Peyton’s Dozen: The Odds on Who Will Land Manning

Ever since the Colts landed the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, there has been speculation about if and where Peyton Manning would play again.  Yesterday, something I could’ve never imagined a year ago happened when the Colts decided to go into rebuilding mode and forgo paying Manning the bonus that was due to him today thus making him a free agent for the first time in his career.   And this is not just any free agent.  Peyton Manning has become the most coveted free agent in NFL history as the franchise he has been the face of for 14 years moves forward without him.   We are now aware that no Colts player will ever again wear #18 but the question is of course: which team will have a new #18 on their roster next season?

Multiple sources have mentioned that around 12 teams have been in contact with Manning’s representation and we know who some of those teams are, who some aren’t, and which teams remain a mystery.   We know that the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs have contacted Manning’s representation.  We know that the Dallas Cowboys are not interested and neither are, clearly, the Indianapolis Colts.   It is also safe to assume that the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  I’m also fairly confident that the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, and Chicago Bears will not go after Manning.  I also like to believe, that though there has been speculation, that the Texans will work to extend Schaub and develop Yates as opposed to cutting Schaub to bring in Manning.  So I do not believe the Texans are part of the twelve (but if they create the cap space and release Schaub they become a frontrunner).  However we can’t rule anyone out.   In my opinion, outside of a few, select teams that have elite NFL QBs, any team that does not at least ask itself the Peyton Manning question is doing themselves a great disservice.

So using what we know and what we don’t know I’ve broken down who I believe to be Manning’s dozen and their respective odds of landing the future Hall of Famer in descending order.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars

ODDS – 1:100

The Jacksonville Jaguars would love to sign their former rival for the next three years and develop the young Blaine Gabbert behind him.  I have no doubts about that.  It’s clear however that Peyton wants to win now because he only has somewhere between three and five years to win another ring.   The Jaguars definitely have the cap room and it could be attractive for Manning to play in Florida but the Jaguars have no personnel to put around Manning where he believes he could win right away.  A few years ago when the Vikings signed Brett Favre a lot of people referred to that team as a “ferrari without a driver” and I believe that’s exactly what Peyton is looking for.   The Jaguars can offer the contract but not much else.

11. Cleveland Browns

ODDS – 1:50

I give the Browns slightly higher odds than the Jaguars of landing Manning.   Once again this is a team in disarray but once that can afford Manning.  The reason I give them any kind of odds is because the Browns could potentially land one of Peyton’s former receivers in free agency (Garcon or Wayne), they have a stout and young offensive line and they have the draft picks to add playmakers to their roster now.  This is an AFC team in a smaller market which many say that Manning would prefer but I just do not see this happening.

10. Buffalo Bills

ODDS – 3:100

The Buffalo Bills are an interesting prospect.  This would put Peyton in the AFC in a small market with a passionate fan base and he would get the chance to play Tom Brady twice a year.  However, the Bills have made a huge commitment to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  This is a team that could make the playoffs with consistent quarterback play but I do not see the Bills making this happen nor do I see Manning wanting to play 7 home games a year in Buffalo and 1 every season in Toronto after 14 years of playing his home games in a dome.  They have the cap room, they have some playmakers, but I am pretty confident we will not see Manning in Buffalo.

9. Tennessee Titans

ODDS – 1:20

If the Titans have already called, I’m certain that Peyton Manning has listened.  He considers Tennessee a second home having played his college ball there.  He can look at Tennessee and see playmakers like Chris Johnson, Jared Cook,  and Kenny Britt.   They have a very athletic offensive line that Peyton would love.  This is a team that has some definite potential but once again I just do not see it.  Matt Hasselbeck had a really good year last year and I believe that the Titans are happy to play him another year and then move forward with Jake Locker who showed a lot of promise as a rookie.  I also do not know what Peyton’s feelings would be on playing the Colts twice a year after his ceremonious exit from the Colts but either way, I give the Titans a 5% chance but not much more than that.

