PHOENIX -- Caught your breath yet?
I was in Phoenix over the weekend, trying to break away to watch three spring training games in paradise. And I think the weirdest part of the weekend came shortly after I heard about the Rams-Redskins trade, which was about six hours after the news broke Friday night that Peyton Manning was headed to town Saturday on his free-agency tour. I pulled over to the side of a road to talk to an NFL team's executive about the trade and was taking a couple of notes when I got a call-waiting signal. "Jets just announced a contract extension with Sanchez,'' someone told me.
This has to have been the most eventful non-draft offseason weekend in recent NFL history. The various happenings:
• Manning touring America AS AN UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, with helicopters and reporters following him like the O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase, first in Miami and then in Denver and then, a little less insanely, in Phoenix. I never thought I'd see Manning as a free-agent one day -- maybe the same day I'd see him use a walker -- and evidently I wasn't the only one. "I still am trying to get my brain around the thought that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is a street free agent -- and was in our building talking about playing for our team,'' said one official of a team in the running this weekend.
• Something happened for the first time in league history, apparently, in the trade of the second pick in the 2012 draft from the Rams to the Redskins for three first-rounders and a No. 2. (I say apparently because league PR people believe no draft choice has been traded for three first-round picks, and certainly not for three first-rounders and a second-round pick. But the league Sunday couldn't say for sure, so I'll say apparently it's the first time a pick got traded for such a haul.)
A book written by Boston writer and talk-show host Michael Holley is at least partially the reason, with an assist from the Carmelo Anthony trade. More about that later. The Patriots got three ones for Jim Plunkett in 1976, and the Rams got three ones for Eric Dickerson in 1987, but for a pick? File not found. The Redskins have a quarterback for the next generation, they hope. The Rams have the picks -- three in the top 40 this year, two first-rounders in both 2013 and 2014 -- to control the next three drafts, they hope.
• As soon as the Jets knew they weren't going to be in the Manning Sweepstakes, they announced a contract extension with Mark Sanchez. The deal, which at first appeared mystifyingly outrageous because he might be just another guy, is actually a good deal for the team -- if you hold out much hope he's going to be a franchise quarterback. The Jets added three reasonably priced seasons to his contract in 2014 through 2016 in exchange for guaranteeing his money this year and next, and adding $2.75 million to it. If you assume he's not getting cut in either of the next two years, GM Mike Tannenbaum did a smart thing, because he lowered Sanchez's cap number in the process -- $6.4 million of it, according to Profootballtalk.com.
• The Colts cut half their roster. Sort of. Much of the backbone of a team that averaged 12.5 wins a year from 2005 to 2010 has disappeared in the last five days: The wrecking ball taken to the passing game is like nothing in recent history. Manning, Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark were told they wouldn't be retained. Three more receivers -- wideouts Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, and tight end Jacob Tamme -- will leave in free agency, almost certainly. Think of the Colts' opening-camp receiving corps in July 2010: The top two quarterbacks (including Curtis Painter) are now gone. The top two tight ends, gone. Three of the top four wideouts (excepting Austin Collie), gone. And the defense? Captain and leader Gary Brackett, cut. As Adam Schefter reported Friday, Dwight Freeney is on the trading block. Andrew Luck has to be thinking, "What am I walking into? The '76 Bucs?''
• And Sunday night in a hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., one of the best receivers of all time, Randy Moss, got some rest, preparing for a strange tryout with the 49ers this morning. Strange because Moss is trying to come back after not playing in 2011. Strange because the man throwing passes to him this morning won't be Niner quarterback Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick. It'll be coach Jim Harbaugh. "I talked to Jim tonight,'' club president Jed York told me late Sunday night. "He's excited, and a little nervous. He's a competitive guy. He doesn't want to look bad.'' Harbaugh's throwing because the league doesn't want a team's quarterbacks, or a free-agent quarterback who last played for the team, to throw in a private workout for the team before the start of the league year.
Free agency opens tomorrow. The NFL appears ready to hand down the biggest sanctions in Roger Goodell's reign -- over the Saints' bounty scandal; he might suspend a Super Bowl-winning coach and defensive coordinator. And there's a quarterback named Matt Flynn out there who threw for six touchdowns in the last game of the season -- more than Starr, Favre or Rodgers ever did in a game -- and you can have him to run your offense.
Opening weekend 2012 is exactly six months away. But isn't this action more non-stop than the regular season?
Assessing the field for Manning.
