A Team Held For Ransom: The Tale of the Seattle Supersonics

 

 

The modern climate of professional sports ownership exists as a realm in which capitalization and maximizing revenues has become the pinnacle of achievement. This is the case for the vast majority of American businesses. However, there is a sensitive caveat to this reality when the world of sports is involved. Indeed, every professional sports franchise carries the weight of not only its business, but also its geographical culture and fan base. Such is the case with the sale and relocation of the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics in 2008, when the team moved to Oklahoma City, thereby deserting an entire region both physically and emotionally. In the years since the Sonics became the Thunder, there’s been a large degree of speculation coming from both sides of the argument. On one hand, there are those with limited access to facts surrounding the events that took place preceding the relocation agreement. Such individuals might claim that Seattle didn’t value the Sonics, or that there wasn’t much effort to keep them in Seattle. In reality, the shadiness that manifested itself on an organization-wide level during the early and mid-2000s is the true explanation for why the Supersonics abandoned ship. By examining the business decisions by the Sonics’ ownership, as well as several statements made by NBA commissioner David Stern and many City of Seattle officials, it’s quite clear that the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City was out of the fans’ control during the entire process. Several years of poor ownership led to a series of irresponsible decisions, which ultimately resulted in an exploitation and betrayal of the Supersonics fan base, rendering any attempt to keep the team in Seattle utterly impossible. This is the story of how the Supersonics were stolen from Seattle.

 

The demise of the Supersonics began in the early 2000s, when Howard Schultz bought the team from Barry Ackerley.[1] Prior to the transaction, the team was showing signs of fatigue and was falling from its former glory of the mid-‘90s. As revenues slowly declined, Sonics’ owner Barry Ackerley decided to sell the franchise to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on January 11th, 2001.[2] “One of our biggest considerations was that the Sonics stay in Seattle,” Ackerley stated in a press conference. “We are leaving the team and fans in good hands.”[3] Schultz was, and still is, one of the most powerful corporate figures in the city of Seattle. Having built his coffee empire in the 1980s, Schultz was as much of a public figure as many of the star athletes. However, Schultz’ business prowess proved to be his Achilles heel when trying to run a professional sports team. Schultz viewed his ownership of the team in the same manner that he viewed his coffee business. In 2005, Schultz said about his ownership of the Supersonics, “Since my experience has been based on 25 years of building and leading a company [Starbucks], I’ll stick with what I know.”[4] Because of his inability to remove himself from the operations of the team, several Sonics players developed soured perceptions of Schultz.[5] There were questions surrounding his resolve to see the team succeed, and criticisms of his childish antics as he essentially became disinterested with his now struggling NBA franchise. Frank Hughes, a columnist for ESPN, compared Schultz to Jude Law’s character in the film “A Talented Mr. Ripley,” stating:

 

That, in a nutshell, is Howard Schultz, an entrepreneur whose romantic attention was focused exclusively on his basketball team for about a year. Then things didn’t quite go the way he envisioned, he got bored and discouraged, and he decided that he wanted out (regardless of the impact on people’s lives).[6]

Schultz, who was initially quite invested in seeing the Supersonics succeed, quickly began to tally his losses in the public relations sphere. When it became clear that the Sonics were approaching an inevitable rebuilding phase, Schultz diverted his attention from the team’s struggles and instead made it his goal to maximize the revenues he could accumulate.

 

The most critical area of concern for the Supersonics’ fate was the condition of their home facility, Key Arena. Formerly known as the Seattle Center Coliseum, Key Arena was opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It became the Supersonics’ home in 1967, and was rebuilt in 1994 to increase its capacity and improve its modernity.[7] There was national praise for the ingenuity of the reconstruction. An article from the Washington Post in 1995 described the arena’s commendable funding strategy by using team revenues, as opposed to public tax dollars:

 

And the arena was a bargain. Worth well over $130 million, only about $74 million remains to be paid off— and all of it will be covered by arena revenues, the Sonics and the city proudly note.[8]

 

