nugent, UFA New York Jets (Signed w/ Buccaneers)

PK Matt Stover, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

 

 

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

Free Agency 101: The 2009 Free Agency Period is here and NFL teams are ready to shop

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Remember “Alan Faneca”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a free agent and moving instantly into Super Bowl contention.  Faneca was one of the 2008 free agency period’s biggest fishes out there.  The former 7-time Pro Bowl guard signed a deal of a lifetime (5 years, $40 Million with $21 Million guaranteed) that made him the highest paid offensive lineman at the time to leave the frugal Pittsburg Steelers to sign with New York Jets owner Woody Johnson’s “deep pocketed” team.  The moves of bringing in Faneca and fellow free agency pickups outside linebacker Calvin Pace and right tackle Damien Woody plus trades for quarterback Brett Favre and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins were supposed to instantly hand the J-E-T-S the AFC East crown.  Well, now we know that the Jets, despite a massive off-season spending spree, did not reach the postseason for the second straight year finishing with a disappointing 9-7 record including going 1-4 in their final five games — lost to Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Miami (lost division title at home) and barely beat Buffalo. I am sure Johnson was “giddy” seeing the return on his investment when the Jets were on the sidelines come playoff time watching the upstart AFC East champion Miami Dolphins.

I am sure during the 2008 season NFL team general managers and owners paid particular attention to the Jets’ fortunes to see the affect of extravagant free agency spending on a team.  The Jets and the equally luxurious Dallas Cowboys expected to win after shopping at Neiman Marcus in the offseason for players.  But not so fast…. as both teams didn’t even make the playoffs and it was the Pittsburgh Steelers fueled by home grown talent cultivated through the draft (James Harrison, Santonio Holmes, Ben Roethlisberger, Casey Hampton and others) who were hoisting the Super Bowl XLIII Lombardi trophy.  The Steelers proved that building a solid nucleus through the draft and playing as a “team” are the greatest keys to winning in the NFL rather than trying to buy a championship.  The Steelers confirmed the same successful formula that the Colts, Patriots, and Giants have subscribed to for years by looking to the draft first to build their teams — Did you notice all of these teams have recently won a Super Bowl.  Over the years I have always told disgruntled spend-happy fans, “Good teams fill weaknesses on their roster with solid veteran players and draft picks and bad ones try to make a splash by over spending for ‘Big Name’ free agents and usually fall apart due to non-cohesiveness”.

Timeframe: Begins at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday, February 27th and runs to April 17th at 4 PM EST for restricted free agents

Salary Cap Information: The 2009 salary cap has been set for $124 million per team, which is $7.3 million higher than last year’s figure of $116.7 Million.  Remember TV and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) have dictated the large pot of money that is out there.  Most of the teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good cap management.   Solid teams usually make good cap decisions (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: $750,000).  Teams with plenty of cap room (signing dollars) include: Arizona Cardinals ($40 Million under the Salary Cap as of February 27th), Detroit Lions ($39 Million under) Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($38 Million under), Kansas City Chiefs ($38 Million under), Tennessee Titans ($31 Million under), Philadelphia Eagles ($31 Million under), and Buffalo Bills ($26 Million under). While others like the Washington Redskins ($7 Million over the cap), New Orleans Saints ($6 Million over), Indianapolis Colts ($4 Million over), New York Jets ($1 Million over), Oakland Raiders ($8 Million under), New England Patriots ($5 Million under) and Dallas Cowboys ($3 Million under) will need to do some slashing and contract restructuring before trying to sign their upcoming draft picks and desired free agents.

Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that over 400 players are free agents of some kind and they can now negotiate with all 32 teams. That number includes the 14 free agents that were designated as “franchise” players, which is an NFL-high surpassing the former high of 11 from 2005 and 2008.

