By Peter King
March 02, 2009

I remember covering the New York Giants for Newsday from 1985 to '88 and getting into a loud discussion with GM George Young (he was often loud, but always educational) over the merits of free agency. He thought it would ruin what was a great game because you wouldn't be able to build a team with chemistry for the long haul anymore. He was right about that, of course. But my point was the train was rolling down the tracks, so why not make the best of it -- and besides, it'd make for a great hot stove league when normally there's no NFL talk, other than the warmup for the draft.

A generation later, I wish Young -- who died in 2001 at 71 -- was around to feel the fun of the last weekend of February. Two months after Christmas is Christmas II now. On the back page of Saturday's New York Post was an excellent illustration of how football rules this land, and why people cannot get enough of the NFL. On Friday, the Mets learned that their most important player, Johan Santana, might miss the opener because of a sore elbow, and the Yankees learned Major League Baseball would meet with Alex Rodriguez on Sunday to grill him on his steroid use. What's on the back cover of the newspaper? Free agent linebacker Bart Scott, barking at someone in full uniform, with the paper trumpeting the Jets' big first-day signing.

I can't remember a more fun first weekend of free agency, at least not since Reggie White jumped to Green Bay in 1993. Last weekend had it all -- a controversial signing of a defensive star (Albert Haynesworth), one of the game's 10 best quarterbacks in 2008 (Matt Cassel) getting dealt and another of the top 10 (Kurt Warner) visiting a division rival. Also, Bill Belichick making the strangest trade of his career, a Pro Bowl tight end with a checkered past (Kellen Winslow) finding a new home, Jay Cutler going nowhere but exiting the weekend feeling betrayed, Ray Lewis being painted into a Maryland corner, the Eagles refusing to pay up and losing one of the most beloved players in franchise history (Brian Dawkins) ... oh, and someone wanting Dan Orlovsky.

So here's what I've got for you today:

• The real meaning of the Cassel trade, and all that is left in its wake.

• The real meaning of the Haynesworth contract, with numbers that will illuminate why so few teams really wanted Haynesworth -- and also show why the media does an awful job reporting what these contracts are really worth.

• A recap of one of the most interesting things I've had the good fortune to do in a while. I sat with agent Brad Blank in Boston on the first weekend of free agency as he tried to find a home for defensive end Chris Canty. I monitored Blank and Canty through some very low lows and one rewarding high, and I'll take you inside how the wooing process works.

• The most aggressive free-agency recruiting story I've ever heard. You've got to read what Rex Ryan did.

• Why Belichick not only didn't try hard to get Kansas City's first-round pick instead of its second -- but also why he actually prefers the 34th pick to the third overall.

On with the show.


Rex Ryan wants it bad.

Mind if I start with the recruiting story? And Bart Scott's two German shepherds, Mater and McQueen?

Free agency began Friday morning, a second after midnight, and Scott's agent, Harold Lewis, told him he might be getting a call or two in the wee hours of the morning. At 12:15, at the same time he heard his dogs barking wildly outside his Owings Mills, Md., home, Scott's cell phone rang. "Man, come get these damn dogs!'' Jets secondary coach Dennis Thurman said into the phone.

Thurman was outside in the driveway with two other unannounced visitors -- Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Scott knew them from their days on the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff, and he absolutely could not believe they were sitting in his driveway, about to get attacked by his security dogs if they ventured out of the car. After Scott secured the dogs ("I'm just glad Mater and McQueen didn't take a bite out of those guys,'' Scott said Sunday night. "I'd have had to spend a chunk of my signing bonus for stitches.'') Ryan walked into the house, looked at Scott and said: "We want you. We're here for you. We're not leaving without you.'' There was a plane coming at 8 in the morning to take Scott to the Jets' facility in Florham Park, N.J., and Ryan told him he had to be on it.

