OK, so I know what you’re thinking: If you’re going to start a countdown this far in advance (which is admittedly crazy), why not just wait to start on a round number? I’ll tell you why — because Simmons is the boss, and he wasn’t going to go another day without a reason to get excited about football season:
I want the countdown to the NFL season. EVERY DAY.
That was an e-mail from earlier this week. It was not a request.
The NFL draft is here, and Ephraim Salaam and I decided to celebrate the occasion with a special edition of the Trenches. We started off with some talk about the Darrelle Revis and Percy Harvin trades, but from there it was all draft all the time. We discussed some of the top tackles available, how their draft spots might affect the rest of the first round, when teams would start talking themselves into this year's group of quarterbacks, and what sort of dynamic offensive players have become coveted throughout the league. And as a bonus, there's video!
On Friday, Greg Jennings accepted an offer from the Minnesota Vikings that could pay him as much as $47.5 million over the next five years, with $18 million in guaranteed money. As a Packers fan, I feel 20 percent sad and 80 percent indifferent about this. I’ll always remember Greg Jennings as the best receiver of Aaron Rodgers’s early years. He was to no. 12 what Sterling Sharpe was to Brett Favre — or (for you non-Packers fans) what David Caruso was to NYPD Blue or Paul Di’Anno was to Iron Maiden. In seven seasons, Jennings caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. The bulk of that production occurred from 2007 to 2010, the period when the Packers transitioned from Favre to Rodgers and ended up winning their fourth Super Bowl. Jennings was a pivotal player in that process; as Ted Thompson put it over the weekend with typical samurai terseness, Jennings was a “Good man. Good player.”
Alas, I come not to praise the Packer Greg Jennings was but to bury the Viking he is now. He was arguably the fourth-best guy in a stacked receiving squad last season, behind Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and the ascendant Randall Cobb. He hasn’t been healthy lately, missing 11 out of his past 22 games. And it was widely assumed that he’d been leaving anyway; Rodgers was already reminiscing back in September about the favorite deep balls thrown to his onetime go-to big-play threat. The most important contribution Jennings made to the Packers lately was not re-signing before the 2012 season, when he could’ve reportedly made $11 million per year, and instead milking the desperate Vikings, the league’s second-worst passing team (just ahead of the Chiefs) last year. Jennings freed up cap space for the Packers and forced a hated divisional opponent to overpay. What a generous parting gift!
On Monday afternoon, two notable wide receivers were dealt away in trades that seemed to make little sense for the organizations who were giving away their best wideouts. The Vikings, a playoff team one year ago, dealt Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a package built around Seattle's first-round pick despite the deal leaving Minnesota's cupboard bare at wide receiver and inspiring their best player to actually describe the trade as like getting " kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!" Then, the Ravens continued their tear-down of a Super Bowl–winning roster by astonishingly dealing wideout Anquan Boldin, who led all playoff participants in virtually every receiving category, to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick. That only led former teammate Torrey Smith to tweet "WHAT!!!" like he was an '80s video-game villain whose lair had been unexpectedly broached. One thing to take away from these deals: Star players will almost always respond to deals involving beloved teammates by invoking the triple exclamation point.
So why did these deals happen? And were they good deals for each of these teams to take? If you understand the former, you'll get a very good idea of the latter.
In case you were busy drinking all of the soda in New York, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Top-ranked Gonzaga completed its perfect run through West Coast Conference play, winning the WCC tournament final, 65-51, over St. Mary's. In a particularly touching postgame moment, Gonzaga alum John Stockton handed down to his son, current Gonzaga reserve guard David Stockton, a pair of his trademark shorts. "Look at the waistband," the elder Stockton said to his son with a wink, as he had written, "now, you are a man," inside them. When asked if he would wear the shorts in the upcoming NCAA tournament, David Stockton responded, "yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
In a showdown of Western Conference titans, the San Antonio Spurs topped the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-93, at home to maintain a two-game advantage in the race for the top seed. The win was the Spurs sixth straight win over the Thunder in San Antonio. "I know I should keep a tighter leash on my guys when we get down here," Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained after the game. "But I also know that K.D. went to school in the area, and he loves SeaWorld San Antonio. No more, though; we have important non-Orca-related business to attend to here. Next time, I promise you, we won't be all hopped up on elephant ears and the thrill of watching Shamu." Brooks then looked over his shoulder at a disappointed Durant, before adding, "well, probably."
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The AFC Championship Game featured a pair of offenses that for most of the season could not have been more different. As was brought up countless times during the playoffs, Joe Flacco was the best deep-ball thrower in football in 2012, but the Ravens struggled in their intermediate passing game and in manufacturing first downs. For the Pats, manufacturing first downs is all they do. They had 444 in all, 62 more than any other team.
Much of this middle-of-the-field dominance was — and has been — a product of Wes Welker. The 31-year-old receiver has caught 627 passes in his six seasons as a Patriot, and as every other piece of New England’s backfield and receiving corps has turned over, Welker has remained a constant for Tom Brady. Welker had another typically outstanding season in 2012, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards while Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski missed significant time with injuries, and Brandon Lloyd, well ... didn’t do anything.
This steady production is what’s made Welker’s treatment by the Patriots and Bill Belichick a bit puzzling. Before the 2011 season, Welker, coming off his worst year as a Patriot, was offered a two-year, $16 million contract. He turned down that deal before getting the franchise tag that spring. Last offseason, coming off his best season as a Patriot, Welker was given a lesser offer, which he again turned down before getting the franchise tag. In total, Welker brought home more than he would’ve by signing the original sheet, but what had become clear was that to the Pats, Welker’s value had been defined. In New England, that usually means a line in the sand. When it came time this week for the Pats to decide whether to again use the franchise tag on Welker, they declined, meaning that Welker will likely become a free agent when the league year begins.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the first in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
There's higher-profile news in Minnesota at the moment, but amid all the Percy Harvin drama is a lingering question that threatens the Vikings’ very foundation. There’s no actual proof that Adrian Peterson can be killed by conventional weapons, but his post-human season is at least partially (partially!) a result of running behind of the league’s best offensive lines.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
LeBron James scored 26 points and the Heat overcame Russell Westbrook's 43 points to beat the Thunder 104-98 and take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. James hit two huge baskets late in the fourth quarter after suffering thigh cramps that sidelined him for part of the game. Afterward, James seemed to realize the magnitude of what he'd accomplished. "Hey, remember when Michael Jordan had that one game where he played with the flu?" he asked. "Neither do I. It doesn't exist anymore. And if you ever mention it again, neither will you."