Possible CBA Issues Lurking – At the 2008 Annual NFL Spring Meeting, NFL owners while crying broke over salaries that now encompass 60% of yearly revenues, exercised a clause (had until November 8, 2008 to do so) by a unanimous vote (32-0) to shorten the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). The vote meant that the CBA that was originally signed in 1993 (Extended several times including the last time in 2006) would expire in 2011 instead of 2013. There have been murmurs of a possible lockout in 2012 if the owners and players cannot come together on a new CBA.  A few key items that will need to be discussed in the new CBA are the scheduled “uncapped” year in 2010, new free agency rules (years of services, team player rights, the franchise tag) and a potential rookie salary cap.  But who could blame the owners for talking about a rookie salary cap with deals like 2008 NFL Draft first overall selection Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long’s rookie contract (5 years, $57.5 Million dollars including a signing bonus of $30 Million dollars) and that was before he even stepped on the playing field.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when making the announcement at the ’08 meeting of opting out of the current CBA, “We don’t need further time to analyze whether this is working or not working. It’s not working”.   The Commish added, “It was the ownership’s view that it’s not a failure of the negotiations, it’s a failure of the deal”. It will be real interesting to see how the whole potential CBA mess is handled since the NFLPA still has not settled on a successor for former NFLPA head the late Gene Upshaw.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued three seasons of playing time and their contract has expired.  The player’s team must submit a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players). The player can negotiate with any team through April 17th. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new team, his old team can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old team does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old team after April 17th.  These are guys that usually have trade value and their team will only let them go at their price (ex. The Eagles trading restricted free agent quarterback AJ Feeley to the Miami Dolphins for a 2nd Round pick in 2005)

 Some of the bigger name restricted free agents:

DL Victor Adeyanju, RFA St. Louis Rams 

WR Miles Austin, RFA Dallas Cowboys 

WR Hank Baskett, RFA Philadelphia Eagles

SS Atari Bigby, RFA Green Bay Packers 

TE Dominique Byrd, RFA St. Louis Rams

C/G Nick Cole, RFA Philadelphia Eagles

OT Willie Colon, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

TE Tony Curtis, RFA Dallas Cowboys

OG Jahri Evans, RFA New Orleans Saints 

CB Cortland Finnegan, RFA Tennessee Titans 

CB Charles Gordon, RFA Minnesota Vikings 

OG Richie Incognito, RFA St. Louis Rams 

TE Jeff King, RFA Carolina Panthers

P Sam Koch, RFA Baltimore Ravens 

SS Dawan Landry, RFA Baltimore Ravens 

FS Anthony Madison, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

DL Stanley McClover, RFA Carolina Panthers

WR Lance Moore, RFA New Orleans Saints 

LB Quentin Moses, RFA Miami Dolphins 

TE Ben Patrick, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

TE Leonard Pope, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

FS Anthony Smith, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

DL Gabe Watson, RFA Arizona Cardinals 

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any team, with no compensation owed to their former team.  These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who fought hard for free agency and eventually was able to sign a huge deal with the Green Bay Packers back in 1993. Over 300 players have this designation. 

Some Bigger Name Unrestricted Free Agents:

QB Kerry Collins, UFA Tennessee Titans 

QB Jeff Garcia, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

QB Rex Grossman, UFA Chicago Bears 

QB Byron Leftwich, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

QB Chris Simms, UFA Tennessee Titans 

QB Kurt Warner, UFA Arizona Cardinals 

RB J.J. Arrington, UFA Arizona Cardinals 

RB Cedric Benson, UFA Cincinnati Bengals 

RB Correll Buckhalter, UFA Philadelphia Eagles

RB Kevin Jones, UFA Chicago Bears 

RB Derrick Ward, UFA New York Giants 

FB Lorenzo Neal, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

WR Devery Henderson, UFA New Orleans Saints 

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, UFA Cincinnati Bengals 

WR Michael Jenkins, UFA Atlanta Falcons

WR Brandon Jones, UFA Tennessee Titans 

WR Brandon Lloyd, UFA Chicago Bears 

WR Amani Toomer, UFA New York Giants

TE Chris Baker, UFA New York Jets

TE Owen Daniels, UFA Houston Texans

TE L.J. Smith, UFA Philadelphia Eagles

TE Jerramy Stevens, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OT Stacy Andrews, UFA Cincinnati Bengals

