Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

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The most bizarre story of the 2014 offseason came to what seemed like it’s inevitable conclusion around noon Friday when the Philadelphia Eagles released DeSean Jackson.

Go ahead and read that sentence again, but really, really remember this when you get to the “inevitable conclusion” part: DeSean Jackson is a 27-year-old wide receiver just entering his prime, and he’s fresh off of a year with 82 receptions, 1,332 receiving yards, an average of 83.2 yards per game, and nine touchdowns. Three of those numbers are career highs, and the other one (the touchdowns) ties a career high.

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As a head coach, a general manager, or an owner in the NFL, the quarterback is your reason to think happy thoughts. For coach and GM he’s where those dreams of championships start and end, or at the very least he’s where they’re anchored. For others in the front office more concerned with staying comfortably in the black, he moves that merch. No one is buying Matt McGloin jerseys.

Every offseason around this time as free agency fizzles and the focus turns to the draft, we’re reminded that the search for even just stability at the quarterback position makes teams do things which quickly become regrettable. As week became weekend this past Friday afternoon — the industry standard time to announce transactions which prompt yelling — we saw two such moves that will soon be mistakes for different reasons.

The root cause in each case was the worst kind of motivation for any roster decision, but especially at quarterback. The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders are scared. Petrified even.

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When a talking head football guy appears on your television to discuss the NFL matters of the day, he often refers to an example of poor off-field behavior and says it’s only tolerated — or at least tolerated far more easily — when a team is winning. In the past that was the logical conclusion, and the most famous examples of such thinking being carried out to the worst ending came when Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson were benched because they cared only about themselves.

That was always true about those two and it’s true of many others. Selfishness is an attitude that’s highlighted at a marquee offensive position like wide receiver, but those who play the position aren’t uniquely disgruntled snowflakes. They’re just a little more vocal about it because the nature of said position — the need to beat another man one-on-one — breeds hyper individuality. When a player who’s not afraid to voice thoughts about his self-worth is placed in a sport which gives very few cares about that with it’s non-guaranteed contracts, we get the Johnsons (Keyshawn and Chad), and we get Owens.

We get DeSean Jackson too, and apparently not even the tonic of winning can stop the persistent trade speculation.

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The NFL is a hypocritical mess

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We all had it, surely. We had a high school class that dealt with social issues, and at one point we were assigned to pick an “ism” and know everything about its history, and its badness or goodness. Or at least I was, and at the time 16-year-old Sean Tomlinson picked racism. Presumably because hey, why not start small.

For pretty obvious reasons, I’ll never forget one of the primary sources I read as part of that project

book

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In a way that was just so NFL, around closing time this past Friday afternoon the story of the magical Jim Harbaugh trade to Cleveland that wasn’t made it to your eyeballs before beginning to shatter brains. Although there are examples of similar kaboom trades involving coaches which ended in success (most notably, Jon Gruden going from Oakland to Tampa), the immediate question for both sides here was a simple one: why?

Why would the 49ers even consider for a moment a trade to part with a mastermind head coach who has taken them to three NFC title games in each of his first three seasons and a Super Bowl, and as an advanced offensive mind he’s steadily brought along Colin Kaepernick, a young quarterback in a unique system?

And why would the Browns, a flawed offensive team with many needs and a quarterback chief among them, sacrifice presumably multiple first-round picks? The simple answers to those simple questions: every head coach is replaceable for the right price (or if he out-prices himself during contract negotiations), and desperation can lead to wild home run cuts which become regrettable fast. The Browns’ desperation isn’t difficult to locate with their front office and ownership which couldn’t operate a light switch, and a lack of consistent leadership with now three head coaches since 2011.

But even after ProFootballTalk’s report was quickly gunned down first by Ian Rapoport’s two unnamed 49ers sources, and then later the principle players in team owner Jed York and Harbaugh himself, one other question remains, one that’s at the core of the Harbaugh-49ers dynamic/divide. Why does it matter if a successful person is also a controlling person?

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When Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin spoke at the Combine yesterday, he did so publicly for the first time since the Ted Wells report was released last week documenting the depth of the dysfunction in his locker room, and the abuse directed at Jonathan Martin. What he did right away then was equal parts required and predictable: he took full responsibility.

“Some of the facts, the behavior, the language that was outlined in the report is inappropriate and it’s unacceptable. I’m the one that’s in charge of the workplace. … We’re going to do things about it.

“We’re going to make it better. We’re going to look at every avenue. We’re going to uncover every stone and we’re going to have a better workplace. I promise you that. We’re going to make sure that happens.”

The head coach is the grand overseer of all. In the culture of the NFL locker room he’s the boss and the top brass to everyone there other than, you know, the actual top brass. But he can also become whatever you want him to be in a specific situation: he can be the dictating Big Brother, the screaming motivator, or the laughing father figure. He determines what approach is best suited for each player and each situation, and morphs as needed.

But on a fundamental level another responsibility comes with that connection a coach has with his players. Since he knows each player intimately after spending so many waking hours with them each week and throughout the offseason, he’s aware of their personalities, and their flaws. By extension then he should also be aware of how they’re conducting themselves within his castle, the locker room.

Even as he accepted responsibility yesterday and spoke frankly without notes while facing the media barbs, a glaring mistake of ignorance on Philbin’s part remained, one that was confirmed by the Wells report. He didn’t know about the behavior of Richie Incognito and others until after the crumbling began and Martin walked out.

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What a prima-donna.

The beginning of the NFL Scouting Combine is also the unofficial beginning of draft season. Which means mid-February around the NFL is a good time to engage in a healthy human practice: stepping back and assessing if we should really care about what we care about.

The Combine is important. It’s always important, but as prospects begin to descend on Indianapolis tomorrow it’s also only the largest screwdriver in the toolbox used to evaluate incoming talent. That’s why while you’re pummeled with information this week about the wayward fluctuations of draft stocks, remember that one flawed 40-yard dash time alone doesn’t alter the valuation much. As simple as that thought seems, please recall the national emergency when we discovered Manti Te’o was far more turtle than hare, knowledge which was readily available long before last year’s underwear Olympics.

As a spectator caution is key with the Combine, and it should be used as you watch, and as you read.

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