8. New York Jets

ODDS – 1:19

The New York Jets have been linked to Peyton Manning for months and this is a team that is definitely talented and made it to back to back AFC Championships in spite of subpar quarterback play.  Manning is familiar with the Rex Ryan defense and would surely love to have that on his side.  He would play the Patriots twice a year and he would get to share a stadium with his brother.  He would have playmakers all around him but at the same time, there are a lot of issues with the New York Jets locker room.  New York is a large market and it’s his brother’s territory.   I personally think the Jets would be a great fit but I don’t see Peyton going to such an unstable situation or imposing on his brother’s turf.   Another big factor here is that the Jets would have to make some major moves to be able to even afford Manning.  They can’t afford him, it’s unstable, and I just don’t see it.

7. Washington Redskins

ODDS – 1:13

Alright, now we’re into the teams that I actually think have a shot.  A lot of people have the Redskins as an odds-on favorite to land Peyton Manning.  They like to cite that great offensive line the Redskins have and the presence of Roy Helu, Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, and Jabar Gaffney.  It’s clear though that Washington will have to add a true #2 wide receiver to attract Peyton.  Washington does have the necessary cap room and they have an owner in Dan Snyder who loves to spend money.  However, Peyton’s preference is the AFC and I really don’t think he wants to play Eli twice a year.   Washington loves to bring in five star free agents and has the cap room to reunite Manning and Wayne as well as a high enough draft pick to bring in some young playmakers immediately.  While I believe the Redskins will be one of the most aggressive suitors for Manning but I don’t believe Peyton will bite.   This is a team that definitely has everything necessary to attract Manning with the largest drawbacks being the fact that they are a large market NFC team that would play the Giants twice a year.  Many don’t believe that Manning is interested in playing for Washington but on paper they have a pretty solid chance.

6. Arizona Cardinals

ODDS – 1:8

Everyone that follows Can of Corn on Twitter knows that for months I have been lobbying for Peyton Manning to team up with Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.  This is a team that went .500 last season in spite of Kolb’s terrible play under center.   Manning has mentioned he would love to play on natural grass again but he does appreciate the advantages of a dome.  Good news – Arizona is the only place that can offer both.   Manning has never played with a wide receiver as talented as Larry Fitzgerald and if the Cardinals can re-sign Early Doucet or bring in another wideout (especially Wayne) then this could be a real possibility.  Combine that with tight end Todd Heap and Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams in the backfield and this becomes a very attractive offense.  Manning and Whisenhunt have long had a mutual respect and admiration for one another and so this relationship could definitely work.

The problem is that right now the Cardinals are projected to have, at most, $10.2 M in cap room.   Even if they release Levi Brown and free up $16M , move forward without Kolb and free up the necessary cap room, the Cardinals are left with an even more questionable offensive line.  I love this fit for Manning and like the idea of him throwing to Fitzgerald.  I think the Cardinals will be major players and they are a team that can compete right away with Manning but at the end of the day – I really don’t see Arizona being able to do what’s necessary to attract Manning.   If the Cardinals had the cap room to afford Manning, they would be in the top 3 without a doubt.  There’s a strong mutual interest here between Manning and the Cardinals.  Now it comes down to money.

5. San Francisco 49ers

ODDS – 2:9

What NFL fan does not want to see Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne keep playing together?  The 49ers offer the opportunity to do that.  This is a team that has the cap room necessary to sign Peyton Manning and then also tighten up their WR corps and with a deep WR draft could use their first round draft pick on a rookie wideout or exchange that pick for Mike Wallace.  This is a team that was a few muffed punts from going to the Super Bowl last season and if they were to bring in receivers they could easily attract Peyton there and on the flip side, the presence of Peyton Manning would attract free agent receivers.  This is a dynamic team and Peyton would only be required to put up 20 – 24 points a game with that stout defense.  Jim Harbaugh says he believes in Alex Smith and is trying to extend him but you have to believe the 49ers have at least reached out to Manning and that he would be interested in heading to the West Coast.  Both the 49ers and Peyton are well aware of what each could accomplish together and I think this will be a very attractive option.   I just do not know how hard Harbaugh will pursue this one.  Thus far the 49ers have denied interest in Manning but it’s hard to believe that giving Alex Smith a three year $27M contract is that much better of an option than giving Manning a 3 year $42M deal.

