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.
[Editor’s note: An old friend called and asked if he could take over today's column. He sounded really sad and desperate on the phone, so I agreed.]
In case you were too busy NOT being the greatest shortstop AND third baseman of all time, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Hey guys, future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez here. Spike asked me to take ALN off of his hands for the day, and I generously agreed. I figured I could use humor to start getting back into America's good graces after a not so great day of news for me. Hey, it's like they always say, when life gives you deer poop, kill the deer and drink the liquefied remains of their antlers. Hehe. OK, let's go.
We're going to start with my favorite sport other than baseball, and that's NBA basketball. Last night the Los Angeles Lakers of Los Angeles played the New Orleans Hornets at home. (Oh wait, I wrote Los Angeles twice. How do you erase words that you already wrote? I guess it's not technically wrong I'll leave it.) Before the game, I gave my best friend Kobe Bryant like 15 phone calls to be like, "Hey, bud, how's it going?" cuz I could really use a pick-me-up, but he must've been busy or something because he never answered. Anyway, he's a great friend, and the Lakers won, 111-106.
Congratulations, you won the five-day holiday war and the fantasy postseason remains a distinct possibility. Thanksgiving meant forced pleasantries as NFL guardians combined to pile on 202 points — the most ever scored on a Thursday. Black Friday was for second-guessing your lineup, reeling from Matthew Stafford’s big day. The weekend brought conventional stress. I’m sorry you had to keep tabs on the Eagles and Panthers, but the goal is still four more weeks of chaos. Office parties are for the weak-minded. Ice-skating and hot chocolate with lovers is an exercise for quitters. Vapid consumerism is for victims of manufactured consent and people that traded for Dwayne Bowe.
You are George Costanza in the bunker. Gather inspiration from luminary thinkers with their backs against the wall: Winston Churchill, Tom Landry, Lil Wayne: “All I have in this world is a pistol and a promise / A fist full of dollars, a list full of problems — I'll address them like P.O. Boxes.”
Sever ties with good luck charms like Randy Moss. Stop waiting for Antonio Gates to do something. Don’t be the contending force that eventually loses by standing pat when it most matters. Most leagues no longer allow trades, and that means the waiver wire has never been more important. With so many ripe prospects breaking, today’s claims are a critical guessing game. There’s so much intriguing talent available, in fact, that I’ve itemized these gentlemen into distinct A and B Teams.
Chris Ryan: If you're going to make predictions, then you need to pay homage to Rex Ryan, who is basically Q: The Winged Serpent of prediction-making. Not to hard-core troll any Jets fans who might be reading (psych), but doesn't this feel like Toonces is driving your car these days? Rex Ryan insisting that he's got this job locked up for the next decade and a half sounds about as convincing as Bart Scott declaring he's not an asshole ("I'm painted as an asshole I ain't never been an asshole").
Why do I get the feeling that Week 8 will find the Jets locker room looking like that monsters-vs.-S.W.A.T. team scene in Cabin in the Woods, with Tim Tebow hovering about the ground, bathed in holy light, fluttering above the bloodbath on angel wings and singing Amy Grant anthems, while Stephen Hill cowers in the corner muttering, "Hands ... hands ... Tannenbaum said I had good hands" and Joe McKnight performs some kind of pagan ritual, painting the words "I NEED MONEY" on Greg McIlroy's face with eye-black? This sounds totally plausible to me. What do you think about Rex getting a pink slip?
By almost any rational measure, the San Francisco 49ers significantly overachieved last season on offense. The Alex Smith–led attack finished in the bottom third of the NFL in yards, yards per play, and passing yards. Even the vaunted 49ers rushing attack was more a function of quantity over quality. San Francisco’s top-10 finish in rushing yards came on just 4.1 yards per rush, 19th best in the league. Under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, this was a team that let their defense do the talking — as well as the winning.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
On a night when Kobe Bryant was hampered with a stomach issue, Ty Lawson scored 32 points and the Nuggets forced a Game 7 with a 113-96 win over the Lakers. "It sucks when you're sick for a big playoff game, doesn't it?" said Michael Jordan, in a really sarcastic phone call to Bryant. "So hard to play well. So hard to win. Hey, good luck man. Good luck with everything. Jordan out."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Randy Moss is back in football. The 35-year-old receiver signed a one-year deal with the 49ers after working out for Jim Harbaugh. Sources reported that the workout went really well, except for an awkward moment near the end when Harbaugh shoved Moss to the ground while shaking hands, and Moss responded by aggressively mooning him.
Although it might not seem like it right now, there actually will be more to free agency than Peyton Manning. While the talent pool isn't quite as deep as the group that hit the market last year, in Mario Williams, it has a franchise player that might be more valuable than last year's star, Nnamdi Asomugha. And while there are some thin spots at quarterback and offensive tackle, the list of available players goes pretty deep at key positions like wide receiver and cornerback. You could put together a pretty solid starting 22 without even having to touch restricted free agents or franchised players. No, really, look:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Monday was Randy Moss' birthday, and he made the surprising announcement that he wants to play football next season. In a moment that was perhaps too candid, he asked, "anyone out there looking to ruin their NFL franchise?"
Carmelo Anthony is set to return from injury later this week, and insisted that he can co-exist with Jeremy Lin on the floor. Lin, for his part, said he can't co-exist with Anthony, and has hired spunky actor Cuba Gooding Jr. to play the role for the foreseeable future.
There's a certain air of anonymity to most NFL players. Outside of quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger's recklessness, Tom Brady's cool), these masked men, by choice or by circumstance (they are, after all, masked) don't exhibit a ton of personality. And fans aren't all that bothered, right? One could argue, much to Arian Foster's dismay, that the stat/fantasy value of a player is way more important to fans these days than the person who is putting up the numbers. It's a faceless league right now. And that's why Calvin Johnson is the perfect face for it.
Here’s your Tuesday whip-around on the stories dominating the headlines and lingering in the margins of the NFL. No pads needed.
Here are a few of things you never want to hear about your starting quarterback: his tricep strength has "plateaued," he has lingering lower back pain and, finally, the nerves in his neck are "regenerating." That's like the trifecta of "oh crap" right there and it is exactly the situation facing the Indianapolis Colts and their star quarterback, (and recipient of a hefty new contract) (LOLs) Peyton Manning. Colts center Jeff Saturday is sad ("It's sad when players face tough times"), the Colts coaching staff and front office are trying to convince themselves that the phrase, "Always bet on Collins!" is, like, a thing and Colts owner Jim Irsay is probably an hour away from tweeting, "PEYTON MANNING HAS FALLEN AND HE CAN'T GET UP."
On Monday, Randy Gene Moss announced his retirement from the NFL in a one-sentence statement released by his agent. Lost amidst the retirement shock waves was the fact that exactly 15 weeks earlier, Jason Chandler Williams announced his official retirement from the NBA.
In addition to having hilarious middle names, Moss and Williams famously came up together in the early '90s at DuPont High in Belle, W.Va. (they were teammates for two seasons, leading the DuPont basketball team to the state finals in 1994). Moss and Williams' coming together was one of those things that, if it happened now, conspiracy theorists on Twitter would accuse it of being a contrived marketing campaign. Two mercurial rednecks from coal mining country, one white and the other black (they could probably guest host PTI next week), who stayed true to their roots for better and (mostly) worse; they both had equally head-scratching careers, shared one of the five best Nike commercials ever, and retired within a few months of each other. We may never see a phenomenon like this again. More should be made of this.