Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of T-Jack and Quarterbacks

One of the best sports blogs on the internet, written by Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski, has yet another great post today. The gist of it is that despite all our newfangled technology and advanced scouting and statistics, we still don't have much of an idea how to judge talent. He uses three of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time as an example: Unitas, Montana, and Brady. All three were mid to late round picks, and all three were drafted well behind some other not-so-notable quarterbacks. I especially love this part about Brady:

Brady was taken in the sixth round (after Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi — gotta love ‘dem Hofstra quarterbacks — Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn) and was thought so little of that (people forget this) the Patriots and Bill Belichick specifically signed Damon Huard to a fairly high-priced deal to be Drew Bledsoe’s backup quarterback going into the 2001 season. Now, Brady impressed Belichick enough to beat out Huard for the backup job, and then eventually Belichick stuck with the kid even after Bledsoe got healthy. Belichick deserves all the credit in the world for that. But don’t let anybody tell you the Patriots had any inkling what they had.

It really is pretty crazy that three guys who turned out to be this good were so overlooked coming out of college. I was not around when Unitas played, and although I was alive, I wasn't old enough to remember Montana at Notre Dame or getting drafted. But I do remember Brady. I even had a Brady Michigan jersey for awhile (I think I gave it to TheDan), but mostly because I wanted a Chuck Woodson jersey and couldn't find one. I remember, as a Michigan fan at the time (yes growing up in Canada I cheered for 2 college football teams- the U of Washington and much more so for Michigan), I wanted all-everything super-duper-awesome Drew Henson to play QB over Brady. I remember a lot of Michigan fans feeling the same way. Henson was All-American in football and baseball, and all-state in basketball in Michigan. I don't have any idea which state Brady even came from or whether he was any good in high school. The only thing I remember about Brady graduating was that it finally gave Henson the chance to start and make beautiful music with WR David Terrell (who also went on to be a bust- he was the #8 pick in the draft!), which they did.

Of course the rest is history. Henson went to the Yankees because he was a top 10 prospect, a legit power-hitting third baseman with a cannon- he was really the definition of a "Can't Miss" prospect. But he had one little problem- he couldn't hit a curveball. He then went to Dallas in the NFL and couldn't hit an open receiver. Done and done. The Can't Miss Kid missed not just in one sport but in two. Meanwhile Brady is on his way to becoming the greatest quarterback in history. I did not see that coming.

In a round-about long-winded way, this brings us to the Minnesota Vikings and Tavaris Jackson (actually first I just want to say it also points out that I guess nobody really knows what the Twins got for Santana. Those prospects could be nothing or they could be spectacular. We really don't know). I have zero faith right now in T-Jack as a starting quarterback. I believe, firmly, that he's holding back this team from being a championship contender, and I have a mountain of stats to support my claim.

Let's start with the basics: 70.8 Qb rating (28th in the league), 159.2 yards per game (30th), an average per pass of just 6.5 yards (23), 9 TD's (24), and 12 INT (15). And despite throwing mostly short, safe routes, his completion percentage was a woeful 58.1%. There's also this: just 14 passes completed of 20+ yards (32nd, or 2nd worst, of eligible QB's) and just 4 passes of 40+ yards (tied for 20th). There are further new-fangled smart-guy stat-geek stats from Football Outsiders (a really good explanation here) that explain in further and more complicated detail that T-Jack was one of the worst QB's in the league this year.

That is the logical side to my argument. There is, of course, also my liberal, illogical, emotional gut feeling which says, without any evidence to back it up, that I don't trust T-Jack one bit. When he goes back to pass I end up thinking "Gosh I know it's 3rd and 17 but why can't they hand it off to AP?" Yet not once but twice in the last month, SI's Peter King in his MMQB column, has given a vote of confidence to Jackson- and for the life of me I have no idea why. Peter obviously sees and believes something I do not, and it has to be a gut feeling on his part, because there's no logic that would support a claim that Tavaris Jackson has proven in his first two seasons to be a quarterback you would want to build a franchise around. Not by logic or by gut instinct do I think Jackson should be the starter next year based on what I've seen so far.