4. Denver Broncos

ODDS – 2:7

If John Elway really wants to move on from “Tebowmania” this is the only possible escape.  If Elway really wants a quarterback that reminds him of himself, then there’s nobody better.  After all, a number one overall draft pick by the Colts going on to lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl is not unheard of.   The Broncos have some great young receivers on offense with Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royals, and Eric Decker and the necessary cap room to sign Manning.  They are a playoff team with the necessary cap room to sign Manning and this is something that could really happen.  The Broncos have reached out to Manning’s people and with the Broncos being the reigning champion of a wide-open division I think they are an attractive option to Manning.

3. Seattle Seahawks

ODDS – 1:3

I really do not know why more people aren’t talking about the possibility of Manning landing in Seattle.   This is a team that could be very good with a great quarterback.  Manning would have a dynamic receiving corps with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Mike Williams, and Golden Tate as well as Jon Carlson and Zach Miller at tight end.  The Seahawks just recently extended running back Marshawn Lynch after a career year.  This is a team with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and with Manning could challenge the 49ers right away.  The Seahawks are considered a frontrunner to land Mario Williams but they could instead direct their focus to Manning especially considering their draft position would allow them a chance to land Melvin Ingram or another top tier rookie outside linebacker or defensive end.   There are some question marks on the offensive line but given the division they play in and the amount of playmakers, Seattle has to be considered a serious contender to land Peyton Manning.

2. Miami Dolphins

ODDS – 2:5

We’ve heard it all, the Dolphins have the cap room to sign Manning and bring in another wide receiver.  Reggie Wayne wants to play in Miami and this could give Manning a 1-2 punch of Wayne and Brandon Marshall with Davone Bess in the slot.  Reggie Bush just had the best year of his career and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the game.  Peyton Manning has a home in Miami and the team has an owner that wants a star to latch his team onto.  This is a warm weather AFC team that would give Peyton the chance to play in the stadium where he twice appeared in a Super Bowl.   The Dolphins seem to be a really attractive option for Manning but the biggest question has to be the offensive line.  Outside of Jake Long, this offensive line is suspect.  Of course the 9th overall draft pick could allow the Dolphins to draft Iowa’s Riley Reiff or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin who could bolster this line immediately.  I think that Miami has a lot of attractive options.  I think Manning’s admiration of and friendship with Dan Marino plays a role.  While Miami has a great combination of playmakers, salary cap, and overall fit, there’s one team that has an even better combination of these things.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

ODDS – 3:7

There are a lot of commentators who have begun to mention the Kansas City Chiefs as an underdog or a dark horse candidate to land Manning.  The Seahawks are a dark horse, the Titans and Jets are underdogs, the Chiefs should be considered the favorite.   Anyone who has the Chiefs ranked lower than two is only kidding themselves.   There are a number of factors that make the Chiefs the odds-on favorite to land Manning in spite of the fact that they are “committed to Matt Cassel”.

The Chiefs have been projected to have as much as $50M in cap room next season which would be the 2nd highest in the NFL so they definitely have the financial flexibility to sign Peyton Manning and then to bring in anotherfree agent such as Carl Nicks or Jeff Saturday to solidify their offensive line.  The Chiefs have the necessary weapons on the offensive side of the ball with running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki, and receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jonathan Baldwin.  Then there’s always the threat of the very dynamic Dexter McCluster who can play in the backfield or line up in the slot.   They have a good young defense as well with playmakers like Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry.    Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are both extremely familiar with Peyton Manning and with the restructuring of the coaching staff, this is a team that would be very open to letting Peyton Manning bring in his own offense.  This is a talented AFC team in a small market with a very passionate fan base and distinct home field advantage.   They play in the most wide-open division in the NFL.  This is a team that came within a game of the playoffs despite multiple injuries and inconsistent QB play.   Joe Montana finished his career in KC and got his team to the AFC Championship maybe Peyton can do one better.  If Manning really wants to be on an AFC team and become the first QB to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl win, this is a team that definitely fits that mold and can actually afford him.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!

