Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Contract Extensions: Niners, Browns Net Long-term Deals with Linebackers

Two notable players have reached agreements on the first two contract extensions of the 2012 off-season. First, it was the Cleveland Browns' inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson agreeing to a five-year, $42.5 million extension yesterday.

Then, earlier today, it was the San Francisco 49ers making a move on outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, signing him to a six-year extension worth $44.5 million ($17.5 million guaranteed).

Jackson, 28, is a product of the University of Maryland, where he won ACC Defensive Player of the Year (2005) and was a two-time All-American (2004, 2005). After being selected 34th overall in the 2006 draft by Cleveland, Jackson combined for just 274 tackles, three sacks and four interceptions in just 48 starts from 2006-09.

However, in 2011 Jackson bounced back from his injury-riddle 2010 campaign with an AFC-leading 158 combined tackles and a career-high 3.5 sacks. Unfortunately Jackson was overlooked for the AFC Pro Bowl squad, but that doesn't take away from his career year in Cleveland.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh clearly has a plan for his defense in mind, locking up the overall under-achieving Brooks for the next six years. Not to mention the stack of money they are guaranteed to be throwing his way. But there's no doubting what Harbaugh has in the team-oriented mind of his, considering he turned around the Niners' D from 16th overall in 2010 to 2nd overall this past season.

Brooks does make a great complement playing outside 'backer alongside the likes of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Brooks, 27, completed his first full season since entering the league as a third round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2006 Supplemental draft.

Brooks (50 combined tackles, 7 sacks, 1 FF, 3 passes defensed) had a career-year in one of the league's most dangerous defenses. He forced just one turnover all year, but has plenty of room to improve with permanent defensive figures around him (Willis, Bowman, etc.) for the next several years.

Although I wanna say Brooks may be a little overpaid with this extension for the simple fact he's had just one outlandish season so far, I think both will prove to be smart moves by these two teams.

Photo credit: belongs to Ohio.com

Sidenote: Now that the NFL Scouting Combine is over, I will start to provide insight on the prospects and draft preview in the coming weeks...including my 2012 Mock Draft!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Terrell Owens Proves he can still play: Scores 3 TDs in IFL Debut

Former Niners, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills and Bengals wideout Terrell Owens has further proved that he can still play the game of football after his performance in tonight's Indoor Football League game.

Owens, 38, suffered a torn ACL following the 2010 season, a season in which he put up 983 yards and nine TDs on 72 receptions in his lone season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincy opted not to re-sign his one-year, $2 million deal and he entered free agency.

After his April 2011 surgery, T.O. was cleared to return to action in October of 2011, but he received no offers from any NFL teams throughout the season despite efforts at setting up a public workout for scouts and coaches.

After sitting out the entire 2011 regular season, and battling financial problems, Owens has yet to give up his aspirations in returning to the league despite approaching 40 years old.

In the midst of his team search this past season, he agreed to a contract with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League on January 18. The contract was reportedly under $1 million, which just comes to show how desperate Owens is to get back on his feet.

The first game of the season was tonight (Allen hosted the Witchita Wild) on ESPN3.com. The Wranglers had no trouble taking care of the Wild in this one. Owens was named the game's MVP with three touchdown catches in his team's 50-30 victory to start the season off the correct way.

This was great publicity for the league, as I'm sure there were plenty of other NFL fans tuned in to see how Owens fared in his first game action in a year and a half. That is, of course, if they weren't immersed in the NBA's Slam Dunk contest (hint: I watched a little of both, and the Dunk contest was nothing special this year).

For those not aware of the situation, Owens is one of the NFL's best receivers of all-time and ranks second in career yards (15,934) and tied for second in TDs (153) behind only the legendary Jerry Rice in both categories. And there's no doubt he can still play this game at a professional level.

Now, whether or not an NFL team will be willing to hand Owens a 1-year contract and risk having him relapse and go back to his old ways of causing trouble in the locker room? Yeah, well, I'm not so sure that team exists right now. Not in the National Football League, at least.

I think this ship has sailed for you and possibly even your buddy Randy Moss, although he (Moss) just recently came out and said he'd be willing to sign a no-guaranteed-money contract to return to the league. Either way, first ballot Hall of Fame election for the both of you..

Photo credit
Brad Loper/Staff Photographer for Dallas News

Monday, February 20, 2012

Houston Texans Free Agency Frenzy: Who Will Stay and Who will go?