So what do we, as Vikes fans, do here? What are we to believe? Do we continue to trust Jackson, and coach Brad Childress' undying support of him (there are also some very disturbing numbers out there, which I won't reveal at this time, that shows that the problem might not be just Jackson. Said Disturbing Numbers show the Vikings, in two years under Childress' "Kick Ass Offense", have by far the fewest attempts throwing the ball downfield, and this "Kick Ass as Safely and Conservatively As Possible" philosophy has been terrible for the Vikings passing game. Hmmmm...)? None of the evidence so far points to Jackson turning this around. Yet there was no evidence to support Daunte Culpepper's good seasons in Minnesota (still my favorite Denny Green story is him playing the race card saying the Minnesota media and public were racist towards Daunte and they never believed in him like Denny did and they should be ashamed. Of course Denny left out the part about how he tried to bring Dan Marino out of retirement and tried desperately to bring back Jeff George, and only when all other options failed and he was forced to play the inexperienced Daunte did he finally play him) before they happened, nor, as Posnanski tells it, evidence to support Kurt Warner being good in St Louis. Only after Tony Banks failed miserably and Trent Green got hurt did they turn to Warner, who then went on to lead the Rams to two Super Bowls and have three of the greatest statistical seasons in history. You just never know.

My two cents is that they need to bring in competition. Try to trade for Donovan McNabb (assuming the price isn't too high) or bring in a veteran (Byron Leftwich?). Just somebody to force him to compete. I don't like handing the job to a guy who hasn't proven it. Bring in some competition and make him fight for it, and then maybe he starts producing like Childress is convinced he will. I love that Cleveland gave Derek Anderson a two year extension. They draft Brady Quinn, and gave up a lot to get him, as their QB of the present and future. Anderson, a sixth round pick who was cut by the Ravens, was put in after starter Charlie Frye fizzled, and Anderson went on to have a helluva year. The Browns, smartly I believe, are going to let Anderson play and let Quinn develop slowly. Yes they paid a high price to get Quinn, but they finally have a QB in Anderson that can run their offense, so they're not going to get rid of him for the unknown that is Quinn. Love it. This IS what San Diego should have done with Drew Brees. Yes they picked Phil Rivers at #4, but Brees, after three sub-par seasons, suddenly came to life. The players loved him and he was the perfect fit there, and they let him walk. Dumb. Yes the Chargers got to the AFC Title game with Rivers, farther than Brees took them, but I have no doubt Brees could have taken them farther.

But of course, I'm also the guy who believed Ryan Leaf would be better than Peyton Manning or Drew Henson would be better than Tom Brady. You just never know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So Long Johan

Johan Santana is unofficially officially a New York Met. Pending a long-term contract agreement between Santana
and the Mets, he'll be shipped to Queens in exchange for four prospects you've probably never heard of.

I can't believe this is what the best player in baseball is worth. Carlos Gomez, a centerfielder, is an okay prospect who should be a pretty good major league regular. His absolute upside would be an all-star but that's not likely. One pitcher has high upside but is a long ways away, and the other two pitchers grade out as middle-to-back of the rotation starters. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Johan Santana is worth in 2008.

(Here's a great breakdown of the four prospects and the deal overall from ESPN scout Keith Law. And yes you don't need Insider to read this one)


Let's look at the factors that went into new GM Bill Smith essentially getting fleeced by Mets GM Omar Minaya:

1) Johan was going to test the free agent market, and according to people like the Strib's Jim Souhan, he didn't want to stay in Minnesota.

From Souhan's column:
Fact: Santana wanted out. I've been told by people who know him that he longs to pitch in New York, for more money, a large Latin American community and a team he feels is determined to win a World Series in the near future.

