EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. -- My fourth and final week on the camp trail started in Houston (interesting Mario Williams stuff) and Dallas (Jerry Jones tried to sell me a very large stadium), continued with the transplanted Saints (that's a good-looking team) in California, veered south to the endless sauna that is Phoenix (Larry Fitzgerald is one happy Kolb fan), then red-eyed East into the path of Hurricane Irene, thus ending my month driving/flying to check out the post-lockout NFL. Stats of note about the journey:
Days on camp tour: 29. Camps visited: 23. Words written for SI, SI.com, including five MMQBs: 65,500 (approximately). Rolo McFlurries consumed: 2.
So why the East Greenbush dateline? My wife, dog and I abandoned ship in Boston Saturday, afraid our neighborhood would get blacked out by Irene, and so we drove west three hours to a hotel in this Albany 'burb, where we were fairly sure writing in large quantities wouldn't be interrupted by the weather. And it wasn't ... though our Boston neighborhood never lost power.
Anyway, it was an eventful week, full of Peyton Manning news, the Lions looking like the Patriots and the Patriots looking like the Lions, the Ravens buying a new left tackle 16 days before James Harrison comes to town to torment him, the Bears finally blocking someone, Cam Newton looking like he needs two months to polish his game instead of two weeks, and the Niners looking like they're the leaders in the clubhouse in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes (and wouldn't that be ironic?).
So why are we starting with fantasy football? Because Arian Foster started it. Sort of.
From a strained hammy to an indictment of how we watch football.
In the Texans' 30-7 win over San Francisco Saturday night, 2010 rushing champion Foster hurt his hamstring. Coach Gary Kubiak pronounced him day-to-day, and it's not certain he'll start opening day against Indianapolis.
On Sunday afternoon, Foster, a thoughtful guy who writes poetry and doesn't buy into the idea that famous football players should be seen and spout only cliches, tweeted this: "4 those sincerely concerned I'm doing ok. 4 those worried about ur fantasy tm, u ppl are sick #nfl''
Foster, an MVP-type player in fantasy football, got hurt at the crucial time when some of the estimated 23 million people in this country will be drafting their fantasy teams. Hamstring injuries are unpredictable. A wealthy friend in a $1,000-entry-fee league emailed me Sunday asking whether he should use the third pick in his draft on Foster or steer clear. "Only God knows,'' I emailed back. Foster's injury, basically, threw the year's biggest curveball at a lot of the fantasy drafts in the nation.
I've been asking people in and out of the game about fantasy football this summer. It's just so big, and so odd because of its ability to change rooting habits from teams to individuals. For Kurt Warner, fantasy football actually played a small part in his decision to walk away from the game. "You just get tired of having a good game, and your team winning, and someone coming up to you and saying, 'Nice win. How come you only threw for two touchdowns?' It gets old,'' he said.
Todd Haley, in last week's MMQB column, said he got tired last year of being harangued by fantasy players about how he used his running backs, though the Chiefs had the top-rated running game in the league.
When I was in Houston the other day, I asked Foster his feelings about this national obsession. "It's good for getting the people who aren't normally into football -- they watch the games,'' he said. "But I think it's changing the way people watch the games. They're more interested in stats ... That kind of takes away from the reason we play this game, and that's to get a ring. Don't get me wrong -- I love my fans. I love our fans of the game... But don't get mad at a player because he doesn't perform for your [fantasy] team.''
Seems to me the NFL loves the multiplying numbers of people playing fantasy football. Sunday afternoons and evenings in many homes are spent in man caves, with a laptop out with the fantasy game in real time, and the TV playing either the local game or a bunch of games, or a bunch of touchdown plays. I wonder if more fans in a generation will root for their fantasy teams than the home teams.
I'd love to know how many people buy NFL Sunday Ticket or the Red Zone Channel for fantasy purposes. "Used to be you'd just watch the game for the game,'' Haley said. "Now you've got that crawl on the bottom of the screen with everyone's numbers. I don't know. So much is about the individual now.''
I don't know what's right or wrong. But it's interesting that Arian Foster is ticked off at a tributary of the NFL that is becoming more and more a fixture to the fans of the game.
Notes from the Trail ...
Bucs: "The governor is off'' for Da'Quan Bowers.
Tampa Bay has such a young defensive front; the six top rotational players on the line are 25 or younger. And Bowers is the youngest. He's 21, a legal drinker for only the last six months. He also was the riskiest player in the 2011 draft. A sure top-five pick in midseason had he entered the draft as a sophomore, he sank like a stone after knee surgery following his junior season at Clemson and went 51st overall to the Bucs. Stunningly, he was the 16th defensive lineman picked.
So far this summer, Bowers has missed one practice and complained of no pain in the knee, his left. "He's like any other player now,'' said GM Mark Dominik. "The governor is off.'' The big issue for him could well be beating out the surprise of camp for the starting left end job -- defensive end Michael Bennett, a waiver pickup from Seattle two years ago. They each had a sack Saturday night against Miami; Bennett added two more tackles for loss. Each will play at lot at left end, and Bennett's strong play will let Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris ease Bowers into the games early if that's how he chooses to play him.
Bowers is a quiet guy, but fervent about one thing: that he got a bad rap about his knee.
