Sunday, March 13, 2016

Broncos Do the Unthinkable, Trade For Mark Sanchez

The Denver Broncos must be really, really desperate.

On Friday, the Broncos stunned the world when word got out that they had acquired Mark Sanchez from the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional seventh round pick in 2017.  While John Elway may say that this is the first step in the process, you can rest assure this is not the step he was hoping to take.

It had been long presumed that the Broncos would lock-up Brock Osweiler long term after Peyton Manning retired on Monday. Instead, Osewiler, perhaps feeling his oats after starting seven games this year, and maybe even feeling a little jilted by the Broncos after being benched before the postseason, signed a $72 million deal with the Houston Texans.
Von Miller will see a lot more of Mark Sanchez on his back.

While the Texans are once again making a reach by signing a back-up quarterback with minor success in the NFL, it is the Broncos who are in no man's land.

Rumors have been swirling that the team will go after Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III. RGIII is a free agent, and has already spent his Saturday with the Jets, and didn't sign a deal. As for Kaepernick the Niners want a third rounder for their starting quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is also available, but word came out Sunday that the Broncos view Fitzpatrick as too expensive. More on that in another post.

Hell, even Johnny Manziel and all of his issues would be a better option than Mark Sanchez. I am sure Tim Tebow now wants a comeback in Denver too, while we are at it.

At the end of the day, Denver is stuck with another former Jets quarterback in the Butt-fumble king himself. The fact that Sanchez has a chance, right now anyway, to be the starting quarterback of the defending Super Bowl Champions is so hilarious it needs its own sitcom. Usually, the Super Bowl champ gets to host Week 1 on Thursday night on national TV. Perhaps the NFL should do us a favor and not put the Broncos in that slot, especially if we have to see Sanchez buttfumble around against the Patriots in Week 1.  I am sure New England or Carolina or whomever plays that Week 1 game will be licking their chops.

Sanchez is a total bust. Even Broncos fans took to Twitter bashing the move. NFL fans have seen enough of Sanchez who was a total flame out with the Jets, and ruined the Eagles playoff chances two straight years in a row when he was forced into action.

If the Broncos want to be a serious player for a repeat title, they need to better than bring in a bum like Sanchez into the mix. Good luck Denver, you'll need it.

Jets Get Their Running Back in Matt Forte, Re-Sign Powell

The Jets quickly answered the vacancy at running back left by Chris Ivory by signing veteran Matt Forte to a three year contract worth over $12 million, and then quickly re-signed Bilal Powell to contract extension solidifying the Jets back-field.

These are two very solid moves by the Jets. In Forte, the Jets get a running back who has been an every-down back throughout his career in the NFL. Forte has rushed for 1,000 or more five times in his career, and has been selected to two Pro Bowls. He averages 4.2 yards per carry, and has a knack for being a valuable pass catcher out of the back field.

Forte is a good inside outside runner, and when he gets into the open field is tough to bring down. He has also proven durable throughout his career in Chicago.

As for Powell, his signing was a must. When healthy last year, Powell was the Jets best option on screen passes out of the backfield. He ended up third on the team in targets (64) and receptions (47), and yards (388). Powell also ran for 313 yards last season. His addition to the backfield along with Forte gives the Jets two tremendous speed talents who can catch the ball out of the backfield.

The one issue with Forte is his age. At age 30, one has to worry about him hitting the proverbial running back wall. The Jets are on the hook for two of the three years of Forte's contract, but I think Jets fans should look at this deal  much the same way they did Thomas Jones in 2008. Jones came to the Jets after a successful stint with the Bears and produced nicely for the Jets for a couple seasons. The Jets are in a win now mentality, and Forte and Powell are win now players. Good move.

Giants solidify Free Agent Moves with Vernon

The Giants spending spree on defense continued earlier this week with the signing of Olivier Vernon. Vernon, formally of the Miami Dolphins gives the Giants an edge passer rusher they were so desperately seeking.

During his time in Miami, Vernon amassed 29 sacks including a career high 11.5 half sacks in 2013. However, Vernon has had only 13 sacks combined in the last two years. A lot of people point to Vernon's lack of production in the sack department as a reason why the Giants deal with him is a gamble. New York will be paying Vernon $85 million over five years, or $17 million per season.

While the criticism is understandable, considering that Vernon is not exactly the most elite pass rusher in the league, he is a guy who has made a living getting to the quarterback and disrupting offenses. Not to mention, the Giants get extremely lucky getting a player who is only 25 years old.

On one hand, Vernon has a lot of good football ahead of him, and he hasn't even reached his prime. If Steve Spagnulo can get something out of the former third round draft pick that would be huge obviously for this Giants team. That being said many will point to the fact that Vernon being so young and willfully let go by the Dolphins could be a warning sign.