When ‘the Key’ re-opened for the 1995 season opener, NBA commissioner David Stern was in attendance to witness the newly renovated facility in action. Stern, ironically, had nothing but great things to say about Key Arena. In a sideline interview with ESPN reporter Mitch Levy, Stern stated on a nationally televised broadcast:

 

“They got a beautiful building. It’s intimate, the sight lines are great, the decorations are terrific. I think Seattle should be very proud of what’s going on here tonight.”[9]

 

The league’s favorability of Key Arena, however, would take a turn in the early ‘00s. Several teams from the four major American sports leagues were getting new, state-of-the-art facilities with upscale restaurants and spacious pavilions for ticket-holders. This was true in Seattle as well. In the late ‘90s, the Kingdome, a large domed stadium a half-mile south of downtown, shared by the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners, was quickly becoming obsolete. Both teams threatened to relocate if they weren’t given new, separate and modern facilities.[10] The City of Seattle implemented a public-bond tax program to fund the Safeco Field and Qwest Field projects for the Mariners and Seahawks, respectively. Safeco Field cost the public approximately $340 million in taxes, while the Mariners paid $126 million.[11] Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) cost the public $300 million, while owner Paul Allen paid $130 million.[12] Both facilities were built and ready for use by 2001. Safeco and Qwest were huge successes due to their luxurious amenities, providing a unique viewing experience for fans. Unfortunately, the funding programs of the new downtown facilities spelled trouble for the Supersonics in the mid-2000s. Howard Schultz, having realized the team was struggling to draw crowds, decided that the best way for the Sonics to improve revenues was to build a new facility.[13] Schultz believed that his corporate background would be enough to win a similar deal to the Mariners’ and Seahawks’, but the City had different plans. Seattle’s citizens were unhappy with the amount of public support that the Safeco and Qwest projects required. The city legislature passed Initiative-91 in 2006, which required that any publicly subsidized professional sports venues within the city of Seattle were to provide equal or greater returns to the public.[14] When Schultz, accompanied by team president Wally Walker, approached the city council with the proposition of a $220 million publicly funded sports facility in 2005, the council emphatically declined. It became clear that the NBA had vested interest in the issue when commissioner David Stern, who only ten years prior had publicly praised Key Arena, expressed his concerns for the state of the venue. The Associated Press reported in February of 2006:

 

NBA commissioner David Stern asked Washington state lawmakers Thursday for tax money to renovate the Seattle Supersonics’ arena, saying there could be consequences if the state doesn’t act. “A substantial amount has been done for the baseball and football teams. I’m here personally to find out whether the same is being considered fairly for the NBA,” Stern said at a legislative hearing, flanked by principal owner Howard Schultz and team president Wally Walker.[15]

 

Schultz and his ownership group became incensed that they were unable to formulate a deal with the city and state legislatures in 2006. After his attempt failed, Schultz threatened to sell or relocate the franchise. When Schultz believed he had exhausted all his options, he engaged in a transaction that was, for all intents and purposes, the proverbial death sentence of the Supersonics’ tenure in Seattle.

 

In July of 2006, Howard Schultz sold the Seattle Supersonics to Professional Basketball Club, L.L.C. PBC was an organization owned by Clayton Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, two Oklahoma City businessmen who made their fortunes in the oil industry. The Seattle Times reported the details of the sale:

 

Following through on their threats, Schultz and 57 other owners sold the Sonics — which they bought for $200 million in 2001 — and the Storm to a group of Oklahoma City investors. Sale price: $350 million. The deal was announced three months after council members scoffed at Schultz’s $18.3 million pledge for KeyArena renovations. Schultz said his ownership group never got “the kind of respect” it deserved from city officials.[16]