Remember to follow us on Twitter @can_of_corn!

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American Futbol

A special thanks to Mark Muzzi (one of the inspirations in the “M&M Gems” name) for his assistance with this blogpost.

What if America's best athletes played soccer?

In the past couple of years soccer has made significant gains in vying for fans.  Last season the MLS averaged larger crowds than both the NBA and the NHL.  ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup in 2010 led to more people in the United States watching the event than ever before.  And the MLS Cup on Sunday promises to have the largest viewership the event has had in years.  While men’s soccer continues to grow in the United States, our success on the international stage is lacking. (We have of course experienced much success in women’s soccer.

I’m a firm believer that the United States has the best athletes in the world and I feel like the collegiate and professional leagues that we boast are perfect proof of this.  We have the best hockey, basketball, and baseball leagues (and football of course) in the world.  We have dominated Olympic competition in nearly every sport except men’s soccer.  Soccer is a sport where successful teams are defined by speed and athleticism which begs the question:

If America has the best athletes in the world, why has the United States been so unsuccessful at men’s soccer?

Seems like a difficult question but the answer is really simple: because in every other country in the world, the best male athletes play soccer – in America this just isn’t true.  Our best athletes are in the NBA and NFL which caused my friend Mark and I to think about the soccer team the United States would field in the World Cup if our best athletes did indeed play soccer.   In putting together this team, we focused on American athletes who play sports professionally (except for soccer of course).

America’s All-Athlete Soccer Team:

Goalkeeper: Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver; Arizona Cardinals

In soccer a goalkeepr’s job is simple (in theory at least) keep balls from getting in the net.  The most valuable commodity that a goalkeeper can have is a great pair of hands considering that they are the only player on the pitch allowed to use them.   Fitzgerald has the height, ability, and agility necessary to defend a goal and nobody can deny that he has large hands that can catch almost anything and was the obvious choice for goalkeeper.

Centre Back: Ed Reed, Safety; Baltimore Ravens

Ed Reed is one of the best safeties to ever play football and those skills would translate well to the soccer pitch.   In the NFL, Reed is notorious because of his vision and the ability he has to “see the entire field”.   He is also known for his speed and instincts that allow him to cover a lot of territory very quickly and always be near the ball.  As a center backer these abilities would suit him perfectly in his primary responsibilities: stop the other team from scoring and force turnovers.

Centre Back: LeBron James, Small Forward; Miami Heat

Oguchi Onyewu is the tallest player in U.S. National team history and is known as a hellacious defensive player.  But, athletically – he has nothing on LeBron James.  LeBron has great height and quickness.  Coming off the corners he would be nearly impossible to stop.  On the court he is known for his ability to make the big play on either end of the court.  As a centre back, James would swarm to the ball and make Fitzgerald’s life a lot easier.  He has the strength and the height needed for a good centre back combined with the instincts that would make him difficult to score on.

Left Back: Darelle Revis, Cornerback; New York Jets

If Revis Island can be where big plays go to die in the NFL, why not in the MLS or FIFA World Cup?  Darelle Revis possesses a rare combination of athleticism, speed, and depth perception.  He has instincts  that allow him to see how a play will unfold before the fact.  He is a master of reading body position and understands how that position plays into his opponent’s next move and his own.  A good fullback is expected to have a lot of stamina and be able to cover the flanks with blazing speed.  This is what makes Darelle Revis an obvious choice for this position.

Right Back: Eric Berry, Safety; Kansas City Chiefs

A couple years back I watched Tennesee play LSU on national television and I realized just how special Eric Berry really was.   His combination of speed, instinct, and agility was simply astounding to watch.  Even now in the NFL (before he was injured) Eric Berry seemed to always be at the point where the ball was.  Eric Berry is like Visa, he’s everywhere you want to be and that would make him an exceptional right back.  With an amazing awareness for where the ball is and ability to cover large amounts of the pitch very quickly, Berry would be a ferocious defender.