Regardless of the debate the Giants needed to fill the position. They desperately needed an edge rusher, and if you look at the numbers from last year, the Giants had only 23 sacks as a team, with defensive tackle Robert Ayers leading the way with 9.5. The next closest Giant to Ayers was Cullen Jenkins with three sacks. Both of these players are down lineman. The Giants didn't have an edge rusher who could get to the quarterback.

While it is a lot of money, if it works out, it will be well worth it for the Giants.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Giants steal Damon Harrison from Jets

A day after missing out on Charles Johnson and Mario Williams, and having to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants finally made a positive splash as free agency kicked off on Wednesday, and did so while spiting their neighbors the New York Jets.

 Big Blue agreed to a multi-year deal with former Jet defensive tackle Damon Harrison. The deal covers five years and $46.25 million with $24 million guaranteed and $30 million over the first three years. 

This deal comes off the heels of the Giants overpaying corner Janoris Jenkins $62 million to leave the Rams. 

Nabbing Harrison is a huge plus for the Giants, who desperately needed some beef up front. Harrison was front and center in the middle of the Jets defense the past three seasons, providing a solid running stopping defender, and paving the way for the Jets edge rushers to get to the quarterback. Last season, Harrison had 72 tackles and a half sack for the Jets. While he isn't a sack machine, his 350 lb frame will be a welcome addition to the defense. 

The Giants are also rumored to be interested in former Dolphin, Olivier Vernon. If the Giants get Vernon they will have a legit edge pass rusher to add to the mix as well. 

Pierre-Paul Returns to Giants, Ivory Leaves Jets for Jaguars

NFL free agency is getting off to a wild and fast start. Just a full day before teams can officially begin signing players, already we have seen a number of big moves made around the league, and the two New York clubs are no exception.

The Giants decided to re-sign Jason Pierre Paul to a one year deal worth $10.5 million after losing out to Mario Williams, who signed with Miami, and Charles Johnson who decided to return to Carolina. This is a very odd move, considering that JPP was hamstrung by a decimated right hand that he blew up during the 4th of July last summer.

JPP was not an impact on the Giants at all last season. He had only one sack and 26 tackles all year. He was clearly bothered by the giant club that he wore on his right hand. He is said to have surgery on that hand to get him to grip better, but let's be honest JPP is not the same player he used to be, and never will be.

The Giants must believe that the defensive end market is too thin for them because going back to JPP makes little to no sense. In fact this is terrible signing by a Giants team that needs to improve one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Losing out on Johnson and Williams, two fierce pass rushers really does little to help GM Jerry Reese who is on the hot seat this season. Not often a GM could be in boiling hot water in March, but moves like this will turn up the heat a bit.

As for the salary cap battered Jets, they lost out on keeping running back Chris Ivory. Ivory signed a multi-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving the Jags a quality back to help a young offense in Northern Florida. Ivory, 28, had his best season last year with the Jets, rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdown.

Ivory resurrected his career in green and white, because he spent a big part of his early career as a third down back for the Saints. The Jets gave Ivory the chance to start every down when Rex Ryan and John Idzik were in town, and Ivory took off. (Kinda interesting to note that Idzik is now in Jacksonville as a special assistant to the GM; I'm sure he had some influence here).

While losing a top back is never a good thing, the Jets can live without Ivory, especially if they strike it big in the draft. Many expect the Jets to target Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with their first round pick in the draft. The Jets desperately need a feature back. Even when Ivory was here, you never felt he was going to be a every down and distance running back. Getting one in the draft is a must.

The Jets could bring back Bilal Powell, who is also a free agent this spring. Powell was a unique pass catching runner out of the backfield down the stretch last year, and he would be worth bringing back on a reasonable contract.

If they lose him too, it will get interesting.

Keep in mind the Jets already released Antonio Cromartie, and might lose Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency. The two players the Jets can ill afford to lose are on the defensive line in Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. Harrison is expected to sign elsewhere, as the Jets target Wilkerson as a must keep. The Jets placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on Wilkerson last week, meaning that he could sign with another team and force the Jets to match that offer. That team would also have to give up 2-first round picks to get him. If nobody signs Wilkerson, he will make $15 million this year in New York.

If Mike Maccagnan is indeed a genius, as some fans thought he was last off-season, he's got his work cut out for him this time around.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Jets and Fitzpatritck at Crossroads in Contract Talks

If the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick want to remain together in 2016, they are going to have to find some middle ground rather soon in contract talks. Right now, neither side is even close to coming to a deal, as it was reported that both sides see Fitzpatrick's value very differently.

The New York Post reported Tuesday morning that Fitzpatrick sees himself in the range of $16-18 million, since Sam Bradford, another rather mediocre quarterback was able to draw $18 million per year from the Eagles. The Jets, view Fitzpatrick at a handsome $8-10 million in value.