Today marks the first day that NFL teams can place the franchise tag on one of their free agent players this offseason. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that every team will place the tag on a player today, because they have until the beginning of March to do so. But we could see a couple teams start to make a decision.

This also means we can start to focus more on the actual offseason, meaning free agency and scouting for the upcoming April draft (Scouting Combine in Indianapolis begins on Wednesday).

One key team I will be watching closely this offseason, in addition to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, would have to be the Houston Texans.

The defending AFC South division champions have two huge impact players lined up to hit the free agency market, and there's a slight chance they could only bring one of those two players back for the 2012-13 season.

Bouncing back after a season-ending injury this season after just five games seems likely for free agent DE/OLB Mario Williams, who is looking to sign a long-term contract with his rookie contract expiring. The two-time Pro Bowler would cost Houston $23 million if he was to be franchise tagged, so it's highly likely he could test the free agent waters, in my opinion.
Houston's other impact player that could walk is running back Arian Foster, also coming off his rookie contract. Foster is a restricted free agent, but he may still receive offers from other teams. If he isn't franchised for some odd reason, Houston could still match any offers he gets from other teams.

All this being said, I would like to think that Houston will retain Foster, the 25-year old back who has run for 2,840 yards and 26 TDs the past two seasons, and let Super Mario walk. Again, Williams played just five games this season before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in a 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. In six seasons, Williams started 82 games, recording 192 tackles, 53 sacks, 11 passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles.

One of the team's best pass rushers will certainly be missed if they let him go, but there's no question they have proven this season that they can still play top-tier defense without him in the lineup.

Thanks to some breakout performances from young guys such as rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, in addition to hard-hitting inside linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans ranked second in overall defense (yards) and fourth in scoring defense on their way to a franchise-record 10-win season.

As for the offensive side of the ball, Matt Schaub should return as the opening day starter at quarterback in 2012 despite rookie T.J. Yates doing a fine job filling in for the injured Schaub. With the duo in Foster and Ben Tate continuing to gain ground, the only huge hole on offense seems to be at the receiver position.

Andre Johnson, Houston's 30-year old five-time Pro Bowl wideout, battled a right hamstring injury all season long, starting just seven games in 2011. He, aside from veteran Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels, is pretty much the only all-star caliber talent Schaub has in the passing game. None of the receiving corps will hit the market, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Houston go after a target or two either in free agency or through the draft.

On the line, center Chris Meyers is a free agent as well, but I have no reason to believe that he wont be brought back this offseason. Other than that, Houston's line seems to be pretty solidified for 2012, with tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston, and guards Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel anchoring the offensive line for Gary Kubiak's squad.

Don't be surprised if Mario Williams signs a record-breaking contract with a team other than Houston, and we see Houston with a top three rushing attack led by Foster and Tate again in 2012.

Photo credit
Williams: Bob Levey/Getty Images
Foster: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Monday, February 13, 2012

Randy Moss Returning to the Game in 2012?

Earlier today via Ustream, wide receiver Randy Moss told his fans that he has decided to make a comeback to the league in 2012. According to Pro Football Talk, he was quoted saying "I miss football and just wanna play again."

He had retired before the season began, on August 1, 2011, due to what he said was 'family issues.'

The six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All Pro turned 35 years old today, and left the game in 2010 on bad terms. Being seen as a locker room cancer, Moss left New England for Tennessee after four games (9 Rec., 139 yards, 3 TD) where he played eight games (6 Rec., 80 yards, 0 TD). He finally ended the 2010 campaign with a return to Minnesota, where he was supposed to revitalize his career with what little he had left in the tank (13 Rec., 174 yards, 2 TD).

Moss, a combined career-low 28 receptions for 393 yards and five TDs with the three teams, showed the league that he may have been nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career in the '10 regular season.

In his 15-year professional career, Moss has put up astonishing numbers. After breaking in to the league as a rookie in 1998 with one of the most explosive offenses this league has seen (set a rookie record with 17 TD catches), Moss put up 1,000 yards receiving in 10 different seasons. He also caught double digit TDs in nine different seasons, including leading the league in '98, '00, '03, '07 and '09.
I think it's fine and dandy that Moss wants to make a comeback to the league, but I'm not so sure it's a good idea. I mean, he's already done enough to hurt his legacy. There's no question his career numbers of 954 receptions (ninth all-time), 14,858 yards (fifth all-time) and 153 TDs (tied with Terrell Owens for second all-time) are enough to get him in to Canton. But don't you think jumping from team to team in his final year will put a dent on his legacy already?

