Winning division didn't stop Texans from bold offseason changes
Before I get to the state of the Texans, and the running back driving fantasy football players crazy, as well as a local boy in Queens having the time of his life and the latest in Bountyville, here's a preamble about the life span of the best prospects in football.
Six years shouldn't be forever in the NFL, but looking at the top of the 2006 draft is evidence that six years is more than enough to make or break careers. The top 10 players in the 2006 NFL draft have been employed by 19 teams through six seasons -- the smart teams don't stay married to guys when either the marriage isn't working or the priorities have changed.
How the mighty have moved since 2006:
Player, Position: Teams
One other note before I move on to my point about the Texans. The 2007 draft has something in common with 2006: Four of the 10 top picks in each remain starters for the teams that drafted them. And there isn't a quarterback among the top 10 in those two drafts (Young, Leinart and JaMarcus Russell in 2007) still with the team that drafted him.
But I bring you this list to make a point about the Houston Texans. They had a chance to re-sign the first pick in the 2006 draft, the man they hoped would be their defensive centerpiece and lead them to multiple division titles, Mario Williams. They let him walk. They had a chance to keep Leinart as the backup to Matt Schaub. They let Leinart walk. They had a chance to bring home Young as the backup to Schaub. They watched as Buffalo signed Young.
Instead of keeping the first pick in the 2006 draft, they chose to put their pass-rush future in the hands of the 46th pick in 2009 (Connor Barwin), the 42nd pick in 2011 (Brooks Reed) and the 26th pick this year (Whitney Mercilus). Instead of signing a high-profile backup to Schaub, they chose to put their faith in the 152nd pick in the 2011 draft (T.J. Yates), who quarterbacked the Texans to the franchise's first playoff win last season.
And instead of keeping 4-3 middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and asking him to play out of scheme in Wade Phillips' 3-4, GM Rick Smith traded the most respected Texan in the locker room to Philadelphia and signed free agent Bradie James to team with Brian Cushing and Darryl Sharpton inside.
For a team that finally won a division and a playoff game in its 10th season, the Texans certainly made a lot of changes. Two-fifths of a stalwart offensive line (right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston) were allowed to walk. The right side of the linebacker group, Ryans and Williams, are gone too. "There's no way to minimize the loss of Mario Williams,'' Smith said. "But you turn the tape on from last season, and what players were out there on the field?''
Williams missed 11 games with a torn pectoral muscle. Ryans came off the field on third downs. And Houston finished second in the NFL in team defense. In one offseason, core players like Williams, Ryans and Winston were gone; if the Texans could save $2 million on the cap going with Yates over Leinart, so be it. It's GM School 101.
"One important thing I've learned is when your core changes, you've got to be willing to change your philosophy too,'' said Smith. "Your core of players has to be a living, breathing thing, and you have to be willing to examine it all the time to be sure you're comfortable with it. The good thing about making those types of decisions is being able to be emotionally detached a bit. I don't have the attachment to the players that a coach does.''
Smith said he's studied NFL history at length, and he's studied business models of different business leaders. One that he's adopted is former GE boss Jack Welch's 20-70-10 philosophy: the top 20 percent of your employees are standouts and must be nurtured. The majority, the 70 percent, are the working class -- needed but still able to move if the right situation arises. The lowest 10 percent have to be churned and replaced, because a company always is looking for ways to get better by importing new blood. "If you have a 53-man roster, maybe you've got 10 or 11 core players,'' Smith said, "and then 25 to 30 roles players, and then you're always looking to churn the bottom of the roster.''
Smith didn't want to lose Williams, but it was a matter of economics; he had young guys who could get to the quarterback, maybe not as well as Williams. But all three combined wouldn't make what Williams was going to demand in free agency this year (he got a six-year, $100 million deal, with $50 million guaranteed). "At quarterback,'' Smith said, "the way T.J. played, we didn't have to pay market value to a backup quarterback.''
It all sounds smart, and the Texans should be favored to repeat as division champs. But isn't it amazing that a year ago, entering training camp in 2011, Ryans and Williams were the two cornerstone players on a defense being retooled by Wade Phillips, and the Texans flourished so often defensively last season without them? These Texans illustrate the way of the world in the NFL.
History lesson with Norv Turner: He likes his backs to run a lot, and he doesn't care if the rest of the league is going to this consistent two-back business. When the Chargers let Mike Tolbert go to Carolina in free agency and didn't replace him with a prominent back as complement to third-year man Ryan Mathews, that sent the message about Mathews' role to the team loud and clear. "At that moment, I knew I'd be the guy,'' Mathews said.