The Twins made a solid, four year $80 million offer, which he turned down. I love to bash Carl Pohlad for being cheap, but that wasn't the problem here. $20 million a year would be more than any other pitcher was making. It's more than a fair offer. For a mid-market team, this is a helluva offer. As Souhan points out, they gave big money to Justin Morneau (they overpaid but I love that they're willing to hang onto their good players. He'll be a bargain by the time that contract's up) and Michael Cuddyer. Money's not really an issue: Santana wanting to play in Minnesota is. I heard Dan Barreiro's podcast today, and he doesn't believe they worked hard enough to resign him. Really? $20 million a year isn't enough? If Johan doesn't want to play in Minnesota, what else can you do?

2) Well you can do one of three things: trade him now, trade him at the deadline in July, or let him play out his contract, let him walk, and pick up two #1 picks. As I've said before, the Twins are building to be contenders in 2010 when the new park opens. If they let Johan walk and pick up the two #1's, that would be the best overall VALUE, but it would push their idea of contention further back because the chances of kids drafted in 2009 being ready in 2010 are pretty slim. So it looks like Smith decided waiting wasn't an option.

3) So then you look to trade him. When making a trade, obviously you want as many teams bidding as possible. The problem for the Twins was there just weren't that many teams interested. The two LA teams, who had the best farm systems of the Big Boys, were out almost from the beginning. While any team would be better with Santana in its rotation, he was not a big need for the LA clubs because they already had good starting pitchers. What's more, the Angels had a huge hole in their lineup they needed to fill, and the Dodgers are one of the best teams in the mediocre-at-best National League, so their need for Santana wasn't great. Basically everybody in the National League but the Mets and Cubs (who just don't have the prospects) were out of the bidding because they didn't need to sacrifice so much in trade in such a watered-down league. In the American League, you're then left with the Yankees and Red Sox, White Sox, Detroit, and Seattle. The White Sox didn't have the perceived pieces, Detroit made their move in getting Miggy Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and Johan said he didn't want to play in Seattle. Which brings us to...

4) the EVIL no trade clause- why on God's green earth do teams give these out? Why? All it does is hurt your franchise. Look no further than the rumors going 'round about Baltimore and Seattle making a deal for Erik Bedard (the second best lefthander on the planet). Baltimore, IF Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn't screw this up again (last year he kiboshed a deal that would have sent Miguel Tejada to the Angels for a boatload of stud prospects), would be getting CF Adam Jones, who's one of the top 10 prospects in baseball, and three pitchers who grade out about as well as the three the Twins are getting. Why isn't this offer available to the Twins? Because Johan doesn't want to play in Seattle. No trade clauses are ridiculous because it limits your trading options. While I'm not generally pro-owners and pro-billionaires, it makes zero sense to give players this much control over where they're going, because it only helps the player, and doesn't help the teams and therefore the fans. Twins fans are going to have to watch a worse team, both short and long term, because Santana limited their options.

5) So the Twins are essentially only looking at three teams- the Sox, Yanks, and Mets. The Mets had the lesser prospects of the three, but of course it would get Santana out of the American League (I've never understood this. Wouldn't getting the best deal trump getting him out of your league?). Boston didn't really need him, but they didn't want the Yankees to get him. And the Yankees? DYING for Johan. Their rotation is young and inexperienced after Chien Mien-Wang. But because they saw there were only two other teams involved, they saw zero point in giving up their best players because they wouldn't have to. Why give up Joba Chamberlain if your competitors can't come close to that? The Red Sox have some excellent prospects, but because their need for Johan wasn't great, they weren't offering their best guys either.

Now at no time was I in Bill Smith's office when he was negotiating these deals, so I can't tell you for sure that all of the above happened, but logic and the rumor-mongering on the internet says we're pretty close. Smith had no shot at keeping Santana, letting him walk for the two #1 picks next year would stunt the team's overall development to build for 2010, and he wasn't getting any great offers. So what's a guy to do?

