Things are somewhat quiet in the Eagles world right now, so I thought I'd discuss happenings around the league.
Will Anyone Take A Chance On Michael Vick?
The hot topic at the moment is the possible return of Michael Vick. Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to decide if Vick will be eligible to play this year or if he will face some kind of a suspension. That could take away part of the year or the whole season.
Let's set aside the moral side of things for a minute and focus on football. Assume Vick is made eligible as of August 1. How will teams think of him? How should teams think of him? I cannot imagine anyone will seriously look at Vick as a starting quarterback. When Vick was at his peak, he wasn't the kind of quarterback that appealed to all 32 teams. He hasn't played the last two seasons. That means he's going to be rusty. There is no way he is in football shape. I heard one reporter on the radio say that Vick is down about 25 pounds from his playing weight. These factors will limit the teams interested in his services.
Teams will look at him as a backup for 2009. Could he return to being a starter in the future? Maybe. You can't count on that. One major problem for Vick right now is that I don't think teams can trust him. He lied to the Commissioner when he was being investigated a couple of years ago. Vick had problems aside from the dog fighting in the past. Quarterback is the most important position in all of football. You can't turn your football team over to a player you don't completely trust. Vick is also another incident away from a long suspension, banning, and/or more time in jail.
Vick started for six seasons in Atlanta. He hasn't been a backup since his rookie year. How will he handle the notion of being on the bench? Backup quarterbacks have to prepare, but never know when they will play. That can be frustrating for many guys. Vick was never a master of being prepared when he was a starter. Vick is lucky in one sense. While he was gone the Wildcat offense came to the NFL. That's perfect for him. Put Vick in the Wildcat about 10 snaps a game and he could offer some impact.
In the end, though, we're talking about a guy who is about to turn 29. A guy who has missed two full seasons. A guy who had issues when he was healthy and at his best. And last, and certainly not least, a guy who will be a public relations nightmare. I cannot imagine there will be many teams interested. Nor should there be. The smart thing for Vick would be to sit out the year and train. He could then join a team next March. He'd be in better shape. He'd have a full off-season with his team. Vick would have a situation much more conducive to him being a real, productive football player than a sideshow.
Who Is The Worst Team In The NFL?
We've all been speculating about who the best teams will be now that free agency and the draft are done. The Eagles should certainly be in that mix. On the flip side, who will be the worst team?
I think Tampa Bay might be headed for a long, long season. Think about the changes that organization has had recently. They got rid of quarterback Jeff Garcia. They fired head coach Jon Gruden. They cut longtime star Derrick Brooks on the defensive side of the ball. Legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is now working with his son Lane at the University of Tennessee.
The Tampa offense struggled with Garcia and Gruden. Things are going to get worse, possibly much worse without those two. Eagles fans remember what happened when Gruden left Philly. The mediocre talent of 1997 produced some good numbers with Gruden running the offense. He went to Oakland at the end of the year. The 1998 offense was dreadful. It is one of the worst I've ever seen in my time following the NFL. Gruden has his faults, but the man has a special gift for getting the best out of mediocre players.
Tampa has an interesting group at quarterback. Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and rookie Josh Freeman will battle for the right to lead the offense. Each guy has talent, but none of them is good enough to carry the team. On the surface it looks like they have some weapons to work with, but I'm not so sure. Receiver Antonio Bryant had an amazing season, but that sure feels like an anomaly. Does he really seem likely to catch 80 passes and average 15 yards per reception in 2009? Derrick Ward was signed to be the primary back. That could be a great move. Then again, Ward has never been the workhorse runner for a team. Just because Michael Turner successfully made that leap last year doesn't mean Ward will. The offensive line is solid, but nothing great. Tight end Kellen Winslow has a ton of talent, but it only shows up when he's healthy and focused.
The defense is fine, except for the lack of a big time pass rusher, powerhouse defensive tackle, stud outside linebacker, or top-shelf cornerback. Plus, the guys will be learning a new scheme for the first time in a long time. They don't call it the Tampa 2 for nothing. The Bucs defense was great for about half of the 2008 season. They fell apart down the stretch and got really embarrassed by Carolina on Monday Night Football late in the year. DeAngelo Williams might still be running around on that field with a few Bucs chasing him.
