Thursday, February 28, 2008

NFL News: Talking caps, spit, blunts & windbags...

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is of the opinion that the owners will opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement which could lead to an uncapped season in 2011.

"One-hundred percent of clubs have aspects to the labor agreement they don't like," Jones said. "When you have that kind of dynamic going, there is a chance for an opt out."

Gene Upshaw has been very clear that if there is ever an uncapped season, the salary cap is done.

What might that mean? Well you only need to look at MLB’s uncapped history in the modern era. That should become an accurate crystal ball of sorts for the NFL as we slowly but surely observe the balance of power swinging towards the New York teams, Dallas and Washington. If you are considering selling your PSL’s, you might be wise to pay attention to this developing story.

Falcons’ corner DeAngelo Hall has been linked to the Cowboys. Apparently Hall shares a solid working relationship with incoming Cowboys' assistant secondary coach Brett Maxie who Hall worked with in Atlanta for a couple of seasons. Such a move would put Hall together with Terrell Owens where the two would bump heads in practice. Owens you may recall spat on Hall back in 2006. So if the Cowboys pull off a trade for Hall can we officially call it swapping spit?

Patriots versatile third down back Kevin Faulk was cited for marijuana posession at a Lil Wayne concert in Louisiana. Apparently a random security check uncovered four blunts in Faulk's pocket. He's been charged with simple possession – a misdemeanor in the State. No word on whether or not Matt Walsh has any additional damning visual evidence on Faulk.

Sean Salisbury is out at ESPN. I must admit that recently Salisbury began to grow on me a bit but for most of his 12 years at ESPN I viewed him as nothing more than a big windbag whose sole purpose was simply to stir up the pot. I think he often did it in an unintelligent way. Taking his place on the set will be former Chris Carter from the recently canceled HBO series Inside The NFL.

According to Salisbury his departure from the sports network provides a fresh start for the former journeyman quarterback.

"I'd grown tired of being punished for not being an NFL superstar. Analysts who don't work as hard as me, don't prepare as hard as me, and don't have my resume were making more than me just because of their ability to throw or catch a football.

"Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the opportunity ESPN gave me, but they had capped my ceiling. There was only so far I could go there."I'd done nothing wrong, and if you hear otherwise, it's not true. I did everything that was asked of me."I have created a brand and it's time to expand into other opportunities in TV, radio, Internet, publishing, movies and public speaking, among others. My resume speaks for itself."

Maybe I was too quick to soften on Salisbury.

Sounds like the big windbag has returned.

Ravens Buzz: News & Rumors affecting the purple & black

You would be hard pressed to find anyone here in The Land of Pleasant Living to argue the point that the Ravens are ok at quarterback. We all know they are not. Steve McNair is like that 1992 Toyota Camry in your uncle’s driveway. Man was it a good and reliable car in its day but even the most precise Precision Tune on the planet can’t get that engine to run on 2 cylinders much less four.

Kyle Boller is like that car you take to the mechanic that won’t reproduce the engine knock that you hear when you are driving around town alone and then as soon as you go on the road out of town, the damn thing breaks down altogether.

Troy Smith is a nice, new compact vehicle that has a little giddy up and does pretty well in tight spaces but when it gets boxed in by a tractor trailer or two, the sight lines aren’t clean and you are forced to take chances while escaping congested areas.

Clearly QB issues remain part of the local landscape…

Making matters worse for area fans is the fact that rejected former Ravens QB Derek Anderson, a sixth round pick out of Oregon State in 2006, made his first trip across the pond to Honolulu representing an AFC North division rival. Is Anderson for real?

Count me among those that didn’t fret his departure at all. I watched him trip over his own feet many times in practice. Clearly I was wrong and clearly he’s improved. Yet I still think he’s overrated. Let’s see how he does with a tougher schedule, higher expectations and a big contract.

Word is he’s close to a 3 year deal that will pay him $20 million and guarantee him $10 mil. Not bad. Kyle Boller has yet to make $20 mil and he is a 5 year vet taken in round 1. Anderson should jump on the offer. Put me down as one of those that believes Phil Savage will live to regret this contract after 2008.

Remember David “You Can Drive My” Carr? The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft is now looking for a new home. The Carolina Panthers recently severed ties with Carr and he’s now a free agent. But Ravens fans, before you get yourself all lathered up over the possibilities of a new Carr, keep in mind that this old Carr was behind Vinny Testaverde and Chris Weinke on the Panthers’ depth chart last season. Should the Ravens bring him in, hopefully it will cost them no more than a Rent-a-Wreck.

Recently the Jets allowed their disgruntled inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma and his representatives to seek a trade partner provided that said partner isn’t coached by Bill Belichick. (Vilma would fill a need in New England as well with that aging merry band of LB's). No clear cut word on what the Jets asking price might be but clearly Vilma’s skills would fit nicely into the Ravens defensive structure but unfortunately probably not their cap structure.

The Jets are also said to be shopping defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson. The cap figure in 2008 for the disappointing former No. 4 overall pick (2003) is a whopping $11.2 million, roughly 1/10th of the team cap number. If the Jets successfully unload Robertson that could elevate the DT position on the team’s draft board. And if it does shake out that way, perhaps USC’s Sedrick Ellis climbs up the board a bit and helps to push a player like Vernon Gholston down towards No. 8 where the Ravens will be all too happy to dress the Ohio State Buckeye in purple.

The Ravens could be looking for a vertical threat in the 2008 NFL Draft. Some thought the Jaguars might be looking for the same but the recently acquired Troy Williamson might shift the Jags draft board around a bit. Williamson was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2005 draft by Minnesota after skyrocketing on draft boards following a very impressive combine outing. Unfortunately for the Vikings Williamson couldn’t catch a cold and Brad Childress will only get a sixth round pick as a return on his Williamson investment. Not a bad deal for the Jags who won’t have much to lose by bringing the Aiken, South Carolina native closer to home.

Character issues could force Arkansas RB Darren McFadden into a bit of a draft board tumble. Folks may recall how the highly touted Randy Moss tumbled all the way to No. 21 in 1998. In retrospect Moss was certainly worth the gamble but keep in mind that Moss’ early transgressions were policed and punished by Paul Tagliabue. New Sherriff Goodell won't be as forgiving to a young player who veers to far from what The Commish believes is acceptable behavior.

What if McFadden falls to the Ravens at No. 8? Would you take him or trade him? I’m sure Jerry Jones would love to see the Razorback with a star on the side of his new NFL helmet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bisciotti pulls at heartstrings of Sun Columnist

It appeared as though The Sun columnist David Steele was campaigning to be on the Billick Family’s Christmas card list yesterday. In his column Steele suggests that Brian Billick got the shaft from Bisciotti because the recently dismissed coach still isn’t sure why he was fired. Steele believes Billick is entitled answers.

Anyone having flashbacks to Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men?

Look Brian Billick is an extremely intelligent man. No one has to tell him why he was fired. He knows why he was fired just as the rest of us do. Why is Steele throwing a pity party for Billick? Here’s a guy who gets to do whatever his little heart desires for the next three years while earning $5 million per.

Give Billick credit for this – he’s playing the role of victim extremely well. How else do you explain how a columnist from the town’s biggest newspaper got all choked up about Billick’s feelings? Steele claims that Billick is entitled to an explanation and the lack of one is “very troubling.” He explains:

“Regardless of whether you think firing Billick was the right or wrong move, that nearly two months have passed without his getting a clear explanation from owner Steve Bisciotti - that he is left to speculate on what the most logical one is from the owner's perspective - is very troubling. At least as troubling as the 11th-hour change of plans about his fate. Even Bisciotti acknowledged being uncomfortable about that.”

Steele adds:

“Bisciotti certainly doesn't owe us in the public an explanation, and on the day he let Billick go, he didn't give a specific one, except that, well, the Ravens were losing and he didn't like it.But it says here that Billick deserved more.

Billick sounded as if he could live with the void.”

Of course he can live with the void. He has 15 million reasons to live with the void. Yet here comes the victim speak.

"The commitment from the organization, I felt very good about, and it did change, and it changed in a day”, said Billick. “Don't know why. Haven't had that conversation, and don't know that I ever will."

Look if Billick and Steele really want an explanation, I think Bisciotti has already given them one. Here’s what the Ravens owner had to say during the post firing press conference:

"I believed that it was time for a change. I believed that we have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl, and we felt that in the next five years, we had a better chance with a new coach than leaving Brian in that position.

"As much as I know that you deserve answers, I can't get into specifics because we're talking about a man that I admire and flaws in his game. We don't sit there and tell you why we cut a receiver. You have to kind of let it speak for itself."

That sounds like an answer to me. And if that weren’t enough, Bisciotti added:

"I hope that, over time, Baltimore views me as a quality of an owner as Brian Billick was a head football coach. So, I've got some catching up to do for the man that I just asked to step down today. And the jury's out on me. Brian's already got his Super Bowl, so I'll try and make you all proud."

Game, set, match…time to let it go guys.

By the way David, I’m sure you made the list.

Jason Brown deserves some "Love Me Tender"

Jason Brown is a bright, articulate, community-centric member of the Baltimore Ravens. He was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Pro team and he is an emerging leader in the Ravens locker room. If Jonathan Ogden retires as expected, Brown will be the most seasoned member of the Ravens’ developing offensive line.