Personally, I would have started the season with Johan and looked to deal him again at the trade deadline, hoping/assuming the market would get bigger and better. If not you take the best value (the two #1's) and live with a longer development time. As it is, Smith did not do this. He could have faced pressure from upstairs to move Santana now, and perhaps was told to get him out of the American League. As it is, I don't like this trade for the Twins, but what's done is done. This is still a franchise with excellent young talent that is under team control for a considerable time. If Francisco Liriano's elbow is indeed healthy, he'll anchor a solid rotation. The bullpen will be excellent (although how long with Joe Nathan be around now?), and they have some great pieces in Mauer, Morneausy, Delmon Young, and Cuddy. Whether they kept Santana this year or not, their chances of winning the division were slim at best, so you can't cry over that. Whether or not Bill Smith made the right deal, well, I guess we'll find out, and hope these kids turn out better than baseball talent experts think they will.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sizing up the NFL Final Four

Well how about that for a football weekend? Some good games and great stories. Although I was openly campaigning for Dallas, Green Bay, Indy and New England to be the last four teams so that we'd be guaranteed a good Super Bowl for once, there's still plenty of intrigue left. When Peyton Manning threw the incompletion on fourth and 7 to seal a Charger win, I was at first bummed because we wouldn't get to see a Colts/Pats AFC Championship game. Having given it some thought, with the way they played today it's hard to imagine Indy giving the Pats much of a game even if they had survived the Chargers. The Colts didn't play well enough to win, and if they couldn't beat San Diego, they sure as hell weren't going to give New England a game.

I'm now sure of two things: the Pats win by 3 touchdowns next week, and the Jaguars were the second best team in the AFC this year, and possibly the league. The game Saturday night was the real AFC Championship, and Sunday's match in Foxboro will be nothing more than a tuneup for New England. Not to disrespect the Chargers, but I don't trust Norv Turner or Phil Rivers in a game of this magnitude. Rivers was good at times, but at no time was I blown away by what he was doing. Vincent Jackson on the other hand was impressive, but I don't see him doing that against Asante Samuel next week. What's more, Antonio Gates is nowhere near 100% with his dislocated big toe (which makes me queezy just thinking about that injury), and LaDanian Tomlinson may not be 100% either with a bruised knee. While I hope for a great game on Sunday, I'm not expecting one.

In the NFC, well the Cowboys just weren't good enough. If you want to blame Tony Romo for his relations and vacations with Jessica Simpson fine, but that was a team loss today. The Giants were just flat better and more prepared. The Dallas team that was setting the league afire at midseason would have been a great opponent for the Packers and perhaps the Pats, but that team hasn't shown up in Dallas for two months. Should be another very interesting off-season in Big D.

And then there's the Pack. Ah yes my arch nemesis. I was pulling for them to beat Seattle because a) the Seahawks are boring (We had to suffer through having them in the Super Bowl two years ago, and I wanted no part of a second time) and b) as much as I loathe the lovemaking the media does with Brett Farve, it would make for a helluva story to have him in the Super Bowl again. Secretly, and don't tell anyone this, but I really enjoyed the Packer win on Saturday. Enjoyed the snow, the comeback, and even Farve's ridiculous underhand completion as he was falling down.

I also loved the Ryan Grant story. A guy who came from quite literally nowhere to be one of the best backs in the league this year, Grant had about the worst start possible for a running back. Two carries, two fumbles, two Seahawks touchdowns. It was 14-0 before the Lambeau fans had finished their first six-pack of Miller Lite (ok maybe their second six pack, but you get the idea- it was quick). Two costly fumbles like that would have crushed a lot of people. Nick Anderson missing those free throws years ago in the NBA Finals comes to mind. He was a really good player before that and was a shell of himself afterwards. But good for the Packers for sticking with Grant (although let's be honest; once it started snowing, what choice did they really have? They certainly weren't throwing, and none of the other Packer backs were any better) and giving him a chance to redeem himself. And boy did he: 27 carries for an NFL playoff record 207 yards and 3 TD's. Isn't that what sports is all about? A guy failing, and failing miserably, but has the resolve and the opportunity to pull himself up and make amends? Pretty freaking awesome if you ask me.

