Covering The Redskins

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Location: Bristol, CT

This blog is focussed on the psychology of sports: The games, the participants and the fans who watch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009-- Hello, I promise to start writing again..

I'm going to start blogging again..

Check out MeTalkAthlete.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 21-- The Opt Out

Meet the new New York Yankees. They reside in Washington and they've never hit a home run or stolen a base. But they will be part of the biggest arms war in sports in 2 short years.

The NFL owners might be the ones who ultimately kill their own golden goose. The most successful and profitable sports league in the United States is in position to go baseball on us, radically changing the competitive landscape come 2010. The owners opted out of their current labor deal which gives the players a whooping 60 percent of all revenues.
Feeling they've conceeded too much on a group of players who leave them little recourse in terms of recouping those sums should a bad decision be made, the owners have determined to scarp the plan. The problem is when/if the current labor pact runs out, the two sides have an agreed cap less season to come. That's right, no salary cap at all..

Who would that help? Quite obviously, the Redskins and Cowboys. Both big spenders in free agency anyway (and now with Dallas set to open a state of the art gem in Arlington, TX with the league's highest seating capacity), the America's team title might belong to who's owner opens up the wallet more often.
The Giants will be opening a new stadium as well.. The frugal Eagles may be forced into a radical shift of salary spending just to keep up.
No one has spent more on free agents in the past decade then the Redskins, who in turn have had little in terms of success to show for their efforts. But in an uncapped year, they'll be able to outbid for every free agent at every position. Teams will be forced to lock players into longer term deals because small markets like Cincinnati, Green bay, etc. will have no shot retaining a star.

In vogue right now is the malcontent line. Brian Urlacher has 5 years left on his current deal yet is skipping voluntary workouts because he wants a better contract. Chad Johnson has four years left on his pact and has promised to never play for the Bengals. Waiting out a season for their teams to drop them if they hold onto their convictions would pay off in an uncapped year. They could recoop all lost wages, currently an impossibility due to cap restrictions.

Parody has been behind the continued growth and popularity of a league who had a shocking Super Bowl champ, and survived a media hyped cheating scandal by the league's standard. Nothing turns the TV needle in the industry then football Sundays and the mammoth Super Bowl viewing. The draft has even become some of ESPN's most watched programming. Yet, the league can't seem to come to terms on a long term deal in turn might allow their league to become a have and have nots landscape.

selfishly, we all know the Skins would be one of the major players in this. January football would certainly follow on a relatively annual basis. Their divisuion figures to be among the most profitable and competitive with three majoe cities with major revenue streams going against one another. But imagine the NFC South, with four smaller less competitive markets getting a playoff team with a home game in every season only to be set up for the monsters from the East..
Are pre-season games even worthwhile if the team's have no semblence of competition? Will viewing of the average NFL game decrease if the team's are perceived as being part of a caste system? How will attendence be affected in cities like New Orleans or Charlotte should their teams become glorified farm teams? What will the prices for Redskins, Cowboys, Patriots, Giants etc. tickets be should the reality of super teams emerge?

Two years is a long time for the two sides to find a happy medium. The players want more of their deals to be guaranteed. I don't blame them. The owners want easier forms of recourse should an off field incident threaten their playing status (see Mike Vick and Pac Man Jones). I don't blame them.
There are certainly better ways for both sides to achieve their assurances without letting the whole thing turn into a wild west cash grab for the big boys. Gene Upshaw promised if the owners let the league have an uncapped year, the players wouldn't agree to go back. Should that happen, we will have seen the end of the NFL as we know it. The Skins might have many Lombardi trophies to show off, but if their competitive advantage was significantly higher then 70% of the league, what does that really mean?

OK men

Thursday, May 08, 2008

April 8-- Live from Bristol

Hey everyone.. So I'm settling in here at the ESPN headquarters in lovely Bristol CT.. In case you were curious, you won't see me on air for a few more weeks.. But I'll keep ypu posted when that day is coming..

So I'm reading about the Skins mini-camp this weekend (weird because I never really needed to read about the team) and I'm getting the impression that the Z-Man might have been a little underestimated in regard to his training regimen..

I found it strange that a new coach would not take advatange of all the available practice days allotted. New coaches are privy to extra off-season practices then returning coaches but Jim Zorn declined, likely for numerous reasons. His team has five pre-season games so he will get an extra week to ten days of actual training camp. He also was as surprised as the rest of us to be named head coach, so the lost time preparaing for practice might have affected his decision.

That said, here's the impression I got from talking to some folks in Ashburn, this guy's practices are going to be a little rougher then first expected. In turn, Antwaan Randle-El suffers a knee injury and has surgery, Clinton Portis is sitting out a practice with a hip injury (not a surprise considering his disdain for practicing especially this time of year) and Jason Campbell did so many reps in a new crouched position he slightly pulled his hamstring. The last is obviously the most disconcerting. If the quarterback is uncomfortable (obviously since he pulled a major muscle) to what length does that affect his overall mechanics. Campbell is a tall guy, they can't make him shorter so maybe they need to work with him as he is instead of trying to change how he does it.. But I defer to Zorn on this one and assume it's just a minor setback in what will be the hopeful growth of Campbell, but that news was troublesome to say the least.

Zorn's practices were desribed to me as vigorous, so we'll see how that plays and what the carryover effect is cpme June and into camp..

OK men

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27-- The draft

The Redskins pulled off one of the more shrewd moves under the Dan Snyder ownership by trading out of the first round acquiring two second round picks from Atlanta (while exchanging a few other selections) and ultimately picking at need and getting what is believed to be the top receiver in the draft. So the Skins nab Devin Thomas, a player believed a possible selection at 21 had he fallen to that point in the draft.. Vinny Cerrato had told me numerous times he beleived the draft was very deep at receiver (a need spot if the team couldn't land Chad Johnson/Anquan Boldin etc) in the second and third rounds.. He was very right with no receiver going in the first round..
So they select Thomas.. Then they go with Fred Davis, who certainly is a highly regarded prospect out of USC, but with the financial committment already in place for Chris Cooley, how he'll fit in will be in question.. maybe this is a team that can run two tight ends, only Jim Zorn can answer that..

The third second round pick is where I have a some apprehention. The Skins personally worked out Malcolm Kelly, the receiver from Oklahoma, but it was my understanding that the Skins didn't think Thomas would be available to them when they drafted at 21 or at whatever spot they landed had they traded down. Once Thomas fell into their lap, the necessity to spend that high a pick on Kelly seems moot.. So the Skins try to solve a void with two potential prospects.. Is this overkill? Possibly. Does this mean James Thrash is in danger of losing a roster spot? Possibly. Does this mean Chad Johnson is definitely out of the Skins potential plans? Possibly and probably.

Day two.. I love the selection of Colt Brennan, QB from Hawaii with a 6th round pick.. This is a win win for the Skins. Brennan owns NCAA records mainly because he was a competent gunslinger for a kitshcy offense that does nothing but throw. He certainly is not mobile, had some character issues which led to a transfer to Hawaii but by all accounts has been a good citizen since going to Paradise. The 3rd QB on this roster right now is former Terp Sam Hollenbach, therefore, this spot is open for a young prospect to grow.. Todd Collins should and could be the back-up for two seasons. Jason Campbell is the starting quarterback.. Brennan comes here with no pressure, prove you are worth a roster spot, and sit back and learn from Zorn for two seasons. At that point, you are either the primary back-up, or who knows...

I also applaud the team for taking the best punter in college football.. Derrick Frost has been an erratic performer and needs competition. Spending a low round selection on that was imparative.
The Redskins got a CB, DE and a swing O-lineman, all needs, but honestly I know so little about any of them, we'll see if they are hots or misses..

In all, I like what the Skins did, targeted WR as a need, got value by trading down and landing the right guy with their first pick.. The next two 2nd's need to be scrutinized. I firmly believe in the "best player available" mantra but the next two picks stunk of overkill.. Still, a core with emerging players like Kelly and Thomas with ARE and Santana could be an upgrade, certainly if one emerges, the other doesn't need to be an immediate impact player. The inherent competition the Redskins just created will be one of the most intriguing of camp..
Day two is day two. You take your shots. Grade: B to B+

Friday, April 25, 2008

April 25-- Skins Pick will be...

The Redskins are not moving up in this weekend's draft unless somehow, someway the deal involves a convoluted way of getting one of the three primary receivers possibly available: Roy Williams, Chad Johnson or Anquan Boldin.. My guess is no deal involves them moving up under any such scenario, so lets assume they stay or move down..

The pick at 21 tells us everything we need to know about their confidence that either Boldin or more likely Johnson is a Skin by the start of training camp.. Should the Skins go with Oklahoma WR Malcolm Kelly with the 21st pick, then they are saying that they are convinced Cincinnati is not going to deal Johnson despite his proclamations most recently that the Bengals "will not win this war."

If the Skins take Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling who they went and watched work out at an unusual last minute field session yesterday, then that tells you that the believe Johnson is still in play.. Or if they select CB Aqib Talib or should the Florida's D end Harvey somehow be available, again same thought process..
Even with a selection of Merling, the Skins have three more picks in the second and third rounds, enough to likely land a receiver maybe even Limas Sweed of Texas should he fall into the second round with injury concerns.. Even then, I don't think that selection would be a sign that Washington thinks Ocho Cinco is out of play..
The deal then become a post June one, likely closer to training camp deal where Cincinnati likely deals Johnson for next year's first rounder and likely a second pick, quite possibly the third offerd whivh could escalate to an '10 first rounder with performance levels reached..

As for the rest of the draft.. The Skins will take at least one interior O-lineman likely in he first three rounds, likely a defensive tackle in the first three rounds and defeinitely a quarterback late to develop behind Jason Campbell looking at a possible long term future when the team finally parts ways with Todd Collins after two more seasons..
If there is a young punter worth looking at, I would suggest that selection in the latter rounds as well.. They have 3 seventh rounders, likely few will make the team so why not take the shot on a possible punter to groom..

OK men..

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 23-- Chasing Chad

It's going to happen.. Just not now.. I'm convinced Chad Johnson will not be a Bengal and I'm convinced he'll be in the NFC East which is why the offer the Skins made though possibly an overpayment for the disgruntled receiver is necessitated..

The Skins, Cowboys and Eagles all want Chad Johnson, all three (maybe the Eag;es more so then the other two) need a secondary receiving threat.. So this is turning into a Red Sox/Yankees arms race where the deal not only ensures you get a top flight talent but keeps him off a main rival.. Whoever ends up with Johnson or in my opinion the more valuable Anquan Boldin suddenly becomes a significantly stronger team heading into 2008..

I figure the Skins to land either Johnson or Boldin based if for no other reason that Drew Rosenhaus represents both and he and Dan Snyder are in the business of making each other happy campers.. The Cardinals sincerely want to keep Boldin who watched Larry Fitzgerald get a major deal, but it must be noted that Fitzgerald overperformed his initial rookie contract which in turn turned his deal into a albatross on their cap.. Certainly the Cardinals weren't going to release Fitzgerald outright. So Boldin wants the big bucks too. Certainly he has every reason to believe he'll get a new deal, but he wants Fitzgerald cash and the liklihood of Arizona breaking the bank for both receivers is unlikely. In the end, this is a good problem for Arizona, they don't have to deal Boldin and are more then happy to try to negotiate a fair deal, but they can also force Boldin to play it out.

Johnson is different story. He has said he won't play. Marvin Lewis dared him to keep his word on that threat and the Bengals for now are playing high stakes chicken with their best receiver. I expect Cincinnati to pay TJ Houshmanzadeh and move Johnson. Chad is 30 and although his numbers are among the most reliable in the league, Bengals brass can sell Houshmanzadeh and someone else as a reliable attack with string armed Carson Palmer at QB. In essence, Boldin is young and probably has a lot more upseide then Johnson as good as Johnson is. The Cardinals would be nuts to get rid of Anquan, the Bengals could try to sell that Johnson's performance will decrease in the ensuing years if not in the very immediate future.

In the defense of Johnson, he has received a lot of the blame for the team's failures, but he wasn't one of the numerous players in that locker room who was arrested in recent years. Is Chad really the bad cat in the locker room? Truth is Johnson also wants to be in a big time city for a marquee franchise. He's that kind of star. So Washington and Dallas certainly fits the mold of a team worthy of Johnson's histrionics.

In the end, I expect the Bengals to relent and deal Johnson probably closer to the start of camp, and next year's draft pick will still be in play when that time comes.. Selfishly, I think Johnson will be an unbelievable addition in terms of interviewees, and I certainly believe the Redskins do need a stable force opposite Santana Moss.. You could make a case that the Skins would have the most dangerous core of receivers should Johnson or Boldin come to DC. Besides, did you really think the Redskins would sit on their hands and not do anything dramatic the entire off-season?

See you in July 85..

Ok men..

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 22-- The Sleeping Giant is Awake

I remember going to Caps games at US Air Arena in the 80's, wearing all white, not a seat unfilled and screaming my head off for a team that annually would break my heart. But I went back year after year, not because I had faith when game six against the Penguins went to double overtime that the outcome would be different, but because it mattered.

Since the Caps shift to the Southeast division (and subsequent crumbling of the true divisional rivalries the area cared about) and since the move to Verizon Center (ticket price hike and new downtown home), something eroded from that experience. Sure the Caps became less competitive in the subsequent years, but the stadium would often be overrun by Flyers, Penguins, even Sabre fans. On the few playoff nights against Tampa Bay, indifference prevailed.

Next came, the media who steamrolled the sport as second tier. The Caps became an ignored property on it's own local airwaves. The hosts treating the game and it's perceived dwindling fan base as a waste of air. The new adage was if the Caps beat the Flames in a shootout and no one talked about it, did it actually happen?

This troubled me on numerous levels. Caps fans were passionate, now they weren't? It continued to propogate the tiresome perception that DC is not a sports town unless your name was Redskins. The frinedliest most accessible owner in town had to turn into a door to door (or in Ted's case email to email) salesman just to get people to give his product a shot.

Put aside the Caps and Flyers enterring a must see game seven tonight at Verizon Center; the biggest game in terms of interest Ted's team has played since Washington's run to the Cup Finals in 1998. Something has pushed the right button in the inner sports concious of this town and has re-energized a fan base for hockey, exemplified by the atmosphere of game one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Suddenly, like it was 1988 all over again, the Caps mattered, and I'm thinking it's here to stay this time.

"I think we have finally dispelled the notion that this town can't support a hockey team," a beaming Ted Leonsis said in the locker room following a thrilling game one win where his Caps came back from down two goals to start the 3rd period to win 5-4.
It wasn't just about the sea of red or the building being barely able to handle the sound generated from it's suddenly raucous fan base. It was about recapturing something that was already there, rekindling a love affair the Caps created back in the 80's. "This was the most schiovanistic crowd we've had. They want to protect our building. We want to make this place inhospitable."

Was it Alex Ovechkin's season of 65 goals (a feat produced by no other player in the league in a dozen years). Is it the fact that despite popular belief, Alex isn't the team's one trick pony, indeed a line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Ovechkin figures to quite possibly become the NHL's next version of Gretzky, Kurri and Messier?
Was it the team's hiring of a weeble-wobble coach who's only NHL shot was afforded because he happened to win a title with 7 of the young up and comers on this team two seasons ago in Hershey? Bruce Boudreau has all but admitted he didn't think he'd even get a shot to coach in the league after toiling for years in towns better known for chocolate then sport.
Was it the final 2 months where Washington never lost back to back games, cruised to victory in their final 9, all necessitated must wins and pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NHL regular season history to steal the Southeast division?
Or maybe it's something that everyone can relate to. "I think something special is going on here," said a buzzing Joe Beninati, play by play voice of the team to me in the bowels of Verizon after the stirring game one win.
Beninati and Criag Laughlin have become a remarkable duo in the booth, presenters of a game that by ratings standards, no one knew existed. But colorfully and artfully, they called every game for years while the rest of the city pretended it could care less.

Leonsis took his first real risk as owner of the team by spending Snyder style on effortless Jaromir Jagr among others. He had a good team and figured, a boost of star power and veteran leadership would carry him over the top. Jagr didn't like DC, and DC didn't like him or his penchent to play when he felt like it. So the strip mining of a team with an eroding attendence was a death sentence for Ted's checkbook. "I lost 100 million dollars since taking over as owner, but the team has appreciated since I bought them. What's a hundred million dollars between friends?"

In turn, the Caps started to sell a new plan, one that involved a lot of draft picks (many of which wouldn't see NHL ice for 3-4 years if at all). Even fervent hockey fans in fervent hockey towns (outside of Canada of course) would have any clue whether the front office was picking the right guys. They are European or Canadian and there is no Mel Kiper to help us break it down. The team also traded away the gut of the team, well liked Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar. Shipped off the old timers like Robert Lang and finally got out from under the Jagr albatross (despite paying a good portion of his slaary to watch him emerge as a star again in New York). This team was not recognizable in a division that provided locals no rival to hate.

Today, that plan is paying off. Regardless of whether the Caps beat Philly tonight or get on a rediculous run to the Cup, Ted's plan finally took shape. It's as if his dream came true, he'd wake up one day and he'd have a good hockey team. "It wasn't hard to change the team back then. The definiton of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. There was more risk not ripping that team apart."

Left was Olie Kolzig, who is ironically only along for this ride. Left is the fruition of remarkable draft selections, Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, possibly Defenseman Karl Alzner who the Caps are very high on.
This series has also shown something in DC we weren't accustomed to back in the 80's. The Caps have adjusted to the physical play of an opponent and become the aggressor. Brooks Laich, Steve Emminger and Matt Cooke might not be household names in any town, but their physicality is a huge part of the Caps not only standing up to the Flyers, but in recent days appearing to be the more physical team. It's fun when the bullies are the ones cowering.

And the best part is anyone who follows sports knows that this is only the beginning. Until toay, I'd never actually wanted to give a contract extension to a player who'd just signed a 13 year deal, but in the case of Ovechkin, lifetime contract seems to fit. Backstrom is going to be the NHL assist leader within five years. Semin might have more true offensive skill then Ovechkin. And they are tough thanks to a checking line that in my opinion has kept them in this series. They are the embodiment of the popular sports credo of being a "player or two away." And yet that time might come sooner then we thought. Get by the Flyers, and who knows right?

In the end what's most rewarding to a lifetime fan is the return of the atmosphere. In covering sports, all I ever can ask is that the fans give their heart to the team when warranted but not desert them when times are tough. And for the players, leave it on the field of play and don't disgrace the uniform. The latter half appears in good hands. The first part is up to us, not to let this be a fleeting moment, but to support what could be the beginning of an amazing run. And in truth, could it happen to a better guy then Ted?

OK men..