Some questions to ponder - and answer - as NFL camps get under way
A lot. The Saints have developed an us-against-the-world mentality that they think will galvanize them this season and help them overcome all of the bad, awful things that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has done to them. But when the "us" doesn'
What effect will Bountygate have on the Saints?
A lot. The Saints have developed an us-against-the-world mentality that they think will galvanize them this season and help them overcome all of the bad, awful things that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has done to them. But when the "us" doesn't include your head coach (Sean Payton) and your starting middle linebacker (Jon Vilma), who both were suspended for the season, it will be tough. The absences of Payton and Vilma, as well as the four-game suspension to defensive end Will Smith and the six-game suspension to linebackers coach/interim head coach Joe Vitt, are significant blows. Drew Brees is a coach on the field, and the Saints still have a lot of offensive firepower. But it will be awfully difficult for them to overcome what's happened. I don't think they will fall into oblivion, but I'm not sure they'll win more than eight or nine games. Then again, the Giants went 9-7 last year and won the Super Bowl.
Was Goodell too hard on the Saints?
Absolutely. While former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams took pay-for-KOs to a whole new level, bounties have been a fact of life in the league for years. Just ask any defensive player who has played in the league. But with thousands of players suing the league over the long-term effects of concussions, Goodell is trying to convince a potential jury that the owners really, really care about the health and well-being of their players. If that means going overboard on punishing the Saints, well, then so be it.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski recently ranked the league's top 30 quarterbacks. He had Michael Vick rated 12th. Too high? Too low? Just about right?
I thought Jaws' QB rankings were pretty much on target. I agree with the 11 players he ranked ahead of Vick: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan. I probably would have put the Texans' Matt Schaub and the Lions' Matthew Stafford ahead of him as well. But that's me.
How much of an impact will Peyton Manning have on the Broncos this season?
Assuming Manning experiences no setbacks from his four neck surgeries, which appears to be a pretty safe assumption at this point, he'll have a significant impact on the Broncos. Even if he doesn't regain that final 10 percent of strength in his right arm, the upgrade from Tim Tebow to the 36-year-old Manning is huge. Not to sully Tebow's heroics last season, but the guy completed 46.5 percent of his pass attempts. Manning could complete 60 percent with a blindfold on. Look for the Broncos to win 10 or 11 games with Manning behind center.
Should the Jets have their heads examined for trading for Tebow?
Lobotomies for both GM Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan wouldn't be a bad idea. While they insist they acquired Tebow strictly as a Wildcat weapon, you will have to excuse Mark Sanchez if he doesn't totally buy that. Frankly, I don't think Sanchez ever will be anything more than a mediocre NFL quarterback. But constantly looking over his shoulder at the smiling Tebes sure as hell won't bring out the best in him. The New York papers already plan to chronicle each and every training-camp throw these two guys make this summer. Quarterback controversy? What quarterback controversy? At least they had the good sense to turn down "Hard Knocks."
Can the Giants repeat?
The Giants got hot at the right time last year. They won only nine games in the regular season, lost to the Eagles at home with Vince Young at quarterback, for God's sakes, scored fewer points than their opponents, and still managed to walk off with the Lombardi Trophy. In the last 30 years, only four teams have won back-to-back Super Bowls: the Patriots (2003-04), the Broncos (1998-99), the Cowboys (1993-94) and the 49ers (1989-90). Could the Giants become the fifth? Sure, but it's about as likely as Chris Christie fitting in pants with a 32-inch waist. Their division is tougher than it was a year ago, and both their offensive line and linebacking corps have issues. They also let wide receiver Mario Manningham and running back Brandon Jacobs walk.
What team had the best offseason?
Several teams, including the Eagles, Bills and Chiefs, had very good offseasons. But my vote goes to Tampa Bay. The Bucs entered free agency with more than $40 million in salary-cap space and signed All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and the best wide receiver in free agency, Vincent Jackson. They also brought in veteran tight end Dallas Clark. Had a pretty good draft haul, as well, landing the draft's best safety, Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David.
Who had the worst offseason?
The Raiders and Texans. The Raiders' new GM, Raleigh McKenzie, had to deal with all of the bad contracts late owner Al Davis had given out and could do little to help his team in free agency. He also didn't have a first- or second-round draft pick, thanks to last year's deal for Carson Palmer. The Texans also were hamstrung by cap problems, causing them to wave bye-bye to three very good players: defensive end Mario Williams, offensive tackle Eric Winston and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
How will Asante Samuel do in Atlanta?
Asante already is predicting a 10-pick season for himself. I think the change of scenery will do him good. The Falcons badly need a cornerback with his ballhawking skills. Brent Grimes had only one interception last season. Dunta Robinson has only three in the last 3 years. But Samuel had better improve his tackling skills or he'll quickly fall out of favor with head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. According to Pro Football Focus, Samuel has been the worst tackler in the league the last 3 years, missing one tackle for every 3.7 he has attempted. As for his prediction of 10 picks, I don't know whether he'll get that many. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him get six or seven. Two of NFC South's other three teams - Tampa and Carolina - had the fourth- and fifth-highest interception percentages in the NFC last year. And the third - New Orleans - had the second most pass attempts in the league. So he'll get plenty of opportunities.
Is Donovan McNabb's NFL career over?
No. McNabb says he still wants to play and I think somebody eventually will sign him. It might not be until late August or early September, but he'll be on a roster somewhere this season. There are a lot of bad quarterbacks in this league. If McNabb is in decent shape and can convince a team he'd be content serving as a backup, somebody will give him a job.
Would the Eagles consider signing him if Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards struggle in training camp and the preseason?
No, no, a thousand times no.
The Ravens' Ray Rice and the Bears' Matt Forte signed new contracts this week. How do their deals stack up with the rest of the league's top running backs?
Rice signed a 5-year, $40 million deal with $24 million guaranteed. Forte's is $32 million over 4 years with $18 million guaranteed. That's in the same neighborhood as the recent deals done by the Eagles' LeSean McCoy (5 years, $45 million, $21 million guaranteed) and the Texans' Arian Foster (5 years, $43.5 million, $20.8 million guaranteed), but several blocks south of the league's two highest paid backs - the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (7 years, $100 million, $36 million guaranteed) and the Titans' Chris Johnson (4 years, $53.5 million, $30 million guaranteed).
The Patriots' recently widowed 71-year-old owner, Bob Kraft, is dating a 32-year-old, part-time actress by the name of Ricki Lander. Your thoughts?
You go, boy.
The Cardinals expressed interest in Peyton Manning during the offseason. Have they given up on Kevin Kolb?
Not yet, but the clock is ticking. Kolb will head into training camp as the team's starter, ahead of John Skelton, even though the Cardinals were 5-2 with Skelton at quarterback last season and 3-6 with Kolb. A big part of that is the fact that they gave Kolb a $7 million roster bonus in March. But coach Ken Whisenhunt is on the hot seat and won't hesitate to bench Kolb if he doesn't play well. While this will be his sixth NFL season, he has made only 16 career starts. He missed seven games last year with a turf toe and concussion and struggled to get his arms around the Cardinals' offense after being traded in late July. Assuming he stays relatively healthy, this season should give us a pretty good read on Kolb.
Speaking of former Eagles quarterbacks, how do you think Vince Young will do in Buffalo?
Hey, after the dreadful way he played last year - nine interceptions in 114 pass attempts, a 60.8 passer rating - he has nowhere to go but up. I doubt he'll push Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting job. But at least he's had an offseason to learn the Bills' offense, which is something he didn't have last year with the Eagles. And he hasn't referred to the Bills as the Dream Team.