About a year ago, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told reporters that he would stake his reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck. Well, that experiment was a Major Fail. After a 3-1 start, the Skins only won 2 of their remaining 12 games. Understandably, Shanahan’s reputation took a hit. After his second year with the Skins, his record was 11-21 which was actually a game worse than Jim Zorn‘s two-year record of 12-20. Remember Jim Zorn, the coach who was stripped of all play calling duties mid-season 2009 and then summarily released when the season ended. Zorn got the boot, and Shanahan got, well, he got Robert Griffin III. RG3 represents a do-over for Shanahan. The rookie QB pretty much assures that Shanahan will keep his $7 million coaching job, at least through 2013. With the drafting of RG3, Shanahan put himself in a win-win situation for 2012. If RG3 doesn’t perform well, it will be attributed to his being a rookie who is still developing. If he does perform well, Shanahan will be considered a genius for making the draft pick and helping him develop. Either way, RG3 and Shanahan are joined at the hip. RG3’s success or lack thereof will either resurrect Shanahan’s tenure in D.C. or cause it to go up in flames.
When the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on February 5, 2012, the football season was officially over. Diehard football fans were left to fend for themselves finding other things to fill their Sundays and Monday evenings. What promised to be a long, dull offseason, though, has turned into anything but. So far, the offseason has been a juicy cornucopia of OMG, jaw-dropping moments that have served to supply football fans with an almost daily fix of excitement rivaling any game day. All the stories prompted me to document this offseason into what I call the 2012 NFL Timeline of Contention:
March 8-9 – Colts release Peyton Manning and the next day jettison about 80% of their 2011 offensive production with the release of RB Joseph Addai, QB Curtis Painter and TE Dallas Clark. They also lose WR Pierre Garcon to free agency. This was on the heels of having fired long-time Vice Chairman Bill Polian and GM Chris Polian.
March 12 -– The day before free agency begins, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins were zapped with steep salary cap penalties for violating a non-existent salary cap limit in the uncapped 2010 season.
March 9-19 – After the release of Peyton Manning, wild speculation begins in the media as to where he will end up. In the running were the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and a late running favorite, the San Francisco 49ers. Countless sport talk show hours were spent analyzing, evaluating, and predicting the most likely landing spot for the star quarterback. Many thought the 49ers were the most Super Bowl-ready and would be his best choice.
March 18 -– Incumbent 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, with ruffled feathers, flew off to Miami to try out for the Dolphins.
March 19 –– Peyton Manning agrees to go to Broncos.
March 20 – Manning holds ceremonious press conference announcing his decision. Fans everywhere try to wrap the heads around the idea of Peyton in a Broncos uniform.
March 21 – Meanwhile, Alex Smith and the 49ers make up and he trades in his fins and feathers for a nice new Nike 49ers uniform.
March 21 . – A.M. –The day after the Manning/Broncos press conference, news broke early in the day that Tim Tebow would be traded to the New York Jets for draft picks. Questions immediately surface about what his role would be since the Jets already have a franchise quarterback named Mark Sanchez.
March 21 – P.M. –But wait, it’s revealed that Tebow is not traded to the Jets. With a ‘closer’ reading of the contract, the Jets discover that they would not only have to give up draft picks, but $5 million as well. The trade talkshit a snag.
March 21 – late P.M. –The Jacksonville Jaguars make a bid for Tebow while the Jets contemplate the $5 million dollar snafu. Broncos VP of Operations John Elway announced that it was Tebow’s choice to go wherever he wanted. The world waited. And this was probably the first time that Mark Sanchez rooted for the Jaguars to win at something.
March 22 – The Jets finally seal the deal and announce that Tebow will be a Jet come fall.
March 22 – Seemingly simultaneous with the Tebow/Jets announcement, Roger Goodell laid down the suspensions for the New Orleans Saints in the bounty for hits scandal. Sean Payton suspended for the entire 2012 season. GM Mickey Loomis suspended 8 games. Asst coach Joe Vitt suspended 6 games. The Saints organization fined $500,000 and lose a draft pick. It was also made clear that player suspensions would be forthcoming. Reaction, analyses, commentary fill the next several days.
March 22 – Meanwhile, recently acquired Jet quarterback Drew Stanton makes clear he wants no part of the QB carousel/circus on the horizon in New York. Mercifully, he is quietly sent to the Indianapolis Colts.
April 1-30 – As the dust of the previous month settles, the usual hoopla and storylines leading up to the NFL Draft carry us through April. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck become focal points and are analyzed up, down, and sideways.
May 2 — As promised, Roger Goodell hands down player suspensions for the bounty for hits program in New Orleans. LB Jonathan Vilma suspended for the entire season. T Will Smith suspended 3 games and former defensive players Anthony Hargrove (now with Packers) suspended 8 games and Scott Fujita (now with Browns) suspended 4 games. And the outrage was heard ’round the world.
May 17 — Jonathan Vilma files defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell. Maybe I missed it, but this did not seem to get a whole lot of press. Sort of like the thud you hear but don’t want to investigate.
May 22 – Arbitrator Stephen Burbank dismisses the Cowboys and Redskins appeal of their respective salary cap penalties.
May 23 – The NFL players’ union files suit against the NFL alleging collusion in the uncapped year 2010.
Quite a few other events grabbed our attention enough to keep tongues wagging this offseason too. Retired quarterback Ryan Leaf was arrested on burglary and drug possession charges. Warren Sapp caused a little stir on two occasions, the first when he accused former Saints TE Jeremy Shockey of being the snitch in the Bounty-gate investigations, and secondly when he filed for bankruptcy. Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs’ injury and the musical chairs of free agency also gave us some juicy tidbits for conversation. On a sadder note, the issue of concussions was once again at the forefront following the suicide of retired LB Junior Seau.
So the offseason has indeed been full of sound and fury that, true to Shakespeare’s quote for those outside the football universe, probably signifies nothing.
The Saints have had a tumultuous offseason, no doubt. Because of Bounty-Gate, head coach Sean Payton and top defensive player linebacker Jonathan Vilma have both been suspended for the entire 2012 season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, General Manager Mickey Loomis and defensive end Will Smith have all received suspensions of various durations. Former DC Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely while former defensive players Anthony Hargrove (now with Packers) and Scott Fujita (now with Browns) have also received suspensions. Obviously the Saints 2012 season has received a serious blow and remains disrupted from the subsequent fallout in the media, among football fans, among players and within their own organization. So out of all this turmoil, one of the most perplexing actions, or rather non-actions, by the Saints organization is their failure to re-sign quarterback Drew Brees to a long-term deal. At a time when restoring stability to the team should be priority #1, having a contract dispute with the team’s top player only adds to the dysfunction and fractures confidence in the locker room. Surely players will wonder, if they can do this to the leader of the team, how will they treat me? This does not look good for the organization — most are thinking just get it done. Period.
For those who follow football, it is almost laughable to have to justify giving Brees a decent, long-term deal. But here goes:
Record-breaking stats from 2011 season
- Most passing yards, season: 5,476
- Most consecutive 300+ yards passing games: 7
- Most consecutive 350+ yards passing games: 4
- Most consecutive 400+ yards passing games: 2 (tied)
- Most games, 250+ yards passing, season: 16
- Most games, 350+ yards passing, season: 8
- Most games, 300+ yards passing, season: 13
- Most games, 30 or more pass attempts, season: 16 (tied)
- Most pass completions, season: 468
- Most consecutive games 20 completions: 36 (2009-present)
- Most games 20 completions, season: 16 (tied his own 2010 record)
- Most games 30 completions, career: 29 (2005-present)
- Most games 30 completions, season: 9
- Most games 30 completions and no interceptions, career: 14 (2006–present)
- Most games with 30 completions and no interceptions, season: 5 (tied)
- Highest completion percentage, season: 71.2 (468 for 657)
- Most games with more than 80% pass completion rate, career (minimum 20 passes per game): 12 (2004-present)
- Most games with more than 80% pass completion rate, season (minimum 20 passes per game): 3
- Most consecutive seasons 4000+ yards: 6 (2006-2011)
- Most career seasons 5000+ yards: 2
- Most games, 350+ yards passing, career: 29
- Most Games 5+ TD Passes, Career 7, (2004-Present)
- Most Games 1+ TD Passes, Season 16 (tied)
- Most Seasons, 45+ Touchdown Passes, 1 (tied)
- Most consecutive passes, None intercepted, post-season: 226 (January 21, 2007 – January 14, 2012)
- Most games with 400 yards passing and no interceptions, career 4 (tied)
- Most games with 5 touchdown passes and no interceptions, career 5 (2004-present)
- Most games with 30 completions and no interceptions, career 14 (2006-2011)
- Passing Yards in a single month 1,687 (October 2011)
Besides this mountain of achievements from last year, Brees is a 6-time Pro Bowler, was named 2008 Offensive Player of the year and led the Saints to a Super Bowl win in the 2008-09 season and was named the Super Bowl XLIV MVP. The Saints response to all this: Okay, you’re good, here’s a franchise tag and a one-year deal. Brees said Wednesday on WWL radio in New Orleans he is ‘extremely frustrated’ that he and the Saints have not reached agreement on a long-term deal. We hear you, Drew.