Center Mid-Fielder: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback; Green Bay Packers

I still don’t think Jon Gruden has gotten off his knees yet from watching Aaron Rodgers dismantle the Vikings on Monday Night Football.  After that cacophony of praise I am having a hard time giving credit to Rodgers but there is no doubt he is a phenomenal athlete.  What makes Rodgers such a great quarterback in the NFL is his ability to distribute the ball and make the players around him better.  In a sense a center mid-fielder is the quarterback or point guard of his team.  There is no doubt that Rodgers is a natural leader and can distribute the ball.  On top of that anyone who has ever seen him run a bootleg knows that he has the speed and athleticism to lead his team down the pitch.  Watching Rodgers is like watching an artist at work.  He is deceptively fast and incredibly efficient.  Think of Spain’s Xavi here but even better.

Center Mid-Fielder: Chris Paul, Point Guard; New Orleans Hornets

Like Rodgers, Paul is a great ball distributor and makes his teammates better.  He is quick and has great feet.  He is a natural leader and understands match-ups.  There was no doubt in either of our minds that Chris Paul would make an excellent mid-fielder.  He has the speed and natural instincts necessary to master this position.

Left Mid-Fielder: Reggie Bush, Running Back; Miami Dolphins

If you want to understand the ability that Reggie Bush has to change direction and cover a lot of space very quickly – just go watch the USC vs. Fresno State game from his junior year.  When you see the play I have in mind you’ll know it – he somehow ran from one sideline to the other and back again to scamper more than 30 yards for a score.  He is naturally left-handed and left-footed which makes him a natural fit for this position.  Anyone that has seen him return a punt knows his ability to get up the field.  Mark described Reggie Bush as having “world class speed and agility.  Think [Tottenham Hotspur’s] Gareth Bale but more agile.”

Right Mid-Fielder: Devin Hester, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner; Chicago Bears

Devin Hester has an amazing ability to understand defense.  He naturally can find the ball and once he has it – find a seam that he can exploit to go the distance.  If you find Devin Hester unguarded with the ball breaking away down the right sideline – good luck stopping this guy because you won’t be able to catch him.  Hester could be a world-class right mid-fielder.

Centre Forward: Derrick Rose, Point Guard; Chicago Bulls

The centre forward has one job – to score goals.  If you ever watch the Bulls play, Rose has the ability to penetrate defenses and drive to the basket.  He has an incredible ability to shoot a gap and an understanding of angles to know what steps he has to take to get to the goal.  When you think of Derrick Rose translating his skill set to soccer, think Carlos Tevez.

Striker: Darren Sproles, Running Back; New Orleans Saints

Mark always likes to describe Sproles as having “phone booth quickness” and to be honest, I really can’t disagree.  Despite his size, this guy amazes me with his speed, quickness, agility, and ability to make guys miss.  I believe that he has the footwork necessary from the multiple times I’ve seen him tiptoe 40 yards down a sideline for a score.  As Mark put it, “If Sproles has any kind of skill, Messi can kiss it!”

The Subs

Reserve Goalkeeper: Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver; Detroit Lions

The only reason that Calvin Johnson is dubbed Megatron instead of the Freak is because “the Freak” was already taken (twice actually).  Calvin Johnson is a remarkable combination of size, speed, and agility and lives by the motto of “If you can touch it, you can catch it.”  I feel that Johnson would be incredibly difficult to score on and with his remarkable height, strength, and leaping ability – would be a prime candidate if you needed to throw someone in the game to head a ball in.

Substitute: Adrian Peterson, Running Back; Minnesota Vikings

Peterson plays the game of football with a sense of violence and urgency that could come in handy inside of the penalty box.  He is difficult to tackle and once he has momentum, incredibly difficult to stop.  Peterson has quick feet, is very shifty, and can change direction on a dime.  In a game his best fit would probably be as a right mid-fielder.  While not as quick as Rose or Sproles, he could also serve as a full back in his ability to attack a gap and naturally figure out where he needs to be in order to get to the goal

Substitute: Metta World Peace (Ron Artest), Small Forward; Los Angeles Lakers

There is no denying the athletic ability of the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest.  This was purely a Mark pic but I can’t deny the reasoning.  Artest would be great at getting to the ball and tipping it in when it bounces off the goal.  “Every team needs a garbage player” and nobody could feel that role better than whatever his name is this week.

