by Patrick Wall
As the NFL world descends on Indianapolis for the second time in less than a month, the focus will be on the future. Prospective rookies attending the Combine shuffle in to be poked and prodded, measured and tested, interviewed and studied. But the Combine is also a place for the sport’s power players to begin wheeling and dealing.
Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman will be hearing plenty about his disgruntled star wideout DeSean Jackson. Hopefully these conversations tell him what I suspect he already knows: if winning the Super Bowl next year is really, truly, the goal, the Eagles must keep him.
Granted, this is easier said than done. Jackson, and agent Drew Rosenhaus (the man responsible for this infamous moment in Philly sports history), are asking for the type of money the Jets inexplicably gave Santonio Holmes, or around $10 million per year.
Let’s be clear: neither Jackson nor Holmes are worth that type of money. But they are similar players, and both are crucial to what their respective offenses do. When Jackson is on the field, defenses have to account for his blazing deep speed. And when he has the ball in his hands, he can take it the distance at any time. This has likely been Rosenhaus’ mantra through the negotiation process.
For the Eagles, the situation looks less rosy. After holding out during the first part of training camp, Jackson had his worst year as a pro, netting 58 catches for 916 yards and four touchdowns. While these numbers aren’t terrible, the team expects better. Despite being a threat as a punt return and runner—as a rookie he was the first player to be named the starter at two positions in the Pro Bowl—he was a virtual non-factor as a punt returner last season.
Worse than his production was his attitude. Jackson seemed to be pouting for the majority of the season, and was deactivated against the Cardinals for missing a team meeting. He was also benched against the Patriots for playing soft, dropping easy touchdowns that would’ve meant he’d take big hits.
Several news outlets have reported recently that Jackson is likely to be given the franchise tag as early as next week. This would lock him up for another year and pay him the average of the top five receivers in the game, which equals around $10 million. Jackson has said he is fine with this—proof, in this writer’s opinion, that it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.
Franchising DeSean also gives the team a few options: they can keep him for a year and potentially franchise him one more time after next season, negotiate a long-term deal, or trade him.
At this point, many fans seem ready to part with DeSean, but I’m not so sure. Money seems to be his biggest motivator. While it’s fair to wonder if he’ll pull an Albert Haynesworth and quit on the team once he gets paid, he’s worth too much to the team to let go.
Yes, there are some sexy free agent names out there, including Dwayne Bowe, Marcus Colston and Vincent Jackson, but neither have the skill set of a player like Jackson. Defenses fear Jackson, and shutting him down only means more opportunities for guys like Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and the always dangerous LeSean “Shady” McCoy.
With head coach Andy Reid on the hot seat, continuity is key for the 2012 Eagles. It’s why the team brought back defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and it’s why QB Michael Vick will still be leading the team. Jackson is one of Vick’s favorite weapons, and the two have an adorable “big bro/little bro” dynamic that I think is a positive forJackson’s maturity (yeah, you read that right).
So what’s he worth? Definitely not the $10 million per year he wants. But DeSean may have a hard time turning down $6 or $7 million a year with incentives and a healthy signing bonus. Overpaying for superstars isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A happy DeSean Jackson is a bonus for the team, and a productive DeSean Jackson is a nightmare for opposing defenses.
by Patrick Wall
Welcome to the dark days of the NFL.
We’re a month from free agency, almost three before the Draft, and months and months before players head to training camp. And now that most of the bad taste that was the 2011 season has been wiped from my mouth, it’s time for reflection.
Today I’d like to take some time to reflect on my 25 Bold and Occasionally Baseless) Predictions from this past season. Because I have a delicate ego, I’ll start with some of the ones I got right:
1. I totally called both #1 seeds. To be fair, it wasn’t really a tough choice. And I sure as hell didn’t see the Pack losing in the playoffs–I had them winning it all.
2. Mark Sanchez is still pretty awful. In his third season, the Jets’ signal caller did little to elevate himself from the ranks of the Joe Flaccos and Kyle Ortons of the world. Though he threw a career-high 29 touchdowns, he also threw 18 picks–two short of his rookie year. Meh.
3. Only one of the QBs to find a new home in ’11 did much of anything. Kevin Kolb might be on his way out the door in Arizona, Donovan McNabb is staring retirement in the face, and Tavaris Jackson is still Tavaris Jackson. Only Matt Hasselbeck is a lock to start the 2012 with the same team he joined a year ago.