C Matt Birk, UFA Minnesota Vikings 

C Jason Brown, UFA Baltimore Ravens

OT Marc Colombo, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

OT Jon Runyan, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

C Jeff Saturday, UFA Indianapolis Colts 

OT Marvel Smith, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

OT Mark Tauscher, UFA Green Bay Packers

OT Tra Thomas, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

DL Chris Canty, UFA Dallas Cowboys

DL Tommie Harris, UFA Chicago Bears 

DL Albert Haynesworth, UFA Tennessee Titans 

DL Tank Johnson, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

DL Igor Olshansky, UFA San Diego Chargers

LB Michael Boley, UFA Atlanta Falcons

LB James Farrior, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers 

LB Ray Lewis, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

LB Willie McGinest, UFA Cleveland Browns 

LB Mike Peterson, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars

LB Bart Scott, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

LB Zach Thomas, UFA Dallas Cowboys 

LB Jonathan Vilma, UFA New Orleans Saints 

CB Chris Gamble, UFA Carolina Panthers 

CB Jabari Greer, UFA Buffalo Bills

CB Corey Ivy, UFA Baltimore Ravens 

CB Ty Law, UFA New York Jets

CB Bryant McFadden, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers  

FS Brian Dawkins, UFA Philadelphia Eagles 

SS Rodney Harrison, UFA New England Patriots 

SS Sean Jones, UFA Cleveland Browns 

SS Darren Sharper, UFA Minnesota Vikings 

PK John Carney, UFA New York Giants 

PK Robbie Gould, UFA Chicago Bears 

PK John Kasay, UFA Carolina Panthers 

PK Matt Stover, UFA Baltimore Ravens

Transition Player – A team can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s team must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater (ex. Transition Salary for a RB in 2009 is $5.925 Million). A transition player designation gives the team a first-refusal right to match within seven days any offer sheet given to the player by another team after his contract expires. If the team matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

  • No players were designated as a “Transition Player” this year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as a “Non-Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. A “Non-Exclusive” franchise player is free to sign with other teams, but his team has the right to match the offer after 7 days. These types of free agents are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  A Non-Exclusive Franchised Player can solicit deals from other teams, but his current team has first-refusal rights to match within seven days any offer sheet. If the player does sign and his team matches, the old team retains the player. If old team does not match, the old team receives compensation in the form of draft picks (usually first rounders) from the new team depending on the level they were tendered at originally.  The deadline for making these designations for 2009 was Feb. 19th.

LB Karlos Dansby, UFA Arizona Cardinals

LB Leroy Hill, UFA Seattle Seahawks 

P Michael Koenen, UFA Atlanta Falcons

TE Bo Scaife, UFA Tennessee Titans

OT Max Starks, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers

Exclusive Franchise Player – A team can designate one franchise player in any given year as an “Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating team determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another team.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  Some teams use the tag as a way to initiate talks for a long-term contract, but usually players and their agents that are designated as exclusive franchise players are extremely unhappy and can cause distractions.  Their angst is due to the loss of an “upfront” signing bonus (guaranteed $$$).  Though they will be paid at the highest level of their position, players typically want the big payday that comes with being a free agent.  In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). The deadline for making these designations for 2009 was Feb. 19th. Here are the anticipated salaries for franchised players Quarterbacks: $14.65 Million, Cornerbacks: $9.96 Million, Defensive Ends: $8.99 Million, Linebackers: $8.30 Million, Wide Receivers: $9.88 Million, Offensive Lineman: $8.45 Million, Defensive Tackles: $6.06 Million, Running Backs: $6.62 Million, Tight Ends: $4.46 Million, Safeties: $6.34 Million, and Kickers/Punters: $2.48 Million

2009 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

S Oshiomogho “O.J” Atogwe, UFA St Louis Rams

WR Antonio Bryant, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB Matt Cassel, UFA New England Patriots

K Shayne Graham, UFA, Cinncinati Bengals

RB Brandon Jacobs, UFA New York Giants

DL Julius Peppers, UFA Carolina Panthers 

CB Dunta Robinson, UFA Houston Texans 

RB Darren Sproles, UFA San Diego Chargers

OLB/DE Terrell Suggs, UFA Baltimore Ravens

Cap Casualty – A veteran player that has been released from his contract usually as “cap relief” for his former team.  These players are usually let go before Free Agency or before their contract bonuses incentives kick-in usually around March or June prior to OTA’s and training camp.  Veteran “street” free agents are eligible to sign with any team as soon as they are released, thus bypassing free agency period dates.