Not to mention he was a non-factor at the receiver position in his final season, he didn't seem to have his head in the game. Although that could also be because the family issues he mentioned were on his mind the whole season.

So, despite no one wanting the 38-year old Terrell Owens last season–coming off a 983 yard/9 TD season in Cincinnati–or this year for that matter, I think someone will take one last shot at the 35-year old Moss.

But what Moss will have to understand is that the contract will obviously only be a one-year contract, and I would expect it to be worth no more than a couple million. If he's looking for anything more than that, then the options available to him may be a little bit more limited.

Luckily for Mr. Moss, there's a team out there waiting to take a chance on him.

Oh, and by the way happy 35th birthday, Randy!

Photo credit: found on otrsportsonline.com

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New York Giants' Parade/Fan Celebration at MetLife Stadium (Photos)

With the New York Giants Super Bowl victory parade making its way through downtown Manhattan, followed by the fan celebration inside MetLife Stadium at 3 p.m. (eastern time) yesterday I think it's safe to say we can finally put the 2011-12 season to bed.

Here are some photos I found of both the parade and "after party" celebration at MetLife Stadium, in which the players and head coach Tom Coughlin talked publicly to fans about the season and Super Bowl victory.

It was a great day to be a New Yorker, unless of course you're a Jets fan.

(All photos courtesy of Getty Images)

Fan Celebration:

We can officially enter full off-season mode, starting in 5...4...3...2..and...1, go!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ricky Williams Plans to Announce Retirement After 11 Seasons

The New York Giants celebrating Super Bowl XLVI in the style of a parade through downtown Manhattan isn't the only NFL news making headlines today, Tuesday February 7.

Former New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ricky Williams will reportedly announce his retirement from the game, a source told ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The one-time Pro Bowler, winner of the 1998 Heisman trophy while playing at the University of Texas, played 11 seasons in the NFL upon entering the league as a fifth overall pick in the '99 draft. Hall of Fame head coach Mike Ditka, then coach of the Saints, moved up to snag him early in the draft.

Williams had a solid career, when he was focused on football, but I believe he may have been one of the most-touted college ballplayers the league has seen. Having high hopes as a Heisman winner, Ditka spent all of the team's draft picks in 1999 to move up in the draft and select him, the trade also included first and third rounders the following year.

The trade involving New Orleans and the Redskins has gone down as one of the most well-known draft-day trades in recent history: one player in exchange for eight draft picks.
Coach Ditka, nearing the end of his coaching career, went all-in to get his hands on Williams, who ended up spending just three seasons as the Saints' running back. He ran for just over 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in 38 starts, but the Saints posted a 15-33 record over that span and Ditka was fired as head coach.

The following season Williams was traded to Miami, once again warranting a hefty price–four draft picks, two of which were first rounders. Williams stepped up his game, setting a career- and league-high 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season with the 'Phins. That year, 2002, was his only Pro Bowl and All Pro selection of his career.

In 2003 Williams ran for 1,372 yards and nine TDs, but his yards per carry average dropped to just 3.5 after carrying a heavy workload of 392 rushing attempts.

Following Miami's 10-6 season, just missing out on the postseason, Williams allegedly failed a drug test and was facing a fine and four-game suspension for the 2004 season. And failed another just before training camps began. He stunned the Miami fan base by announcing his early retirement from the game of football on August 2, 2004.

The Dolphins finished 4-12 and Ricky took the year off studying the Ancient Indian System of holistic medicine at the California College of Ayurveda.

As we all had anticipated, Williams returned to the game in 2005. Upon being reinstated by the league and serving his four-game suspension Ricky ran for 743 yards and six touchdowns in '05 for the 9-7 Dolphins. More trouble came his way, however, as he was suspended for the entire 2006 regular season after violating the NFL's drug policy for a fourth time.
Williams signed a one-year contract with the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, where he rushed for 526 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Controversy brewed after Williams' signing, and a rule ("The Ricky Williams" rule) was put in place prior to the 2007 season that prevented a suspended NFL player from signing with a CFL team.

Williams made just one start with Miami in '07, but showed signs of rebirth the following two years, putting up 1,780 yards and 15 TDs from 2008-09. The last two years he has had his role on his respective squad reduced, as he ran the ball just 108 times this past year in his lone season in Baltimore.

