In case you were out changing the world with the first-ever mass-produced backyard eagle coop (patent pending), here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
On a day when men in the trenches were in demand, the Kansas City Chiefs selected OT Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. "Oh, that's awesome, I love Eric Fisher," said casual Chiefs fan and Kansas City transplant Bill Franzen. "I remember watching him in college and thinking to myself, 'Man, I hope that guy ends up on my Chiefs.' What an exciting year to have the top pick in the draft. I remember last year; I was in the break room at the actuarial firm where I work, and I was like, 'This team is an Eric Fisher–type talent away from contending.' I just can't wait to watch him stop guys from hitting newly acquired quarterback Alex Smith next year." Franzen then paused, looked over his shoulders and asked in a whisper, "Right? Was that a good reaction to have? I have no idea what to think."
Manti Te'o was among the high-profile prospects to drop out of the first round of the NFL draft. Te'o's embarrassment was compounded by a phone call he received from someone purporting to be an NFL general manager. "He said his name was Trick Footballsworth of the Los Angeles Footballers and that I was for sure going to be his first-round pick," a sheepish Te'o explained after the first round was over. "All I had to do was give him my social security number, some bank passwords, and then mail my car keys to a P.O. Box in Simi Valley. Anyone could've fallen for that, though, so I'm not going to beat myself up too hard over this. Though I do need a ride."
Attention, shoppers: The bargains have finally started to make their way into the NFL free-agency marketplace. After two days of average players getting premium contracts, Thursday was really the first day when teams were able to sign players on significant discounts from both the reported expectations of those players and the actual value of their performance. It's a trend that should continue into and through the weekend before becoming even more obvious next week. The flooded-market model is really beginning to take hold.
The best deal of the day came out of Seattle, where general manager John Schneider is having a pretty wonderful offseason. Faced with the possibility of having a limited Chris Clemons for most (or all) of the 2013 campaign after Clemons tore his ACL on the substance-resembling-a-field in Washington during the playoffs, Schneider has made two bold moves to restore his front four. On Wednesday, he gave a very credible deal to Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, who signed for $15 million over two years. Yesterday, he topped that contract with a one-year, $5 million deal for Buccaneers end Michael Bennett, who had nine sacks last year despite serving as the only viable edge rusher in Tampa Bay for most of the season. Combined with 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin, who was a terrifying pass rusher in a situational role last year, the Seahawks should be able to rotate at least two above-average and fresh pass rushers in on every play. They can even move one of these guys to the interior on obvious passing downs and try to create pressure against a slow guard up the gut. Schneider has turned a weakness into a strength while spending just $20 million over two years, which is just a little more than what the Chiefs gave tight end Anthony Fasano. It's impressive work from a general manager who's quickly gaining recognition as one of the best in the league.
It’s not too often that a 2-14 team is eager to retain its core, but that seems to be what’s happening in Kansas City. On the final day to give potential free agents the franchise tag, new Chiefs GM John Dorsey and new head coach Andy Reid made a series of big decisions that both give some insight into their expectations about this season and create more questions about the top of April’s draft.
We might as well start with the exciting part. According to Adam Schefter, Dustin Colquitt’s five-year, $18.75 million contract (with $8.9 million guaranteed) makes him the highest-paid punter in football. With the high level of variance in special-teams performance from year to year, and the lack of difference among most punters (the first- and 16th-ranked punters in net average were separated by just 3.3 yards), there’s always an argument against shelling out more money than necessary for one. Where Colquitt separated himself last year was in his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory. No punter dropped a higher percentage of his kicks inside the 20 than Colquitt.
The real news is in the Chiefs’ decision to make Dwayne Bowe the third-highest-paid wide receiver in football. Bowe’s deal really says two things: (1) Reid thinks Matt Cassel was an abomination last year, and (2) he and Dorsey see this Chiefs offense as a group that can do some things in 2013 — mostly because Matt Cassel was an abomination last year.
This is the kind of winter it’s been for Kansas City sports fans: The Chiefs just traded Wil Myers for Alex Smith.
At least it feels that way. It was barely two months ago that the Royals traded away half their farm system to the Tampa Bay Rays, including one of the best prospects in baseball in Myers, for a pair of established starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis. Now comes the news that the Chiefs have acquired Smith from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for their second-round pick — the second pick of the round — and a conditional mid-round pick in 2014.
Both teams had a glaring hole at a key position to fill, and to fill it, each paid a desperation surtax while daring to take on one of the shrewdest organizations in their respective sports. The Royals needlessly gave up the crown jewel of their farm system and nearly caused me a nervous breakdown.
I probably should be having the same reaction to the Alex Smith trade. I mean, he’s Alex Smith. The guy who was a historic mistake as the no. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, given that the next quarterback taken in that draft was Aaron Rodgers. The guy who, as a rookie, threw one touchdown and 11 interceptions. The guy who, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, has started more than 10 games just twice in his eight-year career. The guy who held a clipboard while Colin Kaepernick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
The NFL offseason is fundamentally about one thing: hope. The mantra of "Any Given Sunday" is expanded to "Any Given Season," and the new — new rookies, new facilities, new schemes, new management — is the stuff those dreams are made of. But the most powerful offseason story lines, both in depth and on-field potential, are ones of redemption. Alex Smith's impending trade to the Kansas City Chiefs to play for Andy Reid offers that chance for both men.