First of all, Fitzpatrick is not worth $18 million. He is not even worth $10 million. Fitzpatrick is a journeyman quarterback who has never appeared in a playoff game. He spent much of his career toiling around the league as a back-up both in St. Louis and Cincinnati, and when he actually got a chance to start full time in Buffalo, they couldn't wait to get rid of him.  In Tennessee and Houston, Fitzpatrick spent most of his time as a back-up.

It wasn't until he came to New York last year that Fitzpatrick got extremely lucky. Geno Smith got punched in the face by IK Emakipali, opening the door for Fitzpatrick to take the job, and he easily had the best season of his career. Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdowns last year, setting a new single season franchise record for Jets quarterbacks. Yet, even with that it, the record and the season didn't feel as special as Vinny Testaverde's 1998 campaign. It is fair to say Fitz was a product of two great receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, more than the receivers were a product of Fitzpatrick's success.

He's an average quarterback, who has a noodle for an arm, and as we saw many times last year is over-aggressive in the pocket, failing the slide when he runs, and isn't afraid to test double and triple coverage. To think that Fitzpatrick could replicate last year's success is a gamble that the Jets probably know is not worth taking financially.

If Fitzpatrick can get a better offer elsewhere he should take it, and the Jets should let him walk. The Jets probably got the best Fitzpatrick will ever display for the remainder of his career. There are other quarterbacks on the market: Robert Griffin III, whom I would stay away from with a 10-foot pole if I were the Jets; Colin Kaepernick, another scrambling quarterback who could be dealt this off-season; Nick Foles, who could be on the way out in St. Louis, and Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler is likely to stay in Denver, but if the Jets are willing to go after him and make him their franchise quarterback -- they might as well throw their hat into the ring.

Then agin, the Jets could just give the reigns to Bryce Petty and see what the kid's got. He's had a year to learn an NFL offense, and needs the opportunity to show that he is more than just a system quarterback from Baylor.

Point is, losing Fitzpatrick may sting, but it is not the worst thing in the world for the Jets.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Peyton Manning announces Retirement after 18 Wonderful Years

I guess, as they say when a top sports athlete retires after a long and successful career it is a sign we are all getting old. Well, the day has arrived for us to live in a world where Peyton Manning no longer laces them up in the NFL.

Peyton Manning's long anticipated decision to hang up his cleats and retire from professional football has now come. Over the weekend, Manning announced that he planed to retire, and made it official with a press conference at Broncos headquarters in Denver on Monday afternoon.

There is not much left to say about Manning's career that hasn't already been said. Come the year 2021, Manning will be enshrined in football's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Put the recent controversies to the side, because Manning lived up to and exceeded expectations. 

When he was drafted Number 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL draft, a lot of people debated whether the Colts should take Manning or Ryan Leaf. As we all know the two quarterbacks have been intertwined in a ying-yang on quarterback development. Their draft was the turning point in NFL history, providing a benchmark for GMs to follow, and follow with caution. Manning came across as a model citizen, broke countless records, won championships, MVPs and more. Leaf, on the other hand was a total bust. Leaf is best remembered for berating a reporter in the Chargers locker room, for getting arrested, and dealing with substance abuse problems.

There is no question, and we knew this even back then, that the Colts made the right decision. The Colts didn't win much in Peyton's first year in the NFL, winning only three games, but it didn't really matter. Manning showed enough of what he capable of, and anyone following the NFL back then knew that the Colts were about developing a team for the the future. 

And what a future it was. The Colts went to the playoffs every year but two years under Manning from 1999-2011. For a period of 12 seasons, Manning's Colts averaged 11.5 wins per season, won 13 or more games four times, won eight division titles (1 in the AFC East, 7 in the AFC South); went to three AFC Championships, winning two of them, and of course won Super Bowl XLI in 2006.

While in Indianapolis, Manning re-set the bar for which NFL quarterbacks will be judged forever with his up-tempo style of play, his knowledge of the game, and his ability to dissect defenses on the flick of a wrist. Whether it was changing the formation at the line of scrimmage, as he did often while a Colt, or yelling 'Omaha' like he did in Denver, you knew number 18 was in full control of the game. 

He threw for 4,000 yards or more 15 times in his NFL career, and twice threw more than 40 touchdowns in a season (49 in 2004 and 55 in 2013) enjoying being the head of some of the greatest offenses in the NFL. With the Colts, Manning made Hall of Famers into Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. In Denver, he made DeMarious Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker into household names. Not many quarterbacks can do that. Manning did that and more. 

When we delve deeper in the Manning legacy a lot of things stand out. For one, his rivalry with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots is a major headline that will be talked about for generations. 17 times the two future Hall of Famers met, with Brady getting the upper hand most of the time. Yet, after Denver's 20-18 win the AFC Championship game this past January, Manning finished 3-2 against Brady in the playoffs. Sure, Manning had some ugly losses to the Patriots over the years, especially in Indianapolis, but he was also apart of some memorable wins. 