"I have 100 percent belief I'll play without any problems,'' he said. "Unless something tragic happens, I don't see anything happening to stop me. I'm not playing to prove anyone in the league wrong. That's not me. I'm just playing to help my team win.''
The Bucs' pass-rush coach, Keith Millard, wants Bowers built for speed. He was 277 early in the summer, but will play at 267. "He's got to run all day,'' said Millard, who envisions a Bowers/Adrian Clayborn rookie bookend rush on many pass-rush downs this year. He says there's no reason rookies can't rush the passer. "It's so hard to find two pass-rushers who can come off the edge,'' Millard said. "We got two -- and they were the two guys on our list.''
Time will tell if Bowers can stay on the field. If he does, the Bucs got a steal. If he doesn't -- if he gives Tampa Bay maybe three or four in-and-out years -- you can't argue with the risk at number 51.
One more item of interest from Bucs camp: Ronde Barber is at 183 straight starts -- the most ever for a corner -- and counting. He'll be at 199 if, at 36, he can make it through this season. Great line by Dominik about the Twin of Tiki: "He's our Cal Ripken. He's the most underappreciated Buc of all time.''
Texans: Mario Williams is dying to be confident again.
"This practice was soooo lame,'' said Matt Leinart's young son Cole, on the sidelines of training camp after a 75-minute walk-through. Interesting you should say that, young Cole. Lots of coaches would agree with you that the new way of practicing in training camp -- one walk-through in shorts and jerseys, one in helmet and pads -- is too restrictive. But not here.
"I wasn't happy when the new rules came out,'' said coach Gary Kubiak. "But I've found, especially in a year like this where we had no time in the offseason to teach because of the labor situation, that it's been good to come out here and work on things at a slower pace. We've got a lot of new guys and they need to learn. You don't always learn the most by going at full speed.''
Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told me the same thing. A few times on my tour, the subject of the new practice rules came up, and other than coaches not liking being told what to do, it hasn't been as bad as I thought.
A couple of times during the walk-through on the practice field outside Reliant Stadium, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips spent two or three minutes with Mario Williams, talking about the little things. Williams works with the linebackers in individual drills, because he is one. The switch from hand-in-the-ground defensive end to standup outside linebacker is still a work in progress, and a post-practice talk with Williams finds that he's not fighting it; he's just not comfortable in all the new mechanics, and he wishes he'd had an offseason to work with Phillips to learn the intricacies.
"It's much tougher than I thought it would be,'' Williams said. "At the end of the day, it's just rushing the passer, but I find myself thinking about things like my weight distribution, my body lean, the positioning of my feet. I will be able to adjust. I know that. I'm getting comfortable with the teaching of it, but the biggest thing is to be able to play and not to think, and that's tough right now.''
We talked about the adjustment of DeMarcus Ware in Dallas. Ware, a defensive end at Troy, has taken to the position change and told me Williams will eventually love it. "He'll see -- the whole world is going to open up to him, standing up,'' Ware said. "When you're down, you're basically concerned with the guy in front of you -- reading his stance, trying to beat one guy. Now, when you're up and can see how the play unfolds in front of you, he'll be able to read the formation and get a feel of what the quarterback's going to do. He'll be able to diagnose the offense so much better. Dropping into coverage was toughest for me to learn, but that's not something he's going to have to do much. After a while, he'll find the whole thing will become natural.''
Key phrase: after a while.
"DeMarcus was able to make the switch right out of college,'' Williams said. "I'm making it without any offseason work.''
Phillips has done this before -- with Simon Fletcher in Denver, Bryce Paup in Buffalo, Shaun Phillips in San Diego. He says he's sure Williams will be a great rusher when he gets the hang of the mental part of the game. Another very good defensive end, Kansas City's Tamba Hali, had to make the switch when the Chiefs went to the 3-4 in 2009. After struggling the first year, Hali had a 14.5-sack season last year. His reward: He signed a five-year, $60 million deal four weeks ago.
"Mario's already stood up some,'' said Phillips. Indeed he has -- on more than 100 snaps in 2010. "It's pretty simple really, and I don't think it's really that hard. We're going to take our best pass-rusher, put him on the open side and let him rush the passer almost every play.''
Sounds easy. The look in Williams' eyes says it's not that easy. He's already a good pass-rusher as a defensive end but he has the speed and the physical tools to be a great one, consistently. I wouldn't be surprised if he struggles for most, if not all of this season, but eventually he's going to get more pressure from the outside, with the ability to use his athleticism on tackles and tight ends.
Saints: Taking advantage of the market.
Lots of buzz around the Saints. Last week, they went to Oxnard, Calif., to get away from the 110-degree heat index of Louisiana (it was a lovely, cloudless 74 the day I saw them on practice fields next to the Residence Inn-Oxnard), and Who Dat Nation has followed them. I'm guessing 2,000 fans, most decked out in black and gold, arrived on very short notice to watch the Saints practice for two and a half hours on a summer afternoon.
"Pre-Katrina, this never would have happened,'' said beat man Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times Picayune. "But empathy with New Orleans, plus how well they played, and the scheduling by the NFL, helped make them a national phenomenon. Look at this.''
(Side note: Imagine if Los Angeles gets a team in a year or two. Or two teams. Whatever. And the L.A. team trains up here, 53 miles north of the Staples Center. There's no question there's a football populace out here interested in the game ... just so long as the team has a chance to win.)