So now Manning is back at his Miami Beach apartment, by all indications, full of information and who knows what else from his time with the Broncos and Cardinals. The one thing he has to be thinking of is the advantage of an AFC team over an NFC team. He knows the AFC better, naturally, having played in it for his 13 active seasons. He knows it's an easier path to the Super Bowl in the AFC than the NFC. He knows the AFC West is a division there to be had.
We'd be naïve to think he hasn't thought to himself: What's the clearest path to the Super Bowl in the next two years? If I'm him, I think of three teams when it comes to competitive opportunity: Houston, Denver and Kansas City. I don't think Houston's interested. The Texans have been in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring in each of the last three seasons, and even if Manning led them to 75 more points than Matt Schaub or Matt Leinart could in 2012, would that put the team over the top? Not to say the Texans couldn't change their minds and get involved this week. But if they don't, that leaves the AFC West.
San Diego and Oakland have quarterbacks and/or no cap room to go get Manning. I am surprised he views Denver clearly better than the Chiefs, which apparently he does. Kansas City has better backs, if Jamaal Charles returns whole this year, and comparable if not better receivers. The Chiefs had a better defense last year, by three points and 24 yards allowed per game.
The pros and cons of the two teams leading the pack:
DENVER: Remember the skepticism of John Elway being the football majordomo of an NFL team? Well, the Broncos wouldn't be the favorite in this without Elway. Manning likes him a lot, and they meshed well Friday ... John Fox is a good coach, and Mike McCoy a good coordinator, for Manning because they'll allow him to hold sway over much of the offense ...
Brandon Stokley's a factor here. Manning once told me Stokley was the best slot receiver he'd ever seen -- and he's also one of Manning's best friends, and he lives in Denver. Stokley caught 139 passes from Manning in four seasons as a Colt. He's a free agent, and though he may want to play in 2012, he may be finished too; he turns 36 in June. Manning turns 36 this month. Stokley was part of the Denver welcoming committee when Manning came to town, and it didn't hurt ...
Manning has to take a leap of faith with Fox, hoping he can fix the defense, which allowed 40 points or more five times in 18 games last season ... And then there's the matter of the weather. Manning played half of every pro season in a dome. Denver has one dome game next year, at Atlanta ...
Regarding the fixes of the current lineup on offense and defense, Denver will be in good shape to go shopping in free agency. The Broncos are $44.7 million under the league's $120.6 million salary cap, Profootballtalk.com reported Sunday night. That's far better than the Cards, who will have some cuts to make to get under the cap by Tuesday afternoon.
ARIZONA: Eleven games in a dome this year -- and the eight home games are on grass, not artificial turf. For a quarterback like Manning, who loves playing when weather's not a factor (what quarterback doesn't?), that's a big edge. Arizona's home field has a retractable roof, but it's likely the team would keep it closed as a nod to Manning, even on lovely days ... Won seven of the last nine in 2011, never allowing more than 23 points in the nine games ... Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald would be attractive for any quarterback, obviously, and the Cards used him in their recruiting efforts over the weekend ...
Malleable offense, with low-ego head coach Ken Whisenhunt and coordinator Mike Miller ... Knows Whisenhunt from when Whisenhunt was a Steeler assistant coaching Manning in the Pro Bowl ... Has played golf with Whisenhunt at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, and they're close enough so that when Manning flew into Phoenix Saturday night, he had dinner at Whisenhunt's home ... Offensive line needs work ...
Lots of athletes live in greater Phoenix and say the locals don't bother them, which would appeal to Manning ... Though the Bidwill family has gotten ripped for not spending, that's a little misleading. Fitzgerald's $120 million deal, signed last year, is the biggest non-quarterback contract in NFL history ... Cards have a formidable foe in the division in San Francisco to see twice a year. but split with the Niners last year. San Francisco is a better team than any Denver would have to beat in the AFC West.
Miami? Time is short for Manning. Not sure he wants to have to try to hop over the Patriots and Jets; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are one thing, but Manning lost two of three to Rex Ryan after Ryan took over the Jets, including the 17-16 home stunner in the playoffs in Manning's last game as a Colt (as it turned out). Stephen Ross would throw whatever millions at Manning he had to, but as one club official from an interested team told me Sunday: "It's pretty apparent (Manning's) making this decision on football factors far more than money.''
Keep one very important thing in mind: Manning may be open to considering other teams. Don't think it's going to come down to Denver and Arizona only. You get the feeling watching Manning that he's an open book and may take today and re-evaluate, and consider another team or two. This is a fluid situation.