The retirement announcement doesn't come as a surprise to me, and shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone else. Williams signed the deal with Baltimore over the offseason as one last push to get himself a Super Bowl ring.

Though the contract was two years, the retirement makes plenty sense. At 34 years old, Slick Rick knew his role would be no more than third down back in Baltimore, and aiding youngster Ray Rice in developing as a complete player.

Known as the type of guy to keep to himself in the locker room throughout his career, I would expect a very low-key retirement for Williams. After eclipsing 10,000 career rushing yards this season, it's safe to say Ricky's career was a success, though I think there was much more that could have been achieved had he been consistent with his performance.

I don't believe his career warrants a Hall of Fame selection, though he did happen to be just the 26th player in history to reach the 10,000 rushing yards milestone. However, there's no doubt he should have any shame in his on-field success. It's not often you see a guy play running back in this league until they are 34 years old like Ricky did.

Despite his troubles with drugs, Ricky Williams was a stand-up guy and was generally well-liked by the teammates that understood his way of life. Quiet, reserved, yet well-disciplined. Solid career he put up over those 11 years, and not enough people have commended him for it. So to you, Ricky, I tip my hat.

Photo credit
With Longhorns: borrowed from ESPN.com
With Dolphins: borrowed from nj.com

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Patriot Killer?: Eli Does it Again

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has done it again, beating the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI to capture his second Vince Lombardi trophy for his head coach Tom Coughlin. His performance (30/40, 296 yards, 1 TD; 88-yard GW scoring drive with a minute to play) earned him his second SB MVP award, which is one more than his older brother Peyton.

Even more impressive may be that he did so in his older brother's home stadium–Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN.

The result brings up a couple of questions surrounding both Eli and his G-Men, and quarterback Tom Brady and his Pats squad. Is Eli elite? Yes. He is now 8-3 in the postseason (4-0 this postseason) as he threw 9 TDs and just one interceptions over a five week span in January/February. He also defeated future Hall of Famer Brady in two separate Super Bowls. So, yes, I do believe Eli should be considered among the elite and his performance clearly demonstrates that. He out Brady-ed Brady in the fourth quarter, and did that on a consistent basis all season long.

Eli should, and will, be considered a more successful postseason quarterback than his brother, and he joins an elite class of signal callers with multiple championships and multiple MVP awards.

As for Brady? He is now 3/5 in his record-tying five Super Bowl appearances, with both losses coming to the Coughlin/Manning tandem. He did, however, set a Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive completions during the second and third quarters tonight and looked exceptional for the majority of the game. Two Justin Tuck sacks and multiple hits on NY's part may have rattled Brady a bit, throwing off his rhythm. But in all, both quarterbacks played exceptionally well tonight, as expected.
Despite Eli's great overall performance, especially in the fourth quarter, it was New York's running back tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw that essentially won the Giants the game. New York's front 7 put some pressure on Brady, and Eli's targets played well, but it was the 28 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown that allowed New York to control the clock.

They ran for seven first downs and kept Brady off the field for well over half the game, in fact they held the ball for nearly 40 minutes (37:05) and kept the Giants' defense well-rested. Pulling out ahead early allowed New York to focus a little more on the running attack, setting up Eli for some successful play action plays.

Head coach Bill Belichick's decision to allow Ahmad Bradshaw to run the ball in from six yards out with :57 to play will be questioned by fans and analysts for the next several months, I'm sure. But there's no doubt I would have done the exact same thing in that situation. If Bradshaw kneels the ball at the one, Eli could have run the clock all the way down to under :20 and sent Tynes in to kick the go-ahead chip-shot field goal.

Giving Brady the shot to drive New England down the field with a minute to play gave New England their best shot, and dropped passes by Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez didn't help the cause too much. Although I loved the clutch 4th and 16 reception by Branch. Gronkowski came close to bringing in the hail mary on the final play, but New York was able to knock the ball down before he could get to it.

In all, I was thoroughly impressed by both quarterbacks, and if both have shown signs that they are not done. They both may find themselves in yet another Super Bowl in the coming years. If I was New England, I'd work on improving that defense though.

My pre-season prediction of New England winning the Super Bowl and Wes Welker being named the game's MVP didn't prove to be true, and I have fallen to 7-4 for the postseason (2-2 in WC, 4-0 in Divisional, 1-1 in conference and 0-1 in SB). But, I can't complain with the outcome of this season.