The former North Carolina Tar Heel is a Restricted Free Agent (“RFA”) and word is that the Ravens will tender the three year veteran the second-round level compensation which will pay the versatile lineman $1.47 million in 2008, provided he is a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

A second-round tender gives the Ravens the right to match any contract offer extended to Brown by another club. If the Ravens choose not to match such an offer, the new club would have to give the Ravens a second round pick.

Now on the surface, that may seem like a fair offer for Brown given that he was a fourth round selection by the Ravens in 2005. But Brown has performed at or beyond the Ravens expectations. He is an emerging force as an interior lineman and some team with ample cap room may stand up and take notice, particularly when the price is only a second round pick.

The Ravens don’t have much cap room, something that will not escape the notice of interested suitors for Brown’s services. It is very conceivable perhaps even likely that another team in need of a guard will call the Ravens bluff and box the Ravens in by choking Ozzie Newsome with his own cap constraints.

You may recall that the Ravens tendered Chester Taylor the low tender offer back in 2005. Seeing that the opportunity cost was only a sixth round pick, Cleveland’s Phil Savage seized the moment and offered Taylor a one year, $3 million contract. The Ravens left themselves vulnerable and they were forced to match the offer given Jamal Lewis’ then uncertain health.

The cost to re-sign Taylor was double what it would have been had they only offered Taylor the mid-tender in 2005. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have offered Taylor a contract then because the Ravens would have received a first round pick – clearly a price no GM would pay for the reserve running back.

So you think Ozzie may have learned from that mistake?

The Ravens handling of Jason Brown suggests that they haven’t learned a thing.

For just another $550,000 ($2.017 million is the price for a first round tender) the Ravens would receive a first pick if another team wants to give Jason Brown the farm. Such a tender would serve two purposes. First it might deter another club from backing up the Brinks Truck for Brown and give the Ravens the chance to fulfill their reported goal with Brown – that is to strike a long-term deal.

Secondly should another team still want to lure Brown away, the first round compensation is clearly worth the additional investment of $550,000. Wouldn’t Ozzie jump at the opportunity to spend that much to move from the second round to the first?


Still Ozzie is willing to take the risk of tendering Brown only the second round tender.

Take a look around the league. The price for interior lineman is climbing rapidly. The Vikings invested $49 million in All-Pro Steve Hutchinson back in 2006. Last offseason we watched the Buffalo Bills pony up $49 million for the great Derrick Dockery. The four year free agent guard’s deal included $23 million over the first three years of his 7 year deal and $18 million of it was guaranteed. Not once before or since his signing has Dockery taken a snap in Honolulu.

You don’t think that someone could throw that kind of dough at Brown?

And if someone does, Brown is gone because it’s highly unlikely the Ravens could afford to keep him given their somewhat unfavorable cap position. Then Ozzie is left with a second round pick and Chris Chester to take over for the soon to be departed Mike Flynn.

I’m sorry folks the jury is still out on Chester. He may be able to get out in space and create havoc with linebackers and even safeties but at the point of attack, I’ve seen Chester in the backfield too many times and when the pocket collapses in the middle, it places a heavy burden on the flanks and with Jonathan Ogden knocking on retirement’s door, I’m not optimistic about a line without Jason Brown.

The Ravens probably have the youthful depth to replace Brown at guard if he’s lost. But count me among those who see Brown as a center. I like the prospects of an interior line of Ben Grubbs, Brown and Marshal Yanda.

You think Phil Savage is watching?

I bet the Steelers are too.

The Steelers have long been known as an organization that will not be held for ransom and they won’t start with free agent guard Alan Faneca. Might Brown be a decent backup plan if the Rooneys fail to re-sign Faneca? The Steelers are in a better cap position than the Ravens and wouldn’t a Brown signing represent a double-dip of sorts for Pittsburgh? Not only do they efficiently fill a hole but they also weaken a divisional rival.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the rest of the league sees a second round pick for Brown as a bit too expensive. But somehow I don’t think so. To think that way is a bit naïve given the recent trend towards paying guards top dollar. So if you are Ozzie, would you risk losing Brown for another $550,000?

"[Jason’s] on his way up," said Harold Lewis, Browns’ agent. "It's a great situation in Baltimore, and Jason is excited about being a big part of it. My ultimate goal is to get him a contract that will exceed all his expectations."

I’ve got to believe that a second round tender is not what Lewis has in mind.

This potentially difficult signing is a bit like that old Fram Oil Filter slogan: “Pay me now or pay me later.” If Ozzie loses this chess match as he did with Chester Taylor, this one could be even more costly.

And it could cost Ozzie more than just Steve Bisciotti’s money.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An attempt @ ESPN: Entertainment Sports Network

I’ve been wondering (perhaps you have to) about a few things going down around town in the world of sports and another thing or three…

With all of the Billick interviews going on, why hasn’t WNST had one? I’m sure by now they’re thinking that station buddy Brian Billick has been there and done that and done that and done that so why do that again, right?...In his interview with Mark Viviano on Channel 13 Brian Billick said, “I’d like the people here [in Baltimore] to think that I became part of them.” Brian, you certainly made yourself available to the fans and the media and I know the folks in Lot G appreciated your walk along the Hamburg Street Bridge prior to home games but I don’t think your answers that never answered anything made them feel like you became part of them. Maybe now that you aren’t the coach you can become part of them. Time will tell…

Time will also tell if the Ravens made a mistake winning that last game against the Steelers. I know, I know, it’s the Steelers and we all want to beat the black and yellow but c’mon, the difference between the sixth pick in April’s draft and the eighth could be huge. The impact that that player could make might dwarf any minimal momentum that the team can carry forward from a rather meaningless win. As I wrote after that win v. Pittsburgh, Ravens Dealt Costly Win. I'll stand by that and let time tell if I'm wigged out on crack or not. And please, save all the talk about Troy Smith carrying positive mojo into 2008 with that win. Put a couple of bad preseason outings on him and watch that mojo shrivel up like Roseanne Barr’s groom on wedding night…

Hey have you noticed that Anita Marks has been off the air a bit more lately than in the past. Could it be she’s taking some deserved vacation or could it be that she’s using up the vacation prior to her next gig in her next town? Marks’ contract expires on or around April 30 this year and there has been no word of an extension. That’s not to say one isn’t coming but nothing is certain at this point. Could anyone blame her if she’s out marketing her services to another station? Doesn’t everyone have the right to continue their livelihood?

On to entertainment (or lack thereof), I’ve never been one to get jazzed about The Academy Awards yet each year provided I’m home, I will at least for a few moments jump over to the network carrying the event. Trouble is each time I do it’s the end of television that night for me. The Oscars put me into a state of blissful R.E.M. Talk about boring. The nominees for best sound in a foreign motion picture are….zzzzzzzzzzzz…

Not so boring is U2 3D. What a great movie currently playing at The Maryland Science Center. The 3D effects put you right there – the best 3D I’ve experienced. And while visually you are spoiled the audio is weak. They give you an onstage view of the world’s best active band and then relatively speaking, hand you an AM radio to listen to the sounds of said band. Look if you are going to invest the time, money and energy to place the viewer that close to the band, then let us feel the band. I want Adam Clayton’s bass thumping in my chest the way I would if I was actually there. Otherwise, why bother with all the visual effects? That said it’s certainly worth the $12.00 and then some. Just take your gloves or buy a hot chocolate. It was freezing in that theatre.

It's see you later, not goodbye for Brian Billick

Brian Billick has his strengths and he has his faults and judging from the number of interviews yesterday, clearly one of his strengths is public relations. He’s a Rembrandt when it comes to PR.

If you missed his 3 hour interview which includes interaction with callers on The Mark Viviano Show, we’ve got it here for you commercial free. If you did hear the interview and either of the others on Steve Davis’ show and with Mark Viviano again last night on the highly promoted Eyewitness News segment, Billick’s class, grace and style (and I’m not surprised) came through glowingly.

As he has for years with his players, Billick was careful not to throw anyone under the proverbial bus, particularly Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti. To his credit, he took time to exhale following his sudden dismissal and avoided cameras and the media for awhile so that he could digest what had happened and then respond appropriately.

He was eloquent and articulate. He was humble and at times slightly self deprecating. The setting in his home for the Eyewitness News interview made me wonder where Billick’s pipe was. It had the feel of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Yet through all of Billick’s carefully chosen and seemingly sincere words, I couldn’t determine if his apparent surprise over his firing was the work of arrogance or naivety. Billick seemed shocked by Steve Bisciotti’s decision to fire him and he could not conclusively determine why the firing took place. I couldn’t help but think that the same stubbornness and arrogance that tortured fans for years and manifested itself in his play calling and clock management was rearing its ugly head once again during these interviews.

But then I wondered while watching the look of surprise on his face, “Is he just naïve?” Could he be so close to the situation – his nose stuck so far in that playbook that the reality of his failures was somewhat invisible to him? Could he not see the forest for the trees?

For most of Brian Billick’s tenure in Baltimore, I was in his corner. I greatly admired the way he handled the 2000 season. I liked the swagger he brought to the organization. He plucked my nerves in 2001 when he was hell-bent on sticking with Elvis Grbac despite the fact that Randall Cunningham was available to him – arguably the best quarterback to ever wear a Ravens’ uniform.