Smith's story is, by now, well known. A former no. 1 overall pick by the 49ers, he, like the rest of the organization, stumbled around for several years until Jim Harbaugh became the head coach before the 2011 season. That year, Smith flourished in a game-manager role as the 49ers won 13 games and were a few special teams miscues away from playing in the Super Bowl. In 2012, Smith was better in almost every statistical category — completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, an impressive 104.1 passer rating — until he got hurt … and never regained his job, as the young, fleet-footed, strong-armed Colin Kaepernick took over and led the team to the Super Bowl.
Smith isn't yet 30, and a marriage with new Chiefs coach Andy Reid's offense seems — on the surface, at least — like it has the potential for sustained success. Reid is a stalwart of the old West Coast offense, the one developed by Bill Walsh and then carried throughout the NFL by protégés like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and, of course, Reid, who spent the last 14 seasons as head coach of the Eagles. Smith seems like the model West Coast offense quarterback — smart, accurate on underneath throws, with good feet and quickness. The scouting report on Smith sounds a lot like one for another great West Coast offense quarterback — Joe Montana.
In case you were out grilling in the rain to prove to yourself you could withstand the rigors of living in ancient times, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The San Antonio Spurs blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 105-101, snapping an 18-game home winning streak. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who was serenaded with MVP chants in the third quarter, said after the game, "How can one be 'most valuable' when we are all merely sacks of meat containing hearts that only continue beating out of a fear of change. Hopefully, our late collapse taught the people of San Antonio that lesson, and if it did not, que sera, for they are already dead in the eyes of our already living future selves." Parker then pulled out a pack of Gauloises, only to find it empty. "Cruel irony, if this does not serve as proof of a merciless God, which it does not, then what could?" Parker then folded the empty pack into a balloon and used it to hover slightly off the ground.
Four years ago, Andre Smith got off a plane in Indianapolis as the best left tackle at that year’s NFL combine. The previous season, he was awarded the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s best interior lineman. He’d been named an All-American by every outlet with a printing press or an Internet presence. And come draft time, it was expected that Smith would be one of the first five players off the board.
Then he left.
Before completing any of his workouts, Smith was back on a plane to Alabama, without telling anyone. Later, his explanation was that in switching his representation, he’d lost some time to prepare for the drills. He didn’t feel ready.
This excuse was hardly enough for those involved. He was skewered — for a lack of maturity and a lack of attention to detail. Smith’s pro day in Tuscaloosa didn’t help much, either. The video of his jiggle during the 40-yard dash is still Internet legend. A tumble down hypothetical draft boards began. Smith went from the best tackle in the draft to the consensus no. 3. By March, Mel Kiper had him clear out of the top 10. In botching the “pre-draft process,” Smith had done himself in.
Black Monday delivered. The first morning of the offseason for 20 of the league's 32 teams brought a stunning wave of pink slips, as more than half of those 20 teams responded to their disappointing campaigns by firing at least one prominent member of their front offices or coaching staffs. Most handled it with class. Bud Adams of the Titans fired his COO, former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, by noting "I think we’d be better off without him," which is a total disregard for tact that you can only possess by being 90 years old and an NFL owner. It's like sending a telegram whose entire contents read "IDGAF." By the end of the day, seven head coaches and five general managers had hit the street, despite the continued employment of embattled candidates like Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, and Jeff Ireland. Somehow, though, the only move that seemed truly surprising came out of Chicago, where Lovie Smith was sacrificed for the Bears' second-half collapse.
It's much easier to figure out which coaches and general managers are likely to be fired than fill those same holes with available candidates, so I'm going to avoid prognosticating here. My rule of thumb is that teams tend to notice their personnel's weaknesses as they fire them and replace them with personnel of the opposite persuasion. If they've just fired an offensive-minded leader with a reputation for being a player's coach, teams often look for a defensive coordinator with a disciplinarian streak. I don't know that the pattern I'm describing is necessarily what teams should follow, but I think it's a path that a fair amount of the league's teams do, in fact, take.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine why these 12 men didn't make it into 2013 with their jobs. Understanding what went wrong (or what was perceived to have gone wrong) should give us some insight into whether the moves made any sense and if the teams in question are actually going to improve by making a switch.
There's no clear-cut smoking gun in every case, but there is one factor that plays an obvious role in many of these firings: disappointing quarterback play. By my count, the only firings on Monday that weren't directly preceded by a failed season from the sacked employee's quarterbacks were with Smith in Chicago and the combination of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner in San Diego. You can make a case that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers didn't quite meet expectations, but consider that each of the nine other candidates oversaw quarterbacks who will either lose their job or be in a battle for their previously secure starting job in 2013, and you have an idea of just how closely quarterback play and coach/GM job security are related.