Look at Turner's track record. When he took over as Jimmy Johnson's offensive coordinator in 1991, Emmitt Smith's carries rose from 241 in 1990 to 365 in Turner's first year. In 2002 in Miami, the Dolphins had just acquired Ricky Williams and had just signed Turner as coordinator. Williams had his two biggest seasons for carries (383, 392) with Turner in Miami. And Frank Gore hit his career rushing high for attempts (312 carries) in Turner's only 49er season. Last week, Turner said in San Diego he was getting Mathews ready "for everything he can handle.'' Sounds very much like Mathews, if he stays upright, will get his 300 carries, and then some.
"Coach Turner's coached a lot of great backs,'' Mathews told me the other day. "He's told me I remind him of Ricky Williams, which is the kind of back I would like to be. In college [Fresno State] I was a workhorse back. I believe I can do that here. My training has really improved, and I've set high standards for myself. I shouldn't come off the field at all this year.''
That would mean Mathews, who has had 72 catches combined in his first two years, could have that many this season alone. If he plays on most third downs, particularly with Philip Rivers needing to throw hot because he could be under duress early if the new-look line struggles, Mathews could approach 400 touches. He'll have to be better with ball security after fumbling 10 times in the last two years. "I've been working a lot on that,'' he said. He'd better be.
"I really think this year's my time,'' Mathews said. "I see myself as one of the top backs in the league. Now I've got to go out and do it.''
Fantasy owners nationwide will put their seasons on the line with Mathews. I'd suggest watching reports out of San Diego in August, to make sure he doesn't get the kind of nagging injuries he's had in his first two years, and to make sure the Chargers are handling Mathews the way Turner expects to. The Chargers intend to feed Mathews as much as any back in the league. It'll be up to him to handle it.
Let's look at the trail of evidence that Saints players got money for performance bonuses and/or bounty hits between 2009 and 2011:
• In the March 12 issue of
• Documentarian Sean Pamphilon, who was in the room during Williams' infamous speech to the team before last season's playoff game in San Francisco, had previously said Williams passed out money "for forced turnovers and big plays.'' He also said Williams rubbed his thumb and first two fingers together referring to putting a big hit on quarterback Alex Smith and saying, "I got the first one." The inference: Williams would pay for Smith being put out of the game.
• Pamphilon, in
• On Friday, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported the league has evidence that the Saints kept a ledger for each player, including tracking each player's number of cart-offs ($1,000 per debilitating hit) and "whacks" (hard hits), with money subtracted for mental errors.
There are many interesting sidebars to this story, including Pamphilon lashing out against his former Saints allies, Scott Fujita and Drew Brees, for what he believes is betrayal by the players when the story got too hot for them. But in reality, there's only one thing about this story that matters: Does the NFL have enough evidence to prove the Saints had bounties out to try to injure opposing players between 2009 and 2011? We still don't have a paper trail of evidence for bounty hits, other than what the NFL alleges took place. That's what's left -- to see when and where bounty hits were rewarded, and whether the case against Jonathan Vilma can hold up to a more public microscope.
There was a no-hitter in New York Friday night. Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in the 51-year history of the Mets. Which is a crazy-enough story, that a team with so many good pitchers over the years never had a no-hitter until its 8,020th game, while the rest of baseball had 131 of them. But having lived in the New York area for 24 of the last 27 years, the first guy I thought of as I listened to the end of the game on the radio was the guy delivering the radio call -- in part because his called dripped emotion and excitement, in part because I knew what it meant to a kid born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and educated in high school in Bayside, Queens, and in college at Queens College.
When Howie Rose was 8, in 1962, he remembers asking his parents excitedly the morning after the first Mets game in history, "How'd the Mets do last night?'' They'd lost. But as an 8-year-old, he felt the team had been created just for him. He followed them daily. Couldn't get enough of the lovable losers.
When he was 15, he was in Shea Stadium the night Tom Seaver took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. With one out, Jimmy Qualls broke it up. Howie was crushed. Two other times Seaver lost no-nos in the ninth as a Met, and he didn't pitch one until he'd been exiled to Cincinnati. But still Howie Rose listened, and watched. While he was a wagon boy at the Waldbaum's supermarket, walking through the parking lot to gather the shopping carts with a transistor tuned to the games, while he played stickball in the playgrounds at school.
When he was 12, he started wondering what it would be like to be behind the mike like the men he listened to every day, Bob Murphy on radio and Lindsay Nelson on TV. "My friends would fantasize about hitting the game-winning homer,'' Rose said to me Saturday. "I would fantasize about calling the game-winning homer." For the Mets.