The Saints have been fortified with some interesting imports. Darren Sproles signed a four-year contract to replace Reggie Bush, who departed to Miami. The three other key acquisitions -- defensive tackles Shaun Roger s and Aubrayo Franklin, and center Olin Kreutz -- all signed one-year deals. Those three stalwarts signed for a total of $10 million.
In a normal year, either with a bigger cap than the stagnant $120.4 million per team, or in a capless year, the Saints would have had to pay big money for one or more of those accomplished vets. Not this year. Weird but very significant trend: Of the free agent contracts signed this offseason, 271 have been for one year, and 190 for two years or more. Normally, about two-thirds of the free agent contracts are multi-year deals. This year, 58.5 percent have been for one year.
That won't change much, most likely, in the next two years. Look for the cap, by mandate of the new CBA, to stay relatively flat through 2013. The next big bump (and I wouldn't be surprised to see it go up $20 million or more per team) will come when the new TV deals kick in before the 2014 season.
"This was unexpected for everybody,'' said Franklin, the best nose tackle on the market, by far. He got one year and $4 million from the Saints. "I think most guys thought there would be money there in free agency.''
Nope. Lucky for the Saints' run defense there wasn't.
Cowboys: If you build it, they will come. They will most definitely come, Ray.
It's sunny and 104 degrees outside Dallas Cowboys Stadium, and there's a line of some senior citizens and -- from the looks of it -- Red Sox fans, who are in town for the series against Texas down the street. They are waiting to enter the stadium for a tour of the facility, which Jerry Jones' sales force sold 700,000 tickets to see last year, and the owner is not stopping there.
"Our goal is two million visitors in a year,'' Jones says of his new all-sports facility in Arlington, which sits between Dallas and Fort Worth. "This year we've got a good chance to have more people tour the stadium than actually attend our games. I think we'll hit 800,000 visitors.''
No one is twisting anyone's arm to come in and walk through the Cowboys' locker room, and to see America's largest collection of modern art filling the concourses, and to get mesmerized by the 180-foot video screen (with stadium highlights on a loop, including a women's bowling tournament from earlier this year), and, if you're lucky, to see the team practicing on the field, as is the case today.
Although there's only one stadium like this one in the league, with its high-def TV of a scoreboard, the Cowboys have turned it into a destination spot, and playing big college football games (Oregon-LSU this weekend) and international soccer games and big prize fights and, yes, women's bowling (which drew 8,100).
Jones loves that the revenue split among players and owners in the new CBA, which calls for players to get 55 percent of the TV revenue, allows owners to keep 60 percent of all locally generated revenue. This is a good example of what a team can do when it tries to generate local revenue. Jones has two sales teams working for the Cowboys now. One sells tickets. One sells stadium tours from between $20 and $27 a pop, depending on when you want to be guided.
Let's do the math. At an average of $23.50 a tour (my estimate), 800,000 tourists yields $18.8 million. Let's say you have a sales force of 20 working to bring them in, at an average salary of $60,000 per sales person. That's $17.6 million after the sales people's cut. There are other costs, of course, like security and electricity and advertising. But whatever the number is, it supports his argument -- the one he's made for years -- that if teams try to make revenue locally, and really work at it, most of them can do better than they are.
We're sitting in the coaches' dining room on the ground floor of the stadium, where the Cowboys are having training camp indoors because of the intense heat. Occasionally a tour group stops at the door, sees Jones and snaps a photo. Jones smiles, waves, says the occasional, "How y'all doing?'' Or "Where y'all from?'' In a few minutes, touring me around the inside of the place to see all the modern art on the walls (Gene and Jerry Jones commissioned some of the world's greatest contemporary artists to make murals and artwork for the huge spaces in here), he'd meet more people touring. He introduced me to some folks, and when we walked away, he said, "See? That's added value! They got to meet Peter King of Sports Illustrated!''
"Seven percent of all NFL fans have been inside a stadium,'' Jones says. "This gives them the chance to see what they've been watching on TV. One of the reasons I built this stadium is so Al Michaels would talk about it on TV. And so people would want to come to see it. They want to see the big screen; the screen is the star of the show, and the content on the screen. Today, they get to see us practice. They get to see where we come out, and get to see all the art.''
I forgot to mention that the concourses in the bowels of the stadium were built wide enough to accommodate two huge buses side-by-side. Right about when Jones was giving his tour, a tour bus filled with visitors rolled by. Jones waved and smiled.
For some, this would be work. For Jones, it may be work too. But in 75 minutes, the smile leaves his face, oh, for maybe five minutes. This is his baby, and he loves it.
Cardinals: Kevin Kolb has a lot on his shoulders, but he's used to that.
Lots of interesting things about this team, and about the pursuit of a quarterback. I'm convinced Larry Fitzgerald wouldn't have signed long-term with the Cardinals had they not made a move to get Kevin Kolb, or a quarterback at least as good. I'm also convinced that it was Arizona, not Miami, that was closest to acquiring Kyle Orton before the deal got done for Kolb. And, as often happens in this transient league, sometimes player movement creates strange scenes.