Now about Manning's physical condition. He didn't take his agent, Tom Condon, with him on his weekend trips. He wanted the trip to be all football, to see where he'd best fit. No one's talking about his physical condition now, but in due time they'll have to. Manning will likely make it easy on a team and not demand the kind of huge $28 million option bonus he had on the table when the Colts cut him last week. But his new team will have to trust the medical reports from Manning's doctors that say, despite having four neck procedures in two years, he should be fit enough to play in 2012.
But I don't think Manning needs a great arm to kill you. For a 2009 story on Manning's great season for SI, I phoned Qadry Ismail, who played one season for the Colts, in 2002. He told me about a ball that traveled 17 yards in the air, in the first game he ever played with Manning. The point here is, even if Manning's arm isn't the same as it was -- and there is no indication that by opening day he will be diminished in arm strength -- he'll still be dangerous. Ismail's story, which he called a "CIA, burn-after-reading secret'' from the Colts playbook in the 2002 opener at Jacksonville:
When Manning gave Ismail a shoveling motion or said the words "Crane! Crane!" Ismail would run a dig route -- a curl in which the receiver goes downfield a certain distance, plants his foot suddenly and turns to face the quarterback. Having seen the signal a couple of times early in the game, Jacksonville corner Jason Craft then taunted Ismail. "I know what y'all are doing!" Craft hollered. "Every time he gives that [shoveling] signal, you run that little in route!" Ismail could have said, "Are you seriously challenging Peyton Manning?" Instead he told the cornerback he didn't know what he was talking about, then told Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore on the sideline, "He's bragging like he knows what we're doing. He's going to jump that route!"
Manning filed the information and talked with Moore about using it later in the game. Sure enough, with the ball at the Jaguars' 12 in the third quarter, Manning told Ismail that "Crane!" would be a dummy call, and instead of the dig he should run a hitch-and-go (basically a dig, stop and sprint back upfield into the end zone). "I made a living off double moves," says Ismail, "and that was the easiest one I ever ran. Peyton gave me the crane sign at the line. I pushed upfield five yards and stuck my foot in the ground as hard as I could. The DB made a beeline to that five-yard spot and looked for the ball, but I just ran into the end zone, all alone. What a simple TD."
Said Ismail, "When I was there, he told me, 'Hey, I'm just a gym rat. This is what I'm about. I love the game.' He wants to squeeze out every ounce of talent he has and pour it into the art of quarterbacking, being the absolute best quarterback who has ever played."
Another factor is Manning will play hurt. And has. On July 31, 2008, at 6 a.m., Manning was told it'd take about 30 minutes to sew about 20 sutures in the knee, the second surgery to fix a staph infection in his knee from a burst bursa sac. But there weren't 20 sutures implanted. Doctors had to use 80. Surgery didn't take 30 minutes. It took three hours. Four days later, Colts director of rehabilitation Erin Barill came to Manning's house to check on how the knee was healing. "He warned me the knee does not look good,'' Manning said."I looked down, and my knee looked like a brain after surgery. You know how they show you pictures of a brain in science class? That's what this was -- swollen, ugly. I kind of got my hopes up, but it was disgusting. Mangled, in layers, dimples all over it. It didn't look good at all. My heart just sank. I was nervous and scared.''
He rushed and rehabbed and broke in a new center because of an injury to Jeff Saturday, but he was weak for the opening game, a 29-13 loss to Chicago. They came back to beat Minnesota, then lost to Jacksonville, and were staring 1-3 in the face when Houston built a 27-10 lead on the Colts midway through the fourth quarter. "I throw a touchdown pass to Tom Santi that looks like a stat-padder. Then [Gary] Brackett takes a fumble back for a touchdown.'' The Colts finished with nine wins in a row. Five months after recoiling in shock at the sight of his grotesque knee, he finished his most unlikely great season in the NFL. "This has been my most rewarding regular season, because of what we've all been faced with here,'' Manning said."I've been proud to be on this team. Guys dug deep. I dug deep.''
He will again, if his physical condition calls for it. That and the throw to Ismail are two good reasons why I'd pull out all the stops to sign Manning if my team medics tell me he's healthy enough to play.
I regret not taking more time here to talk about the Colts' split with Manning. Few people in sports history have made the mark Manning has in Indiana. He donated money for the construction of a children's hospital. Scores of Indianans named children after the beloved Manning. He gave away millions through his foundation to charities in Indiana, Tennessee and New Orleans, three places he's put down roots.