Some Bigger Name 2009 Cap Casualty Players

St. Louis Rams WR Drew Bennett

Detroit Lions CB Leigh Bodden

Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks

Detroit Lions TE Dan Campbell

Oakland Raiders WR Ronald Curry

NY Giants RB Reuben Droughns

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn

Kansas City Chiefs LB Donnie Edwards

Oakland Raiders LB Kalimba Edwards

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Drayton Florence

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Larry Foote (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Detroit Lions WR Mike Furrey

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Joey Galloway

Houston Texans RB Ahmad Green

Houston Texans LB Morlon Greenwood

Oakland Raiders OL Kwame Harris

Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison

St. Louis Rams WR Torry Holt (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Kansas City Chiefs QB Damon Huard

Arizona Cardinals RB Edge James (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Dallas Cowboys CB Adam “Pacman” Jones

Detroit Lions QB Jon Kitna (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

NY Giants DB Sammy Knight

NY Giants DB Sam Madison

Baltimore Ravens DB Chris McAllister

New Orleans Saints RB Deuce McAllister

Atlanta Falcons S Lawyer Milloy

Detroit Lions guard Edwin Mulitalo

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

St. Louis Rams OT Orlando Pace (expected to be released or traded by NFL Draft)

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Jerry Porter

Denver Broncos DT DeWayne Robertson

Detroit Lions DB Dwight Smith

San Francisco 49ers DB Shawntae Spencer (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

Kansas City Chiefs CB Patrick Surtain

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Fred Taylor

Oakland Raiders WR Javon Walker (expected to be released by NFL Draft)

Oakland Raiders S Gibril Wilson

Players signing new deals with their old team, thus avoiding free agency

Oakland Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha

Tennessee Titans K Rob Bironas

Miami Dolphins OT Vernon Carey

Miami Dolphins LB Channing Crowder

Carolina Panthers OT Jordan Gross

Detroit Lions K Jason Hanson

Indianapolis Colts CB Kelvin Hayden

Oakland Raiders P Shane Lechler

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Ryan Simms

 

  

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

2008 NFL Playoffs – Conference Championships Round Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – The 2008 NFL season themed, “Believe In Now”, continued to roll on toward an oh-too-fast ending. But one thing is for certain when the epilogue for this season is written, it will be titled, “One Crazy Season”.  I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball registered the Cardinals against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII way back in September — remember I picked the Colts over the Saints, so what do I know ;) — however we are now set to enjoy a rivalry game on February 1st in Tampa, Florida between too coaching staffs that know each other very well. 

To me both Conference Championships games were enjoyable and the interesting part from the games’ results is that the sanity of home field advantage was restored with the Steelers 23-14 win over the Ravens and the Cardinals 32-25 win over the Eagles.   With both home teams winning, the playoff history-defying streak of 5 out of 8 road teams winning thus far in the playoffs was ended.  The NFL’s Final Four round produced two games that definitely had two different NFL flavors.  The Philadelphia Eagles – Arizona Cardinals game featured a pinball machine type offensive explosion in a perfectly conditioned indoor dome environment, while conversely the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was an old-fashioned black-and-blue rivalry game that featured several players limping to the sidelines of cold, snowy, and muddy Heinz Field.

In both Conference Championships our keys to success in the playoffs — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties – were all very prevalent for the winning teams (Cardinals and Steelers).  

  • Super Bowl XLIII will pit two quarterbacks, in the Cardinals Kurt Warner and the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, that have already won a Super Bowl against each other.  The Conference Championships brought out the best in the two signal callers as Warner was efficient in getting the ball down the field to superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald (see Game Balls) and in picking up the blitz while Big Ben made a key deep throw to receiver Santonio Holmes and did not turn the ball over.
  • The Steelers (+3) and the Cardinals (+2) both won the turnover battle in their games and it was a huge difference.  The Cardinals produced 3 turnovers by the Eagles while only giving the ball up once (defensive player) and the Steelers were a little better producing four turnovers by the Ravens, including Troy Polamalu’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, to only one giveaway.  The Cardinals and the Steelers also got pressure on the quarterback producing three and two sacks respectively.
  • The Steelers and Cardinals both had more rushing attempts than the Ravens and Eagles respectively (PITT 28 to 25) and (ARIZ 29 to 18).  The key was the final four winners never abandoned the run even when they lost their lead or the other team was within a couple of points.
  • An often overlooked factor in games is penalties, but the Steelers and especially the Cardinals made sure they were not hurt too bad by penalties in their wins.  The Cardinals only had three penalties to seven for the Eagles while the Steelers and Ravens were knotted at six apiece.