As impressive as those three hits were, I also whiffed harder than Nnamdi Asomugha on a number of these:
1. Fine, Detroit. You’re a good team. The first prediction I made was that neither Tampa Bay nor Detroit would make the playoffs. And while the highlight of the Bucs’ year was seeing the $100 dollar man dressed like a Creamsicle, the Lions made a very impressive playoff run and look to be a team on a serious, ’06 Saints-style upswing.
2. Everything I said about the Eagles was wrong. The reports of Juan Castillo’s defense “flying around and playing nasty” were greatly exaggerated, when Michael Vick was healthy he was pretending to be Jay Cutler, and Nnamdi Asmougha was recently named the second worst tackling CB in the NFL last year. Seriously, I will throw a cheesesteak at Vince Young if I ever heard the words “Dream Team” uttered again.
3. So, uh… how ’bout those Niners? I, like many other writers, bloggers, players, pundits, cabbies and semi-educated football fans, thought the winner of the NFC West was going to be a nonfactor in the playoffs. Boy, were we all wrong. If the 49ers can get a legitimate QB, look out. They could be scary for a long time.
All told, I was right on 14 out of my 25 predictions, giving me a better record than the Eagles.
Next time, I’ll be analyzing what the Eagles must to do reach the Super Bowl next year. This, and at least three passive-aggressive jokes about Adele are all coming up in only a few days! Stay tuned!
By Patrick Wall
On a soggy Tuesday in Bethlehem, Pa., Philadelphia Eagles players began cleaning out their dorm rooms and filling their cars with their clothes, playbooks and free cases of Gatorade. It was the last day of training camp, and players were heading home before crossing the state to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Yes, the few sweltering weeks of camp had ended, and the players had been rewarded with an extra day off.
That’s right. Head coach Andy Reid, known as one of the most brutal training camp overlords in the NFL, decided his team had done so well on the practice fields of Lehigh University that they deserved a break.
In the past, Reid would put his team through “hell” (his words, not mine) for the first three days of camp, a tactic he used to build toughness and camaraderie. Now he was giving his team the proverbial pat on the back after not seeing them all offseason due to the lockout.
Welcome to the brave new world of the NFL.
The league’s new collective bargaining agreement stipulates that teams are only allowed one padded practice per day at training camp. This means the dreaded two-a-days are gone, replaced instead with one padded practice and one slower paced walkthrough.
The rule was created to give players a break and preserve their bodies for the regular season and playoffs. While it has drawn the ire of coaches, players love it.
“Camp wasn’t so bad this year,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy in what might be the understatement of the season.
True, the lack of a “normal” training camp has the potential to hurt the toughness and cohesion of teams. But it is not without benefits. Thanks to these less strenuous practices, players are leaving camp feeling better than they ever have. This could potentially lead to fewer injuries and better play late in the season.
The NFL has come a long way since the days of Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram. The once commonplace practices of denying players water and cutting guys who couldn’t stay conscious may as well have happened during the Middle Ages. The boorish and brutal attitude of the “60 minute men” – the men who played on both sides of the ball in the game’s early days – has all but evaporated.
Modern football is a smarter and safer sport, though many critics would argue the game has given up some of its signature grit to accommodate its new traits.
While the change in training camp procedure may be the most glaring change in the kinder, gentler world of the NFL, it is certainly not the first.
Defensive players have groaned at several rule changes over the past few years. Defensive backs are no longer permitted to be as hands-on as they once were, while the big boys up front have to be more careful than ever to avoid unnecessary hits on the quarterback – a rule many feel is especially true for the league’s premier signal callers.
And in addition to the new training camp rules, the NFL moved the kickoff spot to the 35, vastly diminishing the number of kick returns, and thus, kick return touchdowns.
Yes, the NFL needs to be on the lookout for its players. And yes, the league does need to make sure it can protect its investments – namely, its star players. But the NFL also risks alienating its fanbase.
In many ways, the NFL has succeeded because it’s not like soccer or baseball – it’s a brutal, punishing sport that rewards players for laying devastating hits and performing well, even after their bodies are all but destroyed.
To attempt to eradicate all injury and create the safest game possible is to effectively neuter a game created to be vicious. It’s a sport no person in their right mind should play, yet it’s as much fun to play as it is dangerous. Each NFL player understands the risks every time they step on the field, and they accept that risk by cashing their six or seven-figure checks.
So as 1900 players 32 teams leave training camp and head home for the remainder of the preseason and beyond, fans, coaches and the players themselves are left to wonder if the new rules will lead to greater success or more broken bodies on the field come December.
What do you think? Is the NFL turning soft, or are the rules justified?