"We have been bred with this inevitably,'' said Rose, meaning that no-hitters don't happen. So even in the ninth, he figured something would go wrong, particularly with Santana pitching to the meat of the Cardinals order. In addition, he didn't have time to be introspective, though a day earlier he'd had a great career highlight: He had given the commencement address at his alma mater, Queens College.
"The odds were always stacked against me, the same as they must have been against you,'' he told me. "There's tremendous competition in the sports media. But when I was in high school, in college, I just thought, wouldn't it be great to be a broadcaster? Then I thought, wouldn't it be great to be a baseball broadcaster? Then, a broadcaster for the Mets? I had those dreams.
And that's what I talked about Queens College: I told the kids you should never, ever, ever let anyone dissuade you from following your dreams. And now, here I was, in the ninth inning, with this seminal moment in Mets history on the line. Mind-boggling. Isn't it unbelievable how that happened?''
And so here was David Freese, the World Series hero from last fall, one strike away from being Santana's 27th out, and Rose wanted to be sure he wasn't too calculating or too rehearsed. Just tell the story.
"I felt a nanosecond of utter disbelief,'' Rose said. "I took one breath, saw them streaming out of the dugout, and the bullpen. It means plenty to me, because I've followed them for so long. But forget about me. The only thing I disciplined myself to do was try to stay under control. I just thought, describe, describe, describe, the scene on the mound, the scene in the stands. The call ... I thought about my stamping it with the date and the time. The great Vin Scully stamped Sandy Koufax's, but no one will ever be as lyrical as Vin Scully. That's his.''
"There are very few days where I don't flash back to being in the ballpark in 1969,'' he said. "I'm unbelievably appreciative to have this job. When people tell me I'm this generation's Bob Murphy, I am just overcome by it. To whatever end a broadcaster can be considered part of the team, and part of Mets history in any small way because of this moment, I am very emotional about that.''
After the game, and after the long postgame show, maybe 90 minutes after the last out, Rose walked into the Mets clubhouse to see if Santana was still there. He was. He walked up to Santana and hugged him.
"I never cry on the air,'' Rose said, "but tonight I came really, really close."
"Did you cry?'' Santana asked.
"No, I disciplined myself,'' Rose said, and asked Santana to sign his scoresheet for the game.
And that's the story of a guy doing what he should be doing in life.
Don't buy your dad, or your favorite father, anything for Father's Day (June 17) until you read the column next week. I'll have at least six books (seven, if I get aggressive with my reading in the next three nights) for you to consider buying.
In order to get the books you want, you'll have plenty of time to order via Amazon (I do it a lot, and the books, even via regular mail, take three days at the most) or by going to your hometown bookstore (my preferred mode of book shopping). I look forward to this annual Monday Morning Quarterback rite of June. Hope you do too.
"There was no bounty program in place. I never paid anybody, intended to pay anybody. That's the truth. Never sought out to injure people. That's the truth. That's really about it. I can't really go into detail."
Regarding: Vilma's contention of innocence, time will tell.
"I told them today that not only do they not know what they are doing, but I don't know what they are doing. I don't know what I'm doing. It is the mass of information that we are giving them. It is just beginning to become a mix for them. So it is hard to tell exactly whether they are capable of playing because they are not sure exactly what they are doing.''
"One other thing. There's the perception out there, and it's an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with Peyton Manning. I keep hearing that over and over and over again. It's silly and it's untrue. It's phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him. We were evaluating him.
"I've said it all along, Alex Smith has been our quarterback. There's no scenario, other than Alex choosing to sign with another team, that we would have considered him not as our quarterback. And I don't like to compare or talk about somebody else that's on another team, but in this case it's time to set the record straight. Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback, and we had every intention of always bringing him back. There would be no circumstance that we would have let Alex Smith go.
"Now, were we out there seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck yeah. And you evaluate that, you eliminate the possibility. And further evidence, we would not have given any player that was out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap, and let six, or seven of our own guys go here. So, hopefully that sets the record straight and you don't have to keep reporting the silliness and phoniness."
Well, OK. I've heard all the theories this week about why Harbaugh would say that when the 49ers were clearly very interested in Manning. Harbaugh is showing faith in Smith, mostly. And good for him for doing so.
But here are the facts: The 49ers wanted Manning. Harbaugh is parsing words. "Erroneous'' that the Niners "were flirting with Peyton Manning?'' Come now, coach. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman flew from San Francisco to North Carolina and, in disguise (hoodies covering their heads to avoid a prying iPhoner from photographing them), watched Manning go through a throwing session. The 49ers thoroughly investigated Manning in many other ways, I'm told, and would have been thrilled if he'd called them that Monday in March and said, "I want to come play for you."