He doesn't have long to play. A year, two, three, maybe four at the outside. You get the feeling he knows if he only has a season or two, he wants to be somewhere that gives him the best chance right away to get to the Super Bowl. That said, I wouldn't expect a decision by Manning before Wednesday.
Manning scheduling note of the day:
Denver, Arizona and Miami all play at New England in 2012, with the dates yet to be announced.
Manning just can't get away from Belichick and Brady, can he?
The Griffin Deal I: The biggest deal for a pick -- we think -- ever.
It's hard, obviously, to project where the Washington first-round picks will be in the 2013 and 2014 drafts. But because we don't know, let's project them to be in the middle of the round, at 16, each year. (That is actually how the Rams calculated it, by the way, with each of the two mystery picks in the middle of the first rounds of 2013 and 2014.) And let's compare this trade to two other very big ones of recent years: the Saints' trade of eight draft choices to Washington so they could draft Ricky Williams in 1999, and the Giants' move with San Diego to pick Eli Manning in the 2004 draft. I'll also tell you how much each trade returned in value, according to the well-worn draft-trade value chart -- even though that chart has to change now because very high picks are paid much less since the approval of the 2011 CBA, including a rookie wage scale.
The reason I think this Washington deal is better than either of the others is it gives the Rams one top-10 pick and, overall, four picks in the top 40. Each of the other trades gave the trading team the lower pick two picks in the top 40.
Amazing thing about this deal is rookie GM Les Snead, according to one Rams operative, "never looked at the trade value chart. As Les said, 'There is no value for a franchise quarterback.' '' Look at Eli Manning. When the Giants made the trade with San Diego in 2004, the common wisdom was GM Ernie Accorsi overpaid. Now, with Eli Manning having won two Super Bowls and played such clutch football in both championship game victories, it's apparent that the Giants, if anything, underpaid for him.
As for how it all happened, Rams COO Kevin Demoff said two weeks ago the deal could be made in any of three windows -- now, or around the time of Griffin's March 21 Pro Day workout, or right before the draft. It happened now because Washington was moving aggressively, knowing that Peyton Manning would not come and play in his brother's division and knowing what a jewel Griffin was, and because there was clear competition for the pick.
Snead was honest with the two teams most involved, Washington and Cleveland, and the third (Miami) on the periphery. He told them they were going to make a deal by the close of business Thursday, and they needed to make their best offer. According to one of the teams involved, Washington made an offer beyond what St. Louis ever thought it'd get -- three first-round picks and a second-rounder. Cleveland offered something less, thought to be three ones. (It's unknown what Miami's best offer was, though the Dolphins wanted Manning, and so never got to the level of the Redskins.)
The Rams might have gotten more by telling the Browns what Washington's offer was, but Snead had promised each side he wouldn't play one bid against another but rather simply ask for each team's best offer. Once Washington's offer was better than Cleveland's, the deal was done.
"What happened,'' said one team executive involved in the talks, "was everyone wanted to get the deal done before free agency, to make sure they filled a chair with a quarterback they really wanted during musical chairs. That really helped the Rams.''
The Griffin Deal II: How War Room helped.
Demoff read the 2011 book about Belichick and his two former personnel aides, Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff, who struck out on their own in Kansas City and Atlanta, respectively. He gave the book to owner Stan Kroenke, who found many lessons in it for the construction of the Rams. The biggest one: stockpile draft choices so you can control drafts. And the 2012 Rams were in perfect position when they earned the second pick in the April draft and they already had a quarterback of the future -- they think -- on the roster in Sam Bradford.
There were other lessons in the book. Be bold, as Dimitroff was when he dealt multiple picks to move up in the first round last April to draft Julio Jones. Have the long term in mind, always. So when the Rams went about the job of interviewing candidates for head coach and GM, Kroenke wanted two things. He wanted a coach who would be experienced and stable and would be comfortable making decisions that would impact 2015 as much as 2012. Jeff Fisher was his George Karl, a veteran coach with perspective.
He wanted a GM, preferably, who had roots in the Patriot way. Les Snead worked under Dimitroff in Atlanta for four seasons, and when he was interviewed, told the Rams he'd be comfortable making big moves with long-term implications.
In some ways, the deal was the kind of franchise-resuscitator that Kroenke's son, Denver Nuggets executive Josh Kroenke, helped broker a year earlier when he dealt Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks in a package for four players and three draft picks. The Nuggets were better for dumping Anthony. We'll see if the Rams will be better with Bradford and four primo picks than they'd have been with Griffin. They should be.
