Ross Tucker
Friday July 11th, 2008

With no football to play for the first time in 18 years, former pro Ross Tucker is passing the time reading about his favorite sport. What follows are a few links to NFL-related articles he found and his take on them.

Like most people who follow the NFL, I assumed Jonathan Ogden and Michael Strahan were locks for the Hall of Fame after they recently announced their retirements. In fact, both players have been so dominant for so long that I pictured them being first-ballot invitees. If those guys don't get in right away, who does?

Then I read this interesting piece by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News about the tendency to believe the most recent guys to retire are the most deserving because they are fresh in our minds. When you actually look at the numbers, you realize how difficult it truly is to get into the Hall of Fame and how quickly the greatness of those from years gone by is forgotten.

Who would have thought Chris Doleman and Kevin Greene have more sacks than Strahan?

The point is that unless you are one of the truly untouchables like a Jerry Rice, an Emmitt Smith or a Brett Favre, there aren't any automatic tickets to Canton. There is a long line of elite players standing in line in front of the likes of Warren Sapp and Larry Allen. We just forgot about them.

It took all of 30 seconds for me to realize the keys to SI.com's inaugural Salary Cap Roster Challenge that recently took place between my colleagues, Bucky Brooks and Mike Lombardi. As I studied it I realized that I could compile a formidable team for well under the $116 million dollar salary cap -- and well under $100 million if my owner wants some extra spending cash, though for the purposes of this exercise you might as well spend it if you have it because you don't get to keep the profit.

The key is to attempt to compile all of the young players around the league drafted after the first round that have already proven themselves to be quality NFL players but have not yet received their second contracts. That is where all of the value is, both in the real NFL and in the Salary Cap Roster Challenge. Unlike the NFL, where you have to draft well in order to create that value, the Salary Cap Roster Challenge allows the combatants to selectively scour the league and scoop up all of the young players that have clearly outplayed their rookie contracts, thereby creating an enormously attractive value proposition for both their actual franchises and their virtual Roster Challenge teams.

Players that produce at a high level for a relatively paltry sum include the Saints' Marques Colston and Jahri Evans, the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boss and the Packers' Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings and James Jones, just to name a few. It also would have been easy to put a solid line together with the likes of the Bucs' Jeremy Trueblood and Aaron Sears. And there's no doubt I would have fought tooth and nail to get Devin Hester on my team -- $795,000 for a game-changer is a no-brainer.

The other place where you can add a lot of financial value in this simulated game is to pick up the players that have expressed an overwhelming desire to get a new contract that compensates them more commensurately with similar players at their position around the league. More often than not those players are indeed underpaid.

I would snap up the Bills' Jason Peters, who appears poised to overtake Walter Jones as the best left tackle in football. The Giants' Plaxico Burress and the Jets' Chris Baker are two more disgruntled vets that can find a place in my locker room next to the Eagles' Lito Sheppard.

Though the Salary Cap Roster Challenge only looks at the 2008 cap number and not the guaranteed financial commitment being given to these players, the same basic tenets of success remain. It is all about drafting well and locking up your free agents early at a slightly below-market rate.

Especially when it is a virtual game and you don't really have to be there when they come by your office demanding more money.

As a recently retired player, I often put myself in the shoes of the other players around the league as certain stories evolve in an attempt to gauge how I would feel if I had been put in the same situation. The Brett Favre soap opera involves three key entities from a player's standpoint and there is no doubt in my mind how I would feel if I were any of them. There is Favre. There is Aaron Rodgers. And there is everybody else on the Packers' roster.

It is easy to understand how Favre feels because I feel much the same way. Though Favre is clearly a much more accomplished player, not a day goes by I don't wish I was getting ready for training camp. The idea of football being difficult to give up is something almost anybody who ever played the game can relate to, no matter when they hung up their cleats. It is not easy to say goodbye to your first love, and Favre appears to be living proof of that. There is nothing that can really replace it. Nothing.

Though he may act indifferent when talking to the media, it is hard to imagine Rodgers being anything less than furious with the latest circus surrounding Favre. I know I would be. So far Rodgers is being a good soldier and his recent comments seem to be right out of the Packer's PR playbook for the situation.

Privately, though, he has to be stewing. The NFL is a tough business and is not about what is fair or not, but clearly Rodgers has to be wondering whether or not he will get his opportunity to show what he can do with his career. If I were the Packers' management, I would be very concerned with his psyche. Rodgers wouldn't be human if he didn't wonder on a daily, if not hourly, basis about what the future holds. I am sure the Packers have tried to provide him with some assurances, but it doesn't appear as of yet that even they know what they are going to do if Favre comes back.

If I were any other player on the Packers' roster, my thought process would be much less complicated than it is for Favre or Rodgers. Who gives me the better chance to win more games in 2008? That is all that matters.

Unlike management or perhaps even fans who are concerned with the long-term success of the franchise, players never look that far ahead. In fact, we are conditioned not to. Most players with whom I have spoken to around the league feel the Packers would be a better team in 2008 with Favre under center and because of that they have all said they would welcome him back with open arms.

That is why I feel for Rodgers throughout this ordeal. Deep down he has to know that most of the guys in his locker room would love to have No. 4 back in a Green Bay uniform.

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