"Talk about taking it back old-school!'' Scott said. "I was getting recruited! They were recruiting me big-time! Can you see the precedent they're setting? Remember Jerry McGuire? You're going to have players asking their coaches now, 'Why don't we have that kind of relationship?' ''

I asked Scott about the reports that after he'd made his deal with the Jets on Friday, he tried to get the Ravens to match it, or at least come within a few bucks. "I made no bones about it,'' he said. "I owe a lot of loyalty to the Ravens. They're the ones who gave me my chance seven years ago. And I was going to have to uproot my family, and we love Baltimore. If it was close, the home team would win.''

At the end, the Ravens were at least $3 million off the total package of the Jets, who signed Scott for six years and $48 million, most of which he actually should see. Seems close to me, but it wasn't close enough for Scott.

There was another factor too -- the Ray Lewis factor. As long as Scott played on the same defense as one of the all-time greats, he knew he'd forever be second- or third-fiddle to Lewis.

"It would have been great to walk back into that locker room, but in a way, I would have had training wheels on the rest of my career," said Scott. "I'd always wonder if I could have done it by myself, if I could have actually been the leader of a good defense. In a lot of ways, our defense was like the Bulls, and Ray was Michael Jordan. We had a lot of Craig Hodgeses on our team, but we had a few Scottie Pippens too.''

In other words, Scott, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs are better than average. And Lewis, though it's not his fault, is going to suck so much air out of the room that the others will never get to fully emerge as leaders and players. Now we'll see if Scott can do what he never had the chance to do in Baltimore. Lead. And be great.


The Patriots never get snookered. So why does it look like everyone in Foxboro is wearing fleece?

The answer is they didn't get taken in the trade of Cassel and Mike Vrabel. Belichick did underplay his hand, but there were extenuating circumstances, some of which were intelligently reported over the weekend by Adam Schefter, Tom Curran, Chris Mortensen and Tim Graham.

Belichick probably did pull the trigger too soon on the deal of Cassel and Vrabel to Kansas City for the 34th pick in the draft. The reason he didn't take one of the three-way deals involving Denver and either the Lions or Bucs is very simple: He'd already agreed to a trade with his former right-hand man, Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, either late Friday or very early Saturday. And he had some pressure on him to make the deal early in free agency because the team was so snug up against the NFL's $127-million salary cap, and because he knew Cassel's value wasn't as high as it should have been because of his mega-salary and the fact he'd only played at a high level for one year.

As free agency dawned, the Pats were $1.7-million under the cap, and they saved $1 million by restructuring Randy Moss' contract. That allowed them to sign running back Fred Taylor on Friday afternoon (two years, $8 million, approximately $2.3 in 2009 cap dollars). But to get a really big chunk, Belichick needed to do something really big, like dealing Vrabel (saving $3.36 million on the cap) and Cassel (saving $14.65 million). If he dealt Cassel and Vrabel, he'd be able to operate freely with $18 million in cap room ... and have more leverage in the 2009 draft than any other team in the league.

You're right to ask why Belichick didn't wait. I bet he's asking himself that same question this morning. But think back to midweek last week. I had two contenders for Cassel tell me essentially the same thing: They wouldn't deal a first-round pick or a second- and something else for Cassel, and then pay him a multi-year contract with a bonus of maybe $20 million and $35 million in guaranteed money. Too risky, they thought. (I disagree but I'm not running a franchise.) Many teams felt Cassel might be a lesser player than he was in 2008 (eighth in passing yards, 10th in quarterback rating) upon leaving the security blanket of a Belichick-coached team and Josh McDaniels-coordinated offense.

So Belichick knew he probably wasn't going to get a sweetheart deal. And last week, before the market opened, I'm told he never got offered a first-round pick by any team in trade. I'm also told he asked Pioli for the 34th pick in the draft -- nothing more -- and when Pioli told him he'd do it, they had a deal.

"Bill had to be nervous,'' said one club official briefed on the deal. "There was never any guarantee that any of those three-way trades was going to work, and they cropped up so late anyway. He could have been left with nothing if he lost the Chiefs.''