Great game, great season. One more note before I sign off for the evening: Mario Manningham's sideline catch in NY's game-winning drive will be replayed for years to come. Not quite as miraculous as David Tyree's "helmet catch" in Super Bowl XLII, but it was eye-popping nevertheless.

Another fun-filled season is in the books, now the countdown to the 2012 draft in April officially begins!

Photo credit
Mario Manningham: Win McNamee/Getty Images

All-Out Blitz's Super Bowl Prediction

Today's the day we've all been waiting for: Super Bowl Sunday. Since I have yet to announce my Super Bowl prediction I think it's time, considering we are just over six hours away from the opening kickoff in Indianapolis.

I have conducted an experiment in order to fully get a feel for who everyone thinks will win the game, a game in which I think may be one of the most evenly-matched Super Bowls in the league's history–New England is favored by 3 1/2 but I think New York may be the real favorites. The experiment included a simulation using Madden (for my PS2) and Whatifsports.com's free online simulator.

For the Madden simulation I completed a best of nine series in which the two teams played 4-minute quarters (CPU vs. CPU), because I didn't have the time to do complete 15-minute quarters. As for the WIS simulation, all you need to do is set it up and click "play game" and they give you the results right away, so I did a best-of-11 simulation for that one.

In total, there was 20 simulated games played, and here are the results of each "experiment:"

Madden: New England 5 games, New York 4

Average score...NE 12.8, NYG 12.1

Clearly, I don't trust Madden's results will be very accurate. First of all, both quarterbacks played poorly in a majority of the nine games. Secondly, both offenses are bound to score more than 12 or 13 points. While I do agree with how close this game will end up being, the average scores don't seem very reasonable, in my opinion.

WIS: New York 7, New England 4

Average score...NYG 29.4, NE 30.4

New England averaged a whole point more than the winning Giants, which shows me they don't believe the Patriots will have much trouble in blocking New York's front seven. Between the two teams, the offenses were held under 20 points a mere three times, and put up 40 or more on four separate occasions.
What All-Out Blitz thinks

Considering the secondaries of the two teams, and the passing offenses they are matching up against, I think that Whatifsports.com's simulation will end up being much more accurate when it comes to the amount of points being put up on the scoreboard. Both Eli Manning and Tom Brady will be throwing the ball 40-50 times, possibly even 60.

Running games wont be as strong as in past Super Bowls, unfortunately. This could make it hard to put the game away late if one team finds themselves up by a touchdown or two in the fourth quarter.

The 2007 Super Bowl and the match-up earlier in the season means absolutely nothing right now. The media likes to blow this out of proportion and try to compare this game to games in the past, but the players and coaches are focused on today, and doing all they can in their power to win this game.

The key matchup will be New England's offensive line, and two over-sized tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and New York's front 7–led by Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. In the end, Gronkowski's ankle will be fine to play on and he could end up making it a rough day for New York's linebackers and secondary.

Say what you want about New England's secondary, but they have certainly stepped up their game a bit in the postseason compared to the regular season. Vince Wilfork up front will help clog up the middle and contain Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs so they can focus solely on stopping Manning and the passing game.

From a fan standpoint, the outcome of this game plays no effect on how I sleep or how I handle the rest of my week, meaning I really am not cheering for either team and I will simply be taking this game from a professional standpoint.

If Brady wins, he will no doubtably go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play this game. His career accolades would include most postseason wins, four Super Bowls in five appearances, 50 TD passes in one season, 5,000 yards in one season, 7 Pro Bowls, two MVPs, two SB MVPs, two First Team All Pros, etc. His stats stack up with Joe Montana (like I pointed out in the Brady/Montana debate article), so why shouldn't he be seen as the greatest ever if he wins today?

And if Manning wins, that would make it twice that he defeated the mighty Pats in the Super Bowl, allowing him to pass his older brother Peyton with two Super Bowl rings and doing so in Peyton's town and stadium. He'd improve to 8-3 in the postseason, as well. Having two rings would even put him in the talks of a possible call from the Hall after he hangs up his cleats for good.

Positive things would come no matter who wins this game, in my opinion at least. So, when it comes to predicting the winner and score of the game I think it's safe to say I will be pulling no bias, just like I always do.