Game Notes

Arizona Cardinals 32, Philadelphia Eagles 25

This year’s NFC Championship Game, titled the “Why Not Us” Bowl was played out in the cozy confines of University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  If nothing else, this game between two improbable NFC lower seeded playoff teams was enjoyable.  The Cardinals came out of their locker-room full of emotion as they put their 48-20 Week 13 loss to the Eagles behind them by going on a 80-yard nine play touchdown drive culminated by Fitzgerald bullying his way into the endzone.  From there it was all Cardinals in the first half as they built a 24-6 halftime lead mostly on Warner finding Fitzgerald over and over (finished with 6 receptions for an NFL record 113 first-half yards and 3 TDs) as the Eagles either had to punt or settled for field goal attempts (the Eagles were inside the Cardinals’ 30-yard line three times in the first half and came away with only six points).  The Cardinals even brought out a beautifully crafted flea-flicker 62-yard touchdown pass from Warner to RB J.J Arrington back to Warner then down the field to Fitzgerald.  However the 3rd quarter it was all Eagles as the Cardinals got a good look at why Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is one of the NFL’s best.  McNabb led the offense in scoring 19 unanswered points to erase an 18-point Cardinals lead.  McNabb threw touchdown passes to TE Brent Celek of 31 yards and 6 yards.  But his finest throw was a 62-yard bomb that rookie DeSean Jackson juggled then took to the house giving the Eagles an improbable 25-24 lead.    While the Eagles were scoring in bunches in the 3rd quarter the Cardinals were limited to two three-and-out possessions.  However veteran quarterback Warner and the Cardinals had one more drive left in them.  The former two-time NFL MVP led the Cardinals on a chain-moving 72-yard, 14 play drive that took 7:52 minutes off the clock and culminated with a perfectly executed Warner 8-yard screen pass to rookie RB Tim Hightower.  The rookie from the University of Richmond also had a key play earlier in the drive converting a 4th and 1 play with a tough 2-yard outside run.  For good measure Warner also completed a two-point conversion to backup TE Ben Patrick to make the score 32-25.  Given one more chance, the McNabb and the Eagles moved the ball to the Cardinals 47-yard line.  But on the game’s defining four downs for the Eagles, McNabb could not connect on last four throws (Basket (receiver slipped), Jackson (overthrow), Basket (threw behind receiver), and Curtis (slipped/tripped and dropped pass).  The Eagles defense stopped the Cardinals leading to a poorly executed hook-and-lateral that was intercepted by the Cardinals to end the game.  The Eagles duo of McNabb and head coach Andy Reid are now a disappointing 1-4 in NFC Championship Games leaving many to wonder if this veteran Birds team will get another precious shot in the near future or has their window of opportunity closed. The Cardinals now become the final NFC team to make the Super Bowl in the history of the Big Game and they are the second 9-win regular season team to make the Super Bowl (other team was the 1979 Rams).

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Baltimore Ravens 14

If you liked a hard-hitting defensive football in bad weather conditions then this was your type of game.  The Steelers, in their NFL leading 14th AFC Championship Game, early on were content to play solid defense and allow their offense to secure three points (two Josh Reed 2 FG’s).  But a 65-yard Roethlisberger to receiver Santonio Holmes touchdown pass broke the game open putting the Steelers ahead 13-0 and sending their home Terrible Towel waving fans into a frenzy.  However the Ravens kept hanging around at the end of the first half as running back Willis McGahee pounded his way to his first touchdown making the score 13-7 at the half.  Even though the Steelers were nursing a 16-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, you never sensed that the veteran team would panic.  The Steelers were never afraid that Ravens rookie quarterback  Joe Flacco (Lloyd’s Lackey) could beat them even when another McGahee touchdown cut the Steelers lead to 16-14.  All of everyone’s apprehensions about Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl were confirmed with less than five minutes left in the game.  The Steelers pass rush caused Flacco into an overthrow that safety Troy Polamalu picked off and zigzagged his way 40 yards into the endzone for the game-sealing score for the Steelers.  The game was not without injuries as this was probably the hardest hitting game, I have seen in some time as Steelers WR Hines Ward tweaked his knee missing the 2nd half, Ravens CB Frank Walker left in the 2nd quarter causing him to not return, and in the game’s scariest moment Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark drilled McGahee causing the former Miami Hurricane to be taken off on a stretcher (later had movement in his extremities). The Steelers are the 12th team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to defeat an opponent three times in the same season. And the Black-and-Gold will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance, second most all-time behind the Cowboys’ eight. Kudos should go out to Steelers 36-year old head coach Mike Tomlin, who validated Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s belief in him when the savvy owner handpicked the relatively unknown defensive coordinator as his headman.  Now Tomlin will be able to face the two men, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who thought they had a leg-up on the competition to replace Bill Cowher back in 2007.