I'm sure Belichick doesn't mind doing something good for Cassel (giving him his own promising team to pilot) and Pioli (giving him something better than Tyler Thigpen), but I believe if Denver offered Belichick its first-round pick last Thursday instead of, apparently, on Saturday, that Cassel would be a Bronco today and current Denver QB Jay Cutler a Buc or Lion. Cutler, by the way, will make peace with McDaniels, who's now coaching Denver. He has no choice, and he's a reasonable kid. I don't blame him for being ticked off at the Broncos for trying to deal for Cassel, but he's going to have to get over it and realize he's got a heck of a chance to win with McDaniels running his offense.

I heard one other interesting thing Sunday: Cutler asked for a trade shortly after the Broncos lost offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates -- Cutler's confidant -- to USC after the season. So maybe both sides need to go into marriage counseling here.

Back to Belichick. I have no idea if these numbers influenced him Saturday, but they should have. New England now has four picks in the first two rounds -- the 23rd, 34th, 47th and 58th. The Patriots have blown their share of second-round picks in the Belichick Era (Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, the late Marquise Hill), but they also got Benjamin Watson with the last pick of the first round and Deion Branch and Matt Light with second-round picks. Belichick wants late ones and twos because the difference in talent between the top of the draft and pick 34 is not nearly as big as the difference in money. And the third pick in the draft this year would command a bigger contract than Tom Brady's. Thus, New England has no use for very high picks.

Let's examine the financial commitment those four picks (23, 34, 47, 58) required last year, and compare it to the top of the draft:

The eighth pick in the draft last year, defensive end Derrick Harvey, got $17.47 million guaranteed in a contract averaging $4.6 million a year. In essence, in the way the NFL pays rookies, the eighth pick's compensation is equivalent to the combined pay of the 23rd, 34th, 47th and 58th picks. Insane. Imagine if someone tells you they'd trade the eighth pick in the draft for a lower first-round pick and three second-round picks. You'd do it in a second. The Patriots will draft at least a couple of keeper players on Day 1, and they'll have the kind of salary manageability with those players that great teams with big stars have to have.

Moral of the story for New England: We'll always think Belichick could have gotten a little more for Cassel (and Vrabel), and he probably should have waited and taken what was probably a relatively minor risk. But the team wanting Cassel, Denver, blew it by not being quicker off the draw and getting its ducks in a row before the weekend.

Now for the Kansas City angles. The Chiefs now should have their quarterback of the future, assuming new coach Todd Haley's as good a quarterback tutor as he appeared in Arizona the past couple of years. Haley, who worked with Belichick and Charlie Weis with the Jets a decade ago, told me over the weekend what has him thrilled is that the New England offense and the Kansas City offense have the same verbiage and playcalls. "So we won't have to take the time a new quarterback would normally have to take to get up to speed in a new system,'' Haley said. "He knows this system. And I've watched so much of him from last year. I see a player who's learned under a Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, and who's so mature for someone with only a year's experience.''

It makes sense for Kansas City to sign Cassel long-term, obviously, but I'm not sure the Chiefs will. Pioli, I'm sure, will remind Cassel (if he hasn't told him already) that Brady took less money to allow the team to build a great team around him. In other words, if Cassel doesn't want to be one of the two or three highest-paid quarterbacks in football, they could get a deal done. If he does want to be in that territory, I expect the Chiefs to make him play out this year at $14.65 million, then, if necessary, tag him next year at 110 percent of his pay this year. But it makes sense to make a deal for the future, so they don't have to be laying out $30 million over the next two years with no future certainty beyond that.


Chris Canty must be sick to his stomach. He was on a roller coaster all weekend.

There is enough rule breaking in the free-agency chase to write three books, but I can tell you that the time on the screen of my MacBook Air was 12:00:06 (six seconds after midnight) when the phone rang in the Back Bay condo of agent Brad Blank Friday morning. I was in the upscale downtown Boston neighborhood with Blank, and on the other end of the phone was Washington vice president of player personnel Vinny Cerrato. The subject was Blank's client, defensive end Chris Canty, who'd been a free agent for all of six seconds.

