NFL: Some questions and answers as training camps approach
Question: The clock continues to tick on the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which expires next March. What are the chances of the players and owners striking a new deal in the next few months?...
Question: The clock continues to tick on the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which expires next March. What are the chances of the players and owners striking a new deal in the next few months?
Answer: About the same as Mel Gibson being named Man of the Year by the NAACP. Negotiations are proceeding at a snail's pace, and I don't really think we're going to see anything get done until next February. Wouldn't even be surprised to see it drag into the first couple weeks of March.
Q: What was the best thing the league did in the offseason?
A: I'd love to tell you it was canning Rich Eisen and Jamie Dukes from the NFL Network, but unfortunately, they're still there.
Roger Goodell gets a big thumbs up from me for slapping Ben Roethlisberger with a six-game suspension even if the authorities in Georgia didn't see fit to prosecute him for his college-bar bathroom escapades. But Goodell and the league get my highest mark for their smart decision to backload the schedule with division games this season. In the last 3 weeks of the season, there will be 28 division matchups, including all 16 of the games in Week 17.
Q: What effect will Roethlisberger's suspension have on the Steelers' playoff hopes?
A: Probably not as much as the departure of wide receiver Santonio Holmes and the Achilles' injuries to right tackle Willie Colon and wideout Limas Sweed.
For starters, if Roethlisberger can behave for a few months, Goodell likely will reduce his six-game suspension to four games. The Steelers play just one division game in the first month of the season -- against Baltimore -- and that game will be at Heinz Field. They'll rely heavily on their defense and the running of Rashard Mendenhall in Roethlisberger's absence. If Dennis Dixon or Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch can keep mistakes to a minimum, the Steelers will be no worse than 2-2, and probably 3-1, when Roethlisberger gets back.
Q: How much better will the Redskins be with Donovan McNabb?
A: Not good enough to make the playoffs, but probably good enough to win two or three more games than they did last year when they finished 4-12. The Redskins' receiving corps isn't nearly as good as the one McNabb had in Philly, and I'm not sure what's going on at the running back position, where Mike Shanahan seems to be collecting beat-up cars with empty gas tanks. And then there's the whole Albert "I don't wanna play in a 3-4" Haynesworth soap opera.
Q: Can Mike Holmgren find happiness and contentment as the president of the Cleveland Browns?
A: Unlikely. The Walrus is a hands-on guy. When he hired Tom Heckert as general manager, he said Heckert would have final say on all personnel matters. But he has spent much of the offseason looking over Heckert's shoulder, and the rest sitting in his lap. Most people around the league think he'll fire Eric Mangini after the season and take over as the head coach, which really is the job he's most qualified for anyway.
Q: Does LaDainian Tomlinson have enough gas left in his 31-year-old tank to help the Jets?
A: Yeah, as long as they use him properly. He no longer can be a workhorse running back, but still can be effective as a 12-touch-a-game guy. The Jets need Shonn Greene to fill the 300-carry void left by Thomas Jones and then pick their spots with Tomlinson. If they don't overuse him, he'll be a nice addition.
Q: Can the Vikings afford to let Brett Favre miss all of training camp again and just show up a couple of weeks before the start of the season and suit up?
A: Sure, why not? Last year, playing for a new team, he showed up in late August and finished with the best touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (33-7) in the league as the Vikings made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
Would Brad Childress prefer to have Favre there when training camp opens? Yeah. But given the alternatives (Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels), he'll let the 40-year-old quarterback show up late if that's what it takes to keep him playing 1 more year.
Q: Can the Saints repeat as Super Bowl champs?
A: When you've got a score-at-will offense like they've got, it's certainly doable. But they can't expect their defense to force 39 turnovers and score eight touchdowns again. Those takeaways managed to offset the fact that they finished 26th against the pass and 21st against the run and allowed 23 or more points in eight of their last 12 regular-season games. They did little in the offseason to upgrade their defense.
Q: Will anybody sign Terrell Owens?
A: Eventually. He's right when he says teams are reluctant to sign him because he's perceived as a troublemaker. And the 36-year-old Owens only has himself to blame for that. But the bottom line is he can still play. Not at the high level he did in his prime, but well enough to help someone.
He caught 55 passes and averaged 15.1 yards per catch last year for the Bills, who had one of the worst passing offenses in the league. As the summer goes along, some team will find itself in desperate need of a wideout, and Owens will look much more appealing to them than he does right now.
Q: Who's your sleeper team this season?
A: The Texans. Matt Schaub is the best quarterback nobody's talking about. He led the league in passing yards and finished fourth in completion percentage and fifth in yards per attempt last season. Andre Johnson is the league's best wideout (216 catches, 3,144 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons). They've got one of the league's best defensive front sevens.