Anyway, that was a quite a "Show in the Snow" if you will (and I will). I believed, as probably many of you also did, that the Hawks were in trouble coming into that game because they just couldn't run the ball. Shaun Alexander had a nice career, but boy, he looks D-O-N-E. Thanks for coming Shaun. And Maurice Morris is a nice change of pace, but he's not carrying the load. So unless they got some big special teams plays or forced turnovers, they were in for a long day. Well they couldn't have asked for a better start, and still got creamed. That might have been the most impressive thing to me: Seattle's defense, which is really, really good, got steamrolled. Shows the Pack could make a real run at this thing.

Having said that, the Giants are a tough matchup because they have Bradshaw (speaking of guys coming out of nowhere- who? huh? what? Who the hell is this Ahmad Bradshaw guy? Marshall? I didn't see Ahmad anywhere in that Matthew McConahey movie. The Metric Musings is also taking this opportunity to officially change our stance on taking running backs early in the first round. What's the point? Darren McFadden? Nice player, but not worth huge money when you can take a guy who's almost as good and could be just as productive for next to nothing. Glad we had this little chat) and big Brandon Jacobs to plow through the snow, and a pretty gritty defense. Eli Manning? I have no idea what's happening there. I wonder if he does. He did only attempt 18 passes, throwing for only 163 yards, but he played smart, and he's played good football for the better part of a month. This is why sports is awesome, because no matter how smart you are or how much of an expert, sometimes things happen that you can't predict. Like Eli Manning being functional, or Ahmad Bradshaw and Ryan Grant being the two starting running backs in the NFC Championship game. Nobody saw this coming.

At first glance, I really want the Pack to win Sunday, but then I remembered that the game of the year so far was the Giants and Pats in week 17. That wouldn't be a bad Super Bowl either...just as long as the Pats win of course. With all the craziness we've seen, I suppose anything's possible. I look forward to finding out.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Never Say Never

It was just eight days ago that I said in a post, rather emphatically I might add, that we'll never EVER see a playoff system in college football. Because of that certainty, I argued (although not very well- the irish creme and coffee had more of an effect than I thought) that we should just go back to the old pre-BCS bowl system because the current system was rarely, if ever, solving the problem of pitting the two best teams in the country against each other. It also makes the other BCS bowl matchups worse, and after a week of five terrible BCS games, not even LSU fans could disagree that this system sucks.

First of all, playing the national title game a good week after New Year's Day is just plain stupid. If it had to be moved back that far because of a playoff, well that's one thing my friend. But just to get TV ratings on a Monday night? Stupid. My buddies in Minnesota, who are all manly men that love football, couldn't even be bothered to get together to watch the game last night. And after sitting through that game myself last night, it's clear they knew what they were doing. Ohio State, and honestly the Big 10 in general, is taking a beating for the second year in a row as THE Ohio State University got mopped up by an SEC power in the "national championship." And if you think things look bad for the Big 10 right now, it's only going to get worse for them and their brothers on the left coast in the Pac 10.

The reason being is that it looks like, for the first time ever, university presidents from big conference schools are publicly talking about a playoff system. This one from yesterday talks about the consideration of a "Plus One" format, while's Stewart Mandel discusses what all this could mean. Today's story on University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams asking for an eight team playoff was even more of an eye opener. What this means, if anything, is that the ranks are dividing in the one place that had stood steadfastly against a college football playoff.