The financial details -- pshaw. They would have been worked out. If San Francisco wanted to spread the contract over a couple of extra phony years, GM Trent Baalke could have. And if they'd lost Alex Smith in the process, so be it. Harbaugh is a terrific quarterback coach, and he could have molded a good heir to Manning if Smith had chosen to go elsewhere.
The best I've ever seen at creating an us-against-the-world environment was Bill Walsh. He was good at isolating his team -- for the Niners' benefit -- against the press, against the opposition, against any perceived slight he could ever find. I like Harbaugh, and I think he's doing a great job, not a good one, with the 49ers. But I don't believe the 49ers weren't serious about signing Manning to be their quarterback for the next two or three years.
To illustrate how difficult -- I'd use the word "impossible,'' but I don't want to seem overly negative about an event that is the biggest waste of time in any of our lives -- it will be for the NFL Players Association to convince its members to go all-out (or something resembling all-out) in the 2013 Pro Bowl, let's point out a couple of monetary statistics about the game.
Every player gets an all-expenses-paid trip to a resort in Hawaii for the week. Every player gets at least $25,000 for playing in the game. Winners, in 2013, will get $25,000 more than the losers; the winners' share will be $50,000 next year.
So the players can give next-to-no effort and be guaranteed $25,000. In essence, the motivation is to play for the additional $25,000. I won't even get into what that is after taxes. But let's see what four rich NFL players are going to make, per week, in 2013 revenue. I've chosen players who are recently signed free agents, who have hit the NFL jackpot for the first time in their careers. And then you explain to me why these players would play an exhibition game in January 2013 at full effort, with the risk of injury jeopardizing the payday they've worked so hard for.
So Vincent Jackson, in a game that has precious little meaning to anyone, is playing a game for 6.5 percent of the money he'd make in his average NFL week in 2013. Why on God's green earth would he go full speed over the middle and lay out for a ball in an exhibition game?
He'll make the big money in 2013 unless, of course, he suffers the kind of major injury in the Pro Bowl that would make the Bucs think twice about keeping him until the completion of his $55.55 million contract.
If you follow football, you'd know that the top three quarterbacks on the Raiders roster are Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor. You're one heck of a fan if you know the fourth quarterback Oakland will bring to camp this summer.
1. One of his hobbies, according to his college bio, is grilling.
2. He majored in Commerce, Organizations and Entrepreneurship in college, and I dare say he's the first player on an NFL roster to have had that major.
3. He was the third player in his school's history to be a team captain for two years -- and the first, according to the university, since 1891.
4. Chris Berman and Zak DeOssie will know who he is.
Kyle Newhall-Caballero, of Brown.
I give credit to NFL Network for producing an annual show that fans get into, the
Perhaps there should be an IQ test associated with it. The players like fullbacks. Green Bay's John Kuhn, who played 41 percent of the Packers' offensive plays last year, ranked 92nd -- ahead of Cortland Finnegan and D'Qwell Jackson. Baltimore's Vonta Leach, who played 56 percent of the Ravens' snaps, was 45th ... 14 spots ahead of Jake Long, 16 spots ahead of Philip Rivers, 18 spots ahead of LaMarr Woodley. And, well, you understand. In other words, don't take this one too seriously.
Red-eying home from Los Angeles last Tuesday night. Flight leaves at 11:45 p.m. I get to the airport at 10:30 and go to the fish place/bar near the gate. I sit at a table for four and get my computer out. I have already eaten, so I order the most interesting of a group of drab beers on tap, Stella Artois.
At 10:50, a busboy comes around and starts putting chairs up on the tables. You know, the way chairs are put up at the end of a school day, upside down, with the seat on the table and the legs in the air. The guy puts all three chairs up at my table, as if to say,
I give the guy a look and say, "Closing soon?'' He evidently doesn't speak English. He just shrugs. Then, about five minutes later, the TVs go off. A minute later, about half the lights. A waitress goes to the front door and pulls down a metal gate to the place, then positions herself at a side door, which she loudly opens, and then just stands there.
I get the message. I pack up, walk out. Wouldn't it have been a little more civil to say, at 10:45, "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be closing at 11. So everyone, please finish up. Thanks."
Can't think of a bigger one, Doug.
"browns fun fact, Brandon Weeden will turn 29 this year, same age as Bernie Kosar when he was cut by Belichick in 1993 #Browns''
"Jim Harbaugh is obviously a fan of George Costanza: 'Jerry, just remember... it's not a lie... if you believe it.' ''
I am told Ross wanted the Dolphins to do it, but left it up to coach Joe Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland. I am also told Ross had given up on chance of it happening because it just wasn't Ireland's cup of tea, and Ross didn't want something that would likely be very good for the marketing of the team (and ticket sales) to overshadow what Philbin and Ireland wanted to do. But Philbin went to Ireland and told him he'd actually like the spotlight of the show to help his team focus, and to show off that what the team is doing is right, and that the players are ready for prime time.
That could be a dubious reason -- and if the Dolphins struggle, Philbin will be severely second-guessed -- but people need to remember something about this show: The team that accepts
Justin Blackmon, drafted by the Jags as a franchise wideout in April, was arrested Sunday morning in Stillwater, Okla., on a charge of aggravated DUI. That's reserved for those who measure above .15 percent blood alcohol, which essentially is twice the legal limit in Oklahoma (.08 percent alcohol).
Blackmon's breathalyzer test measured at .24, and according to the
We could probably argue that (DeMarcus Ware would be in the discussion), but I think Revis has proven he's the best defender in the league over the past two years. The Jets are due to pay him $6.75 million, on average, in the last two years of the deal. Why set the contract up that way unless you fully intend to re-do Revis' deal after two years?
a. Almost a very big day for Rex Ryan in Los Angeles today. It's the red carpet premiere of
b. To show what a square I am, my fondest memories of Richard Dawson, who died at 79 of esophageal cancer over the weekend, have nothing to do with
c. Congrats to Tim Rohan, of the
Turns out he'd covered the Michigan football team the last two years for the campus paper, and interned last summer at the
Very good job, Tim. A short section:
d. Santana, who missed all of 2011 recovering from shoulder surgery, showed this was possible in his last start, throwing a four-hit shutout against the lowly San Diego Padres. His shoulder seemed in Cy Young shape.
e. Daniel Bard Sunday in Toronto: 13 batters, six walks, two hit batsmen. Hope he's not getting Steve Blass disease.
f. One of the best nights I've spent in a long time happened last Wednesday, when my wife and I saw the Broadway play
This one opens in a Chicago neighborhood in 1959, with the first black family buying a home there, and the second act is exactly 50 years later, with a white yuppie family buying the beat-up home so they can, in effect, begin the gentrification of the neighborhood. A fabulous look at who we are and how we think about race relations. In my best theater-going voice, I'd say: Run, don't walk, to
g. Hard to imagine there's a better job being done on TV in supporting roles than by Anna Chlumsky (chief of the Vice President's staff on HBO's
h. Rest in peace, Claire Fauci. Claire was the mom of one of daughter Laura's Tufts classmates, who was an incredibly bright light.
i. Thank you, Michael Strahan, for your kindness. Strahan phoned Claire a couple of weeks ago to send some cheer her way. The only team she liked was the Giants, and Strahan, because he'd done a PSA on marriage equality, which Claire strongly believed in, was her favorite player. Now Michael Strahan -- there was a man Claire loved. And he returned it in a warm phone call.
j. Nice time at Cards-Mets Saturday afternoon. One of the great things about living in New York is being subway rides away from big-league teams.
k. Beernerdness: Good job by the Mets, making Kona Longboard Lager and Brooklyn Lager available, just a few steps from our seats. CitiField respects the diverse beer drinkers.
l. Coffeenerdness: If I had one selfish wish for New York City, it'd be that Peet's Coffee proliferated here. Being in L.A. reminded me how lucky you on the West Coast are, to be able to get Peet's in so many locales.
m. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is under attack because he wants to eliminate the ability of fast food places to sell super-sized sugary drinks. Under attack is putting it nicely. The papers are killing him. I think Bloomberg's doing the right thing. You can't fight the obesity epidemic in this country by suggesting mild solutions. You've got to fight it. And Bloomberg's trying. Good for him. And if people don't like it, then tax soda. Tax the daylights out of it, the way we tax cigarettes.
n. Buddy of mine told me the other day, "Remember when we used to have the classic eight-ounce bottle of Coke that people used to drink? It was kind of a special thing. All Bloomberg's trying to do is to ban people from drinking more than twice that in the same sitting. What's wrong with that?''
o. I'm not the biggest basketball fan, as you know. But I'd pay to see Rajon Rondo play, and I might pay quite a bit.
p. Congrats, Tiger Woods. Golf's a lot more fun when you're winning.
q. You're breaking a lot of Garden State hearts, you Los Angeles Kings. But you deserve everything you're getting. Jonathan Quick's a stone wall.