The Rams now have seen both ends of the spectrum with the rookie wage scale. Bradford was the last top pick to get a monster deal before the new CBA. Bradford signed for an average of $13 million a year. Griffin will sign for about $5.5 million a year, and be eligible for his second contract after four seasons, not six, as Bradford will be. Washington may have still dealt for Griffin without a rookie wage scale, but there's no question it helped the Rams get more value for the pick.
The Griffin Deal III: If Washington couldn't get Manning, they could get The Man.
Think of the quarterbacks Mike Shanahan has coached over the last 20 years. He was Steve Young's offensive coordinator 17 years ago when Young threw a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes. Young was mobile and accurate. He liked short pass-drops with as many formations as Shanahan could conjure up. Then came his third stint coaching John Elway, who also was mobile, but liked the seven-step deep drop and less variety in his formations. Then came Brian Griese, who had poor mobility; Shanahan played a classic pocket game with Griese, and it was good enough to win one passing title (with a 102.9 rating in 2000). Then came Jake Plummer, who had a great pocket presence and very good mobility, but there was something lacking. Great accuracy for one thing; he was a 59-percent passer in four seasons, and his downfield arm was just average. And some around Denver thought Plummer lacked dedication to the craft of quarterbacking. Then Jay Cutler came in, and he could run passably, he could drop back and throw downfield with the best in the game, and he had great confidence. Had Shanahan stayed, he was sure he could win a championship with Cutler, but who knows? Owner Pat Bowlen fired Shanahan after the 2008 season, and Cutler was gone in a trade to Chicago four months later.
Shanahan has had one dropback guy (Griese) and a second who preferred that stay-in-the-pocket style (Cutler). He had a rocket-armed guy who could throw well downfield and who could escape (Elway). He had an ultra-accurate guy with great running ability (Young). He had a colt who'd often play by instinct (Plummer) and won that way. He's always worked with what a quarterback does best. He feels his offense can contract and expand depending on the talents of the man under center. Or in the shotgun.
So now Shanahan will have Griffin to work with. It might be the last quarterback he ever handles, for better or for worse. And he just might be a little bit of all of them. He's the fastest quarterback, to be sure, that Shanahan has ever coached. Young's more accurate (not many quarterbacks ever have been more accurate), but Griffin's deep arm, and the accuracy of it, are certainly better than Young's, and may rival Elway's. We'll see.
When the Redskins watched Griffin on tape, they saw a quarterback who really didn't want to run, but when he had to, he shredded a defense. That's how Shanahan and son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, will teach Griffin -- assuming, of course, Indianapolis takes Andrew Luck and Griffin is there for Washington at two. (Washington would certainly take Luck if the Colts, picking first, undergo a change of heart and pick Griffin over Luck.)
Now about the volume Washington traded for Griffin. And the volume that Cleveland didn't. You get the feeling Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen looked at their quarterback situation, wretched, and did what they had to do to get one of the best quarterbacks to come out of the draft in a while. Cleveland looked at Colt McCoy and liked him without really loving him, and made a very strong offer to get Griffin. Just not strong enough. It's hard to kill GM Tom Heckert, but the only thing that matters is whether you get the trade done or you don't. Cleveland didn't. The Browns might be proven right in the long run, but for now, their fans feel like they'll never get a franchise quarterback ... and may not even get a Brian Sipe.
As for The Sanchize ...
Maybe it was just a throwaway quote, but the three-year contract extension Sanchez signed Friday night was, if anything, the kind of thing players in locker rooms look at and say, What did this guy do to deserve an extension? As I explained earlier, the Jets gave up some guaranteed money in exchange for three extra years on the contract -- three years Sanchez may never play unless he turns his play around this year. Asked about it Friday, Sanchez said: "The best part about it is they chose to stick with me. I'm going to be the starting quarterback for the next few years here. That's exciting. It gives the team just a reminder that I'm the leader of this team.''
Playing well, and winning, and being a go-to guy for teammates in the locker room, and lifting your team ... those are the things that reinforce leadership. Not a contract. I just hope for Sanchez's sake he doesn't really feel the size of his paychecks means a thing when it comes to big moments in late-season games. Because they don't.
"I don't want to retire. Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play.''
-- Peyton Manning, at the announcement of his departure from the Colts.
"He is the man I want, period. I want Mr. Manning with the Titans, and I will be disappointed if it doesn't happen.''
-- Tennessee owner Bud Adams, to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean on Sunday.
"The Baltimore Colts are releasing Peyton Manning.''