While a four year old could have looked at this thing in years past and said "hey you know what? Maybe having the teams play for the national title instead of awarding it to them might be a better way to go", the university presidents have been vehemently against a playoff system. They've used some fun excuses like "it would cut into the kids' exam time", even though they all voted to add a cheap 12th game to make more money two years ago (LSU played 14 GAMES THIS YEAR!!!). Or there's the argument that it would cheapen the regular season. While I agree that college football has the best regular season, it has THE worst postseason (if you can even call it that) of any sport going. This year was no exception. It would be like making six riveting seasons of the Sopranos, and then when it got to the end of the last episode, the part the entire series had been building to- it just cuts to black without explanation. That's college football right now.

If the NCAA does this right, I just don't see how the regular season would lose meaning. IF we were able to get a Plus One system or even the eight team playoff proposed by Adams, the regular season would be just as compelling because to finish in the top four or eight would be just as difficult as it is now. There's an argument in the Mandel article about how "if there was a playoff system in place, nobody would have watched the Pitt- West Virginia game at the end of the year." First of all, how many people actually did watch that game? Anyone? Show of hands? Thought so. But for the sake of argument, under a plus-one system or even the eight team playoff, that game still holds a ton of intrigue because if West Virginia, who already had one loss, loses that game, then they're likely out of the playoffs. So it would still matter, just as it does now.

Now where this all hurts the Big 10 and Pac 10 is that they are on now on the other side of the debate. The other BCS conferences are not benefiting from the current system as much as they used to. The best two teams are consistently not getting to the championship game, and the "little guys" are taking up spots that used to go to major conference schools in the other big money bowl games. Under the current system, the BCS conference schools are still making billions and billions of dollars- it's just that the Big 10 and Pac 10 went a step further by getting themselves on the Rose Bowl's Board of Directors, further cementing themselves to the old system. Now, their buddies in the other conferences are breaking ranks and seeing that maybe, just maybe, a playoff system would make them just as much or more money, which leaves the Big 10 and Pac 10 blowing in the wind.

While Adam's 8 team playoff idea won't be happening anytime soon, if ever, his comments are certainly a sign that the idea of a playoff is becoming more of a reality, because in the past you'd never, EVER hear a university president of a BCS conference school say something like that. But as we learned today, never say never.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'm sitting here on New Year's Day trying to watch four bowl games at once on a 13" TV. It is not easy. Well, basically it's 3 games, because I don't see myself tuning into the Texas Tech/Virginia game, although I have read about Howie Long's kid for UVA, who's supposed to be amazing. Still, that doesn't take precedence over Florida/Michigan (the 2nd best game on today), Scony/Tennessee (two teams with sweet, sweet unis), and even the Cotton Bowl with Arkansas/Mizzou.

The Michigan/Florida game brings up something for me though: why isn't this a BCS game? I mean, since we're never having a real playoff system (and we're not. Read this article from the Orange County Register. I had always heard there was a lot of money tied into bowls, but this blew my mind. We're never having a playoff system) why not have the best teams in the big bowls? I mean these games decide nothing, and are all about making money. Having Florida and Michigan play each other would make more money than any other game except the LSU/Ohio State game. I understand the BCS was created to get more big schools into the big bowls, but with this crazy year, it didn't work.

Since we're never going to have a playoff, why not just go back to the way it was? I personally enjoy the old bowl alignments, with the Pac 10/Big 10 Rose Bowl, and the alliances they used to have with the Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange. I know people like the idea of the BCS Title game because it's supposed to give us a true champion, but come on! For every year we get USC/Texas, we get four or five years like this one where there's not two clear-cut title teams. Why are Ohio St and LSU playing in the Naty Title? Public opinion, that's why. Georgia and USC were probably the two best teams when the season ended, but since we don't have a playoff, there's no way to know that. LSU and Ohio State are there because of their tradition as much as the games they played this year.

So who are we kidding here? Why not just pick the teams people want to see most for the bowl games? Anyway, enjoy the games everybody. The Capital One Bowl hasn't disappointed (the Rose Bowl probably will- Illinois? really?), but I can't wait for Georgia/Hawaii tonight. Should be a lotta points and a lotta fun. Happy New Year.