Last Friday morning, after the Cards' short practice in Tempe, Kolb was dressing at his locker when he looked up at a TV and saw a replay of the Browns-Eagles game from the previous night on NFL Network. And just then, playing exactly when Kolb would have been playing had the trade from Philadelphia to Arizona never have gone down, Vince Young scrambled with the ball out of bounds.
"Weird. Just weird,'' said Kolb, shaking his head.
The next night, Kolb threw an 80-yard touchdown bomb to Fitzgerald in an uneven performance, and the local populace, enticed but never convinced that Max Hall or Derek Anderson were anything but poor bridges from Kurt Warner to the next real quarterback, started to think of Kolb as the guy who could lead them back to the playoffs.
"I'm very impressed how easily he's come in and blended right in on this team,'' said GM Rod Graves.
"It's like he's been here for a while,'' said Fitzgerald.
In this strangest of NFL offseasons, that sort of instant adjustment is going to be important, and I've got a story to tell you about why Kolb is a good man to make that adjustment. When he was in junior high in Texas, he was the quarterback on the football team, and his dad was one of the coaches. Even though the team was undefeated, several of the parents of players thought Kolb's dad was showing favoritism to young Kevin. His father, Roy, tired of the politics, interviewed for a job in another town but decided not to take it, that is until the pressure from parents began to eat at him at the end of Kevin's eighth-grade school year. "Dad, let's just go,'' said Kevin.
There aren't many kids about to enter high school in a community they've become comfortable in who would volunteer to move. But Kevin saw what this was doing to his father. And so they moved to a town called Stephenville, where no one knew them, where freshman Kevin Kolb would have to walk on to a football team and prove himself all over again, and where his dad wouldn't be his coach.
"It drove me to become a really good player,'' said Kolb, sitting in a meeting room at the Cards' facility here. "It made me grow up too.''
Kolb went on to earn a scholarship to the University of Houston, and he went on to catch the eye of Eagles coach Andy Reid, who selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft. And, of course, Kolb went through the whole promotion and demotion thing with Reid, who made the most famous quarterback change of the 2010 season, benching Kolb for Michael Vick, this after trading Donovan McNabb as a show of faith that Kolb was his guy.
"Of course I was shocked,'' said Kolb. "Who wouldn't be? But the day it happened, I was in Andy's office for three hours. We talked about everything. And after I ... after I settled down, I tried to look at it from Andy's point of view. When your dad is a coach, you understand coaches a little better. It didn't mean I liked it, but I understood why he did it.
"Then I kept thinking about what kind of effect this was going to have on my career. I admit I was sulking a little bit. But then I just figured, 'You better quit sulking. If Mike goes down, you're going to have to play, and everybody's going to be looking at you to see how you handle it.''
Vick, of course, did go down, and Kolb went in and throttled the Atlanta Falcons and, well, he ended up getting his wish in the offseason and coming to the Cardinals. "He is nonstop,'' Fitzgerald said. "He calls me, he texts me, he sees me and is always talking about different routes, different decisions. Football is not a hobby to him.''
In the winnable NFC West, a quarterback gives any team a chance. St. Louis knows it has one. San Francisco and Seattle don't know if they do. Arizona feels good that it does. If Kolb's pedigree is any indication, they should feel good about it.
A few of the performances that caught my eye last week.
Thought: The best game by a defensive player this weekend gives the Broncos reason to think they struck gold with their first draft choice. He and Elvis Dumervil should make beautiful music together.
Thought: Tampa's hardly the best run defense in football. Not a good sign for a guy who wants to be an every-down back.
Thought: Brown, the 2010 sixth-rounder from Central Michigan, made two playoff-saving catches last year. He and Mike Wallace as speed bookends? Ben Roethlisberger is thrilled.
Thought: Silly time to panic, seeing that Newton has been practicing with an NFL team for one month. But what I found alarming watching 12 of his 19 throws was how often he threw to covered receivers. Not receivers with a little window, but receivers who were blanketed.
Thought: Weird. The Falcons obviously wanted to see how the Roddy White-Julio Jones-Tony Gonzalez-Harry Douglas receiver group worked in tandem against a good pressure defense like Pittsburgh's. The answer: plenty of work left to do.
Thought: Brian Urlacher said in camp this summer he thought Avril was the best guy on the Lions' front, and Avril continues to show he's ready to break through.
Thought: On his first three drives, Fitzpatrick, against one of the best defenses Jack Del Rio has fielded in Jacksonville, drove the Bills 74, 82 and 52 yards to a field goal, touchdown and touchdown. Keep thinking of him as roster marginalia. Go ahead. He's not.
Contest time: The Sports Illustrated NFL Preview Issue hits the stands Wednesday (and your mailboxes Wednesday or Thursday), and in it will be my predictions for the 2011 season. Standings, playoff teams, MVP, etc., and, of course, the Super Bowl prediction.
So the contest is going to be to predict my Super Bowl pick. Today, before 11 p.m. Eastern Time, you need to make your pick and send it to my Twitter account, @SI_PeterKing, or to my email account, SI.firstname.lastname@example.org. No entry will be accepted after 11 p.m. Eastern time today.
Here's what I need from you:
1. The score of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Like, Wichita 36, Topeka 16, only with the NFL teams.
2. Tiebreaker: Pick the player I predict will be the NFL's MVP in the 2011 season.
If an additional tiebreaker is needed, the winner will be the person who picks the score that is closest in total points to the score I chose.