-- NBC anchor Brian Williams, on the network's Super Tuesday coverage last week.
"Did I personally want [Brett] Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO! Did I feel like we, the Saints, had a better chance of being in the Super Bowl with Favre on the sideline? Of course. Would the Patriots and their fans have probably been excited to see Eli [Manning] on the bench with his foot up whispering that he was done? Would players on the sideline have made comments to that effect? Right or wrong, I'm guessing yes. Probably every Saints fan, player and coach got an adrenaline rush when thinking Minnesota might be in trouble. I said what many people were probably thinking, though maybe I said it in a way that sounded a bit too excited. I do regret saying it, though.''
-- Former Saints defensive end defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Seattle, in a statement to SI.com's Don Banks. After a high-low hit by the Saints sent a hobbled Favre to the sidelines in the NFC Championship Game two years ago, Hargrove was overheard on the Saints bench exclaiming, "Favre is out of the game! Favre is done! Favre is done!''
"If I'm hurt against the Saints the last couple of years, I'm suing the Saints.''
-- Former NFL quarterback Steve Young, now an ESPN analyst, in a network roundtable discussing the Saints bounty story.
Impact of Peyton Dept.:
How Indianapolis fared in the 13 seasons it had Peyton Manning, and in the two bookend seasons -- 1997 and 2011 -- that were the pre- and post-Peyton years:
Colts record in 13 seasons Manning played: 141-67 (.678)
Colts record in season before and season after Manning: 5-27 (.156)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played the storied Apollo Theater in Manhattan Friday night, with Tom Coughlin in attendance.
I had a terrific time in Arizona over the weekend, watching three ballgames at three fairly new ballparks -- Goodyear Ballpark (home of the Reds and Indians) in Goodyear, 25 minutes west of Phoenix; Camelback Ranch (home of the White Sox and Dodgers) in Glendale, not far from the Cardinals stadium; and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies), about a half-hour northeast of downtown.
Spring training is so much different than it was 15 years ago. The size of these new stadiums is amazing. I bet the Salt River Fields complex -- not even including the minor-league and practice fields -- is the size of Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City. A huge place. The food is another amazing thing. At the Camelback stadium, I had soba noodles with eight kinds of vegetables right out of a huge wok. At the Goodyear park, I had a chicken taco -- a damn good one. At Salt River Fields there's a martini bar, four kinds of Leinenkugel beer from Wisconsin, a strawberry kabob covered in chocolate and a taco bar.
The tickets seemed like cover charges for the food and drink.
Two other points about Salt River Fields. The game Saturday night was sold out; we had to pay $25 apiece to a scalper for $8 outfield-grass tickets. And driving out of there, we passed a cautionary yellow road sign that read, "WILD HORSES.''
All in all, even with the stream of Rams-Redskins trade news and Peyton-related news on a weekend I'd love to have gotten away from it all, it was a fun time in a different world of baseball.
While in the Valley of the Sun, my brother-in-law Bob and I had a late lunch Saturday with a major-league pitcher. I'll give you eight clues who it was.
1. He played his high school baseball in New Jersey.
2. As a major-leaguer, he has struck out Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.
3. I have coached the daughter (first name Emma) of this pitcher's high school baseball coach, in New Jersey travel softball.
4. He has a lot of problems with the authenticity of the movie Moneyball.
5. Evan Longoria, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis and Joey Votto are a combined 0-for-25 against him.
6. Felix Pie, Brent Morel, J.J. Hardy, Mike Aviles, Kyle Seager, Brendan Ryan and Billy Butler are a combined 16-for-19 against him.
7. He majored in Economics at a decent four-year college.
8. He has won his baseball team's fantasy football league title for the past two seasons.
Answer in Ten Things I Think I Think.
From resident Hoosier Angie Six's blog post about what Peyton Manning meant to a person who, formerly, never liked football:
"I love Peyton because he understands how Hoosiers tick. You show up, you work hard, you don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You don't brag or trash-talk. You do things the right way, the quiet way and believe that one day you'll be respected for it. That's the Midwestern way. I love Peyton because he can laugh at himself. I love Peyton because he's a perfectionist. I love Peyton because he orchestrated some of the most thrilling football I've ever seen. I love Peyton because he led us to a Super Bowl and gave us humble Hoosiers a chance to call ourselves champions. I love Peyton for all the good he does in our community. But most of all, I love Peyton because he turned me into a fan of the game."
