Tuesday, March 27, 2012

These Jets are about to crash

Rex Ryan came onto the scene in New York like a new sheriff ready to clean up someone else’s mess. And early on he did exactly that. He put the fun back in football for New York Jets fans, bringing laughter, cheer and wins.

Wigs, snacks, a foul mouth, bird flipping and foot fetishes aside Ryan brought bravado and hope to Gang Green.

Now hope borders on despair.

Looking back on his days with the Baltimore Ravens as the beloved defensive coordinator serving under Brian Billick and later John Harbaugh, Ryan had a knack for getting the most out of his players and placing them in position to be successful.

Many of the Ravens’ defenders wanted Rex to succeed Billick has the head coach. A team known for its defense, carried for years by Ray Lewis & Co. seemed like the most logical launching pad for Ryan’s head coaching career. Ed Reed and Bart Scott pleaded Rex’ case.

Rex thought he was in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively. During the interviewing process Ryan pulled his truck into Billick’s then recently abandoned parking spot marked, “Head Coach.”

Ryan can never be accused of lacking brass stones.

But the hefty coordinator never had a chance in Baltimore. The Ravens front office understood why Rex was rejected previously by the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons. They were familiar with his immaturity and understood that naming Ryan their head coach came with risks – big risks.

Some coaches are better off being colonels not generals.

And the Ravens took a pass.

Winning however has a way of masking the aforementioned embarrassments for the Jets owner Woody Johnson. Losing exacerbates them.

So does a bad locker room.

Rex sees himself as somewhat of a Malcontent Whisperer. He threw out the welcome mat to Antonio Cromartie, Kris Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress – hardly choirboys.

For awhile it worked. But then results fell short of expectations and the fingers started pointing like six-shooters in the Wild, Wild West. And as it so often happens in the NFL when things go wrong the blame often falls upon the shoulders of the quarterback.

Unfortunately for Rex and the Jets, Mark Sanchez’ shoulders aren’t all that big and stout. Towards the end of the 2011 season the weight began to force Sanchez to bend a bit from the hips. And now Ryan with the addition of Tim Tebow, on the heels of giving Sanchez a contract extension no less, is pushing down on the back of Sanchez’ head.

“I don’t see Tim [Tebow] just holding a clipboard. He’s going to be playing for us. There is no doubt,” Ryan said at the league meetings. “He will have a role. We know that. There won’t be a better Wildcat quarterback in the game. Is that his only role? I don’t believe that – we’ll see what happens.”

“We have a No. 1 quarterback. Mark is our No. 1 quarterback. Tim Tebow is our No. 2 quarterback, but he’s also going to do other things for this football team,” Ryan added. “He’s a football player. That’s what I keep wanting to put out there. Let’s not just look at him as a quarterback. I look at him as a football player.”

But that football player is a quarterback and when your No. 1 quarterback is 2009’s fifth overall draft pick with a bruised and battered ego, something has got to give.

Ryan is a riverboat gambler – that’s an understatement of the obvious. But this roll of the heavenly dice with Tebow might not have the rallying effect (in a locker room sorely in need of one) that Ryan thinks. More likely it will divide Gang Green more rapidly than Moses split the Red Sea.

And if that happens, look for Woody Johnson to shoot the sheriff.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Cut McKinnie to save Grubbs?

Pro Bowl unrestricted free agent Ben Grubbs is a player the Ravens would love to keep – provided the cost isn’t exorbitant and that it doesn’t tilt the scales so heavily towards the interior of the offensive line that they can’t afford a quality long-term tackle for Joe Flacco’s blind side.

Some have suggested that the Baltimore Ravens release Bryant McKinnie to create cap space for Grubbs. But wouldn’t solving one problem (not being able to afford Grubbs) trigger another problem at left tackle?

Granted, McKinnie wasn’t the end-all-be-all at left tackle but he was serviceable and the Ravens inability to advance beyond the AFC Championship could hardly be hung on his shoulders.

But let’s look at the economics…

McKinnie received a $1M bonus last year, so $500K of that $4.2M (his 2012 cap figure) would still count towards this year’s if he is released. The $3.7M savings would go a long way toward creating room for Grubbs, but if the Ravens replace McKinnie with a stop gap solution, chances are they would have to sign someone who would earn close to the same amount that the team would save through a McKinnie release.

The team could turn the blind side duties back over to Michael Oher and have Jah Reid, a player the team is apparently high on, fill in at right tackle. But Oher has struggled at left tackle. Do the Ravens really want to go there again? What if Reid isn’t ready to be a starter? What’s next, Ramon Harewood?

Unless the Ravens are willing to assume these risks, the only way that Grubbs remains a Raven is if he’s willing to give the team a hometown discount.

Didn’t we have a similar conversation a few years back regarding Jason Brown?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Get your pen ready Ray Rice!

Player agents want to use previously completed deals as benchmarks for their clients. If they believe that their client(s) is as good as another player whose contract ink is barely dry, that becomes the starting point of negotiations for their client’s deal.

Enter Todd France and Ray Rice…

The two will look to recent deals signed by Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson – deals that I’ll go out on a not-so-daring limb and say both the Titans and Vikings regret.

So why should the Ravens base their discussions with Ray Rice on the mistakes of others?

It is salary cap roulette to pay running backs big money long-term particularly when bargain replacements can be found in the draft (Rice being one of them).

This isn't meant to be a knock on Rice. It's just the nature of the beast.

Rice deserves a fair deal and for that the Ravens should look no further than the one MJD signed in 2009 (5 years, $31M, $17.M guaranteed). MJD ‘s productivity closely mirrors that of Rice (see here) and he’s on a team with relatively little to no offensive options. Mix in some inflation and fluff that MJD deal up to 5 years, $39M and $22M guaranteed.

That’s fair Ray Rice.

The alternative is to be tagged for 2 years; Ravens groom the replacement and then let someone else overpay for a RB heading into his 7th season.

I know it sounds cold but that's the NFL.

Right player, right price.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

YOU ASKED, I ANSWERED: The Rice Franchise Tag

It appears as though Ray Rice is going to be franchised. Is this the right move? Can he buck the short productivity lifespan of running backs and what are the team's plans for depth at the position with Ricky Williams retiring?

Franchising Rice is the right move for the Ravens, particularly when his contractual demands are said to be knocking on the door of Adrian Peterson’s bloated contract. Peterson is a greater talent and let’s not forget that he was a beneficiary of circumstance. As part of an attempt to land a new stadium deal in Minnesota, Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf wanted to lock up Peterson long-term. And while the deal may have been a good business move overall, it was a bad contract and mirroring that is just wrong for the Ravens on many levels.

Running backs are relatively inexpensive to replace. That’s not intended to discredit Rice’s ability but it’s just the nature of the game. One only needs to look at the top 6 backs this past season, none of which was a first round pick and none remotely close to earning AP dollars. Big running back deals just aren’t practical in the salary cap era. It would not surprise me at all to see the team franchise Rice again in 2013 and then move on to the post Rice era.

As for Ricky Williams, the club seems to be willing to go with second year back Anthony Allen as Rice’s backup with former Miami Hurricane Damien Berry in the wings – a 2011 practice squad player. But don’t be surprised if Williams “retirement” isn’t just a veteran ploy to circumvent the offseason conditioning program, OTA’s and part of training camp. My gut says that even the club sees his return as being a decent possibility