 Game Balls

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – The NFL’s best receiver was on display again as Fitzgerald was spectacular against the Eagles.  First he set an NFL record with 113 first-half yards on six catches including 3 TDs.  Then he helped close the game out with two big receptions on the Cardinals game-winning drive.  The former University of Pittsburgh All-American finished with nine receptions for 152 yards and 3 TDs. The Pro Bowl bound receiver also set a single playoff record with 419 receiving yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice and did I mention that Fitzgerald has one more game left in Super Bowl XLIII.

Honorable Mention

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb –– I don’t care what the McNabb bashers will say (missed some early throws, an interception, fumbled by getting sacked by Adrian Wilson and could not lead the Birds back in the 4th quarter), this man had a great game in the NFC Championship.  McNabb led his team back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead when it mattered and lets face it the defense let him down.  He set a career-high with 375 passing yards and was an incredible in the second-half completing 17 of 28 passes for 266-yards and 3 TDs. His final numbers were 28-47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, and 31 rushing, but I guess that will not be enough for the “Haters” who want the Kevin Kolb era to begin.  To everyone yearning for another quarterback than McNabb, you better take a good look around the NFL because there are not many quarterbacks better than Big 5.  Just image what McNabb could do with some real weapons — Did you see Greg Lewis drop that potential bomb??

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu — Finished with four tackles and led a Pittsburgh defense that held Baltimore rookie QB Joe Flacco to 141 passing yards.  Put the Steelers win on ice sending them to their 7th Super Bowl with his 40-yard interception touchdown return.

Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (Drilled 3 FG’s in tough conditions and finished with 11 points); Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (In going to his 3rd Super Bowl he was spectacular throwing for numbers 21-28, 279 yds, and 4 TDs); Philadelphia Eagles TE Brent Celek (In a game where franchise TE LJ Smith struggled, Celek had a career-high 10 catches, gaining 83 yards and two touchdowns); Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lamar Woodley (The Steelers “D” was stifling against the Ravens and Woodley was everywhere producing 7 TKLs, and 2 sacks);  Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (The perennial Pro Bowl safety was spectacular finishing with 7 TKLs, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble); Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley (Kept the Eagles Defense off-balance the whole game mixing the run and pass well and how about the 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that was a game closer)

Lloyd’s Lackey

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco – In the biggest game of his career, “The rookie quarterback, played like a rookie quarterback”.  Flacco entered the game with no interceptions or sacks in 45 postseason pass attempts, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times by the Steelers.  Finished with terrible numbers 13-30, 141 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs

Other DishonoreesEagles safety Quintin Demps (The rookie safety, was beaten for a 62-yard touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald and he also cost the Eagles 15 yards on a dumb late hit on Kurt Warner); Eagles kicker David Akers (“Just a Kicker Being a Kicker”… lost his consecutive field goal streak on a missed 47-yarder, missed a point-after and sent a kickoff out of bounds right before halftime); Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles Defense (Too many blitzes with little results and overall the defense got pushed around…so much for this unit being better than Reggie White’s group.  Gave up 24 first-half points and couldn’t prevent a game-winning 14-play scoring drive at the end.  BTW: Why was two-time Pro Bowl player Lito Sheppard barely on the field); Eagles TE LJ Smith (The franchise-tagged tight end produced 1 catch for 5 yards as backup Brent Celek had a great game);  Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (Played with a hamstring injury producing four catches for 34 yards, but his sulking and arguments with Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines were bush-league.  Yo Q… your team is going to the Super Bowl, so put a smile on your face and grab a NFC Championship t-shirt and hat).

 

 

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

2008 Conference Championships Round: Eagles at Cardinals

NFC Championship Game Preview

Philadelphia Eagles (11-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (11-7), Sunday, Jan. 18th, 3 p.m. ET (FOX)

Broadcast Team: Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, Pam Oliver (Sideline Reporter), and Chris Myers (Sideline Reporter)

I am dubbing this year’s NFC Championship Game, the “Why Not Us” Bowl.  If you told me back in August that the Eagles and Cardinals would be playing for the right to represent the NFC at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, I would have told you that you were nuts.  But you can stop rubbing your eyes, because indeed the improbable match-up of the 6th seeded Eagles and the 4th seeded Cardinals will take place Sunday afternoon in Glendale, Arizona for the NFC’s biggest prize — first time two teams that didn’t have double-digit wins in the regular season will face each in the Conference Championship.

Although the Eagles and Cardinals have met 103 times over the past 60 years, this will be their first playoff meeting since December 19, 1948 in the NFL Championship Game (Eagles won 7-0 in the snow).  The 60-year playoff meeting gap – longest in NFL history – is almost as incredible as these two teams meeting in an NFC Championship Game that will be the return match of their one-sided Thanksgiving night game way back in Week 13.  In that game, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb (4 touchdowns in Week 13 against the Cards) answered his critics after his benching just 4 days earlier against the Ravens by fueling a 14-point first quarter explosion that led to the Birds cruising to a 48-20 victory over the Cardinals.  I know that score was very lopsided in the Eagles’ favor leading many Philly fans to already book their Super Bowl trips to Tampa. But be cautious Birds fans as the Eagles and Cardinals are not the same teams that many (including yours truly) left for dead several times during the 2008 season. They are prime examples that anything can happen in the parity-filled NFL, especially when playoff seedings have meant zilch.

The Eagles are no strangers to playing in the NFC Championship Game — five appearances in eight seasons — but they should feel fortunate after needing several miracles to fall their way including the Oakland Raiders, yes Tom Cable’s rag-tag group, beating the favored home team Buccaneers in Week 17 just to get in the playoffs.  However since the Eagles got their new playoff lives, they have been dominant especially on defense.  Eagles’ sackman Trent Cole said of his team’s new life in the playoffs, “We had some tough times this year, but we were given new hope.”  The Birds beat the pesky Vikings 26-14 on the road and then silenced all of their naysayers by defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Giants 23-11 in the Meadowlands.  The Cardinals story is just as unfathomable as they overcame a 3-5 road record including five blowout losses on the East Coast to win their first division title since 1975.  However the Cardinals were still viewed by many as “the same old Cardinals” going into the postseason — franchise record of 473-674-39 and since the 1970 merger they were the only NFC team, until now, to not have appeared in the Championship Game.  It got so bad for the Cardinals in terms of apathy that they had trouble selling out University of Phoenix Stadium for their first home playoff game since 1947, needing two extensions to avoid NFL mandated blackout rules.  But led veteran former 2-time MVP quarterback Kurt Warner, the playoffs have been a different story.  As a home underdog the Cardinals beat the Falcons 30-24 and then in probably the biggest shocker of the 2008 NFL playoffs, the Cards demoralized the No. #2 seeded Panthers 33-13 in their own stadium.  All these playoff wins have even caused a ticket frenzy in Arizona where tickets for this weekend’s game were sold out in six minutes.

The key match-up to me is the Eagles NFC top-ranked defense (allowed 274.3 yards per game in the regular season) versus the Cardinals high-powered offense (scored 427 points in the regular season ranking 2nd in the NFL).  The Cardinals are always looking for the big down-the-field play, so the Eagles must stay with their coverage assignments and get pressure on Warner.  The Eagles have done a great job on defense so far in the playoffs forcing five turnovers while allowing only 322 passing yards and only two overall touchdowns in two playoff games.  But Warner (401-598, 4583 yards, and 30 TDs) when given time has weapons in receivers Larry Fitzgerald (166 yards and 1 TD last week versus the Panthers), Anquan Boldin (Pro Bowl – hamstring), and Steve Breaston (1,000 receiving yards in ’08). The Eagles D-line led by their stout pocket-crushing defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley will need to get pressure so that sticky-fingered cornerback Asante Samuel (two picks in the playoffs) can make another game changing play.  Way back in Week 13, the Birds held Fitzgerald to only five catches for 65 yards, though he scored twice, so they will need 22 eyes on him at all times.  Watch for veteran Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins (10 tackles against the Giants) and unsung strong safety Quintin Mikell helping Samuel and Sheldon Brown over the top. 

The one thing Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will need to guard against is getting too blitz happy against Warner.   The 37-year old former Super Bowl MVP triggerman is very dangerous from his years with the Rams at recognizing defensive schemes and audibling when needed.  In Week 13, he was 11 for 19 with three touchdowns when the Eagles blitzed him.  Cole, Darren Howard, and the rest of the D-line rotation will need to threaten Warner’s ball security in the pocket at all times — Warner is ranked 19th all-time with 91 career fumbles.  I am sure the Cardinals will leave a tight end and/or a running back in to max-protect against the Eagles sack happy bunch, but the Eagles must find a way to hit the veteran signal caller multiple times.  Speaking of running backs, the Eagles will also need to account for a rejuvenated Edgerrin James.  The NFL’s 11th ranked all-time leading rusher has resurfaced in the last 3 games and has been a very important piece to Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt having balance in his offensive attack.

On offense, the Eagles need to get running back Brian Westbrook going early and often.  B-West had a career day versus the Cardinals in Week 13 rushing for 110 yards on 22 carries and scoring a career-high four touchdowns — two rushing and two receiving.  Luckily for the Birds they have gotten the ball in great field position the last couple of weeks especially against the Giants, but don’t expect them to have so many short-field situations.  It will be up to the Eagles O-line to improve upon Westbrook’s low numbers of 74 yards on 38 carries so far in the playoffs including a 18 rushes for 36 yards last week against the G-Men.  I am sure after a week where he didn’t practice much, Westbrook (knee) will be ready to have a huge impact in this must-win game — there has even been whispers that Pro Bowl road-grader Shawn “Big Kid” Andrews (back) maybe activated for the game.  If the Eagles can get Westbrook going (25 touches) then the other pieces on offense (WR Kevin Curtis, TE Brent Celek, RB Correll Buckhalter, and WR DeSean Jackson) will be able to help out McNabb.  To say the least this is a career moment for McNabb (345-571, 3916 yards, and 23 TDs).  McNabb has been in Philly for 10 years and his fifth NFC Championship Game will provide an opportunity for him to cement his legacy in Philadelphia.  Though a perennial winning quarterback (respectable 9-5 playoff record and with a win can become the eighth QB to record 10 playoff wins), McNabb has been a huge lightning rod through the years and this game can either silence is critics for good or give them more ammunition to run him out of town.

Early on the match-up between the Eagles offense — scored 45 touchdowns in the regular season — against Cardinals defense looked like a mismatch.  But the Cardinals, who were 19th in total defense during the regular season (331.5 yards per game), have picked it up in the playoffs limiting their opponents to an average of 259.5 yards.  Each week in the playoffs the Cardinals defensive unit led by Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, speedy linebacker Karlos Dansby, and veteran D-lineman Bertrand Berry has stepped.  Arizona held Atlanta’s Michael Turner, the No. 2 rusher during the regular season, to 42 yards and Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams, the league’s No. 3 rusher, to 63 yards. Plus they forced Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into six turnovers last week (5 INTs and 1 fumble) and Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s unit has forced nine turnovers overall in the playoffs.  The Eagles will need to keep an eye on Cardinals speedy high-energy defensive end Travis LaBoy.

I am sure special teams will also factor in the game, but with the ideal conditions at University of Phoenix stadium expect another strong day by Rory Segrest’s unit.  Last week kicker David Akers came through with three field goals and a huge tackle on a key kickoff, so you know he is ready again.  The confident kicker is on a roll and has made an NFL record 18 straight postseason field goals.  The Birds also need rookie DeSean Jackson to break one like he did in the Vikings game.

LV‘s Pick: I know several Eagles fans may have already chalked this one up given the Birds success against the Cards in Week 13.  But I am sure the home underdog Cardinals (4 points), who are 7-2 at home this season, will be fighting mad as they attempt to wipe away many years of futility.  However the Eagles’ veteran nucleus of Reid, McNabb, Westbrook, Akers, Dawkins, and others will not let maybe their last opportunity at an elusive Super Bowl ring slip away.  The game will be close, but in the end the Eagles go to their third Super Bowl fueled by their defense continuing to get turnovers at key moments in the game and David Akers supplying the game-winning field goal.  Eagles 27, Cardinals 24

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