"I give Peyton a ton of credit. Only meeting with teams he's legitimately interested in. Not playing leverage game w/others. Moving quickly.''
-- @BobGlauber, the prescient Newsday football writer, Sunday night as Manning flew to his offseason home in Miami.
"With 38 mill in dead money in 2012, Colts have about 82 mill to build roster. And Freeney counts 19 mill (23 pct). Adios #93''
-- @mchappell51, Colts beat man Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star, figuring that with all the roster cuts of the team in the past few days, Dwight Freeney (No. 93) is almost certainly gone in trade.
"So NY Daily News says Jets have tried to trade Wayne Hunter. For what? Two slices of pizza?"
-- @PriscoCBS, CBSSports.com NFL columnist Pete Prisco.
1. I think I have no idea what it means when New Orleans quarterback and union executive board member Drew Brees, in a statement about the Saints' bounty program the NFL says took place, says: "I did not participate in any bounty program, nor did I have any knowledge relating to its real existence.''
First of all, no offensive player is alleged by the NFL to have taken part in the bounty thing. Secondly: What is the "real'' existence of something? Does that mean you knew something about it vaguely, or have some knowledge but not full knowledge of the inner workings of the program, or that you knew nothing of it at all?
I will say what I believe league investigators are thinking, regardless of the definition of "real'' here: that every player on that Super Bowl team, and the coach and general manager, knew something of what was going on in the defensive team meetings on Saturday nights.
2. I think the news that the NFL is on the verge of making a decision in the Saints case is a sign that Roger Goodell was fairly sure what he wanted to do when he announced the findings of the league's investigation 10 days ago. It's likely he's conferred with some owners on the sanctions, and with NFLPA czar De Smith, and just wanted to have some time to mull over what will surely be the biggest disciplinary case of his six years in office. Actually, it's likely to be the biggest disciplinary case he'll ever adjudicate.
3. I think Josh Morgan is going to make some team very, very happy in free agency -- and I hear the Niners are making a late push to keep him off the market. They should. Before he missed the final 11 games of 2011 with an October ankle fracture, Morgan had a chance to be a star in Jim Harbaugh's offense.
4. I think Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace is one of the best bargains ever in restricted free agency history. Remember this about the Steelers: They've cut to the bone on the cap already. Wallace is down to make $2.74 million on a one-year deal in 2012. And staring the Steelers in the face next season is another restricted free agent the Steelers like very much -- wideout Antonio Brown. Let's say one of the teams low in the first round with some cap flexibility and a receiver need -- San Francisco, New England -- makes Wallace a front-loaded offer with a big 2012 cap number. I could see the Steelers letting Wallace go and taking the first-round pick as compensation.
5. I think one of the oddest things about this free-agency season is how Donovan McNabb's stock has plummeted to the point where you don't even hear of him. Nothing. Just 23 months ago, the Redskins traded second- and fourth-round picks to Philadelphia for McNabb. He was just OK in 13 starts in Washington, and a little worse than that in six starts in Minnesota (6-13 overall, with 18 touchdowns and 17 picks in those two stops). He's healthy, and he's 35, and I don't hear anything about any team wanting him. It's almost like he's gone from being Hewlett-Packard in 2009 to a penny stock today.
6. I think I think, on some journalism notes, some major congrats are in order. Kudos to Chris Mortensen for being out front on so many things Peyton Manning ... and to Jay Glazer for breaking the Robert Griffin III trade story Friday night ... and to Adam Schefter for reporting the Colts are trying to trade Dwight Freeney ... and to Mike Klis of the Denver Post for a chock-full Sunday evening update on the Manning chase, including that Manning turned down the chance to visit Seattle and Kansas City, both of whom were very interested in him ... and to Mike Wise of the Washington Post for some very good writing on deadline in his trade analysis column Friday night/Saturday morning, and what the deal means to Washington and to coach Mike Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen. Because if you got the Post's final edition Saturday morning in the District, you got to read this line from Wise: "His initials might as well stand for Riverboat Gambler, because that's what he represents to Shanahan."
7. I think there's been some confusion on the compensation the Redskins paid the Rams for the second pick in the draft, at least according to the Twitter world. Dozens of you, and some emailers too, have said, Wait a minute. The Redskins didn't trade three first-round picks and a two for Robert Griffin III. They traded two firsts, then swapped positions with this year's first-rounders with the Rams. In a way, it's all semantics. But it's much more accurate, and truthful, to say Washington traded four picks for one pick. If we described it as three picks for Griffin and a swap of ones this year, that diminishes the importance of this little swap of picks this year.