Let's start with the most surprising firing of Black Monday and work our way down.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepted Chiefs QB Matt Cassel in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal in a 16-13 win, but Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger with a sprained shoulder in the third quarter. "I feel like we're getting really, really close," said Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes at the press conference. "So close now. Come on. Ahhhhhhh! Yes. Wow. Done. Sorry, I had to fart. What was the question?"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Matt Cain pitched 5.2 scoreless innings and the Giants won their record-tying sixth elimination game of the postseason, routing the Cardinals 9-0 to reach the World Series. The only hiccup came when rain began to fall late, and Tim Lincecum repeatedly wandered out to the field while the game was going on, holding out his hands and saying, "It's all so beautiful!" as he wept.
Rough one last week. My wretched prop bets cost me a gargantuan 49,700 jermajesties.* These days the gambling gods and I are getting along about as well as Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. I’d like to know — do those gambling gods think I’m playing? I’ll tell you right now I’m not sitting here for 20 minutes and having them run down their résumé every five minutes, every day. They’d better not say one more disrespectful thing to me about my crappy picks or I’ll shoot their Dreamloving asses.
OK — glad I got that off my chest. Now I can ditch my pink wig and hopefully move on from this pigskin-prognostication misery.
The good news is, my fake bankroll is still at a positive 18,050 jermajesties overall. The bad news is, this is all nonsense and I’ll never be able to cash in.
(*Obligatory weekly explanation: A "jermajesty" represents the fake name given for a dollar amount. It is also the unfortunate name of one of Jermaine Jackson's sons. Unfortunate for him. Fortunate for us.)
Jets to score over 23 pts. vs. the Colts
I know betting on the Jets seems like a great waste of jermajesties, especially since in the last four games the Jets have put up 10, 23, 0, and 17 points. This week they face a Colts team that’s coming off an emotional game. You can’t expect them to show as much effort in Week 6. They are, in fact, the Colts. The Jets’ biggest problem (besides disrespecting God by keeping his favorite player sidelined) has been getting the running game going. I like their matchup against the 25th-ranked Colts rush defense. 20,000 jermajesties
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Wei-Yin Chen pitched 6⅓ strong innings and Chris Davis hit a crucial two-RBI single as the Orioles evened up the ALDS at one game apiece with a 3-2 win over the Yankees. "Was this my favorite game? No," said home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who was repeatedly forced to clean vomit off home plate after at-bats by "nervous pukers" Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. "Swisher even tried to apologize, but guess what happened? If you guessed that he puked on me, f---ing bingo."
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
The Consequences of Free Football
Within a span of eight minutes, three games — Dolphins-Jets, Titans-Lions, and Saints-Chiefs — featuring six middling contenders briefly turned bad football into balletic anarchy. And in one of those special, even DirecTV’s–Sunday Ticket–package–is–useless moments, three games that seemed, on their faces, to be less than important quickly unraveled a rare combination of overtime results. To convey what happened in the fourth quarter in Tennessee would require a dry-erase board, a fully loaded Sharpie, and a mastery of the dark arts. It was a ludicrous game, one of the most exciting you’ll ever see while also trying to watch seven other games. In the end, the Titans got a win-win: a victory in the standings; an encouraging performance in OT after Detroit stormed back behind Shaun “LOL” Hill; and a brief affirmation that Jake “The Quake” Locker is their quarterback of the present and future. Until next week.
In New Orleans, the Saints completed some sort competence inversion master class. They lost after the no-good, very-bad Chiefs sloooowly overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit. Jamaal Charles ran all the way to Vaughan’s Lounge and back, Ryan Succop kicked all of the field goals, and the Saints felt a true pain. Theirs was a loss-loss. It’s clear that they are weak and 0-3 and officially praying for a secret package from Sean Payton this week. It will contain either a redesigned playbook and in-depth tape analysis, or 53 cyanide capsules.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Kansas City Chiefs overcame an 18-point deficit to stun the Saints 27-24 on Ryan Succop's 31-yard overtime field goal. "You did such a great job calling plays!" said Succop to Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel after the game. "How did you learn so much about football? It's really neat just to be around you and watch how you school the other coaches. Hey, do you and your wife want to come over for dinner sometime this week? Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday? Thursday or Friday work, too, or Monday. Mrs. Succop is cooking pot roast. Or whatever you want. She can always change the menu."
The home team's offensive possessions in Sunday's Bills-Chiefs game saw two units traveling in opposite directions. On one side was Bills running back C.J. Spiller, the speed demon from Clemson who has emerged as a surprise superstar during the first two weeks of this young NFL season. Opposite him was a Chiefs defense that had just allowed 40 points to the Falcons and was about to get 35 more put on them by Spiller and his teammates. Spiller produced his second monstrous performance in as many weeks, running for 123 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries while adding in 47 more yards on three receptions.
Whenever a big game like this happens for a back, it's always a combination of effective offense and ineffective defense, but the important thing is figuring out which side contributed more to the effort and why. In this case, we want to figure out how the Bills are using Spiller, what they did to prevent the Chiefs from getting near him, and whether the Chiefs can do anything about it in future weeks. Let's try to figure out if C.J. Spiller and the Chiefs' porous defense are each for real.