But I kicked that frustration to the curb the following season and like most of you I enjoyed how Billick guided the league’s youngest team of all time through the 2002 season and kept the club in the playoff hunt through the season’s first 15 weeks.

But then came Kyle Boller…

I stuck with Billick through the Boller years rationalizing that he had no other good alternative at QB and it was never clear where the deficiencies in the offense came from – him or Matt Cavanaugh or Jim Fassel.

We all know the rest of the story…

But Billick lost me for good after the Ravens fourth win in 2007 against the Rams. That abysmal offensive performance against a rather suspect rushing defense was the proverbial straw for me. I was done with him at that point.

It was then I also realized that my personal feelings about Brian Billick affected my objectivity. I liked Brian Billick. I still like the man named Brian Billick. I just don’t like the coach named Brian Billick – at least not for the Baltimore Ravens.

Some may still feel that Billick is crass and arrogant and that the interviews just illustrated how slick he is and how he can manipulate the media. If that shoe fits, let me share a personal experience with Brian Billick.

It has always been widely known that Billick is plugged into the media and paid attention to the various talk shows in and around town. Our show GAMETIME did not escape his attention.

During one of our summer shows back in 2005, I mentioned that a dear friend of mine named Jimmy Bullington was in a very serious accident. I also made it clear what a wonderful and giving person Jimmy is and how he was involved in many humanitarian efforts in the community and how instrumental he was in creating Ravens Roost 50 one of the more prominent Roosts throughout the Ravens history here in Baltimore.

Brian Billick took note…

The next day at Ravens’ training camp, I was pulled aside by Chad Steele, the Ravens Director of Media Relations. Chad asked a few details about Jimmy and how the Ravens might be able to get in touch with him. I shared Jimmy’s contact info not knowing at the time what the Ravens had in mind.

As I left camp that day, Jimmy’s brother Mark called me and said, “Well you went and did it now!”

I was a bit confused and asked Mark to clarify. Mark told me that Brian Billick had already called Jimmy at the hospital to wish him well and a speedy recovery, thanking Jimmy for his role in the community and his support of the Ravens.

The next day at camp, a day that was moved to Owings Mills’ indoor field due to the weather, I pulled Brian Billick aside to thank him for reaching out to Jimmy. He told me that he heard me discussing Jimmy on our show and that he thought it would be a nice thing to do. I told Brian that Jimmy didn’t answer his cell phone because he didn’t really want to talk to anyone whose phone number he didn’t recognize, Billick’s included. I added that Jimmy was glad that he got Brian’s voice mail instead of a live call because he then had recorded proof that Brian had indeed called him.

Coach chuckled over that and we went our separate ways after I thanked him again.

My first inclination was to tell the world what Brian had done. I thought that it could show a different side of him that not many had seen before and fans might view Billick differently if they were aware of his reaching out to Jimmy. But then I thought if I did that, it might open Pandora’s Box for the Ravens – everyone might then want Brian to do the same for folks they know. So I sat on the story sharing it only with friends and family.

I will miss Brian Billick, the man not the coach. It was time for the later to go. Yet I hope that as time passes he again becomes more visible and that he remains a relevant contributor to the fabric of our community.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ozzie's vision isn't exactly 20-20

Ozzie Newsome gets credit for being masterful on draft day. His success in round 1 is impeccable. He’s also been very successful on day 2 of the draft thanks in large part to Eric DeCosta’s ability to reassemble the draft board prior to the draft’s second day. What happens in rounds 2 and 3 remains a mystery but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

His draft day prowess aside, where Ozzie fails as a GM is in his inability to effectively manage the cap. Time and time again the Ravens overpay for players that Newsome has an attachment to and it’s no surprise that those players are first round draft picks. That places a burden on the remainder of the roster and it weakens the team’s depth. We all witnessed in 2007 what can happen when a team is as top heavy as the Ravens. The replacement parts aren’t all that effective.

In 2008, early projections indicate that 50% of the team’s cap will be allocated to 9 players. To put that in another way, as it stands today half of Ozzie’s piggy bank will be used to pay 17% of the 53 man roster and the Ravens’ GM must accept most of the blame for the lack of balance in the payroll.

We hear Ozzie talk about how successful the team has been in retaining their high end draft picks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that every time he does re-sign one of his former No. 1’s he gives them record setting money: Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed – each of them received unprecedented contracts on their way to becoming the highest paid players at their respective positions.

You could make the argument that J.O. and Lewis deserved what they got and you wouldn’t be challenged by many. (Although one might still argue that the Ravens were a little too generous). But why make Heap and Reed so wealthy?

There was little doubt that the Ravens would keep Todd Heap and they signed him a year before the final year of his contract. But if Ozzie is so determined to keep his core players and his No. 1’s, why not approach Heap a year earlier when the market isn’t as inflated, cap resources aren't as ample and when you have a greater chance of securing a more economical deal with a player still two years removed from free agency?

In the case of Reed, the Ravens knew that Reed still had plenty left in the tank (plus he plays a position with significant longevity) well before making him the richest safety in NFL history. If they wanted to keep him long term, why not go to him sooner. Or if he was demanding cornerback money, then play hard ball and franchise him. Why cave in? What would Reed have done? It’s just business, right?

At the time the Ravens struck a new deal with Reed, the safety franchise charge was roughly $2.5 million. Today thanks to Reed’s contract along with Troy Polamalu’s and Bob Sanders’, the franchise tag for safeties is $4.49 million.

If Ozzie had tagged Reed for a year or two maybe he would have had room to re-sign Adalius Thomas, particularly if he had gone to AD a year or two prior to the end of his contract. Reed’s contract might go down as one of Ozzie’s worst moves ever given the options available to him prior to opening the vault for the Pro Bowl safety.

Reed hasn’t been as effective since he signed that contract. Some players require the extra motivation. Perhaps Reed is one of them.

Today the Ravens are faced with the daunting task of re-signing Terrell Suggs who by their own admission is a cornerstone of the Ravens defense going forward along with Reed and Haloti Ngata. So if Ozzie believed that Suggs was a piece of said cornerstone last year or the year before (prior to Dwight Freeney signing his massive deal), why not negotiate then when the team had more leverage?

Ozzie fumbles regularly with these contract extensions and it ends up costing the team for years. Now he’ll need to extend Suggs in order to save face for the loss of AD. That is why they let AD go, right?

When will he learn? When will he go to Ngata and extend him? When will they extend Jason Brown? Why isn’t Ozzie more proactive?

You can’t have a team of all-stars in the NFL. The salary cap won’t allow it. But NFL teams can keep their all-stars longer if they want to, provided their GM is a bit of a visionary. Since the Super Bowl, Ozzie Newsome has hardly been a visionary. He leaves his glasses in the Ravens' War Room.

Ozzie may be one of the finest executives in the league but like Brian Billick perhaps his time has come. Perhaps it’s time for Ozzie to move on. The Ravens just might need a new set of eyes and ears in that GM’s chair if Steve Bisciotti is going to realize his goal of consistently fielding a winning team.

Maybe Ozzie needs new prescription glasses.

And if he dismisses such a suggestion, maybe he should be dismissed himself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

Liars and cheats are littering the sports landscape – a few of them even have ties to Baltimore. Jay Gibbons, liar, cheat, overpaid and pretty worthless. Why does anyone bother to throw him a strike? His count management and selectivity at the plate is reminiscent of some blindfolded toddler trying to bust up a hanging piñata.

His buddy Brian Roberts – a cheat and somewhat of a liar. He said that he tried steroids once. C’mon, this isn’t the 60’s when college students tried acid once. This is steroids. Why would anyone do steroids just once? What was in that shot, Underdog’s supercharged tablet?

Rafael Palmeiro…liar, cheat and rat.

Miguel Tejada…liar, cheat and now someone else’s problem.

Then there’s Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee, all their attorneys, etc, etc.

Bill Belichick and Matt Walsh and Scott Pioli, liars and cheats one and all. Look Belichick was in charge of breaking down film back in a day with the Baltimore Colts under Ted Marchibroda. You don’t think he knows what can and can’t be filmed?


It will be fun to see how this whole Matt Walsh videotaping of the Rams walkthrough prior to SB XXXVI shakes out. Liars, liars…I hope it burns.

Speaking of burns, the Ravens were burned the last time they used the franchise tag. Back in ’03 and ’04 they used it on Chris McAlister twice costing the team a little over $14 million for those two seasons. They then followed that up with a long-term deal for McAlister including a $16 million signing bonus. Now one has to wonder if he’ll be useful through the 2011 season when his current contract expires. McAlister will then be pushing 34 years of age.

So if you factor in those franchise years, the deal closely resembles one that includes $30 million of guaranteed payola over a series of split bonuses.

Might they make the same mistake with Suggs? Time will tell but if the Ravens land a player like Vernon Gholston in the draft, Suggs could become expendable after the ’08 season, particularly at the dollars he’ll command. That said, wouldn’t it be nice if the Ravens could get Suggs for AD-like dollars and keep both he and Gholston (assuming he falls in the draft) long-term?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Brian Billick talks about being fired...the final chapter of Ask Brian

Tony Lombardi: Brian, you’ve kept a low profile since your dismissal on New Year’s Eve. My guess is that your firing took you by surprise. The last time we met you were a bit in denial. You've had some time to digest the fact that you are no longer the Ravens head coach. If you could, walk me through the sequence of events on that fateful last day of 2007.