Just two problems: They've got the toughest schedule in the league and they're in the same division as the Colts.
Q: Which teams could be headed for the biggest fall?
A: The Patriots and the Cardinals are my two prime candidates. The Patriots won the AFC East with a 10-6 record last year, but got drubbed by the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs and are in the process of retooling a defense that wasn't very good at pressuring quarterbacks last season (31 sacks).
The Cardinals are hoping Matt Leinart can replace Kurt Warner, but that's far from a sure thing. They also traded away wide receiver Anquan Boldin and lost two of their best defensive players -- linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle -- in free agency. Don't be surprised to see the 49ers beat them out in the NFC West.
Q: Not a single first-round pick has signed yet. Are there going to be more first-round holdouts than usual this year?
A: I don't think there will be many see-you-in-September type holdouts, but I think there could be a few more first-rounders who miss the first week or two of training camp. With this likely being the final year before the implementation of a rookie wage scale, the agents for first-rounders are going to want to squeeze every dime they can out of the owners.
Q: Will Sam Bradford be the Rams' season-opening starting quarterback?
A: I highly doubt it. While the Rams probably are going to end up giving Bradford more than $45 million in guaranteed money, they'd be crazy to throw a quarterback with a history of shoulder injuries out there in Week 1 behind a line that finished 25th in the league in sacks per pass play last year. There is no reason to rush him. He's a potential franchise quarterback. But he played in a spread offense at Oklahoma and has an awful lot to learn about the pro game. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo knows that better than anyone. He likely will open the season with A.J. Feeley as his starter and play it by ear as far as when he thinks Bradford is ready.
Q: What rookies do you think will have the biggest first-year impact?
A: Defensively, I think Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (second overall pick) and Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (eighth) both are going to have big years. Offensively, I think the Bills hit paydirt with running back C.J. Spiller (ninth). He's a Brian Westbrook clone who will help the Bills as a runner, receiver and return man. Might end up with 1,500 yards from scrimmage as a rookie.
Q: What has a division title and a 34-14, wild-card win over the Eagles done for Cowboys coach Wade Phillips' job security?
A: Well, it bought him another year, but that's about it. Jerry Jones has high hopes for 2010. Super Bowl XLV will be played at Cowboys Stadium next February and Jones wants/expects his team to be in it. If that doesn't happen, Bum's boy might just be pounding the pavement looking for work next year.
Q: What other coaches are on the hot seat?
A: Well, you can start with the Bears' Lovie Smith. His team hasn't gone to the playoffs since the Bears made it to the Super Bowl in February 2007. This is most definitely a make-or-break year for him, especially with the additions of offensive coordinator Mike Martz and free agent defensive end Julius Peppers. The Bears should be better than last year, when they finished 7-9. But they're still not as talented as either the Vikings or the Packers. So Smith probably is in a no-win situation.
Some others who need big years -- the Raiders' Tom Cable, the Jaguars' Jack Del Rio and the Panthers' John Fox.
No, I didn't forget Andy Reid. Regardless of what happens with the Eagles this season, he is in no risk of losing his job.
Q: You mentioned Mike Martz. What effect do you think he'll have on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler?
A: Good question. Martz has called Cutler the most gifted quarterback he's ever worked with, which is high praise considering that he once coached Kurt Warner. Cutler threw 27 touchdown passes last season, but also had a league-high 26 interceptions. I'm not sure how much that second number is going to shrink under Martz. Warner threw 40 picks in 2000 and '01 under Martz's pass-happy tutelage. Marc Bulger had 22 in '03. Jon Kitna had 42 interceptions in the two seasons Martz was the offensive coordinator in Detroit.
Bottom line: Cutler is going to throw for a lot of yards and a lot of TDs under Martz, but don't expect his decision-making to improve.
Q: It doesn't seem fair that the NCAA brought the hammer down on USC football, yet the man who was in charge while all of this was happening -- Pete Carroll -- lands on his feet in Seattle with a big, fat raise. Please tell me the Seahawks are going to be terrible this year.
A: The Seahawks are going to be terrible this year. Many of the players who helped them win five straight division titles are either gone or on the downside of their careers. And poor drafts haven't left Carroll with a lot of rebuilding material. They'll be hard-pressed to match last year's five-win total.
Q: What do you think of the new playoff overtime rule? It gives a possession to the team that loses the coin toss if the team that wins the toss kicks a field goal on its first possession.
A: I like it. It clearly lessens the negative effect of losing the overtime coin toss. But I wish they also would have put it in for the regular season.
Q: OK, who's going to make it to the Super Bowl?
A: Right here, right now, I'll say the Chargers and Cowboys. But check back with me again next week. And the week after that.