"Hey, Brad,'' Cerrato said, eschewing pleasantries, "I need to get what you're thinking of numbers-wise so I can go in and talk to [owner] Dan [Snyder] and see if it fits us.''

"It's eight, Vinny, and I don't really care how it's structured if we get to eight,'' Blank said, meaning $8 million per year for a four-, five-, six- or seven-year contract. "You know the deal. I'd like to get him somewhere on a plane tomorrow. You interested?''

"Let me get back to you,'' Cerrato said, and just like that he was gone.

In his living room, Blank, the preppy 48-year-old former Brown roommate of John F. Kennedy Jr., alternated between ESPN and NFL Network on the TV as free agency dawned. On a legal pad he had sketched out the teams he felt were the best shot for Canty. In order, they were:

1. Washington, 2. Tennessee, 3. San Francisco, 4. Seattle, 5. Denver, 6. Dallas, 7. Miami, 8. Green Bay, 9. New York Giants.

The ideal trip, Blank thought, would be Friday in Washington, Saturday in Tennessee and Monday in Seattle. Washington wouldn't be interested if the 'Skins signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, the prize of the crop. And Blank waited. And Canty, sitting home in Charlotte, waited. And his dad, Joe, who was going to take the recruiting trips with his son, waited.

And nothing.

At the scouting combine the previous week, when it's supposed to be against NFL rules for teams to have discussions with agents for soon-to-be free agents, Blank had spoken to a number of teams about Canty, a 6-7 defensive end in a 3-4 defense who some teams thought could play defensive tackle in the 4-3. The teams, ostensibly, were feeling out the agents, and vice versa, about what level of compensation the player might get and what other teams might be interested.

One of the parties interested in Canty was Washington. Blank thought San Francisco, Tennessee and Seattle would also want in. There were others. Teams are smart enough not to blatantly offer contracts at the combine, but some of them come close. In this case, Blank made it clear to anyone asking that he expected the money to come in between $6 million and $8 million a year, hopefully closer to eight.

"Football is a game of supply and demand,'' Blank said. "Chris is a 3-4 end and a lot of teams are going to the 3-4, and there aren't enough good ends out there. So he should be in demand.''

1:08 a.m.: Cerrato rang to ask if Canty would come in for a visit later that day. "Does he like basketball?'' Cerrato said. "The Wizards are in town playing Chicago. I think Obama's going to the game.''

He likes basketball, Blank said, but more to the point, Blank asked if all the rumors were true about the Redskins and Haynesworth.

"We're out,'' said Cerrato. "He's too expensive.''

"Do our numbers make sense?" Blank asked.

Pause. One second, maybe two seconds. "I'll get Eric [negotiator Eric Schaffer] with you in the morning,'' Cerrato said.

Hmmmm. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But Cerrato said the Redskins would send a private plane to pick up Chris and Joe Canty at the Charlotte airport at 1 p.m., and he'd get back to him with details.

Blank called Canty. "How you doing, Chris?'' Blank said.

"On pins and needles, Brad,'' Canty said.

"We're doing fine,'' Blank said. "I'm getting conflicting reports on Haynesworth and whether they'll sign him. But they're going to send a plane for you tomorrow. That's enough of a gesture to me that you should make the trip.''

"Is there any way they could sign both Chris and Haynesworth?'' Joe asked.

"No, I wouldn't think so,'' Blank said.

"Is $8 million going to be the best we can do?'' Chris inquired.

"I don't know,'' Blank said. "I'd press for more, but you never know.''

In the next 15 minutes, Blank was in touch with Seattle, Tennessee and San Francisco, and all seemed interested, but not frothing at the mouth. They clearly didn't want to encourage Blank to think they'd be in the market to pay $8 million a year for a good run defender with little pass-rush impact in the 3-4.

"What's the price of admission?'' San Francisco director of football operations Paraag Marathe asked at 1:33 a.m..

"Eight million,'' Blank said.

"Be in touch,'' Marathe said.

At 1:42, Cerrato called back with the tail number of the Redskins plane. "N10RZ,'' he said.

"N10RZ,'' Blank repeated. "I've scheduled three other trips, but it's in your hands.''

"Eric will call you tomorrow,'' Cerrato said. He still hadn't said one word about what he thought of Canty as a player, or whether the Redskins would work hard to close the deal.

Blank informed the Cantys about the flight to Washington at 1 p.m. "Hopefully Tennessee after that, then Seattle Monday, then who knows?'' Blank said.

To which Chris Canty said: "I'm feeling better about this. Hey Brad, you think you can leverage one offer against the other?''

Blank said he didn't know, and he suggested Canty get some sleep. Blank went to bed around 4 a.m., feeling good about Canty's chance to get an offer Friday afternoon.

Now, Blank has had some bad days in the business. Friday and Saturday were right up there with them. He had 10 voice-mails, five from Cerrato, when he woke up around 9:30.



And then he heard it from a voice-mailer: Haynesworth had signed with the Redskins. As Cerrato explained to Blank that morning, Schaffer told Cerrato of Haynesworth's demands at the start of the night, just after midnight, and after some back and forth (Cerrato said agent Chad Speck was talking about a contract in the neighborhood for six years and $100 million, and the guarantees and averages were unacceptable to Washington), Cerrato said the Redskins were out of it. And so he had no qualms telling Blank at 1:08 a.m. that they were out of it.

("I felt awful about it,'' Cerrato said Sunday afternoon. "We were out of it with Haynesworth, then around 2:30, Chad Speck calls back, and his demands are different, and so we started talking again. I like Brad, and I felt bad about it, but things changed.'')

Now Blank had to prop up the market for Canty. He called Tennessee GM Mike Reinfeldt and was astonished to hear the words: "We're not interested.'' So the first two teams on Blank's list had vanished. The Giants scheduled a Saturday visit with Canty, and they would be interested in him as a hybrid tackle-end, but Blank also knew they were seeing Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.

Then Seattle lost some motivation by signing Green Bay defensive tackle Colin Cole. The the Giants signed Bernard.


Blank thought: My God. We may have to go back to Dallas for a year or two, at $6 million per. But the Giants said they still were interested, and Green Bay called back to schedule a Monday visit. By Sunday afternoon, with his client in New York, Blank was seeing momentum toward a contract; he didn't want Canty to get on a plane to Green Bay because his experience in the business told him that if the kid got on the plane, the Giants offer could vanish in a New York minute.

The Giants got to six years, $41 million. That's it, they said; if you don't want it, good luck on your trip to Green Bay.

Blank called Canty, who was in the Giants offices in New Jersey. "You've got to draw the line somewhere,'' Canty said, "and I want to draw it at $7 million a year. That's what we get, or I go to Green Bay.''

And that's what they got. They got the extra million. All in a weekend's worth of chicken for Blank and his new, rich client, who would have liked to have been richer, but was euphoric Sunday night for his windfall.

"You play with fire sometimes,'' Blank said Sunday night, "and sometimes you get burned. I needed the Redskins. They pay people, and they pay people quick. It didn't work out with them, and I know I'll be second-guessed, but I did what I thought I had to do to get the biggest contract I could. You can't ignore the team you think is going to pay you the most money. But isn't it amazing? The last team on my list the other night is the team he ends up with. That's what happens in this business.''

Canty signed the deal (six years, $42 million, including an $8.5-million signing bonus), finished his visit Sunday afternoon and went to JFK Airport. A snowstorm delayed his departure until today -- he hopes. So there was Canty, on his first night as an incredibly wealthy man, sitting in the JFK Holiday Inn.

"I can't get the smile off my face,'' he said. "I'm ecstatic. It was a wild ride, but I ended up in the best place for me.''