In the 2006 AFC title game, Manning helped bring the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit to beat the Patriots 38-34 and advance to the Super Bowl. Then in a regular season game in 2009, Patriots coach Bill Belichick infamously went for it on fourth and two deep in Patriots territory, and watched his team botch the down. Belichick's reasoning for going for it on fourth rather than punting? He didn't want Manning to get the ball back. He did and the Colts won. 

Yet, while we will remember all the big wins Manning had in his career, before this past season's ride to a Super Bowl 50 title in Denver, Manning's postseason career is one that always came into question. He was 11-13 before the Broncos Super Bowl run, with horrendous losses to not only the Patriots, but losses to the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Saints, and Seahawks. A lot of those losses weren't his fault (see the Steelers divisional win over Indy in 2005). Others were a total implosion on Manning's part, like the 41-0 beatdown to the Jets in 2002, and Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans. And let us not forget the botched snap against Seattle in the Super Bowl two years ago. 

Yes, the playoffs weren't always kind to Peyton Manning. A guy who was the most prolific passer in the history of the game, had trouble coming through in the big games. I remember before the Colts run in 2006 that led to Manning's first Super Bowl title, he was often compared, and unfairly so, to Dan Marino -- another outstanding quarterback who couldn't win. Ironically, we stand here today and Manning has two rings on his finger. There is no questioning his greatness now. 

It is also ironic that he won two Super Bowls without playing his best. His performance against the Bears in the Super Bowl wasn't at all scintillating and his effort against Carolina this year was less so. Peyton just knew how to win at all costs. 

And let us not forget how Manning got to this point in time where he was standing before friends and family in Denver announcing that today would be his last as a NFL quarterback. Exactly four years ago, Manning signed a contract with the Broncos, ending a 14-year ride in Indianapolis. Manning was coming off of major neck surgery, and, Indianapolis, knowing they had the number 1 pick and Andrew Luck in their back pocket, decided to let Manning go. It was not an easy decision, and one that I am sure still rankles Colts fan some, but for the betterment of both parties Manning left town. 

He toured the Dolphins, the Titans, the 49ers, and even took a call from the Jets. Yet, it was Manning's relating to John Elway that stood out most to the quarterback. Elway knew what Manning was going through at this stage. He too was an aging Pro Bowl quarterback who wanted to find a way to win one last time. Elway and Manning came to an agreement, and Manning changed royal blue and white for orange and navy. In 2012, Manning looked like a guy who never suffered a severe neck injury, and was even better the next year in 2013, taking that team all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. However, he was still looking for that last title. 

Sadly by 2015, the skills were starting to diminish. Manning couldn't stay healthy, and struggled to guide the Broncos to a 7-1 start to the season. He threw a career low nine touchdowns, and by mid-season had to be replaced by Brock Osweiler. While Osweiler did a great job keeping the Broncos in contention, we all knew that it was a matter of time before a healthy Manning would get another chance. He got that in Week 17, coming in for Osweiler in a game against the Chargers, and guided the Broncos to a win. He then managed efforts through the month of January, not making any mistakes and letting his defense do the damage as Denver won that elusive super bowl. 

A lot of people expected this to be Manning's last rodeo, and it was. While some people will try to bring Manning down with the sexual assault case from his days at Tennessee that has been reborn in recent weeks, or the bogus steroid rumors from Al Jazzera, nobody can, nor should question Manning's greatness. He was the best at his position. The humble pitch man, comedian, all star, and friendly face that the NFL talks about wanting to showcase year in and year out. 

Peyton Manning did it his way, and we are all going to miss watching him on the field. The NFL will never be the same. 

Toronto Blue Jays Preview Show

On March 4, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Tom Dakers of Blue Bird Banter about the Toronto Blue Jays upcoming season. Last year, the Blue Jays won 93 games and advanced all the way to the ALCS, before losing to the Kansas City Royals in six games.

The Blue Jays led the league in just about every statistical category, offensively, becoming one of the most prolific offenses in baseball history. While the Jays return many of the same faces, their biggest question this year will be pitching. Do they have enough of it?

We discuss. Take a listen: 

Boston Red Sox Preview Show

On March 2, I opened up my month long coverage of MLB Spring Training Capsules with a preview of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox made two major moves in the off-season, acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel to boast their pitching staff. As a result, USA Today picked them to win the AL East in 2016.

Still the Red Sox enter this season with plenty of question marks, such as Pablo Sandoval's weight issues; Hanley Ramirez's adjustment to first base, and the aging of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Still the Sox do have a number of young, talented players on the team right now like outfielder Mookie Betts.

I had the opportunity to speak to Tom Joyce about the Red Sox season on Blog Talk Radio.

Take a listen: