First, a Brett Favre prelude. A semi-brief Favre prelude. I don't know what he's going to do. But I, like some of you, am suspicious. There's no good reason to ask for his release from the Jets unless it's to leave open the option to play again. I am told he may be feeling the urge to play again.
When he retired from the Packers 14 months ago, Favre said, "It's over. I've given everything I can possibly give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give.'' When he retired from the Jets two months ago, he told me, "I foresee myself getting the impulse to play, but ... I could never bring myself to do it. I know I won't do it.''
But with Favre, words are less important than emotions. We know what happened last year. This year? I don't know if he'll try to sign with Minnesota -- and I don't know if the Vikings would welcome him with open arms after dealing for Sage Rosenfels and moving ahead with plans for 2009. Does Brad Childress want to hitch his wagon to a quarterback who will turn 40 in Week 4 of the 2009 season, a quarterback who played poorly in the last five weeks of last season, looking completely shot at the end?
If Favre decides to play, can he go forward with a bad right arm Jets doctors were convinced needed surgery at the end of last season? And can Favre get into the kind of condition he did in 2007, when he had a live-in Athletes Performance Institute trainer at his home in Sumrall, Miss., for half the offseason?
Childress said the other day the Vikings haven't discussed the possibility of signing Favre as a free agent. "It doesn't mean we won't,'' he said. Favre said at this time he's not considering playing again. What does that sound like to you? Sounds like there's quite a bit of smoke there.
I know you're sick of this story. We all are. But my gut feeling is Favre never completely got this Vikings fixation out of his system. Now we wait for the smoke signals from chimneys in Eden Prairie, Minn., and southern Mississippi, to see if Favre wants to play again, and to see if the Vikings want him. If he returns, the dream game of this season won't be Pats-Colts. It'll be Vikings-Packers. Twice.
I didn't want to let the draft go away completely without telling you what I feel is the most underrated and unknown story of draft weekend. I didn't notice it until I started piecing together all the trades from Day 2 of the draft, starting with the Giants' deal with Philadelphia that allowed New York to pick wide receiver Ramses Barden with a choice in the middle of the third round. But the upshot of that trade, and four others within five hours, left the Eagles as the power players in the 2010 draft.
What would you think if I told you the Philadelphia Eagles got third-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round draft choices, plus half a starting cornerback for nothing in this year's draft?
That's right. For free. There is no smoke, mirrors or cheating involved. Only thought and effort.
For moving down six spots in the third round -- eventually taking a player they were considering for that 85th pick anyway -- the Eagles got filthy rich. I am shocked more teams don't run their draft the way the Eagles do. It's almost irresponsible that teams don't do it the Philadelphia way.
"Actually, I'm happy more teams don't,'' said Tom Heckert, the Eagles general manager. "If more teams did, we wouldn't be able to do what we do.''
This may come out the wrong way, so bear with me. But if I were a football fan looking for a team to root for, I'd pick the Eagles, and what they did on draft weekend is a big reason. The Eagles think. They don't do things the way they've always been done because that's the way they've always been done. For all the frustrations they've given their fans because they haven't won a championship in the 10-year Andy Reid Era, they've done what, as a fan, I'd like my team to do: They give their fans a chance every July at camp time to think they're going to make the playoffs and have a chance to contend for the Super Bowl. Isn't that what you want, as a fan? A chance, every year? What team every year in this decade has given you that chance? Philadelphia. New England. Indianapolis. Pittsburgh. The Giants, maybe.
But what the Eagles did on the second day of the draft -- still unnoticed eight days later; no one's said a word about it -- is one of the greatest feats of trading down and getting value for the future that I've ever seen. And I mean ever. They took the 85th pick and eventually turned it into four draft choices between the third and seventh rounds, plus half of the compensation paid to New England to acquire Ellis Hobbs, a Super Bowl XLII starting corner.
What Heckert and Reid did, in brief:
• Traded the 85th overall pick (third round) to the Giants for the 91st (third-round) and the 164th (fifth-round) picks.
• Traded the 91st pick to Seattle for the 137th (fifth-round), 213th (seventh-round) and the Seahawks' third-round pick in 2010.
• Traded the fifth-round pick acquired from Seattle plus the 141st pick (fifth-round, acquired from Cleveland) to New England for cornerback Hobbs.
• Traded the fifth-round pick acquired from the Giants to New Orleans for the 222nd pick (seventh-round), plus the Saints' fifth-round pick in 2010.
• Traded the seventh-round pick acquired from New Orleans to Indianapolis for the Colts' sixth-round pick in 2010.
• Used the seventh-round pick acquired from Seattle to pick guard Paul Fanaika.
Let's go back to my original premise in this column: I said the Eagles got all that for free. I meant it. When the time to make the third-round pick (No. 85 overall) was approaching, the Eagles looked up on their draft board. They had about 30 players graded very closely. Heckert told me if they'd been forced to pick the 25th player on the list, they'd have been fine, because these 30 players all had second- or third-round grades, so by the Eagles' system, even the 25th player on the list would be a solid third-rounder and worthy of a pick around then.
One of the players on the list of 30-some-odd prospects for the 85th pick when the board was put together was Cornelius Ingram, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end from Florida who missed his senior year after suffering a knee injury in practice for the Gators last August. Now fully rehabbed, Ingram was "right at the top'' of the list of 30, Heckert told me.
Let me take you from the middle of the third round to the middle of the fifth, pick by Eagle pick, to see how they decided to keep moving down -- and the insurance they had to stop the moving-down madness if too many of their preferred players started going off the board.
At 85, and then again at 91, Philadelphia had so many players it wanted on the board that Heckert quick-dialed "almost every team in the league'' in the 80s, getting the Giants to move up six spots, then finding Seattle desperate for the 91st pick, which the 'Hawks would use on Penn State wide receiver Deon Butler. Heckert drove a hard bargain for this one, trading down 46 spots but picking up an extra seven this year and a three next year.
"Before the draft,'' he said, "we met as an organization, and we knew the 12 draft picks we had all would not make our team. So we agreed -- [owner] Jeff Lurie, [president] Joe Banner, Andy and me -- that we'd try to push for a few picks in next year's draft. First, we called everybody in the round without a pick, then just called everybody period. And finally we got [Seattle GM] Tim Ruskell to agree to a deal because he wanted Deon Butler.''
At 137, the Eagles still had about 10 of their gaggle of 30 picks left. And a veteran player appealed to them. They saw the Patriots take, and keep, two corners from the 2008 draft, and now, in the second round of this draft, they saw Bill Belichick take UConn cornerback Darius Butler. "We knew the Patriots signed Shawn Springs too, so we said, 'Let's try to get Ellis Hobbs from them.' We talked, Andy and Bill, and Bill didn't want to do it. But a while later we called again, and maybe they thought there was a chance they were going to lose him anyway. I don't know. But a starting cornerback for two fives -- we just couldn't turn that down.''
But now they really wanted Ingram. And the picks ticked by. The Packers at 145, Ravens at 149 and Texans at 152 were candidates to pick a tight end. Would they steal Ingram -- and would the Eagles have gambled too much and traded down one too many times to keep Ingram in their sights? Green Bay took a fullback. Baltimore picked a tight end, Davon Drew of East Carolina. Houston picked a tight end, James Casey of Rice.
The Eagles draft room exhaled. They picked Ingram.
Eleven picks later, without a guy on the board who surely would make their team, Philly flipped the pick to New Orleans for a seven and a 2010 fifth-rounder. And midway through the seventh, they dealt their choice to Indy for a 2010 sixth.
"We talk about it all the time -- if you deal a seventh for next year's sixth, then stay aggressive, eventually that seventh could become a first,'' Heckert said. "Even if it doesn't, and that's obviously a best-case scenario, it opens up so many possibilities to keep moving.''
I can't imagine a team that helped itself more on offense in April than Philadelphia. It got a left tackle of the future, Jason Peters, for first- and fifth-round picks in this draft, took speedy wideout Jeremy Maclin and pass-catching back LeSean McCoy and a good tight end risk in Ingram coming off injury. Next year, who knows what part of the team the churning of draft choices will help?
"Brett actually reminds me of Rex Ryan. Their favorite wardrobe is sweatpants. Neither guy has ever met a razor they liked.''-- Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, comparing quarterback Brett Favre and the rookie Jets coach, on Sirius NFL Radio.
"With [Matthew] Stafford, I think you throw him in there right away. I think he's lucky, the fact that he's coming in with a new coaching staff. That's a big advantage because basically he's just like all the other veterans as far as learning this new system, learning the way their new head coach is going to approach things, learning his philosophy ... I'm waiting for somebody to break that NFL rookie record for interceptions I set back in '98. Hopefully Stafford will give it a good run. But I'll say this, there's no way I could have played as well as I did in my second year if I hadn't played that first year.''-- Peyton Manning, on the Kravitz and Eddie show on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, on whether the first pick in the 2009 draft should play as a rookie or observe.
"One thing I was kind of upset about is it makes you feel like you're a bad quarterback, someone who's not wanted or something. But at the same time, it makes you a stronger person.''-- Washington quarterback Jason Campbell, who in the span of one month has had his team nearly trade for one replacement (Jay Cutler) and then nearly trade up to draft another (Mark Sanchez).
In the past 13 years, nine of the first 13 overall No. 1 picks in the draft were quarterbacks.
In the 13 years prior to that, nine of the first 13 overall No. 1 picks were non-quarterbacks.
"Maclin and Crabtree are top 20 picks but Harrell and Daniel, the guys who throw to them, are 'system guys?' I don't buy it.''-- Tweet from rodhartwig, who is Rodney Hartwig of Phoenix, on Twitter, referring to undrafted quarterbacks Graham Harrell of Texas Tech and Chase Daniel of Missouri, both of whom went undrafted.
Daniel signed as a free-agent with Washington. Harrell had to go to Cleveland's rookie mini-camp over the weekend to essentially try out for a free-agent contract. Man, what a comedown for one of the most exciting players in college football over the last few years.
I raised this point on Twitter (you can follow me here) the other day, then ranted about it on Sirius NFL Radio with co-host Randy Cross. If you're a football scout or GM, how could you watch the Texas-Texas Tech game last fall and not think Harrell belongs in the NFL? He doesn't have the arm of Matthew Stafford, obviously, but neither did Joe Montana, and neither does Drew Brees. But let's compare Stafford and Harrell in a few categories:
I'm not measuring arm strength, obviously. But I'm dead serious when I ask this question: If Joe Montana, who was a third-round pick 30 years ago, came out today, how many teams would declare him either undraftable or a free-agent only?
My humble advice (and I mean that; I don't study college tape at all) to those who make their living grading college football players: Watch the games.
Did you know Hank Stram, on the hottest days of Kansas City training camp, used to wear a doubleknit, basketball-type, sleeveless, red-and-gold Chiefs tank top with matching basketball shorts, both with a snazzy Chiefs logo? The Chiefs are in the process of inventing a Hall of Fame for the grand reopening of a refurbished Arrowhead Stadium in 2010, and the incredibly bizarre Hank costume will be included in the exhibit. I tried to figure out what it reminds me of when I saw it on my recent draft trip to Kansas City, and the only thing I could come up with is: early ABA uniform.
I got away with my wife to visit my brother and his family in England over the weekend, and we took in a Barclay's Premier League soccer game between Manchester City and the Blackburn Rovers. City won 3-1 in a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes of sport -- my first big-league soccer game in England.
Lots of interesting things. No drinking in the stands (but a ton of it outside, and underneath the stands), and no constant getting up and down to go get pizza and beer and whatever. I've never seen so many suits and women in fine dresses at a sports event, except maybe for the Kentucky Derby; the sidelines and club seats were thick with fashion plates.
The enthusiasm of the crowd, particularly the end-zone nutjobs, never wavered. From the opening kick to the end of the game to the walk back to Manchester Piccadilly station to the train from Manchester back to my brother's train stop 80 minutes south, the chanting and drunken (I'm assuming) exuberance never stopped. Some of the chants were silly -- "We got Keith Andrews, who needs Robinho?'' was one of the Rovers fans' favorites, referring to their star and the one from Manchester City they hated -- and most I couldn't comprehend, but they never, ever stopped. Yellow-coated police formed a barrier in the end zone between the Blackburn and Manchester City supporters, but the cops never had to lift a finger from what I saw.
I walked away wondering if there's anything in America like the constant hum of a 90-minute match with the kind of tradition football in Britain has. I'm not sure there is. Maybe a big college-football rivalry or a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game, or Canadiens-Leafs when both are hot. I don't know. I doubt it. And I wondered: Could an NFL team in London ever hope to generate the kind of fervor this does? I don't see how.
Now, the Patriots and Bucs will have a spirited crowd for their game in October at Wembley Stadium, but as my brother points out, that's one game, and this country by and large still has no idea who Tom Brady is. It'd take a generation of building to get the NFL to have a chance to make some impact here. I'm not saying it shouldn't be tried, but it'd be an awfully long road for the NFL to compete in England.
Well, the Paul Zimmerman dinner/auction is two weeks from tonight, and I'm here today to ask for a little help. (Which is unfair, because so far you've bought more than 130 tickets and made significant donations of money and auction items. Your generosity is humbling, and Paul and Linda will never be able to repay you.) Still, I'd like to ask one favor.
The big-ticket auction items -- the Super Bowl trip for two, and trips to see the Cowboys, Vikings and Broncos -- are not moving. I'm aware that it's a lot in this economy to ask someone to pay $9,000 for anything, never mind a weekend in Dallas to see the Cowboys at their spanking new stadium. Or $10,000 to have a Super Bowl getaway to Miami in February. Or $6,000 to jet away to Denver or Minneapolis to see your team. But what I'd like you to do, if you can and if you know someone who might be interested, is to pass this chunk of the column along to them via e-mail. A boss, a rich uncle, an Arab sheik, Prince Bandar ... anyone who wants to have an experience they wouldn't be able to have without the kindness of those in the NFL who care about Dr. Z. Send them this column chunk, or the link to the auction site (www.DrZ.cmarket.com) and let's see if we can get some bids on those items.
There's also a great opportunity, for a real Eagles fan: four tickets to the Eagles-Giants game at Lincoln Financial Field in November, four pregame field passes, four Eagles training-camp sideline passes ... and lunch for four while at camp in Bethlehem, Pa., at the best sandwich shop on my annual camp tour: Deja Brew, just down the hill from the pretty Lehigh University campus. Yo, Eagle Nation: Where else can you experience something as good as this for $2,000?
The other day, I was on the phone with Indianapolis GM Bill Polian, who asked, "What can I do for Dr. Z?'' He was thinking of something autographed, or some football item. And I said, "What if you have a couple of fans out to your camp one day this summer, and between sessions, you have lunch with them at the training table, where the players eat?''
"Done,'' said Polian. Because I make an annual trek to Colts camp, I'll join the lunch if at all possible -- providing that doesn't devalue the experience.
A couple of other auction-item notes. I love the Peyton Manning autographed jersey because you can actually read his name, unlike other autographs that appear to be scratched out by a chicken. Good friend Ron Borges has checked in with an offer Don King-signed boxing gloves; thanks a lot, Ron. And thanks to Sal Paolantonio, Dan Shaughnessy and Steve Buckley for donating signed copies of their books to the cause.
And thanks to the auctioneers, CMarket, of Cambridge, Mass., for doing all of this gratis. This is their business, and Stu Kirsch and the folks at CMarket have never met Paul Zimmerman, and they've spent hours getting the site up and running. It'll be impossible to repay their kindness.
If you've not read about the cause, this is all for Paul Zimmerman, the best football writer of our time, who suffered three strokes in late November and is currently unable to read, write or speak coherently, though he is making good progress. We're trying to jump-start his therapy and road back to writing one day by raising money to allow him to undergo some aggressive therapy in Michigan and New Jersey. Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Jets coach Rex Ryan have been generous enough with their time to join me to host a fundraising Pro Football 2009 preview dinner/roundtable/auction May 18 (open bar 6:15 p.m., dinner 7 p.m.) at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, N.J. I'll quiz Coughlin and Ryan, and a few of you in the audience will be able to throw questions their way. Then, when we dismiss the coaches, I'll host a second football panel, with TV football insiders Adam Schefter and Paolantonio, plus Football Outsiders and Pro Football Prospectus writer and football authority Aaron Schatz.