"I'm going to prove to those dummies on TV talking about what I can't do why they're not working an NFL team. I'm a 27-year-old in a 31-year-old body.''

-- Free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, 31, to Geoff Hobson of

Houshmandzadeh will choose between Minnesota, Cincinnati and Seattle today.

"You're not going to remember Albert as a bust. You're going to remember him as a great player.''

-- New Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who signed a four-year, $48-million contract with the Redskins on Friday.

More about the size of this contract later. But one of the things we do in this business -- and it is shameful, really -- is allow agents to inflate values of contracts.

"On a day like this, I just count my blessings. I never get used to being paid like I am to play football, especially now, with this contract. When I was leaving college, I had a choice as a free agent to go to Baltimore or Kansas City. I thought I had a better chance to get on with Baltimore, but I agreed to go there for a $1,000 bonus. A while later [general manager] Ozzie Newsome called me and said, 'I'm sorry. I've got to make that $500.' And I just figured, well, it'll get me used to the government taking money out of my check.''

-- Linebacker Bart Scott, who signed a six-year, $48-million contract with the Jets Friday after spending seven years with the Ravens.

Seven years, $100 million. With reachable incentive bonuses, seven years, $115 million.

Everywhere -- in Washington, Nashville and in national publications -- it was written over the weekend that Haynesworth signed the first $100-million contract by a defensive player in league history, a contract that could jump to $115 million if he earned some incentives.

That could happen. I could succeed Roger Goodell as commissioner of the NFL one day, too.

Haynesworth, barring a miracle, will never see the fifth year of the contract. In essence, he signed a four-year, $48-million contract Friday with the Redskins. That will carry him through his 11th season, in 2012 (barring a work stoppage in 2011, which is a real possibility). Here is the real contract:

The asterisk is for an additional $1 million he could earn in an offseason workout bonus before camp.

The seven-year deal calls for Haynesworth to earn $29 million in 2013, $10.8 million in 2014 and $12 million in 2015.

I am reminded of players in Washington who were scheduled to make far less and who never made it to the pay window in the later years of their contracts. Deion Sanders signed a seven-year, $56-million deal with Washington in 2000, and lasted one year. Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd similarly busted in 2006.

The last three years of the Haynesworth deal are agent recruiting years. They have no bearing on reality.

Want to know why seven-time Pro Bowl defender Brian Dawkins was so eager to leave Philly? It had something to do with being wanted, which, in today's football, is all about the Benjamins.

Money Dawkins earned in the last three seasons in Philadelphia: $7.2 million.

Money Dawkins will earn in Denver in 2009: $7.2 million.

1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Free-Agency Madness:

a. The Houston Texans signed Dan Orlovsky for $9.15 million over three years. Stunning. They really think of Orlovsky as a solid backup quarterback? On what planet?

b. Fred Taylor, humble, helpful, classic unselfish vet,115 carries this year. Perfect fit in Foxboro.

c. The Giants must think Fred Robbins can't hold up anymore. They now have five inside rushers -- Robbins, Bernard, Canty, Barry Cofield and Jay Alford -- to rotate. Or maybe one to trade. Or maybe Canty to play more outside that inside.

d. Kurt Warner is apparently serious about going to visit the 49ers. But if he ever signs there, it will be the greatest upset of this -- and many other -- free-agency seasons.

e. You tried on Houshmandzadeh, Seattle. Taking him up in a pontoon plane for a city tour and landing on Lake Washington and walking up on the dock to your practice fields. Cool stuff.

f. But I don't think you're getting him.

g. The Cowboys got better at backup with the deal for Jon Kitna.

h. Yes, David Dunn. The offer in Baltimore for your client, Ray Lewis, is still on the table. But let's not press the issue too much, shall we?

i. Jason Brown, the new St. Louis center, sure made a lot of money last weekend for a guy no one ever heard of last Wednesday.

j. Weirdest thing I heard over the weekend: Pack gave their coaches the weekend off. They'll be in today, and this week, to work on the free agents. I'm told that has meaning -- that the Packers want to send the message that free agency spending these days is profligate, and they'll get in when the Dan Snyders get out.