As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, the running back position has become de-valued. Though some teams like the Houston Texans (Arian Foster/Ben Tate) and the San Francisco 49ers (Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter) still rely heavily on the run game, other power houses like the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers do not. Two months into free agency still finds some decent RBs without a job including Ryan Torain and Jackie Battle as well as those listed in the pictograph above. Age, injuries, or diminished play are key factors holding teams back from selecting these remaining RBs. It will be interesting to see if and where they end up. For me, I think it’s no doubt that Benson, Hightower and Grant will find a home.
Note: LaDanian Tomlinson told SI recently that he is “95% retired.” But I think he’d play if the right situation came along.
Though top tier wide receivers like Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon were grabbed up soon after free agency began on March 13, some serviceable receivers are still available. Admittedly, it is slim pickings at this point and most of those still out there may have to wait for an injury before they get THE call. Still, I think Burress, Edwards and Sims-Walker are the most likely candidates to get on some team’s radar before the season starts.
Texans sign QB John Beck
So, the John Beck experiment in Washington is over and will be continued in Texas. That may have just been a collective sigh of relief I heard across the Beltway as Redskins fans are eager for the RGIII era to begin and the Beck/Grossman/McNabb/whomever era to end. Beck will join the Houston Texans and compete with T.J. Yates and rookie Case Keenum for the QB backup job to starter Matt Schaub.
Lest we forget, Beck’s stat line as starter with Redskins in 2011
Wk 7 – Panthers 33..Redskins 20/ Beck 22/37, 279 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 FUM
Wk 8 – Bills 23…..Redskins 00…../ Beck 22/33, 208 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT, 1 FUM
Wk 9 – 49ers 19…..Redskins 11…/ Beck 30/47, 254 yds. 1 TD, 1 INT, 0 FUM
Photo Credit: Washington Redskins quarterback John Beck passes during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Landover, Md., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
MY FANTASY DREAM TEAM
Even though we’re in the midst of NHL playoffs, NBA pre-playoffs, MLB new season, I STILL LOVE FOOTBALL. This is my idea of a fantasy dream team:
QB — Drew Brees (#9) New Orleans Saints….. Led the league in passing yards (5476), touchdown passes (46), pass completion % (71.2) and average yards per game (342.2). He had a passer rating of 110.6. Some might feel this is a risky pick because of the Sean Payton suspension and looming player suspensions. Provided that Brees’ contract situation gets resolved soon, I still think he will have a positive impact on the offense and player suspensions will in all likelihood involve only defensive players. Plan B: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers.