There is no doubt in my mind that if our best male athletes were brought up playing soccer as opposed to basketball, football, and baseball – that our FIFA teams would enjoy similar success to our women’s teams.  The question has to be though – here’s our team:

WHO WOULD YOU PLACE ON YOURS?

The Building Blocks of my NFL Team

Every now and then my small but loyal base of readers will tweet, email, and Facebook questions to me.  About 2 weeks back I received a really interesting question that I wanted some time to think about but was definitely in the tradition of what an M&M Gem should be:

Q: If you were starting an NFL Franchise from scratch today and had your choice of any five players to start your team with – who would you choose?

I have always been a person who likes to carefully analyze a question and from this I took a few key observations –

1. I have the opportunity to take any five players from the entire league to build my team around.

2. I am building an NFL Franchise so the goal is clearly to win multiple championships

3. Who would I choose now? I want to win for as long as possible so clearly age is going to be a key but I also want experienced players who I know can help me win.  Therefore there are a number of players who are too young/too old for me to feel good about choosing.

4. Asking what players I would choose is actually a follow up question.  The first question is what positions would I choose?  In identifying the positions I can then find the players that best fit that need.

These were my four primary observations in looking at this question and after much thought, I came up with a starting five that I thought filled key positions, could help me win multiple championships, and who I believe can help me win for quite awhile.

Quarterback

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

While you may disagree with my pick, the fact that I focused on this position first should not raise much argument.  For the most part (of course the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not fit this mold), championship teams are championship teams because they have championship caliber quarterbacks.  It is the most important position on the field and there is a reason why quarterbacks have accounted for more first overall picks than any other position.   What I like about Aaron Rodgers is that he has developed into one of the League’s elite passers.  He spent years carrying a clipboard behind a Hall of Fame quarterback but once he got the starting nod, took his team to a Super Bowl in just three short years.  Rodgers has a great arm, he is patient in the pocket, and he is mobile.  Most forget about his mobility but Rodgers is among the league leaders for rushing yards by a QB every single season.  What I love about Aaron Rodgers is that he makes the rest of his team better.  He has made no-name receivers like Jordy Nelson and James Jones into viable fantasy options.  He spreads the ball around the offense and when a play breaks down, he either gets the ball to his backs or tight ends or he makes a play with his legs.   Rodgers is young, mobile, smart, patient, and has  a big arm.  He has already won one Super Bowl and as young as he is – I see 1 – 2 more in his future.  It was pretty obvious to me from the start that Aaron Rodgers would be the best quarterback for my team.

Others Considered: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons; Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens; Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Running Back

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

There is no quarterback I enjoy watching more than Aaron Rodgers and I believe there is no running back in the NFL that is nearly as good as Adrian Peterson.  Peterson is a rare talent, as is Rodgers, and by putting them in the same backfield – they could accomplish some great things.  Peterson would take pressure off Rodgers and in turn, Rodgers would allow Peterson to get more all-purpose yards and take pressure off of him.  Yes Peterson is going into his fifth season which makes him a hard choice BUT he has not had any major injury concerns as a pro and his production has not diminished.  Since he came into the league he has rushed for more touchdowns and yards than anyone else in the league.  For me, Peterson was a no-brainer.

Others considered: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans; Jamal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs; Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Wide Receiver

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

The thing that I appreciate most about Fitzgerald, I also appreciate about Peterson – loyalty to his team and a no-nonsense attitude.  While Rodgers is a great quarterback and can make no-name receivers into 1000 yard targets, he is phenomenal with a true number 1.  While others were considered and Larry Fitzgerald is getting up there in age, he has a work ethic that is unmatched and his leaping ability and hands are unheard of.   This was the toughest position decision to make but I’m certain it’s the right one.

Others considered: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans; Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles;  Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers; Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins

Offensive Lineman

Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

There’s not much to say about Joe Thomas so I’ll keep it short.  Joe is young, he’s athletic, and he is the best left tackle in the League.  I would argue that the second most important player to a team’s success is a left tackle to protect the franchise quarterback’s blindside.  For the last five years, nobody has protected his quarterback better than Joe Thomas.