However, I do feel an obligation to pick the Patriots to win this game considering I predicted them winning the Super Bowl in my 2011 Season Preview article posted back on September 11. I almost lose some of my credibility when you see who I had them going up against (the Eagles), but nevertheless I believed the Pats would win it before the season started, so I'll stick by my pre-season prediction.

Patriots win 28-24, Wes Welker named the game's MVP

Brady's line will protect him much better than they did back in Super Bowl XLII, and he tears up New York's secondary for 250 yards. Manning has a big day as well, but I think it will come down to Brady elevating his play over the younger Manning brother (although I'm still a firm believer in Eli, not one of his many critics).

Photo credit
Helmets/Lombardi trophy: Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hall of Fame Class of 2012 Announced: Six more to be Inducted into Canton

Earlier this evening the League announced that six players will be inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the beginning of August 2012: Running back Curtis Martin, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, cornerback Jack Butler, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf and DE/OLB Chris Doleman.

With 17 finalists to choose from, there were plenty left off the final ballot that are well-deserving of a spot in the Hall as well. Wideout Cris Carter, running back Jerome Bettis and head coach Bill Parcells are among the finalists left out. Carter and Bettis, I felt, should have been on the way to Canton this year, but their day is coming soon.

Curtis Martin, 11 years as Patriots/Jets RB

In his second year of eligibility Martin received the call ahead of Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, and deservedly so. In just over a decade of professional play, Martin went to five Pro Bowls and racked in 100 total touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving).

Martin is without a doubt one of the most underrated runners in the league's history, retiring as the fourth-leading rusher in history (14,101 yards). Most notably, however, may be the fact that he started less games than two of the three running backs ahead of him on the list (Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton). I'm glad the voters got this one right and chose Martin ahead of Bettis.

Cortez Kennedy, 11 years as Seahawks DT

I wasn't so sure the voters would sway towards voting Kennedy in, but he gets the nod in his seventh year of eligibility. Just like Martin, Kennedy played 11 seasons in the league, racking up 568 tackles, 58 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and 3 INT in 153 starts at D-tackle.

Kennedy, his fourth consecutive year as a finalist, will join wideout Steve Largent as the only two Seahawks to play their entire respective careers in Seattle and be elected to the Hall. Nine of his 11 seasons were Pro Bowl-worthy as he captured the Defensive Player of the Year award in the 1992 season despite his team winning just two games.

I will admit, I didn't really think Kennedy's career was Hall-worthy until I really sat down and thought hard about it. Well-deserved, indeed, Mr. Kennedy.
Dermontti Dawson, 13 years as Steelers C

Dawson had a tough job coming in to the league, having to replace legend and fellow Hall of Famer Mike Webster at center upon his entrance in to the league. Head coach Chuck Noll put Dawson up to the challenge, moving him there in his second season.

Noll did not regret the decision as Dawson went on to start every single game for 10 straight seasons ('89-'98). Throughout his career, Dawson was named seven Pro Bowls and six All Pro teams and was the epitome of consistency on the Steelers' o-line. I actually had the chance to talk with Dawson about a month or so ago and posted it on January 10 (you can check it out in the archives).

Willie Roaf, 13 years as Saints/Chiefs OT

The great thing about Mr. Roaf, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 11 out of 13 of his professional seasons, is that he seemed to have been just as effective in his final couple of seasons as he was in his prime with New Orleans in the late 1990s.

Roaf was named to the All-Decade team for the '90s, and at age 32 left for Kansas City to finish off his HOF career with four Pro Bowl seasons in 58 starts as the team's left tackle. Durability and consistency are key for offensive lineman in this game, and both Dawson and Roaf had exactly that throughout their careers.

Chris Doleman, 15 years as Vikings/49ers/Falcons DE/OLB

Doleman started off his prolonged career in Minnesota, as the fourth overall pick out of Pittsburgh in 1985. He played his first two seasons as the team's LOLB, accumulating 162 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was then moved to defensive end, and in his first year at the position sacked 11 quarterbacks in just 12 starts.

Doleman went on to record double digits in sacks seven more times in his career, establishing himself as one of the league's dominating pass rushers. His 150.5 career sacks ranks fourth all-time since sacks have become an official stat in 1982. Doleman doesn't receive as much credit as he should, considering he was one of the most dangerous pass rushers of his time.
Jack Butler, 9 years as Steelers DB

Butler, this year's class' senior inductee, is the second of two Steelers in the 2012 HOF class. And, just like Dawson, Butler spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh franchise. Butler's career went from 1951-1959 where he was one of the team's top defensive threats.