WR: Calvin Johnson (#81) Detroit Lions…… His nickname is Megatron for a reason. He led the league in receiving yards (1,681) and in average yards per game (105.1). He had 16 touchdowns on 96 carries, averaging 17.5 yards per catch. At 6’5″, he is a formidable deep ball threat, outjumping cornerbacks, safeties and most people.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald (#11) Arizona Cardinals….Okay, so this is my one sentimental pick. This is the type of pick that can be a Fantasy Football player’s worst nightmare: a star wide receiver with a not-so-great quarterback. Even with the sometimes shaky tandem of QBs Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, Fitz remained in the top 10 in most relevant receiver categories: 4th in receiving yards (1,411), 5th in avg yards per game (88.2), 8th in receptions with 80, and 9th in touchdowns (8). Besides, he’s a great guy and I’m going to gamble that Kevin Kolb will improve in 2012. I said it was based on sentimentality, okay.
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (#32) Jacksonville Jaguars ….. He led the league in rushing yards (1,606) and avg yards per game (100.4). He had 8 touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. QB Blaine Gabbert struggled in the passing game and MJD accounted for 43% of the offensive scoring. I see similar production this year even with the acquisition of WR Laurent Robinson from the Cowboys. But all this depends on whether MJD gets the contract extension he wants. And if he does not, how will it affect his play. (Note: I would love to pick Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings here, but his health status is unclear right now.)
RB: Arian Foster (#23) Houston Texans…. Proved last year that he wasn’t just a one-year wonder. Posted stellar numbers: 1,224 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and 94.2 avg yards per game, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. A three-down featured back, Foster also produces fantasy points in receiving, being 2nd on the team only to WR Andre Johnson in receptions.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (#87) New England Patriots … He’s a beast. At 6’6, 265, he plows through secondaries like they were blades of grass. In just two short years, The Gronk has amassed several NFL tight end records (all set in 2011) including most receiving yards (1,327), most total touchdowns (18), and most receiving touchdowns (17). He is also the first tight end in NFL history to lead the league in receiving touchdowns (17), topping WR Calvin Johnson who had 16. Look for more of the same from The Gronk in 2012 along with more of his trademark touchdown spike.
K: Rob Bironas (#2) Tennessee Titans ….. In general, kickers are not a bonanza of fantasy points. Bironas is a reliable option having made 29/32 FGs and 34/34 PATs. I might also opt for David Akers of the 49ers or Matt Bryant of the Falcons.
DEF: San Francisco 49ers …. After coming so close to a Super Bowl appearance, I think the 49ers will be hungry in 2012. They had the No. 1 run defense, allowing only 77.3 rushing yards per game. Most impressive was that they went 14 games before allowing a rushing touchdown and ended up only allowing 3 for the season. Opposing teams averaged only 14.3 points against them which was 2nd in the league behind the Steelers who allowed 14.2. Essentially a young squad, I think the 49ers defense is only going to get better. No wonder they ask, “Who’s got it better than us?” Noooobody!!
Actually, Roger Goodell is not new, he’s been the NFL Commissioner since September 2006. But we certainly have witnessed some new and unprecedented rulings handed down by the Commish lately. Perhaps the boldest so far has been the one-year suspension given New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for his role in the Saints’ bounty scheme. This week another NFL policy came to light regarding unruly fans. If you are ejected from an NFL game, you will have to pay $75 to take an online code-of-conduct test. And you must pass the test with a minimum score of 70% before you will be allowed at another game. It seems that the rules may vary by stadium, but a few teams like the Jets, Giants and Patriots have already begun enforcing the policy.
I really don’t know how much of a hand Goodell played in this policy, though I assume any NFL policy must be signed off by him. One thing I do know though, Goodell is starting to remind me of Wyatt Earp. Earp was a lawman in the Wild West and he had a somewhat dubious reputation. In dispensing justice, he often became a law onto himself. Much like Goodell and the NFL. While we applaud his efforts to ensure player safety and control unruly fans, we are also aware of the arbitrariness of some of his decisions. For instance, Goodell makes a ruling as in the case of the Saints suspensions and at the same time he is the one who hears the appeal. Not very likely that he will overrule himself folks. Goodell has a tough job. He has the unenviable task of trying to change a culture steeped in broken bones, blood and concussions. One hundred years ago, Wyatt Earp brought law to lawlessness sometimes in a lawless way. Will Goodell have success taming the NFL Wyatt Earp-style?