The winner is going to get a prize. I just haven't figured out what it will be. You'll be informed of the winner -- assuming we're not bombarded with entries -- in my Tuesday column. If we get too many to go through by early Tuesday, we'll let you know as soon as we can.
"I don't know how he does it. We were watching film once in Philadelphia last year, and his phone rings. Bill Cosby. Later, Jesse Jackson calls. He comes in one day and says, 'Dude, the president called last night.' ''
-- Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, who played quarterback with Michael Vick last year, on the winds that buffet Vick. We spoke on Friday, and it corroborated what I felt after being with Vick in March, and what I write about in Ten Things below. His enormous fame may interfere with his desire to be great at football.
"We're playing pretty much mistake-free football. New England has some good recent history, but we beat them pretty handily.''
-- Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, after the Lions routed the Patriots 34-10 Saturday night at Ford Field.
"It's a bitter pill to swallow, to be beaten that thoroughly -- in pretty much all phases. I'm not going to single anybody out. The players will hear it from us. They don't need to read about it as well.''
-- San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, after the Niners' offense generated zero points and 105 yards in a 30-7 home loss to the Texans.
Courtesy of the DC Sports Bog on washingtonpost.com is this exchange from Washington radioman Larry Michael and Bruce Allen, before the third preseason game between Baltimore and Washington Thursday:
Michael: "How do you view the third preseason game?''
Allen: "I see it as the third preseason game.''
One of my favorite arrivals of the summer, the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011, is finally out, a little late because Aaron Schatz and the crew wanted the book to be as current as possible after all the late free-agent signings. It's a tremendous resource for people who love football and want to dig into the important little things. You can get it as a PDF file for $12. Or you can buy the published book for $21.95.
The 2011 tidbits from FOA 2011 I thought you'd like:
• Here's where Mike Munchak's firm hand may help the Titans: Tennessee led the league in 2010 with 38 penalties for the various offsides infractions (defensive offsides, encroachment and neutral zone infraction). The Titans had nine more of these flags than any other team.
• Know what might keep the Steelers from getting back to the big game? An aging D. Pittsburgh will have the oldest defensive starting 11 of the 21st century. If Aaron Smith returns to start at defensive end, they'll average 31.5 years old. If Ziggy Hood beats him out, they'll average 30.5 years old -- which STILL would be the oldest of the century.
• Detroit last year used shotgun on 64 percent of offensive snaps, the highest rate in NFL history.
• The Gregg Williams Factor: The Saints sent five or more pass rushers 65 percent of the time on third down; the Jets were the only other defense over 50 percent.
I strongly recommend the book.
Well, this one definitely interests me.
I voted Browns center Alex Mack to my Sports Illustrated 2010 All-Pro team. If I do the same in 2011, I probably will have put $50,000 in his pocket.
Now that's a little weird.
Mack has a clause in his Cleveland contract that, to read, is to be a mouse in a maze. But I will sum it up for you, and then tell you how it pertains to the Sports Illustrated NFL All-Pro team, which used to be done by Paul Zimmerman and is now done by me after each regular season ends.
Mack's incentive clause in his contract, which runs through 2013, provides for him to make $50,000 if all of the following criteria are met:
• He plays at least 45 percent of Cleveland's offensive plays;
• The Browns improve their statistical performance over the team's 2008 numbers in any one of these categories: touchdowns scored (20 in 2008), yards per rush (3.9 in 2008), yards per pass play (a terrible 4.9 in 2008, 31st in the league);
• The Browns finish no lower than 27th in the NFL or no lower than 13th in the AFC in those categories;
• He is a first-team All-Pro or first-team All-Cnference on any of the veteran media sources recognized by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In addition, Mack can earn the $50,000 bonus by leading all Browns in offensive snaps played in 2011 and earning the first-team All-Pro or All-Conference honors.
In the previous CBA, there were seven all-NFL teams recognized in the veteran honors clauses. The seven did not include SI. The new CBA, on page 103, denotes a streamlining of the honors to include the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America. From the last CBA to this one, SI is in, and Football Digest, USA Today and College and Pro Football Weekly are out.
There could be other players in the league (and I'm sure there are) who have similar honors clauses in their contracts. But Mack's deal is a significant one to me, because last year the other four media outlets chose Nick Mangold of the Jets as the center. I was the lone Mack picker. And so the plot thickens.
I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said this thought won't occur to me as I deliberate my team this year. But I'll do what I always do when I deliberate my team -- judge by what I see with my own eyes, and, especially for the positions on both lines, talk in late December to the personnel people I've gotten to know and trust over the years, and who've broken down players in the trenches. All I can do is be honest and try to make the best judgment I can.
Would I prefer that my team not be included in the honors section? Yes. But for the 10-year term of this CBA, or until SI has someone else on the staff do the team, there's not much I can do about it. For Mack, who will make $774,000 in the third year of a five-year deal, $50,000 isn't going to make or break him, but he's not earning Manning or Brady money; $30,000 after taxes, for free, is pretty good.
And no, no player or agent has ever lobbied me for a spot on my All-Pro team. I don't expect that to change now.