Others considered: Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

Defensive Player

Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers

I understand that defense wins championships but I love offense.  So in taking only one defensive player, I wanted someone that could serve as a “quarterback” of my defense.  Since his rookie year, Willis has been one of the games premier linebackers.  If not for coming in with Adrian Peterson, he would have been the rookie of the year.  I have always been a fan of the linebacker position because they are called on to do so much.  Like Ray Lewis did for Baltimore, I believe that Willis could be the heart and soul of my defense.

Others considered: Clay Mathews, LB, Green Bay Packers; Darelle Revis, CB, New York Jets; Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions; Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs; Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota Vikings; Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots

WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

The Legacy of a Freak

According to reports that came out earlier today, Randy Moss has officially filed his retirement papers with the NFL.  While that does not mean we will never see Randy Moss on an NFL playing field again (his teammate of a month last season could tell you that); it does at least raise the possibility.   This is however, a player that already took a two year sabbatical in Oakland only to come back to the game with the greatest receiving season of all time in 2007, so I personally have a hard time believing he is done.  As a Vikings fan, I would love to see him finish the career the way it started – in purple, in the Metrodome, reviving the career of an aged former Eagles’ quarterback while passing the 15,000 yard and 1000 reception plateau.  I really do believe that Moss would still offer an upgrade at the wide receiver position to at least half of the teams in the NFL.   However, if Moss is indeed retired, what is his legacy?  How can I even begin to describe the player whose talent is indescribable?

Over a 13 year career, Randy Moss wowed fans with his athleticism.

The Viking’s Offensive Coordinator during Randy Moss’s rookie year, Brian Billick, once stated that Moss had a combination of height, speed, hands, and leaping ability that the NFL had never before seen and might never see again.  He went on to say that, “Every field or court he’s ever stepped on to play whatever game he was going to play, he was the best athlete.”   Patriots coach Bill Bellichick has referred to Moss as one of the most intelligent and greatest players that he had ever coached.   There is no doubt that Randy Moss is an incredibly gifted athlete and one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game but how will he be remembered?

I find it next to impossible to accurately describe the athletic capabilities of Randy Moss.  Sure I could throw out his 153 touchdown receptions, 14,858 yards receiving, and his 954 career receptions.  I could talk about his 29 career touchdowns of more than 50 yards or his 64 100 yard games.   I could mention that he has the 5th most touchdowns all-time of any non-quarterback.  I could remind you of his rookie record of 17 receiving touchdowns in 1998 or his all-time single season record of 23 receiving touchdowns in 2007.   But if I really want to describe the physical presence and game-changing ability of Randy Moss, I really need to only write one sentence:

On the two highest scoring offenses in NFL history (1998 Vikings and 2007 Patriots), Randy Moss was the highest scoring player.

I am usually not so good at being that straight to the point but that’s the simplest way to describe Moss’s athletic prowess.   Now in his “retirement” many have raised concern that Randy Moss was “not as great as he could have been”.   I would agree with that assessment.  Jerry Rice was twice the wide receiver Randy Moss is with only half the talent.  However Rice did not change the game quite like Randy did.  If indeed Moss was not at 100% for the majority of his career, than his numbers are even more staggering and an even stronger testament to his incredible ability.

I still remember the first time that I watched “the Freak” play on TV.   It was Week 5 of the 1998 NFL season and my parents let me stay up for Monday Night Football  to watch the Vikings, play against my favorite quarterback, Brett Favre, and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.   I remember that first possession as Randall Cunningham took the snap and threw the ball deep down the field to Randy Moss and he almost effortlessly reeled it in and ran for a 75 yard touchdown.  I had never seen anything quite like it.

Cris Carter had always been my favorite player growing up, and still is, and while all Carter did, “was catch touchdowns”, I knew that he could not do what this kid Randy had just done.  The 75 yard touchdown pass was called back due to an offensive holding call but it didn’t seem to hurt as Randy Moss would have 5 more receptions in the game for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns leading the Vikings to a perfect 5-0 record.  While many knew that Moss was special at the time, they had no idea he had just changed the entire landscape of the NFL.