His 52 career interceptions was second-most all time during his days (ranks tied for 26th now, along with two other HOFers). Though he intercepted a lot of passes in his 103 games, it was his tackling that may have gotten him over the hump and in to the Hall.

Just missed the cut:

Cris Carter--fourth-most receptions (1,101), eighth-most receiving yards (13,899), fourth-most receiving TDs (130) in 16 NFL seasons w/ PHI, MIN, MIA...eight Pro Bowls, two All Pros.

Jerome Bettis--sixth-most rushing yards (13,662), tied for 10th-most rushing TDs (91) in 13 NFL seasons w/ STL, PIT...six Pro Bowls, two All Pros.

Bill Parcells--172-130 career record in 22 years as NFL head coach (NYG, DAL, NE, NYJ)...two Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl appearances, eight division championships.

Who's on next year's final ballot?

Carter, Bettis, Parcells, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Charles Haley, Will Shields

Photo credit
Kennedy: borrowed from Seahawks Blog
Doleman: found on life.com

Super Bowl Weekend Festivities

I must admit it, this year I have probably watched more Super Bowl coverage than I ever have before. The Pro Bowl seems to help a little with shortening the two week wait in between the Conference Championships and Super Bowl Sunday, but that doesn't mean it isn't still agonizingly long.

This year's coverage has ranged from anywhere between the Eli Manning/Tom Brady legacies following the outcome of the game, the Rob Gronkowski ankle injury and whether or not he'll play, the matchup between New York's front 7 and Brady's protectors up front. There was even a segment on NFL Live explaining how many Tom Brady's there actually are in the Boston area (there's a lot). There's also been a lot of buzz surrounding Colts' franchise quarterback Peyton Manning and owner Jim Irsay regarding the team's future.

ESPN apparently ran of things to talk about earlier this week, because they began to ask all of their analysts who they think would win the big game...and this includes the analysts from other sports that know absolutely nothing about the National Football League.
Another key piece of information to take in about this Super Bowl matchup is that it may be one of the most evenly-played match-ups in Super Bowl history–on paper anyways. Las Vegas has made New England favorites by 3.5, but if you polled the entire Nation, it's likely you will get about a 50/50 consensus. New York won the regular season matchup between the two, and also won the last time these two teams played in the Big Dance (Super Bowl XLII).

Considering they've had one of the hottest defenses in the last month or so, not to mention Eli Manning has been playing the best football of his career, I'd like to think the 9-7 Giants should be favored rather than New England. So I believe it's rather clear as to how close this game will, in fact, end up being.

Super Bowl week, and weekend, isn't just about the game. Lucky for us fans and avid followers it's a week dedicated to the great game of American football. Players all over the league make appearances on Radio Row and parties all over the hosting city (this year it's Indianapolis).
This year there's been an addition to the Saturday festivities. As usual the 2012 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced at 5:30 p.m. eastern time, as selected from the 15 modern day finalists and two senior finalists. But then later on this evening at around 9 p.m. ET the inaugural NFL Honors will take place live in Indianapolis (aired on NBC). The NFL Honors is an award show that will reveal the NFL's 2011 awards in a banquet-style setup.

Personally I think this is a great way to end this busy week and kick off the 2012 Super Bowl for tomorrow's action.

I would have absolutely loved to attend the Super Bowl and participate in the Super Bowl week festivities as either a fan or media member, but maybe it'll happen one day..

Stick around for my post later today in which I will give my take on the 2012 HOF class, and my Super Bowl prediction post will be coming either later tonight or tomorrow morning. Thanks!

Photo credit
Lucas Oil Stadium: washingtonpost.com
XLVI: borrowed from Google

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Best to Ever Play the Position: Tony Gonzalez Deserves More Respect

In the wake of Super Bowl week, all the talk has been centered around New England's tight end Rob Gronkowski. Will he play, or will he sit? After spraining his ankle after an awkward tackle against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship, Gronk has been seen in a walking boot earlier this week.

When seen at yesterday's Media Day, the second-year pro had taken off the walking boot. But after missing practice again today (only two practice days remain before Super Sunday) the question still lingers.

Personally I don't see him missing the game. No way he will allow himself to miss what will be the biggest game/day of his life...especially considering what he means to this New England offense.