New head coach Raheem Morris has a big challenge in front of him. I hope the Glazer family is going to be patient as Morris rebuilds the team. One thing that concerns me is that many of the changes feel like ones made by the Falcons last year. I hope the Glazers aren't counting on similar results. Matt Ryan was sensational in 2008. That is the best rookie quarterback I've ever seen. Josh Freeman has similar ability, but a much different background. Expecting him to step in and lead the team to double-digit wins would be beyond wishful thinking.
I know Detroit seems like an obvious choice, but I have the feeling that the Lions will be much improved. They have some good talent in the front seven and the secondary should be better. Calvin Johnson is a great young receiver. If they get any kind of a running game, the Lions could win three or four games.
Favre: Just Do It
Another spring, another Brett Favre watch is going on. Play. Don't play. Join the Coast Guard. Start hanging out with Lindsay Lohan. I don't really care, Brett. Just do something. The whole process of deciding over the course of a month or two and dragging things out is what drives me crazy. I've been a big Favre fan for a long time. Once I got past him leading the Packers to a win over Reggie White and Seth Joyner in 1992, I was able to appreciate what a good player Favre was. All this melodrama the last few years has worn on me. I'm sure many of you feel the same way.
Voicing An Opinion
We found out about some big changes in the broadcast booth this off-season. One was bad news, the other great. John Madden has retired. It was probably time, but I'm still saddened by the news. Madden is a major part of why I'm such a big fan today. He broke into broadcasting just as I was really getting into the NFL. Madden made the game come alive in a way no other announcer could. That hooked me and I've been an NFL junkie ever since.
The best thing Madden did was to personalize the game. He loves the game of football. He loves many of the players. You could feel that in his comments. Madden could tell you a story about George Blanda or Vince Lombardi and bring some sense of history to the current game. He could also stay on topic if the game was compelling and talk about the great performance of Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White or Emmitt Smith. One of the other things to love is that Madden paid attention to the offensive linemen. He highlighted them and helped show the casual fan the importance of the ""big uglies.""
Younger fans who only know him from his work with Al Michaels missed out on Madden at his best. Back in the 1980s, he and Pat Summerall called games for CBS, when that network had the NFC contract. It didn't get better than having those guys call a big NFC East showdown. I encourage you to read his books. Madden is a great storyteller and will also teach you a thing or two about football.
The good news from the broadcasting world is that Tony Kornheiser is leaving Monday Night Football. His spot will be taken by Gruden. Kornheiser is a good sportswriter and can be interesting when he does talk shows. He was awful during game broadcasts.
The Eagles and Cowboys played in a very exciting shootout last year in Week 2. The game was full of big plays and dramatic moments. All the broadcasters had to do was talk about the game. Kornheiser started in on Donovan McNabb being booed by the whackos at the draft back in 1999. That story has been old for a while. You sure don't need to bring that out during an exciting game. Kornheiser always looked for story lines. How about just watching the game and talking about what you see? Crazy idea, I know.
What To Make Of The Cowboys?
Speaking of our good friends in Dallas, I'm not sure what to make of the Cowboys this season. They have a very talented nucleus, but won't have nearly as many distractions. In that sense, they should be a better team. I'm still not sold on them. The fact that Zack Thomas opted out of his contract to leave Dallas says a lot. He ended up signing with the Chiefs. Which of those teams do you think an aging linebacker who's never been to the Super Bowl would rather play with?
Will The Colts' Run End?
The Indianapolis Colts have been a great franchise for the last decade or so. This year they will deal with a lot of changes. Tony Dungy is gone. Marvin Harrison is gone. The Colts think they have good replacements for each guy. Neither departure came as a surprise. Two other moves could prove to be more troublesome. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd have retired. These men aren't household names, but they are huge parts of the success Indianapolis has had. Moore worked very well with Peyton Manning. Some coaches would have hated dealing with all the audibles, but Moore was fine with that. He built the gameplan around Manning and how he liked to do things. Manning had a lot of freedom, but could also lean on Moore for advice. They had a great relationship.
Mudd was one of the best line coaches in the league. Losing him will hurt. Over the years, Indy drafted linemen in the middle rounds for Mudd to develop. That allowed them to not have to use first-round picks on blockers and it kept them from having to sign or trade for veterans.
Both men will stay on as consultants. I'm not exactly sure what that will mean on a day-to-day basis. This is a lot of change for the Colts and all at one time. It will be interesting to see how they handle the situations. Indianapolis has been pretty unflappable for a long time. Can that continue with all the new faces?