In a week with an earthquake and a hurricane on the East Coast, far be it from me to question the wisdom of living in Phoenix. There is no perfect weather place. But guess what the number 121 is from, which I saw at 4:21 p.m. Friday while driving at the corner of Camelback and 24th in Phoenix.
That was the number on my Hertz-rental Altima dashboard where the temperature is displayed. You say it's a phony number, inflated by a temperature gauge gone wacky? Perhaps. But when I drove Thursday evening, my gauge read 109, and I passed a time and temperature sign with 108, so I'm not buying it was off by much.
I sat outside for 15 or 20 minutes at my hotel in the late afternoon Friday, on the phone, just to get the feel of what 121 (or 119, or whatever it was) felt like. It was strange -- like my skin was in a microwave. I simply don't know how the natives do it.
I had a redeye flight home from Phoenix, and stopped at Chase Field to see five innings of the D-Backs and (unrecognizable) Pads before flying. At the beer stand, I asked the woman pouring how she stood the heat. "I've been here since '86,'' she said, "and I've never gotten used to it. I hate it. It's three months of living hell. But the other nine months are pretty great.''
There you go. Everything's a trade-off. But the wonderful winter and spring in exchange for what I felt Friday ... not sure I could make that one.
Traveling this great country, I've noticed three additional words flights attendants and gate agents cannot live without: "go ahead and." This has become apparent over the last few years, and I heard it Wednesday from the gate agent at DFW Airport in Dallas, preparing for the Virgin America flight to Los Angeles. (By the way, I love Virgin America. It's one of the great airlines in the country, roomy and quite human, with mostly new planes. I had a choice -- Virgin or US Airways. Hmmm. New planes with better legroom. Worn planes and the sardine treatment. Tough call.)
In the span of eight or 10 sentences of preboarding instructions, "go ahead and" reared its unnecessary head thusly:
When discussing the in-flight TV service: "You can go ahead and see 36 channels of TV.''
Offering seats in first class: "If you'd like to upgrade, you can go ahead and see us at the gate.''
Preparing to board: "When your boarding group is called, you can go ahead and line up right here at gate E20."
But my favorite came as I boarded: "If you go ahead and look at your boarding pass and locate your boarding group, come forward and we'll go ahead and get you on board.''
"OMG! Me too! It's like we're the same person! RT @MarthaStewart: I love to visit local food markets when I travel.''
-- @TCrabtree83, tight end of the Packers, re-tweeting a Martha Stewart tweet with his own spin, and making every follower say, "Wish I had tweeted that.''
"Hoboken's mayor is named Dawn Zimmer. If you're not picturing Don Zimmer in a dress, you're doing it wrong.''
-- @barryap1, Deadspin.com's Barry Petchesky.
1. I think this is what caught my eye in preseason Week 3:
a. I've liked most everything the Ravens have done with veteran players to bolster their roster in the last two or three years. I do not like the Bryant McKinnie signing. He's done nothing to show he's worth two years and up to $7.5 million (only $1.8 million for sure this year), and even less to be handed the left tackle job.
It might work, in part because McKinnie has a good chance to be kept in line by two players he looks up to -- Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. And because the Ravens really need it to work. Still, it's a dangerous move for a very smart team.
b. Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib won't be suspended, according to Bucs GM Mark Dominik, after his offseason incident in Texas in which someone shot at his sister's boyfriend. I think the reason he wasn't suspended is because no credible evidence has been produced that he fired the shots or did anything to encourage the shots to be fired. Now, if he's found guilty when the case goes to trial in the spring, he'll certainly be disciplined. But not now.
c. Ocho Oucho: Two drops, holding penalty for Chad Ochocinco in the Pats' loss to Detroit.
d. You're delaying the inevitable, Jags. I know you want to be fair with a veteran quarterback and respected leader like David Garrard. But the sooner Blaine Gabbert plays, the better it'll be for the long-term future.
e. Tyrod Taylor is exciting. If I were John Harbaugh, I'd play the gamble and make him my backup to Joe Flacco.
f. Trust me, Terrelle Pryor. You do not want No. 2 and those ghosts of JaMarcus Russell. Take No. 6 and be happy.
g. Tim Hightower over Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in Washington. "If you were betting in Vegas, you'd probably go in that direction,'' Mike Shanahan told the Washington Post.
h. Good night for Thomas Davis in Cincinnati. The oft-injured Carolina linebacker had 11 tackles and a pass deflected. The Panthers really need him.
i. Washington outside 'backer Ryan Kerrigan looks like he'll be the perfect bookend for Brian Orakpo in the pass-rush game. He schooled fellow rookie Jah Reid of the Ravens a couple of times around the edge, including one time for a sack.
j. Dwight Freeney's ready for the season. He had two sacks of Aaron Rodgers in a five-play span Friday night.
k. Donovan McNabb looked smooth and confident in the quarter of work I saw of him against Dallas. He's unearthed Bernard Berrian, too. Brett Favre never used Berrian much; McNabb looked for him consistently Saturday night.
l. Matt Cassel has to play better (he was just 6 of 13 the other night in St. Louis) or all the passing game improvements the Chiefs have made aren't going to show up.
m. Mike Tice can finally get some sleep: His first-unit offensive line allowed zero sacks in 35 minutes protecting Jay Cutler Saturday at Tennessee.