Gronk, 22, has blossomed in to perhaps the league's most well-known tight end within about a season. He broke on to the football scene with 546 yards and 10 TDs as a rookie in 2010, but he followed that up with a record-setting performance in 16 games this season: 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 TDs. The single greatest season ever put together by a tight end. He led the league in receiving TDs and set TE records for most yards and most TDs.
The sudden stardom of the bruising 6'6'' and 265 pound end has led to the expression "Gronk'd." His powerful spike, in celebration of a TD, has been known as a Gronkowski trademark by many, and he even has t-shirts and songs in dedication to his athletic ability and on-field success–mainly in the New England area.

This has made for a sad, sad day in Kansas City and Atlanta. The two cities that the 12-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez has played in. Still a Falcon, the 35 going-on-36-year old veteran has lost his touch. He has put up 15 hard-working and well-fought seasons, starting 222 career games and missing just one start since 1998 (he didn't start any games in his rookie season, 1997).

Gonzalez has already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and he doesn't even think he's going to retire for another couple of seasons. Yet new faces such as Gronk, New Orleans' second-year pro Jimmy Graham, New England's Aaron Hernandez and San Francisco's Vernon Davis have stolen the spotlight away from the blue collar Gonzo.

The worst part, in my opinion, is that I don't think it even really bothers Gonzalez at all. Young kids have seemed to have chosen Gronk as their hero, rather than Gonzalez. I'm not trying to take anything away from Gronk and Graham, or anyone else, because they have played hard and deserve some credit as well. But I'm disappointed that fans have seemingly overlooked perhaps one of the league's greatest receiving tight end of all time.

The NFL has recently put together an official magazine (NFL the Magazine) to which I have subscribed to. The most recent issue–just the second one made, actually–had an article in it written by Lisa Altobelli that I think everyone who calls themself an NFL fan needs to read.

Of course I was well aware of what Gonzo has done for the league before I read the article, but the article reiterates his greatness and reassures fans that his loss of the spotlight hasn't phased him one bit. Just like every other season, Gonzalez prepares the same way and goes about his business. According to the article, as well, his teammates have started calling him "Low-key Tony G," which is very fitting for the calm-minded Tony.

What has he done over his decade-and-a-half of play? Simple, he has racked up 1,149 receptions, 13,338 yards and 95 TDs. His reception total is second all-time to the great Jerry Rice, his yardage total 11th all-time and his TD total is 9th all-time (he is six away from passing Steve Largent at No. 6). All three categories rank No. 1 among every other tight end to ever play the game.

What I like most about him, however, is his humbleness and the fact that he focuses more on his blocking techniques than his catching ability because obviously run blocking is No. 1 priority for all tight ends. Their second responsibility is catching passes. He's first one in the facility and often the last one out, according to many of his teammates as well.
What I believe is the reason for his lack of respect among NFL fans, and some experts too, is that he's never really been in those big games. In fact, he's never been fortunate to win a playoff game. In five tries, Gonzo is 0-5 in postseason play. But that's not his fault!

Gonzo hasn't exactly been the brightest star in those postseason games (16 Rec., 157 yards, 2 TDs, 9.8 YPR), but the tight end isn't going to be the game-changer in a big playoff game. He's never really been on an exceptional team and he's actually never really had an exceptional quarterback throwing him passes.

There's Matt Ryan in Atlanta right now, but he's only been there for three seasons. In Kansas City 1997-2008 Gonzo's best quarterback was probably Trent Green ('01-'06). Other than Green, Gonzo had the likes of Elvis Grbac, Rich Gannon, Tyler Thigpen and Damon Huard throwing him passes. Gronkowski/Hernandez, Graham and Jason Witten, who did they have throwing them passes? Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Tony Romo. Even Vernon Davis has had a more capable arm in Alex Smith throwing him the ball (despite 2011 being his first solid season).

The fact Gonzalez has been so healthy, reliable and productive throughout his career with below-average signal callers throwing him passes just makes me respect him even more. Catching passes over defenders seems to come naturally for the 6'5'' former basketball standout.

So, before we go naming Gronk the greatest tight end ever, and possibly a future HOFer (in his second season) if he goes out there on Sunday and rocks New York's defense, lets not forget about poor old Gonzo down south in Atlanta.

Photo credit
With Atlanta: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
With Kansas City: borrowed from Sports Crunch