Brian Billick: Well I woke up that morning thinking that the family would head on down to our place around St. Michael’s for a nice, relaxing weekend. I know that I needed it and so did the wife and kids. Last season placed a lot of stress on the family. They are aware that it comes with the territory and I have to remind them each Friday when that Brinks Truck pulls up to our Reisterstown home and that beeping goes off when it backs up to our porch with $100,000, that it’s all good – that it’s all worth it.

I tell them that all those hours Daddy spends at One Winning Drive playing racquetball and working out that stress is all worth it come Friday. They get it. They understand the parameters of living a life with an esteemed member of the NFL’s coaching fraternity.

TL: Have any of the girls ever come home distraught from the criticisms directed towards you and how have you dealt with that?

BB: They really do understand it and they’ve learned to accept it and respond to it in an appropriate way clearly within the parameters of how I would hope they would respond. They’ve done very, very well.

Not too long ago my youngest came home particularly upset by the rather obviously short sighted criticisms of my clock management. By the end of the day I had a new Rolex. Then came the knocks on my play calling and shortly thereafter the girls chipped in again and I received a new Sony portable DVD player. That is particularly handy during team flights when they show something lame like Any Given Sunday or Remember the Titans. I prefer re-runs of the Match Game. I was on the Match Game once you know. Got knocked out – something to do with the clock running out before I could get my answer in. Semantics, you know?

TL: Back to New Year’s Eve…how did Steve Bisciotti inform you that you were being replaced?

BB: I had just finished a few games of racquetball. I absolutely annihilated Art Modell and left him pretty much breathless on Court No. 2. I then sat in the sauna for a good 20 minutes contemplating who we might interview to be our next offensive coordinator. Matt Cavanaugh isn’t very happy at Pitt and clearly Jim Fassel isn’t all that so I thought they may provide some intrigue to our fans in a returning capacity.

I also thought that June Jones might want to bring his exciting brand of offense back to the mainland but then someone told me he took the head coaching job at SMU and from what I hear, SMU pays big dough. Out of potential replacements for Rick Neuheisel, I went up to my office after a shower, cracked open a pilsner, sat back on the couch and listened to a little Sonny and Cher. Hey I wonder if June needs an assistant?

Anyway, right in the middle of The Beat Goes On – I’ve really got my groove on at this point, Steve walks into my office, turns down the volume and says, “We need to talk.”

I wish I liked Bruce Springsteen because I know he would have waited a little longer to break the news if I had Thunder Road on my 8-Track and if he had waited, perhaps he would have changed his mind – AGAIN!

So he said, “Look Brian, I know that I had said to you in private that you would be returning next season to coach my team but I’ve had a change of heart. I no longer believe that you are the man to guide this team. I do believe that you are a good coach and that you will do well again on an NFL sideline. But given the composition of the roster and the obvious disconnect between you and the team, it can’t be my sideline.”

TL: So what happened next?

BB: I said, “Steve, you realize that you still owe me $15 million don’t you? Do you want to pay me for nothing?”

To which he said, “What’s the difference?”

I didn’t quite grasp the relevancy of that statement and his articulation wasn’t very balanced but the pacing was just right and when the message actually registered with me, I was absolutely ecstatic. Here was a brilliant young billionaire willing to pay me $15 million to sit on my Eastern Shore-bound ass for three years.

That was reason enough to break out the Lancer’s white bubbly wine and crank up ABBA’s, That’s the Name of the Game -- one that I had clearly won.

TL: Steve looked rather somber at the press conference to announce your firing. Did you watch it?

BB: Absolutely! The kids and I sat in our home theater with a mountain of popcorn and munched with delight to the drama. It was like watching some reality show on the Oxygen Network or Lifetime. I did feel bad for him for awhile and I was touched by some of the things he said. I started to agree with him when he said that he didn’t think that I was the guy to lead the team going forward. But then I changed my mind (laughing). Paybacks are a bitch.

TL: We saw you on Inside the NFL. How did that go?

BB: Tony I have to tell you, I am in my element when the bright lights and that camera come on. I Tivo’d that episode and I’ve watched it over and over – well at least the few minutes when I was on. I raised the bar for that show. I helped to take it to a new level of insightful analysis. Have they have a Super Bowl winning coach on that set? No, so I’m sure I’ll be back on with Costas and the gang and I’m sure Inside the NFL will be better than ever in 2008 should I decide to return.

TL: Brian did you know that HBO cancelled Inside the NFL.

BB: Yeah right, that show has been on HBO for like 20 plus years. They are the quarterback of sports broadcasting for HBO.

TL: Looks like you’ve killed another quarterback.

BB: What do you mean?

TL: Your first show with Inside the NFL was the series’ swan song. They’ve cancelled it.

BB: Ouch! Good thing I’ve got my 15 mil. Steve didn’t change his mind about paying me did he?

TL: I don’t think so but I do think he’s expecting a dinner of grandiose proportions at your new Eastern Shore estate.

BB: No problem, just as long as he brings some of those Cohibas with him.

TL: I didn’t take you as someone who might enjoy a fine Cuban cigar.

BB: I'm not but they do help to keep the mosquitoes away on a summer evening along the Choptank River.

TL: Better get out the Bruce Springsteen when he arrives. You don’t want those checks to stop coming.

BB: Yeah no kidding. Hey do you think this will be the final installment of “Ask Brian” too?

TL: Well some of our visitors have called “Ask Brian” the quarterback of 24x7.

BB: Uh-oh.

TL: Brian is that Kyle over there trimming your hedgerow?

BB: Well yeah…don’t you think he owes me?

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Everyone needs a little levity now and then right? So keep that in mind with yet another fictional edition of "Ask Brian".

Photo by Sabina Moran

Monday, February 18, 2008

DE a better investment than CB...Calling Billy Volek?

Let’s face it, like the double play is to a pitcher a pass rush is to a cornerback. Give a QB time to throw and even the most average of quarterbacks can look like a Pro Bowler or Super Bowl Champ/MVP (Mark Rypien, Doug Williams come to mind?).

Even Darrell Green or Deion Sanders while in their prime couldn’t hang with a receiver if the opposing QB had time to stand back and recall details of his previous night’s date with a supermodel.

So if given a choice between Prime Time and Reggie White, I’ll take Reggie White all day long. Even if Sanders can stay with Jerry Rice 24/7 if I’m Steve Young, I can still look for Brent Jones or John Taylor or Roger Craig if I don’t have to worry about a player like White.

So with that in mind, I say invest in the trenches. Go for a DE that can disrupt at the line of scrimmage. That’s an investment that pays more predictable dividends and helps to offset some questionable investments in a defensive “portfolio” like David Pittman and Derrick Martin. Let’s hope the Ravens keep that in mind on draft day ’08.

Some have suggested to me via email that the Ravens should leverage their solid relationship with the Patriots and do a little tag and trade deal involving Terrell Suggs and Asante Samuel. As much as I like Samuel’s ball skills, I think New England would get the better of that deal.

First of all, Suggs is 25 while Samuel is 27. When corners creep up into the thirtysomething zone, they can often be a drag on a team’s cap. Last offseason the 49ers opened their vault and poured $80 million over 8 years into the coffers of the then 27 year old Nate Clements including a $22 million signing bonus. What kind of bonus do you think Samuel will want? $30 million? Stretch that over 8 seasons and you get a 34 year old corner who will cost no less than $7.5 million to dump.

I don’t think so…see the DE v. CB argument above. Samuel equals right player, wrong price, right Ozzie?

A player who could be the right player at the right price is soon to be unrestricted free agent Billy Volek. Volek is a rather intriguing player for Ravens’ fans. Here’s a guy who has played behind Steve McNair in Nashville and for Ravens new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in San Diego.

Now Volek is hardly a savior. But he is familiar with Cameron’s system and he could be viewed as an economical two-year gap solution until Cameron and the Ravens can bring along Troy Smith and some young and currently unattained quarterback from the 2008 or 2009 NFL Draft. But if the Ravens don’t go that route with Volek (and chances are they will NOT), look for them to go through the motions of a QB competition but ultimately hand it over to McNair while visions of John Elway and Brett Favre playing well at advanced ages dance through their heads.

But it won’t go as they plan because there’s only so much that new paint and new tires can do for a broken down vehicle like the Ravens’ No. 9.

As for Kyle Boller, the huggers out there will blame the team for throwing him to the wolves and “ruining” him by starting him as a rookie. And while I would agree that was a mistake (the Bengals’ handling of Carson Palmer was the way to go) doesn’t the onus of improvement at quarterback fall on Boller at some point? After four more seasons following his rookie campaign which included ample playing time, is he that far removed from a rookie quarterback? He’s really the same player – one who shows flashes of brilliance which can suck in coaches, scouts and fans alike who collectively wait for the proverbial light bulb to come on for Boller. No one asked me but I’m not expecting GE to visit Jesus with Cleats any time soon.

Hey, maybe the Ravens can get a third or fourth rounder for Boller – maybe someone who thinks they can “bring good things to light” for the (can you believe it) veteran entering his sixth season.

If not what the Ravens do with Boller if a QB is drafted or a vet is acquired will be interesting to watch.

Maybe they can hole him up in a Motel 6.

At least they leave the light on.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ravens Offseason Wishlist

A season of discontent sows the seeds of offseason speculation. Clearly the Ravens ’07 season was a huge disappointment and that will help to fuel an interesting Spring for the purple and black.

We all have our own opinions on what the Ravens need to do to reverse their misfortunes including yours truly. So with that in mind, these are the offseason moves I’d like to see the team make to set the stage for sustained and consistent success going forward (in no particular order).

1. Extend Jason Brown’s contract now! Not after the ’08 season when he becomes a free agent – now! And while you’re at it, put him at center. Chris Chester may have dazzled some coaches and scouts with his athleticism and his ability to get to the second level but there are serious doubts as to whether he can hold firm at the point of attack against some of the behemoth nose guards and defensive tackles the Ravens encounter in the AFC North. It’s beginning to look like he is yet another second round mistake by the Ravens.

2. Restructure Chris McAlister's contract. The Ravens will need the $4+ million in cap space that a C-Mac restructure can provide the Ravens and given his size, McAlister could mirror the career path established by other physical corners like Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott who have migrated from corner to safety. Some might say, “Well what about Dawan Landry?” To them I say, “What about Dawan Landry?” Isn’t Ed Reed as a deep centerfielder statement enough that Landry is a liability in coverage?

3. Speaking of Reed, isn’t it time to reel him in? No more of this wagging (aka Wild Ass Guessing). He needs to stick to his assignments and stop leaving corners vulnerable to big plays. Reed’s best season was in 2004 when Mike Nolan seemed to have a better handle than Rex Ryan on how to utilize his unique playmaking skills. Ryan allows Reed to roam as he pleases without consequence. It’s time to put a hook in that!

4. Fix the quarterback position! This doesn’t mean a one year fix. The Ravens need stability and consistency at the position, something they’ve yet to enjoy in their 12 year history. Clearly this is easier said and done but don’t anoint Steve McNair the starter and just say McNo to McNabb. Even the Ravens at this point don’t know what the answer is at QB for ’08 but it makes no sense to implement short-term fixes at the expense of long-term stability. If Cam Cameron thinks that free agent QB Billy Volek can work short-term (he coached him in San Diego), then get Volek on a two year deal at about $3 mil per and draft a quarterback to compete with Troy Smith. Take the haircut on McNair if Volek comes and see what Boller could bring in a trade.

5. Lose the band once and for all. Instead of increasing ticket prices as expected again in ’09, why not boot the band from the end zone seats, sell PSL’s and season tickets and soften the blow to the remaining PSL owners. Aren't we all tired of subsidizing such unnecessary nostalgia?

6. Get a playmaker receiver! Some may argue that Demetrius Williams is a playmaker if given the chance and it would be short-sighted to say that he couldn’t fit that role. The problem with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman is that he is very lanky and needs to fill out that frame. He's vulnerable to injuries. The Ravens need someone to stretch the field and someone that has good ball skills – a receiver that can get the ball up high. Of course having a quarterback who can get it there is a prerequisite but you get the picture, don’t you?

7. Admit that signing Mike Anderson was a mistake. After two seasons and 53 carries (at roughly $90,000 per carry) Anderson has contributed next to nothing and he’s a drag on the roster because he makes little to no impact on special teams. Ozzie, with this former Marine maybe you’ve taken semper fi to extremes.

8. Beef up the pass rush…If we learned anything from the Ravens in ’07 and from the Giants in the Super Bowl, to win in the NFL you have to get to the quarterback. With that in mind the Ravens should bring back Terrell Suggs for at least another season and hope that a player like Vernon Gholston falls to them at No. 8 on draft day. Gholston, Suggs, Trevor Pryce and Antwan Barnes as a pass rushing unit could be ferocious.

9. Do not reach for a corner at No. 8. The draft seems deep in capable corners yet lacking in talent worthy of No. 8. Real quick, who were the Giants’ starting corners in the Super Bowl? See what I mean? It’s all about the push from the front four.

Other odds and ends…Note to Cam Cameron: Please leave your best offensive player in the game on third down. If Willis McGahee needs a rest, take him off the field after you get the first down, not before…And while you are at it Cam do you think we can see a no huddle offense to help change the game’s tempo at some point in the game other than inside of two minutes? Be brave, have courage, if not go to Oz.

It once worked for a cowardly lion.

Ravens a solid bet to win Super Bowl XLIII?

Well I woke up this morning around 3:30am with my head ready to explode. I couldn’t breathe through my nose and saline provided only a temporary fix getting me to roughly 4:30.

I didn’t want my restlessness to disturb my Valentine so I got up out of bed and here I am. How yooooooooou doin’? I wonder what the odds are that I can lose this sinus infection by the time of my dinner reservation tonight.

Speaking of odds, those with a propensity to wager their earnings on football are already looking towards the 2008 season. (By the way, is it me or does 2008 still seem like “next” year?)

At the MGM our Baltimore Ravens opened at 125-1 to win Super Bowl XLIII. That was apparently too good of a number to pass on so Benjamins flocked towards that number and the volume of bettors attracted to those odds drove the number down to 60-1 in only a couple of weeks.

As we’ve seen in the NFL’s so-called age of parity, dramatic turnarounds are hardly rare and given the level of talent on the Ravens’ squad, a $100 wager on 125-1 odds isn’t so bad. Heck, I paid more than $100 like many of you to watch the Ravens pack it in against the Colts on a miserable December night a couple of months ago.

The downside isn’t so bad – $100 while the upside is noteworthy. Hey just skip buying that round of beers one Sunday at M&T and you’ll get back about half that number anyway, right?

That said, how can the Ravens win the Super Bowl without consistently efficient play at quarterback? Can Kyle Boller get it done? Uh, how long have we been asking that? Can Troy Smith? A bit too early for that and we saw what he did in his last big game at OSU.

What about Steve McNair?

At this point I’d rather bring back Vinny Testaverde.

But hey, crazier things have happened. Maybe McNair can turn it around. Is 35 too old (FYI: McNair’s birthday was on Valentine’s Day) to be a successful QB in the NFL?

"Old, yep. They said the same thing about John Elway and then he went on to win two championships after he got old," McNair said. "Look at Brett Favre. They said he was old, and he came back and did what he did this year. I still think I can play at a high level, and I think we're still going to be a very good football team again."

Maybe, but then again Elway and Favre still had good fastballs.

When I think of McNair’s fastball I can’t help but to think of Bruce Chen.

Wonder if I can get my $100 back?

February, a month to "misremember"

February is by far the worst month of the year. It serves up the very sobering thought that the NFL season is over, college hoops while growing in appeal just doesn’t quite grab me yet (that comes in March), real baseball isn’t here yet (and may never be) and the weather sucks. Oh and let’s not forget my seemingly annual sinus infection that arrives with cupid's arrow.

To make matter worse, they had to go and make the month a day longer this year!


But at least there’s the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Now there’s something to jumpstart the thaw. But even that isn’t what it used to be now is it? Back in a day, supermodels adorned the cover and those beauties were household names. Today, the beauties are still there and then some but who are these girls? Where do they come from?

I’ve collected these swimsuit issues for years. I’m not exactly sure why. They are stored in some box collecting dust I suppose waiting to be sold some day at the most opportunistic time. But when will that be? With the internet, we get sneak previews galore of these girls. Videos are up all over YouTube and the net result is that the “Available on Newstands Today!’ announcement is rather anti-climatic.

Well at least there’s Roger Clemens to break up the monotony. Is this clown like the worst liar you’ve ever seen? If Brian McNamee wasn’t a trusted friend, what’s he doing in Clemens’ master bedroom with his wife? If he wasn’t aware of the powers of HGH why would he condone his wife’s use of it and if he didn’t condone the usage, why would McNamee continue to be his trainer after such an alleged violation?

How would you like to be Roger Clemens’ friend? Andy Pettite used to be. Here’s an upstanding guy, an intelligent pitcher, a man of faith and by most counts an honest man who comes clean on his own usage of performance enhancers. When asked why his so-called friend claims that Clemens confided in him about using HGH, Clemens says that Pettite “misremembered.”

First I didn’t even know that misremembered was a word yet a google search produces this from

mis·re·mem·ber (m s r -m m b r):
mis·re·mem·bered, mis·re·mem·ber·ing, mis·re·mem·bers
To remember incorrectly.

By the way, I wonder how much Clemens is paying for his legal fees. He should misremember those clowns because they are bending him over and being rather unkind to say the least. That aside, Clemens is a jerk and I find it amusing how bad he looks. I get some sick masochistic pleasure for some reason seeing him behaving like a babbling idiot during questioning about his alleged steroid usage.

Clemens is no stranger to idiocy. Here’s a guy who took a Mike Piazza broken bat and hurled it towards Piazza during the infamous subway World Series between the Yankees and the Mets. He later claimed that he thought the broken bat was the ball. So even if you buy into this hideous explanation to justify his horrid sportsmanship, why would you then toss the ball at the runner?

No doubt, Clemens is an idiot.