n. Tom Cable cannot sleep well, however. His Seahawk line got Tarvaris Jackson sacked five times.
o. "Sports Authority Field at Mile High?'' Sorry, Broncos. That's the last time I'll ever use those words in this column.
p. Running back Chester Taylor, frozen as the third or fourth back in Chicago, didn't play Saturday night in Tennessee. He'd be a good match for Arizona.
q. Ron Rivera said Sunday that Cam Newton will start the final preseason game Thursday. Any questions about the Panthers' starter Sept. 11 at Arizona?
r. All the news about wideout Roy Williams continues to be bad. A Jay Cutler pass went through his hands at Tennessee and was intercepted. The last train to Bustville's leaving in 10 minutes, Roy.
s. Interesting to see the backs Cleveland's keeping. Three of them -- Peyton Hillis (252 pounds), Stanford rookie Owen Marecic (245) and Montario Hardesty (227) -- give the Browns an interesting set of backs for the West Coast offense. It's almost like they're combining the West Coast with the Power I.
t. Good and heretofore hidden angle to the Manning injury from Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange on the future of Jags coach Jack Del Rio and Houston's Gary Kubiak:
''Manning's pain in the neck could conceivably put the heads of Del Rio and Kubiak on the chopping block. The trickle-down effect of the Manning situation, or at least their teams' abilities to benefit from it, could have dire results for the employment outlooks of the coaches. Beyond the fact that both men have contracts that run through 2012, and each is widely considered to possess only tenuous job security entering the 2011 season, the veteran coaches have a lot in common as regards Manning and the Colts. Even winning an AFC South title with the Colts undermanned by Manning's absence could earn Del Rio or Kubiak an additional year.''
Or two. Wish I'd thought of that.
2. I think the thing I learned this week that surprised me the most is that Dallas never offered Nnamdi Asomugha as much as Philadelphia did ($12 million a year). I don't know Dallas' exact offer, but I'm told categorically that it didn't average $12 million a year. So that means the Jets (three years, $30 million offer) and Dallas, the teams thought to be the Eagles' biggest competition, weren't in Philly's financial ballpark.
And I'm told Houston never made a solid offer; Asomugha's agent, Ben Dogra, knew the Texans' parameters, but as far as getting something down on paper, a Texans source told me it didn't happen. So there might be a mystery team out there that offered more money than the Eagles, but that Asomugha never seriously considered.
3. I think, speaking of highly paid Philadelphians, I had these thoughts about the ESPN Michael Vick issue:
a. I understand Vick has a private publicist who wants to maximize Vick's earning potential and make him the hottest thing on the sports planet. And creating a buzz around Vick, and shaping a new image of him, is fine. But at what cost?
When I traveled with Vick last March to a prison in Florida, and spent time with him at dinner the night before and the night of the visit, he got pushed and pulled by the public constantly when they could get to him. A line of people waited to get autographs at a benefit dinner -- while he ate. One guy came up to him and said, "I've got a great business opportunity for you,'' and proceeded to launch into this idea Vick clearly had no interest in. And I thought how fun it must be to be Vick -- but also how stifling.
As long as he plays well, he's worshipped in public, and his transgressions are back-burnered. Fine. But this is a guy who wants to work at his craft, make money and live a good life. Why seek out an entire issue of a magazine? Might be good for the marketing side of Vick. Not good for the football or personal side of Vick.
b. Re: the white Mike: First reaction was it was race-baiting at its best, but the story, written by Toure', was well thought out, especially the part about what would have become of Vick had he been in a home with a good role model for a father.
c. Re: the white Mike image: Doesn't bother me. There's nothing wrong with something that makes us think a little bit. Chad Millman, the editor of ESPN's magazine, used to work with me at Sports Illustrated and I know him as a responsible and really smart journalist. Really, is seeing an image of a black man made white such a horrible thing if it helps illustrate the question of what would have happened to Vick if he were white and in the dogfighting business?
4. I think, to clarify why Bill Belichick was so clipped with his answers after the Lions' 34-10 win over his Patriots, look at the drives by each team's first unit on offense. New England's ended in a punt, field goal, punt, punt, touchdown, interception and punt. Detroit's field goal, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt, field goal, touchdown.
This was the third preseason game, the one when coaches can best gauge the readiness of their teams. You don't want to overrate the results of any preseason game, and I won't here, but Belichick will have good reason to be tough with his team in practice this week, particularly after a week in which he pulled out the big motivational guns. He showed his team The Fighter in camp the other day, and then had the real-life "Fighter,'' Mickey Ward, come out and talk to the team about fighting through the tough times. Then they went out in the only preseason game that's any sort of gauge of where you are as a team and laid an egg.
5. I think the Dream Team doesn't look so dreamy with a starting offensive line (apparently), left to right, of Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce (a sixth-round rookie starting at center), Danny Watkins and Todd Herremans.
6. I think one more reason that will embitter the Carson Palmer family to the Bengals came when brother Jordan Palmer got cut without ever getting a good shot to compete for the starting job. Or any job, for that matter. The Bengals will start Andy Dalton, the TCU rookie offensive coordinator Jay Gruden loves, and go with Bruce Gradkowski as the backup.