Let's make this the football dinner of the year. Tickets are $225 apiece, or $1,500 for a table of eight, and are available by sending a check, payable to "Dr. Z/Nothing is Impossible Foundation'' to:
Dr. Z/Nothing is Impossible Foundation21 Pine St.Suite 202Rockaway, N.J. 07866
All tickets are tax-deductible. Donations may be sent to that address as well. For further information, please e-mail me in the box that comes with this column, or send an e-mail to Barbara Neibart, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. I think I can't believe what happened at the Cowboys practice facility Saturday. My heartfelt well-wishes go out to scouting assistant Rich Behm and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who were the most seriously injured when the bubble collapsed during Saturday's storm.
2. I think the contract of Matthew Stafford drew more than just the ire of those around the NFL and the media and fans who follow it. A major British daily, The Independent, checked in with a blistering view of the Stafford deal (six years, $72-million, $41.7-million guaranteed) Saturday, from its American sporting correspondent, JamesLawton:
"Imagine how they feel in Motown. They believe they are not only at the epicenter of economic madness, but have also become the laughingstock of a society for much of which sport has always been the comforting thread of their lives. For Stafford, the difficulty is that he is already hated before he throws a pass for the no-hope Lions ... This week, it has been hard not to believe that the NFL, like so much of big-money sport, has been back on the funny cigarettes.''
3. I think as soon as Stafford plays well, that feeling goes away. And it's a shame he's carrying that headache with him to the line of scrimmage. But until the Lions play well, or at least play respectably, every decision the organization makes will be greeted with inordinate skepticism.
4. I think there's one more American football owner trying to own a big team in England. Stan Kroenke, who ceded control of the Rams to the Rosenbloom family recently, has increased his stake of Arsenal to 28 percent in an attempt to buy a majority of the club. If he does, he'll join Randy Lerner of the Browns (Aston Villa) and the Glazer family of the Bucs (Manchester United) as owners in the Premier League.
5. I think I speak for everyone who likes and follows this game in sending good wishes to the family of Jack Kemp, who died Saturday after a long illness. He was the first great player in Bills history, a true patriot in Washington and a good man who loved the NFL. He still voted for a cause near and dear to him -- the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award -- and was a beacon for the men who played the game who sought to be all-around people, not just good football players. He'll be missed.
6. I think Julius Peppers is going nowhere, for one simple reason: Not only would a team have to pony up a first-round pick in 2010 (at least) in return for the Panthers' defensive end who wants out, but then he'd have to be paid somewhere in the $12-to-$16-million range annually. And he's not worth both of those things.
7. I think a very good man has been let go by the Chiefs -- vice president of player personnel Bill Kuharich -- and a smart team will pick him up quickly. I really like the move of Matt Russell to director of college scouting for Denver, by the way. Russell's the guy who alerted the Patriots to Matt Cassel four years ago when no one else thought a backup college quarterback was worth the trouble.
8. I think Jason Taylor will be a Patriot, unless Miami steps up to offer some real money.
9. I think, speaking of Miami, the Dolphins might be working Pat White at quarterback only for now, but it's a matter of time before he becomes a "slash'' player, a guy who receives, runs and throws. He's going to be a great asset as a versatile weapon.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. How can any two teams be closer than the Bulls and the Garnett-less Celtics? I'm no NBA guy, but there was something almost unfair to the Bulls losing that series.
b. I see the Mets are their annual fraudulent selves.
c. When you take a few days to consider things other than football, it's interesting the things you learn. Like this, about Kurt Vonnegut: He was an SI man! This from his son Mark Vonnegut's introduction to Armageddon in Retrospect, a collection of unpublished pieces by his father: "He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950s, he was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, 'The horse jumped over the f------ fence,'' and walked out, self-employed again.' ''
d. One more thing I learned about the non-football world: Bruce Weber of the New York Times wrote one heck of a book about umpiring. I can't put As They See 'Em down, and it'll be one of the five books I review in my annual Father's Day book-review column June 8. I like to give book advice so you don't buy another tie that your dad will thank you for and then throw to the bottom of his closet.
e. Coffeenerdness: Espresso's not the same in England. Even the Starbucks espresso is not as rich. Don't know what it is. It's almost tea-like. Yet every traveler who has coffee there says the espresso they serve in America is too strong. Hmmm. That's just wrong.