But laughing at him makes my sinus infection a bit more tolerable…as does the swimsuit issue.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gaither Around...a Change is Gonna Come

The Ravens haven’t played a down of practice…not a single solitary trip to the back fields of the palace in Owings Mills, and already there is a different vibe. Without a doubt there’s a new sheriff in town and as Sam Cooke sang as mesmerized fans left M&T Bank Stadium following the playoff loss to the Colts in January ’07, A Change is Gonna Come…

Forget Club Med in Westminster. Forget the card clubs. Forget the cliques. Forget the pecking order and forget the haves and have nots. The Ravens will all be haves.

You may as well call John Harbaugh “John Hardball” because that’s his game and if you don’t like it, well don’t let the door hit you in the upper glutes. Hardball has decided that he’s gonna mix up the locker room and rearrange the furniture. He’s hell-bent on creating positive energy in the locker room, in the weight room and of course between the lines. No longer are players going to be grouped by position in the locker room. No longer will the boys from “The U” get to cozy up to one another in their little fraternity.

Those days are over. Done!

Happy Valentine’s Day boys!

The players better be in top shape come July. The days of working themselves into shape on Billick’s good ship lollipop are nothing more than memories. There are probably plenty of pictures around I’m sure. Leaf through those photo albums of pleasant summer mornings in Carroll County if you have to because come July the real hard knocks return to Westminster.

When the Ravens do return to camp this summer, they are hoping to find a more polished, mature and slightly re-shaped Jared Gaither. Early in 2007 Gaither showed promise but later slumped. The experience in '07 should prove to be invaluable to the sophomore tackle. The Ravens believe that Gaither has the body style to put on more weight to his massive frame, particularly in his legs. And according to, Gaither has worked with Jonathan Ogden on technique. What better way of Jonathan Ogden enabling his legacy to linger than by passing on the torch of knowledge to another massive and athletic tackle.

Gaither has the tools, apparently he’s developing his previously questionable work ethic and now he’s a sponge soaking up the knowledge of a master.

What a perfect storm that could be for Cam Cameron and the Baltimore Ravens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is it time for GAMETIME?

This past Sunday our radio program GAMETIME was not heard on ESPN1300. In fact you will not hear GAMETIME again until March at the earliest.

The future of GAMETIME is unclear at this point. We are discussing the program with CBS Radio and our goal is to come up with a more permanent time slot for the program and to take it to the next level. Unfortunately there is a business side to all of this that needs to be addressed so that all parties involved, including our listeners, get what they deserve. Simply put, we are trying to achieve a win-win-win scenario.

Time will tell if in fact we do realize that goal.

We promise to keep you informed of any developments.

Wish us luck!

Poor, Poor Jim Fassel

Poor Jim Fassel. He seems like a nice enough guy and on the surface a capable coach. He guided his 2000 Giants into the Super Bowl and into the playoffs on more than one occasion. So why is it that since being fired by the Giants the man has never been anything more than a fall back option for a team that runs out of coaching options? He’s become the willing girl next door who will be more than happy to accompany you to the prom when all of the hot cheerleaders are already spoken for.

Fassel sits today, scratching his head and pretending that his fall from grace in the coaching ranks is everyone’s fault but his. Maybe it’s time to introduce Fassel to a little Led Zeppelin…

No-no-no-no-no-no-noooooooooooo body’s fault but mine…….

Fassel has visited on air with the Sports Junkies, Mike and the Mad Dog in New York, CBS Sportsline and pretty much anyone that will listen to his Linda Ronstadt song…

Poor, poor pitiful me…poor-poor pitiful me…

When Jim Fassel accepted the role of consultant with the Ravens and later the role of offensive coordinator rumors swirled. There was talk about his work ethic, his commitment to the task at hand. There were also some not very well masked rumors (which I’m not here to substantiate) about his prowess with the ladies and his affinity for the bottle.

Whether you buy into any of this speculation or not, there is some intrigue and mystery surrounding Fassel and his inability to not only land a job as a head coach, but really fail to gain any serious consideration for that coveted job. And this is a man who was the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1997.

What is so wrong with Jim Fassel?

Back in 2004 Fassel’s Giants were decimated by injuries after reaching the Wild Card round of the playoffs in 2003. With two games remaining in the 2004 season, Fassel was informed that he would be fired after the season. He coached those final two games with that understanding.

Fassel interviewed for a few of the several head coaching openings during the 2004 offseason but failed to be seriously considered. In 2005 he enthusiastically threw his hat into the coaching ring to be considered for more openings and failed to inspire even casual interest among the league’s general managers. It was almost as though there was some dirty dark secret about Fassel, known only within league circles that kept him from continuing his career as an NFL head coach.

Fast forward to 2008 and Fassel gets as close to a head coaching position as he’s been since 2004. By default he nearly is named as Joe Gibbs’ replacement in DC but at the eleventh hour, a 54-year-old quarterbacks coach named Jim Zorn snatches the opportunity away from Fassel and is named the new Redskins head coach by Dan Snyder.

Fassel is left in tatters and now he is spin doctoring and part of the spin includes Brian Billick and the Ravens.

Today Fassel calls accepting the offensive coordinator job under Brian Billick a mistake and points to it as the primary culprit for his failure to land the Redskins job.

"My biggest mistake was going to Baltimore," Fassel said. "That was the biggest mistake. I don’t think I needed to do that and when I went there and it was such a mess and got caught up in all that stuff..."

Fassel added, "I can’t tell you how many people have told me if you’d have just stayed out and done TV and radio and that stuff, it would have changed the whole perception of you."

Well what happened before Baltimore then Jim? Why weren’t you seriously considered then for head coaching vacancies?

Why did Snyder pass over you for a relatively old quarterbacks coach that has proven nothing and who was obviously overwhelmed, even intimidated by his recent hire?

"At the end of the day," said Fassel, "Dan wanted to make a big splash, and I think he was worried about the Baltimore thing. He worried about the public relations (fallout), and he didn't know which way to go."

Jim Zorn is a splash? He seems more like a belly flop to me.

Maybe if you had taken that coordinator’s position here in B’more a bit more seriously that “Baltimore thing” could have worked out for you. After all, the Ravens offense had little place to go but up and you could have been viewed as a savior of sorts. Maybe if you had spent a little more time studying film and not as much time creating a coaching manual and campaigning for your next position on the telephone, it may have worked out for you the way it did for Norv Turner in San Diego.

You see Turner was a coach who was hired by the Chargers despite a 58-82 career coaching record. Why? He took his offensive coordinator position in San Francisco pretty seriously.

Instead of whining about Baltimore and not taking accountability for your own mistakes, maybe you should give Norv a call and see how he managed to land one of the more desirable head coaching positions in the NFL.

Until then, how about a little more Linda Ronstadt?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ozzie Newsome needs to fly where Eagles dare

My colleague Dev Panchwagh suggested recently that the Ravens will soon need to start thinking about an extension for Haloti Ngata. Inherent in that thought process is a strategy the takes away the risk of losing a desirable player like Ngata to a team willing to overpay.

By restructuring prior to the end of a contract’s term, teams can get value oftentimes by locking up their key players early. For the team, such a strategy takes away the financial risk of free agency and competitors lurking with ample cap space, thus preserving the franchise’s cap structure. From the player’s perspective, it provides long-term security in exchange for the potential upside of the open market.

The Philadelphia Eagles are a team that employs this strategy successfully. It has helped them to remain competitive while efficiently managing the cap. You might question how they’ve employed their cap space, shelling out Benjamins to players like Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, but the fact remains they’ve been able to keep the integrity of their team in tact while making a strategic splash in free agency/trade. They don’t wait until the end of core player's contract and then overspend to keep him.

The Ravens would be wise to borrow a page from the Eagles' management. Ozzie Newsome has been guilty in the past of overspending (see Todd Heap, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed) to keep coveted players because he’s waited too long to ante up and pull the trigger. Sometimes he even loses them as in the case of Adalius Thomas.

The Ravens did extend Kelly Gregg at an appropriate time and it worked for both the team and Gregg. Ozzie would be wise to do the same with players like Ngata and Jason Brown as well as Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda when the time is right – not when they are up against free agency. It’s like a Fram Oil Filter commercial – Pay me now or pay me later!

Many have pegged the Ravens’ ’07 failures in part on the plethora of Ravens’ player talk shows. WBAL had the Derrick Mason Show and CBS Radio hosted shows for Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Willis McGahee and Bart Scott. And then there was WNST assembling a weekly pre-recorded show with whatever players that were left not already participating in one of the other shows.

The truth be told it was a bit too much and this comes from someone who hosted the Bart Scott Show. The message delivered was oftentimes redundant particularly during a losing season. It became boring. The excuses grew old and so did the shows.

Now take away a nine game losing streak and there’s an altogether different vibe for all of the shows. The radio gig would be more of a night out for the player instead of it feeling like a job and the audience would have fed off both the wins and the upbeat spirit of the player-hosts.

That didn’t happen.

But were the shows to blame even in part for the bad season?

Seems to me that Ray Lewis had a fine year, he’s in Hawaii now as is Willis McGahee. Derrick Mason was the first Raven ever to crack the century mark for receptions in a single season. J.O.’s problem wasn’t his mouth – it was his toe. Bart – he certainly didn’t follow up ’06 very well but folks in Owings Mills will tell you that he was asked to do things he probably shouldn’t have been asked to do and as a result his productivity was off.

Blaming the player shows is a cop out. I guess they were the reason for all those turnovers and penalties too right?. Please….