In the NFL today, trading up from six to two in the first round cannot be dismissed as simply "swapping spots" as though it's a minor part of the deal. On the draft trade value chart, which all teams use (though its importance has been lessened because the cost of high picks is so much more affordable now with the new rookie wage scale), the difference between the sixth and second overall picks is 1,000 points, the equivalent of the 16th overall pick in the draft.
8. I think I'm glad for Griffin's sake that he is a man who plays well under pressure -- and seems to thrive on it. Washington will be full of that pressure. I'll never forget in 1988, when, while at Newsday, I interviewed for a job covering the Redskins for the Washington Post.Before I left, I got to spend a few minutes with the esteemed executive editor of the paper, Ben Bradlee, and I was more nervous with the man who oversaw the Watergate investigation at the Post than I'd ever been for any interview with an athlete. "This beat,'' he said to me, "is as important at our paper as the Supreme Court to many people.'' Whoa. I ended up not taking the job, but I'll always remember that. If the pressure is like that for the person who covers the team, imagine what it's like for the man who quarterbacks it.
9. I think, for you Browns fans -- and journalism fans -- here's the latest on former Plain Dealer beat man and columnist Tony Grossi, who was taken off the beat when a tweet critical of owner Randy Lerner was made public: Grossi starts today as a Browns analyst at ESPNCleveland, with web writing and appearances on the local affiliate, WKNR. He'll continue to cover the team, travel to the games and cover the league.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Way to go, Ohio Bobcats. Congratulations on winning the MAC -- and congrats to you, D.J. Cooper (have you been in Athens forever, or is it just my imagination?) for your 23-point night in the MAC win over those Akron Zips.
b. My favorite final four in any college basketball conference tournament, ever, came over the weekend in Chicago. The four participants in the Great West Conference semifinals: the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders, of Newark, N.J.; the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, of Grand Forks, N.D.; the Utah Valley Wolverines, of Orem, Utah; and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs of Edinburg. They came from the East, North, West and South of the United States and met in the Midwest. In the title game, the 17-15 North Dakotans met the 15-16 New Jerseyans, and the Fighting Sioux came out on top.
c. Favorite upcoming NCAA matchup: Harvard versus Vanderbilt, in Albuquerque, in Harvard's first NCAA Tournament game in 66 years.
d. (No Really My) Favorite upcoming NCAA matchup: Ohio U. versus Michigan, in Nashville. All you Buckeyes (and I'm talking to you, Albert Breer and Rich Eisen) who think Ohio State and Michigan in November is The Game, well, this tilt Friday night obviously dwarfs the other one. Watch out for D.J. Cooper, Wolverines. When the junior guard was a freshman, he had 23 in OU's 97-83 upset of Georgetown. What could Eisen, Mr. Michigan, and I bet on this game? Tweet me your ideas @SI_PeterKing. You too, Rich.
e. Favorite NIT matchup: Northern Iowa at St. Joseph's, Wednesday. The pageantry.
f. Favorite College Insider.com Tournament: Kent State at South Carolina-Upstate, Thursday. The intensity of that rivalry.
g. Favorite College Basketball Invitational matchup: Quinnipiac at Penn, Wednesday. Bet you didn't know Quinnipiac, in Hamden, Conn., sits in the shadow of Sleeping Giants State Park.
h. Look at you, you St. Louis Blues. Leading the NHL with 97 points. One loss all season, in 16 games, to teams from the Eastern Conference. Great job.
i. On, you mighty Devils. I'd never have guessed with 10 games left in the regular season they'd have more points than Boston and Chicago.
j. Quiz answer: Cleveland reliever Frank Herrmann, from Montclair Kimberley (N.J.) Academy and Harvard.
k. Coffeenerdness: I underrate Illy espresso. Consistently, when I have it at a good coffee shop, as I did with a triple latte Sunday morning in Phoenix, Illy never disappoints. Intense taste. No bitterness.
l. Beernerdness: In two of the three Arizona ballparks we visited over the weekend, Pyramid Hefeweizen was served -- on tap at the White Sox park and by the bottle at Cleveland's park. It's a relatively mild but distinctive unfiltered wheat beer, easy to drink and perfect for a sunny day at the park. I should do a commercial for it.
m. Great tweet from my buddy Jon Heyman about the 2012 Red Sox: Two things I learned at red sox camp the other day: bobby valentine likes adela, and he really likes alfredo aceves.''
n. I mean, Adele's OK. But Aceves, now there's greatness.