2. I would be surprised if Marvin Harrison plays again. Here's the thing about Harrison: He's made more than $80 million in his 13-year career, including $23 million over the last three seasons. He was due to make $9 million this year. His knees are hurt and he doesn't love football enough at this point to play for something like $2 million plus incentives. In fact, I don't think he loves football much at all right now, feeling the way he feels. And he's not going to fake it. Might he go to someone's camp this summer? Only if the gets real money to do so.

3. I think this is my one additional thought on these huge contracts and their huge guarantees: In 2008, DeAngelo Hall signed a seven-year, $68-million deal with the Raiders, with -- allegedly -- $24 million in guaranteed money. So when he got whacked in midseason, how much did he end up earning in Oakland? Exactly $8 million. Not $24 million. Gibril Wilson signs for six years and $39 million and leaves after a year. Insane.

4. I think the best deal of the weekend was Antonio Smith, the versatile defensive lineman for the Cardinals -- and the best defensive lineman they had, one of their former coaches told me at the Super Bowl -- going to the Texans for $7 million per. "I think it's going to be an electrifying year for our defensive line. We [Mario Williams and Smith] are going to be a great pair. We're going to cause a lot of havoc for offensive linemen,'' Smith said.

This is not a good signing by the Texans for the money. It's a great signing.

5. I think our prayers go out to the people lost at sea off the Florida coast, including NFLers Marquis Cooper of the Raiders and Corey Smith of the Lions. Can we hope there are tiny islands they might have found? Our sincere good wishes and prayers to the families.

6. I think you've got to be kidding, Brandon Marshall. Disorderly conduct in Atlanta over the weekend? That's got to be a suspension.

7. I think I have a few questions for the Broncos about their weekend, but this might be one no one else would ask: A long-snapper, for $1 million a year? That's what they paid Lonie Paxton Friday.

8. As free agents go, I think I would want a brittle Shawn Springs right now more than I'd want Leigh Bodden.

9. I think I respect the new Bucs' management team, but I wonder if GM Mark Dominik has bitten off more than he can chew with the acquisition of (and overpayment of) tight end Kellen Winslow. The Bucs paid a second-round pick in 2009 and a conditional 2010 pick for Winslow, who butted heads with the coaches and management consistently in Cleveland. The Bucs brought him in after being assured by new tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts (formerly of Cleveland) that Winslow is OK, and after doing an MRI on the knee that has troubled him extensively since his motorcycle accident.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I'm dying to know what illegal substances the writers of Family Guy are on when they write that show.

b. I'll pay $50 to the first person who ends winter.

c. I was ready to clobber my New Jersey Devils for sending goalie Scott Clemmensen to the minors the other day to make room for Martin Brodeur's return. Clemmensen was playing as well as Brodeur has in recent year -- and he did it for three solid months. It just seemed unfair and so cruel to send the guy down. Well, Brodeur came back Thursday night. He played Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, allowed two goals total, and registered the 99th and 100th shutouts of his career. What a franchise.

d. Coffeenerdness: Mitch Puin, you threw me a lifesaver Sunday at the Upper Montclair Starbucks, and you know it. I owe you big time for rescuing me in my need-a-fix time when I was wallet-less and needed help getting through the checkout. Thank you.

e. New York, and not only the football fans, is really going to like Bart Scott.

f. Happy birthday, Marcy "Mike Ticey'' Fost. How old are you? Sixteen?

g. Walked into the family room Sunday night and there was Steve Buscemi getting ready to whack the old man in Fargo, and it was all I could do to keep from sitting down to watch the rest. What a movie.

h. Great job, Bill Pennington of the New York Times, on the story about the University of Maine-Presque Isle baseball team, which plays only road games because its home field is never clear of snow 'til May. What a cool story of kids who play for the true love of the game.

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