Tuesday June 10th, 2008

It's kind of fitting Michael Strahan and Brett Favre retired the same offseason, because when I think of No. 92, the first image I'll see is him setting the single-season sack record of 22½ in 2001 courtesy of Favre's infamous flop at his feet in the final game of that season. Funny, but they don't play that one on an endless highlight reel on the NFL Network.

I know it's all bouquets and valentines when you've had a Hall of Fame career and you get the added bonus of walking away as a Super Bowl champion, but you should know that when Strahan was holding out of Giants camp last summer, there were plenty of folks in the New York organization who weren't exactly heartbroken over his absence or willing to accept his motives on face value.

Yes, Strahan was a team leader within the Giants locker room. But not all the time. Strahan was a master at that me-first, sporadic sort of leadership that some athletes demonstrate best when the TV lights get turned on and the cameras are pointed at them. By and large, Strahan was seen within the Giants as someone who never lost track of what was best for Strahan at any particular moment.

The best news for New York is that just as last year, when Tiki Barber's production in the backfield was compensated for nicely by the likes of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward, the Giants aren't going to suffer from separation anxiety without Strahan around. As he proved throughout the playoffs and most tellingly in the Super Bowl, fourth-year defensive end Justin Tuck is a dominating presence who's ready for a full-time starting role. And New York can always move 2006 first-round pick Mathias Kiwanuka back to his natural defensive end position (from outside linebacker) if defensive line depth or a need for more pass rush becomes an issue.

Don't get me wrong. Without Strahan, the Giants will be missing a superb player who could still greatly impact a game 15 years into his career. But on the whole, New York's Super Bowl title defense didn't suffer its first major setback this week. Far from it. In addition to the heroics, Strahan always provided a few headaches for Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his team. Rest assured, New York will do just fine without either one from No. 92.

Jerome Bettis retires after 2006 and goes straight to TV. Tiki Barber retires after 2007 and goes straight to TV. And now it's Strahan's turn, who's probably Fox-bound if the rumors are correct (Barber is the only one who didn't go out with a ring).

Strahan will be a natural, of course, and by August he'll likely have gone public with more than a few opinions to stir things up in New York, Tiki-style. Get ready for Mike's take on the Jeremy Shockey saga. You know it's coming.

Cedric Benson. Travis Henry. Marshawn Lynch. It's been wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee time for quite a few NFL running backs in recent weeks. Two of them are out of a job by their own doing, and the third seems to be facing a potentially costly off-field legal issue that could wind up impacting his 2008 season.

Lynch's potential involvement in that hit-and-run accident in Buffalo is still a story without an ending, but the other two running backs may have cost themselves a career with their penchant for poor decision-making.

• Speaking of poor decisions, you can add Benson to the long list of Chicago's first-round misses -- and it's not just running backs. In the past 15 drafts alone, the Bears have selected the following underachievers in the opening round: defensive end John Thierry (1994), running back Rashaan Salaam (1995), running back Curtis Enis (1998), quarterback Cade McNown (1999), receiver David Terrell (2001), offensive tackle Marc Columbo (2002), defensive end Michael Haynes (2003), quarterback Rex Grossman (2003) and Benson (2005).

That's quite the haul of failure.

• Without too much imagination required, here's a potential lineup of No. 1 running backs in the NFC North: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Chicago's Matt Forte, Detroit's Kevin Smith and Green Bay's Ryan Grant.

That's two rookies (Forte and Smith) and two second-year veterans (Peterson and Grant, with the Packers running back being classified as a first-year player, rather than a rookie, in 2007). Youth will be served this year in the NFC North.

• I'm not sure quite what to make of the news that Terrell Owens missed a random drug test, which now results in him being placed in the league's "reasonable cause'' testing program for performance-enhancing drugs. All I know is that Dallas better hope it's just the procedural matter that Jerry Jones said it is, because Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders already have their hands full watching over Pacman "Call me Adam'' Jones 24 hours a day.

• To those who wonder about the wisdom of Washington hiring Jim Zorn or Baltimore hiring John Harbaugh without either one of them ever having been a head coach or an NFL coordinator, Andy Reid's career serves as a pretty good comeback. When the Eagles chose him in 1999, he had never been a head coach or an NFL coordinator.

As Reid enters his 10th season in Philadelphia, he's not only tied with Seattle's Mike Holmgren (his former boss) as the dean of all NFC coaches, but also he's competed against 12 different coaches since he arrived in the NFC East in 1999.

Washington is on its sixth coach in that span -- Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (interim), Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn. Dallas has had four: Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips. The Giants have been the division's next most stable team, with just Jim Fassel and Tom Coughlin coaching during Reid's tenure in Philly.

One more footnote: If you consider that Holmgren's Seahawks were an AFC West team for his first three seasons in Seattle, until the NFL realigned to eight divisions in 2002, Reid is the dean of all NFC head coaches in terms of continuous service to one team.

• Now Seattle receiver Bobby Engram says he may consider holding out of training camp, after already missing the team's minicamps this spring to show his displeasure with his contract.


Honestly, how many times can you get worked up about a player missing OTAs or minicamps? When we get to late July and they start taking roll at training camp, that's when you have a story worth following. And even then, a training camp holdout is not necessarily a catastrophe, as Asante Samuel and Strahan reminded us last summer.

• Three final thoughts:

-- Anybody but me surprised that ex-Jaguars quarterback Quinn Gray couldn't even make it to training camp with Houston after signing a one-year deal this spring? Gray looked pretty good against the Texans for Jacksonville in Week 17 of last season.

-- Anybody caught off guard by Chris Simms saying his relationship with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is "irreparably broken''? You shouldn't be. Not after the way the former Tampa Bay starting quarterback was treated last year. Gruden's reputation has always been as a coach who loves his quarterbacks -- until he doesn't any more. Then it's "what have you done for me lately?'' time.

-- Anybody get the feeling that by now Marcus Robinson knows he picked the wrong day to announce his retirement? Upstaged one last time.

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