It is my belief that the NFL has had five major turning points in the  Super Bowl era:

  1. The AFL’s New York Jets’ upset of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III which led to the AFL-NFL merger (1969)
  2. Hank Stram introducing the league to Gatorade and having it on the sidelines in the Kansas City Chiefs shocking route of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV (1970)
  3. Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson of the New York Giants sacking Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann from his blind side on Monday Night Football and ending his career (1985)
  4. Randy Moss’s Week 5  dominating performance at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football (1998)
  5. The re-introduction of instant replay and the introduction of coach’s challenges into the NFL (1999)

Just to be perfectly clear, I am suggesting that, like many of his acrobatic catches, Randy Moss singlehandedly changed professional football.  In the same way that Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson changed baseball, Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, and Michael Jordan changed basketball – Randy Moss changed the NFL.

First off, I really do believe that the 5th major turning point I mention (re-introduction of instant replay) was due in part to the fact that nobody could believe that a rookie wide receiver was able to leap above three defenders, catch the ball, come down with both feet inbounds, and shake off those same three defenders to run for a touchdown.  I have seen the footage of Moss’s Monday Night Football game against the Packers and his Thanksgiving football game against the Cowboys dozens of times, and 13 years later – I am still amazed.

His greater impact though is that he changed the way the game was played.  Brian Billick and Dennis Green (Vikings Head Coach 1992 – 2001) were two of the best offensive minds in the NFL during the 1990’s and both have mentioned how when it came to Randy Moss they had to forget everything they thought they knew about offense because when it came to Randy Moss, the same rules of offense just did not apply.   After his Week 5 coming out party on national television, teams everywhere were aware of what he could do and they still could not stop him.   Traditional defensive schemes did not seem to work.

Teams would put two, three, even four defenders at times on Moss and he would still find the endzone.  If he had not been playing opposite field from one of the greatest possession receivers of all time, they might have defended the Freak even more.

Following an impressive Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, Moss would face the Packers again in Week 12 at the Metrodome.  The Packers were able to slow Moss down some but not by much.  The Vikings won 28 – 14 and Randy Moss had 8 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown.   His statistical line against Green Bay  (who had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls)  in 1998 was better than some wide receivers had for the entire season.

As a result the following season the Green Bay Packers used their first four draft picks on defensive players – a free safety, two cornerbacks, and a defensive tackle.   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another divisional opponent, used the majority of their draft picks on the defensive players who would help lead them to a Super Bowl victory a few years later.   Never before had one player so obviously affected the draft choices of another team.

When I look at the NFL today, I see it being commonplace for safeties like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed to play “over the top” to prevent the big play.  I see the contracts that have been paid to “shut-down” cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Darelle Revis.   I assure you that when Asomugha receives the first check of his new contract, he had better send a thank you note to Randy Moss.   Because like Lawrence Taylor made a strong left tackle a necessity, Randy Moss bolstered the importance of safeties and cornerbacks.

The NFL that we watch today is very much a passing league with a lot more deep passing routes than previously seen.  Much like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, it took Randy Moss showing the NFL that you could succeed with a pass heavy offense before it really became a trend in the NFL.  Wide receivers like Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne have had success in offenses that were developed as a result of Randy Moss.

Antics like mooning the fans at Green Bay distract many from his athletic accolades

If Randy Moss has indeed retired, he will surely have a press conference.  Knowing him, he will even interview himself.  And over the next few days phrases like “straight cash homey” and mentions of “squirting referees”, “bashing police cars”, “mooning fans”, and “screaming at caterers” are sure to be mentioned when talking about his legacy.   These antics offended many fans and are sure to affect how Moss is remembered.

We will be reminded of how he famously told us all that, “I play when I want to play.”  And the fact of the matter is, right now, nobody’s offering him enough straight cash so he does not want to play.  But when he did play, it was like nothing we have ever seen before.  Offensive gurus had to create new playbooks,  defenses had to create new schemes, and teams had to change their entire drafting strategy.

And at the end of the day – that, more than anything, is the Freak’s legacy.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?  Let me hear ’em!