Wondering if the Ravens will open the season at home next year? Two words – AIN’T HAPPENIN’! The Orioles are at home 3 of the 4 Sundays in September with the off Sunday being September 21. Count on that being the home opener. There’s virtually no chance that the Ravens will be on Monday night or Thursday night next September unless they somehow figure out a way to trade for Tom Brady and they sign Randy Moss.

Sticking with TV, HBO’s "Inside the NFL" is officially done. ITN was the longest-running show in cable TV history. It took one appearance from Brian Billick to kill its 31-year run on HBO.

I'm kidding of course...I think.

Just say "McNO" to McNabb!

Most believe that the Ravens’ core “in-competency” is the position of quarterback. No argument here. If you look at most Super Bowl winning teams particularly in the salary cap era, they’ve had a stud behind center. Not only does the salary cap demand above average to great play at quarterback to produce consistent success, the morphing rules of the game that are pro-offense suggest the same. Teams need franchise quarterbacks.

One look at the Ravens roster is all an observer needs, to realize the franchise QB isn’t there for Steve Bisciotti’s team. So where do the Ravens go from here to find their missing link?

The national media has attempted to direct the Ravens’ sights northward and they’ve made strong overtures (ESPN’s Chris Mortensen) that Ozzie Newsome will make a play for Donovan McNabb. To this suggestion Ozzie recently said in a telephone interview, “We have not had any dialogue on our players, or any other players. We’ve just been hiring assistant coaches. We don’t have a quarterbacks coach yet.”

“We are hiring coaches,” Newsome added. “That’s what we’re concentrating on.”

Nowhere in there do I see a denial. If I’m Kyle Boller or Steve McNair I would not be totally comfortable with that answer particularly when John Harbaugh had this to say about the quarterback position during his introductory press conference:

“Whether it's someone on the roster right now that can be developed or whether it's someone we have to go out and get, I know we're shoulder-deep in that evaluation already before I even get here. I'm ready to jump in and get to work on that."

So which is it? Have the Ravens not had any dialogue about their players as Ozzie suggests or are they “shoulder-deep” as Harbaugh claims?

Of course I could be looking at this a bit too closely but if in fact Mortensen is remotely close to the truth regarding the Ravens interest in McNabb, please just say McNo! Haven’t we been down that path already with Steve McNair? Two years after giving him an $11 million signing bonus most folks in these parts are ready to say bon voyage! Couldn’t the same happen with McNabb?

McNabb has missed a lot of playing time. Since the 2002 season McNabb has played the entire 16 game season a grand total of one time. Over the course of the last 3 years he’s missed 15 regular season games – nearly a full season.

Comparatively speaking, since 2002 McNair has played 2 full seasons and over the past 3 season he’s missed a total of 12 regular season games.

Not only would the Ravens be banking McNabb's brittle bones holding up, they would also have to spend significantly more to get him than they did McNair who only cost the Ravens a No. 4 in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Maybe the Titans knew something about McNair before they let him go. Maybe the Eagles willingness to part with McNabb may suggest the same – BUYER BEWARE!

So if it’s not going to be McNabb and if none of the remaining merry band of QB characters on the Ravens’ roster is the answer, then what is? Should they look to the draft and if they do, which merry band member goes? McNair? Boller? Smith?

Boller might be the easiest to let go. Clearly he isn’t a consistent NFL starter and he can’t win on the road. I think the Giants showed the world how important that is. Boller signed a 1 year extension for $3million. We don’t know how much of that was a signing bonus but given the price of a quarterback with Boller’s youth and game experience, as checkered as it is, $3 million is not a bad deal for the team.

It also might be an attractive deal to a potential acquiring team. Boller will be 27 when the season starts and there may be some team that believes that Boller’s development was stunted by Brian Billick. After all Derek Anderson left, became the Browns starter and is now going to Hawaii to participate in the Pro Bowl.

Could the Ravens get a third round pick for Boller? How about a fourth to offset the cost of McNair? That could free up a spot on the roster for a Day 1 QB draft selection.

Or might the Ravens stay with what they’ve got. Now the spin doctors are busy telling us that Steve McNair is working out and that he’s determined to prove the naysayers wrong and so on and so forth.

So what if he comes back in great shape! Will that put any more mustard on his fastball? He reported in ’07 in better shape than in ’06. You saw what that got him. Even in ’06 when he was a Pro Bowl alternate, McNair was running on fumes in Week 17 ’06 against Buffalo and clearly in the playoff game against Indianapolis he had nothing in the tank.

I don’t think that’s changed a bit – he still has nothing and to give him the football another season delays the development of his successor, whoever that might be. If you believe that a Steve McNair in better shape will improve his production, then I'll show you a 60 year old woman who just had breast augmentation and now thinks she's Jessica Alba.

A QB that you should keep in the back of your mind is Billy Volek. According to Volek is an unrestricted free agent and he is familiar with Cam Cameron’s offense from the time the shared in San Diego. He may not be the long-term solution but he could be a stop gap measure to help develop a newly drafted QB.

And that’s a much better and more cost effective idea than bringing in Donovan McNabb.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

QB or not QB? That is the question for the Baltimore Ravens

Atop Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron’s list of concerns has to be the position of quarterback, a perpetually problematic issue for the Ravens. Rumors swirled during the Super Bowl that Donovan McNabb could be heading south down I-95 and end up as a Raven given John Harbaugh’s and now Wilbert Montgomery’s ties to Philadelphia. If that move is on your Ravens’ wish list, don’t hold your breath on it coming to fruition.

Eagles’ insiders suggest that the team is looking for McNabb to lead the team in ’08 and that they are confident that the former Pro Bowl quarterback will be fully recovered from the knee surgery that ended his 2006 season prematurely. Plus the costs to obtain McNabb would be prohibitive. Some have said that the Ravens at the very least would have to sacrifice their No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and then some. Mix in the cap implications for a team that has the second worst cap situation in the league according to SI’s Peter King and it makes such a move even more unrealistic.

And that’s a good thing. Haven’t the Ravens already been down that road before with Steve McNair – an injury-prone quarterback nearing the twilight of his career? Granted, McNabb seemingly has more in the tank than the running-on-empty McNair but McNair’s costs weren’t as prohibitive as those expected of a McNabb acquisition.

Many are wondering if McNair is done. Most believe that he is. Cam Cameron isn’t too quick to agree.

“I know there were a lot of predictions going around the last couple of years in Green Bay, and then we all saw what happened. So, I think you just see where guys are, get a consensus, and I’m sure all those things will come to light over the next weeks and months.”

So Cameron will take a wait and see approach and who can blame him? McNair has been in Owings Mills rehabbing and training. Chances are a proud veteran like McNair who was a borderline Hall of Fame candidate prior to the ’07 season, would not want to be remembered for the way his career seemingly flamed out last year.

That said the normally close to the vest Brian Billick left us all believing that McNair may have played his last down as a Raven and that was before Billick was handed the pink slip. McNair will probably give it a go but at this point both Kyle Boller and Troy Smith seem like better options. Elvis Grbac might be a better option.

Hey, is Trent Dilfer still under contract with the 49ers?

Back to Boller for a moment, could he finally blossom under the tutelage of a new coordinator and a new QB coach that isn’t on a tight leash controlled by Brian Billick? The Ravens hope so but if they want to win consistently in ’08, they should look in another direction. Boller hasn’t started and won a road game since November of ’04 and he’s had plenty of opportunities. Sure, he was thrown to the wolves as a rookie but that was a long time ago. At some point during the course of five years you would expect him to be more consistent and throwing someone to the wolves all those years ago is no excuse for inconsistency today.

The Ravens could turn to another veteran somewhere out there over the rainbow or they could look to No. 10 on their roster, Troy Smith. Smith didn’t prove that he was the Ravens’ quarterback of the future but he also didn’t prove that he was not. Cam Cameron has had experience dealing with undersized quarterbacks in the past (Drew Brees) and he’s done a fine job. As it stands today, Smith is a better option than projected 2008 first round QB’s like Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson.

One quarterback who apparently has captured the Ravens attention is Matt Ryan. Some Ravens’ scouts believe that Ryan has what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens put the card in for Ryan if he’s still on the board at No. 8.

That said the better option for the Ravens would be to wait until Round 2 or Round 3 to take a shot at a rookie signal caller. The Giants are proof that an impact defensive line can make a huge difference even against an All-World quarterback. Besides, the difference between the top 3 or 4 quarterbacks in the draft and the rest of the top 10 draft eligible quarterbacks is not very compelling.

Should the Ravens make a play on day 1 of the draft for a quarterback, which QB on the current roster will be the one to go?

Might they cut McNair?

Might they trade Boller? His one year contract is fairly reasonable.

Gee, it’s a shame Brian Billick isn’t coaching elsewhere. Talk about a trade partner made in heaven.

Let the offseason games begin…

Does Rex Ryan still fit the Ravens? What about Chris Chester?

As Ravens’ fans you would think that we supported the Baltimore Murphy’s this season because whatever could go wrong did go wrong in 2007. Sure we could list the injuries, the inopportune bounces of the ball, the public embarrassments on national television, the inability to remember snap counts, a loss to an otherwise winless team, etc, etc.

But why torture ourselves? What is done is done and it’s time to look ahead and look forward to what has to be a better 2008 season. And to get there for the Ravens it all starts with re-tooling the coaching staff.

So far things are looking pretty good for the Ravens. While it remains to be seen if John Harbaugh can immediately fill the shoes of Brian Billick and then some, you have to be impressed with the assistants he’s lined up thus far, particularly the coordinators.

Rex Ryan is arguably the best defensive coordinator in the business yet time will tell if this was a good hire by Harbaugh. No one questions Ryan’s ability to direct a defense but managing players and disciplining when necessary could be an issue particularly if Harbaugh runs a tight ship as expected. While Mamma (Harbaugh) cracks the whip the children might run to Aunt Suzy (Ryan) for comfort. If Aunt Suzy’s message drifts from Mamma’s watch out!

Word is that recently Ryan and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have shared a lunch or two together, something rarely if ever seen in the past from the coordinators. The Ravens have long professed their belief that self-scouting is one of the most important things to practice along the road to improvement yet communication hasn’t been the best between the offensive and defensive staffs. What better way to promote the overall good of the team than to have the two very capable coordinators seeking out each other for advice?

Early indications suggest that Cam Cameron is quite comfortable with the personnel he’s inherited to put points on the scoreboard. Cameron was instrumental in shaping the Chargers very fine offensive line – a line that struggled a bit just after his departure to Miami. He’ll have some young talent to work with and we’re beginning to hear more and more that if Jared Gaither can hold down the slot at right tackle, it could push Chris Chester out of a starting spot. Marshall Yanda’s toughness and coachability impressed the Ravens in ’07. He could be the team’s starting right guard in ’08 displacing Ben Grubbs who would move back to his collegiate position of left guard. If that happens, look for Jason Brown to become a fixture at center. He has the intelligence to make the line calls and he is a much more formidable anchor at the position than the under-sized Chester, particularly when taking on the behemoth nose tackles in the AFC North.

Rex Ryan should stick to coaching...Eli didn't deserve MVP

You have to wonder if Gary Wichard and Rex Ryan are bosom buddies. Who is Gary Wichard? He’s the agent for soon to be unrestricted free agent Terrell Suggs. And the way that Ryan is gushing all over Suggs these days, you’d think that the Ravens defensive coordinator/assistant head coach has a vested interest in making Suggs a very wealthy man.

After agreeing to his new deal Rex Ryan compared his own signing to the hopeful signing of Suggs: "I would've gone in the opposite order. I would've given money to Suggs to keep and then thrown me a bone afterwards. ... He's a rare player and it's a lot easier to win with him than it would be to play against him, that's for sure."

I’m sure that Ozzie Newsome and Ravens’ cap guru Pat Moriarty just loved hearing that Rex. How about you stick to coaching, eh? Don’t some of the Ravens’ defenders already have an overblown sense of self-worth?

Interesting that Rex got the assistant head coach suffix added to his title. That sounds pretty important doesn’t it? As the defensive coordinator under Brian Billick, Rex would run practices on the rare occasion when Brian Billick couldn’t attend even though he wasn’t the assistant head coach under Billick. That distinction belonged to departed offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Talk about things that make you scratch your head…

Applying the tag of “assistant head coach” to a coach’s title enables a team to prevent that coach from leaving the club for a similar position (i.e. lateral move). So where did Billick think that Forester was going to go and for that matter why would he be so concerned if he did?

By the way, where has Brian Billick gone? He did show up on HBO and there have been reports that he’s been vacationing on a tropical island and that he’ll soon be hitting the slopes. Good for him. He’s doing what most Americans would do if they were paid $5mil/year to remain unemployed. No truth to the rumor that Billick’s special assistant Vic Fangio has been traveling with him to help Billick manage happy hour.

Fangio gets to keep that special assistant tag under new head coach John Harbaugh. Wait wasn’t Fangio supposed to be the guy that helped manage the game clock for Billick? If so let’s hope that his new responsibilities as Harbaugh’s assistant don’t have anything to do with wearing a watch.

Speaking of time, word is the NFL is going to London Time again during the ’08 season. The league seems hell bent on going international but word is that most of those friendly English blokes don’t give a rats you know what about “American Football.” To make matters worse, the league has tabbed the Saints as the “host” team to the visiting Chargers. Um last time I checked the New Orleans economy wasn’t exactly robust. You’d think they might throw the Crescent City a freakin’ bone instead of taking one away. Go figure…

The figures are in on Super Bowl XLIII odds and guess who the favorites are? Why none other than the team most of America rooted against this past Sunday – the New England Patriots who are listed at 5:2 followed by the Colts and Cowboys at 6:1, ,the Packers at 7:1 and then the Chargers and Jaguars at 10:1. Apparently the Giants despite being Super Bowl Champs are Dangerfield-like. They are listed at 12:1. Other notables: Steelers at 18:1; Browns 30:1; Bengals 38:1.

So where do the Ravens fall in line? The Ravens sit at a golden 50:1 just behind the powerhouse Arizona Cardinals (45:1). I guess Vegas isn’t too impressed yet with John Harbaugh.

I’ll tell you what impressed me – the passion and determination with which the Giants played on Sunday in SBXLII. Perhaps the Patriots arrogance helped to fuel the Giants’ inspired effort. According to Giants WR Amani Toomer (who by the way absolutely pushed off prior to his sideline toe tap on his Q2 38 yard reception) the Patriots tried to play mind games with the Giants during the game. “They were inviting us to their parties after the game”, said Toomer. “They showed us no respect.''

Gee and Adalius Thomas made the Patriots seem like choir boys compared to his chest thumping former teammates...

Staying with the topic of respect, it comes as no surprise that Bill Belichick shows little to no respect to the injury reports. His open arrogance towards compliance with the reports is a slap in the face to the league and the league does little about it. On this week’s injury report, the only name that appeared was that of Tom Brady, listed as probable with a shoulder injury – a rather common injury report entry throughout the ’07 season.

Yet CB Ellis Hobbs was not listed despite playing with an injured groin for the better part of two months. Don't think that Hobbs was hurt? He is scheduled for surgery to repair what is being described as a sports hernia. Belichick might be described as a sports hemorrhoid.

And finally, while Eli Manning’s performance was valiant and courageous, he would not have received my vote for MVP (2 lollipop passes landed in the hands of Toomer and David Tyree). No, that distinction in my opinion belongs to Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck who had 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries and one forced fumble. The dominance of New England’s previously stout offensive line by the Giants defensive front was clearly the difference in the game and no one had a greater impact on that dominance than Tuck.

I bet Rex Ryan would agree…

Monday, February 04, 2008

Smug Patriots deserved to lose

Prior to yesterday’s game many asked me who I was rooting for. Should the truth be told I had no real rooting interest in the game. I’m not a big fan of Tom Coughlin’s, never liked Plaxico Burress and if you ask me, Eli Manning is about as near and dear to my heart as John Elway. Both players snubbed the teams that drafted them and then acted like spoiled babies until they got their way. I don’t like the Giants much.

On the other hand, New England is smug and bombastic from the top down. I’m tired of their dynasty, of the media coverage and the arrogance of their spoiled fans. I have to admit I like Tom Brady, always have. Maybe I’m just jealous when it comes to the Patriots but like the Giants, I don’t like them much either.

So, who did I root for?

Since neither team does much for me, I reasoned that it wouldn’t be so bad to see history being made. So I sided slightly to the Patriots side.

Despite superior talent, the Patriots were outplayed, out-hit, out-hustled and out coached. The Giants looked more prepared than the Patriots and clearly the difference in the game was how the Giants defensive front manhandled New England’s vaunted offensive line. They simply wanted it more.

Still, as the game’s waning moments clicked by I still found myself quietly siding with the Patriots despite the overwhelming support of the Giants at the party I attended (thank you Kimmie and Eddie).

But then something happened. When Tom Brady threw a third quarter pass that Yao Ming couldn’t have snared and then had the audacity to publicly chastise his receiver, I began to sway. Brady wasn’t handling adversity well. It showed on his face.

As the game neared its end, despite the excitement and the outcome hanging in the balance, I watched with little emotion. Now either team winning would be fine, I just wanted to see an exciting finish. None of us without a vested interest in either team should have been disappointed in the way SB XLII ended.

When it was obvious that the Giants would win, I still had no emotional energy invested in the game until IT happened.

With 2 seconds remaining on the clock, Bill Belichick led his team from the sidelines to congratulate the Giants. Now keep in mind that Belichick and Coughlin coached together under Bill Parcells. Coughlin was about to win his first Super Bowl – a victory well earned against a prohibitive favorite.

Referee Mike Carey had to send both teams back to the sidelines with 2 seconds remaining. In a game with so much wagered, the league could not risk the controversy. What if another Joe Pisarcik happened? Where was Herm Edwards?

So, instead of going back to the sidelines, Belichick enveloped in all of his not-so-glorious smugness ran to the locker room in his cut off hoodie. Here’s a man that has had a huge amount of success, many accolades, awards, etc. – a man convicted as a cheater by the court of public opinion, running off the field while showing no respect to a former colleague.

I hope that former Pats videographer Matt Walsh spills his guts to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about spygate like some pansy from the New York mafia family might run his mouth to a heavily armed Tony Soprano.

When those final 2 seconds ticked down and the Giants celebrated, I was happy for a highly deserving team not so much because I like them, but because I now REALLY dislike the New England Patriots.

Funny, they hardly seem patriotic to me…