7. I think it's hard to imagine why the Niners, who will engage in contract-extension talks with the agent for running back Frank Gore today, will offer Gore more than just token guaranteed money. Gore's a warrior, to be sure, but he's also had a career's worth of surgeries since his Miami days; both knees have been cut on. He's 28. Love the guy, and you want to show him loyalty, and you don't want to show the locker room you're cold as ice, but you also have to sign guys you're sure will help you well into the future.
8. I think, from what I've seen in the preseason so far, the 2010 Stanford coach has a pretty decent chance to coach the 2011 Stanford quarterback on the 2012 San Francisco 49ers.
9. I think, still, Peyton Manning starts opening day. It wasn't the signing of Kerry Collins that made me think Manning's in a little trouble to be ready. It was what the Colts paid him -- $4 million. That means exactly what the Polians told me when I was in camp 12 days ago is still true: They don't know if Manning will be ready for the opener, and because Curtis Painter has been awful, they had to go get someone who'd have a chance to play competitively against Houston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in September. If need be.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I feel for everyone who got flooded, lost power or had property damaged in the nightmare of Hurricane Irene. For some reason, I am most concerned for the people of Vermont, where the flooding is of historic proportions.
CNN rarely reports live from Vermont. FOX has never heard of Montpelier. And so on -- the state is ignored by the mass media. I'm sure the natives like that for the most part. But not on days like Sunday. Downtown Brattleboro, a town of 12,000, was completely under water Sunday night. Bennington firefighters attempting a boat rescue had to be rescued because of surging water. It's like that in so many towns and cities in the East, including Virginia and North Carolina. Our best to all of you.
b. Never met Pat Summitt, and I am not sure why the news of her early-onset dementia diagnosis hits so hard. What a horrible thing. I think it must be because she's 59, and you never think someone who's 59 is going to be hit with that. I grew up in Connecticut and am partial to the Huskies, but I have to say I'll be pulling for the Vols this year -- in all other games but the national final against UConn.
c. Gotta love the New York Post. Knowledge gleaned from the paper last Monday:
• Jersey Shore gets better ratings in New York than Yankees games on TV, news that came complete with photos of Alex Rodriguez (caption: "Plays third base'') and Snooki (caption: "Lets guys get to third base'').
• A story about a rally in support of going topless in New York City, headlined: "Whoa Mamm! It's a breast-ival.''
• Greta Van Susteren wore a black tux to the Kardashian-Humphries nuptials.
• Daisy Johnson, the 23-year-old daughter of Jets owner Woody Johnson, was selected as the photographer for the Jets cheerleader calendar. Wrote Li: "A rep for the team owner said Daisy went through the interview process like any other applicant before being selected.'' That's rich.
d. Had a chance to watch a couple of innings of Sox-Rangers the other night with Texas GM Jon Daniels. He asks interesting questions about the NFL and how it relates to baseball. He reminds me of Thomas Dimitroff. They think. They don't do what was done yesterday because it was done yesterday and it worked then.
e. Congrats to Oxford (Mich.) High, the school I mentioned a couple of weeks ago for its new blue turf field. Oxford christened the field in style Friday night before 10,000 fans, defeating the defending state champs, Lake Orion, 41-20, behind 231 rushing yards and five touchdowns from their Peyton Hillis, 220-pound back Prescott Line and 6-7, 260-pound tackle Collin Goetz. Good to see high school football in Michigan so hot.
f. Hooray for Jered Weaver, who grew up in the Los Angeles sprawl and went to college at Long Beach State and was drafted by the Angels, for signing a five-year, $85 million extension rather than waiting to break the bank for $20 million-plus a year as a free agent in 16 months. "How much more money do you need?'' he said at the press conference announcing his signing. "I could have gotten more, whatever, who cares? If $85 million is not enough to take care of my family and other generations of my family, then I'm stupid.''
g. Lots of reasons that is a wonderful sentiment. One is when a guy signs for $98 million somewhere else rather than $85 million at home and says he wants to do what's best for his family, and three generations of his family couldn't spend the extra $13 million anyway.
h. Leigh Godich, the entire Sports Illustrated family sends good karma your way this morning as you head into surgery. We're all wishing you the best.
i. One of my best friends, John Czarnecki of FOX, is having hip replacement surgery in southern California this morning. Pulling for you, Czar. Good luck.
j. Coffeenerdness: So we're in East Greenbush Sunday, and there's a drive-thru Starbucks, and the wind's howling and it's raining when I go through there around 8 Sunday morning, and the gal at the window says she doesn't know how long they're going to stay open. And around 2, there's a lull in the weather, and I call over there before I waste a trip. "We're just closing,'' another gal says. But it's almost stopped raining, and the wind has died down, and ... well, that's when you know you're addicted.
k. Beernerdness: By the looks of the calendar, St. Arnold Summer Pils is going to be gone in a month. Get it while it's cold. Had it the other night at The Ballpark in Arlington -- they have a nice Texas beer stand between home and first base. A little less bite that Victory Pils out of Pennsylvania. An excellent beer with a hoppy taste (but not too heavy) for a hot night (101 at first pitch) at the ballpark. I've had a few of those St. Arnold beers (the Lawnmower is one I recall) and it's a good, solid brewery out of Houston.
l. I guess I have to catch up on the last two Curb Your Enthusiasm shows. Bummer I've missed them. Was Larry David really at the Baseball Hall of Fame?