The decision by Schultz to sell the franchise to Clay Bennett was, in essence, the first major red flag to the city of Seattle that the Supersonics may be on their way out. The problem in 2006 was the fact that very few people regarded Schultz’ threats as serious. To make matters even bleaker, Clay Bennett’s background raised concern for Seattleites. Bennett had played a large role in hosting the New Orleans Hornets in 2005, when they temporarily played in Oklahoma City during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It was also known that Bennett and David Stern had a close business relationship, and had discussed a potential league expansion to Oklahoma City in the early 2000s.[17] In a 2008 excerpt from the New York Times, the Hornets’ owner George Shinn sheds light on the relationship between Bennett and Stern that he experienced prior to the team’s tenure in Oklahoma City:

 

“I was getting calls from around the country, Vegas and on and on, and David threw out Oklahoma City,” Shinn says. “And I said: ‘David, I don’t think I want to go there. I’ve never even been there, and it doesn’t sound like — do they even have an arena?’ But David’s got a way of recommending that sort of pushes you.”[18]

 

It was clear in 2005 that Bennett and Stern were uncomfortably close with one another, which undoubtedly contributed to Bennett’s ability to purchase and relocate the Supersonics. After the Hornets returned to New Orleans for the 2006 season, Bennett became hell-bent on acquiring an NBA team as a permanent tenant for Oklahoma City’s Ford Center. In a statement to the press in February of 2006, Bennett said of acquiring a team for OKC:

 

“We are acutely interested and very focused on bringing a team to Oklahoma City. It’s a tricky spot to be in because you don’t want to overstep your boundaries … but the Sonics, yes, are a possibility and a team that would do well not just here, but I’m sure anywhere that they played. If the Hornets go back to New Orleans, I expect we’ll get a franchise. There haven’t been any promises made, but there’s been a lot of congratulations offered to us.”[19]

 

In light of Bennett’s background and publicly expressed desire for an NBA team in Oklahoma City, it became fairly obvious to all parties, including the fans, that the new ownership group had no real intentions of keeping the Supersonics in Seattle. Howard Schultz had engaged in a cowardly business transaction out of spite for the city council, which left the team in the hands of someone with both personal interest, and David Stern’s support, in relocating the franchise. The fans, having been stabbed in the back, felt as though they were watching the team slip through their fingers. When Schultz sold the team to Bennett, there was little that the fan base could tangibly do to prevent an ultimate relocation decision.

Bennett may have had his sights set on Oklahoma City from the day he purchased the Supersonics, but there were still significant hurdles for him to clear. For one, Bennett signed a contract upon purchasing the Supersonics that included a “Good Faith” clause, which required that Bennett were to make a sincere effort to keep the team in Seattle before considering relocation options. Bennett manipulated this clause with disturbing ease. In August of 2006, just one month after purchasing the team, Bennett’s ownership partner Aubrey McClendon made a statement to an Oklahoma City news outlet, stating “We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here.”[20] At this point McClendon had verbally broken the good faith clause, yet was given a mere slap on the wrist in the form of a $250,000 fine by the NBA.[21] Later in 2006, Bennett made a laughable arena proposal to keep true to the good faith clause, which included a ludicrous $500 million in public tax dollars. The city and state legislatures, in keeping consistent with Initiative-91, rejected the proposal by reasoning that a $500 million public subsidy for an arena would not provide equal or greater returns to the public.[22] This outrageous proposal was enough for Bennett to claim he had remained true to his contract of purchase, and marred the Supersonics’ future to be somewhere other than Seattle.

 

Despite claims by both the league and the ownership group that the city of Seattle didn’t value the Supersonics, there was significant public backlash against the ominous developments. “Save Our Sonics,” an organization that actively made efforts to keep the Sonics in Seattle, directly targeted David Stern as the perpetrator for the Sonics’ imminent relocation. In 2007, the Seattle Times reported that the group had been handing out flyers at Key Arena with Stern’s phone number printed blatantly, encouraging fans to call the commissioner.

 

As the Sonics tipped off their 41st season, about five volunteers circled KeyArena’s exterior and concourse handing out the commissioner’s number (it’s 212-407-8300, by the way), asking people to let Stern know they want to keep the team for another 41 seasons.[23]

 

 

Fans of the team held numerous rallies and protests in front of Key Arena during the 2007-2008 Supersonics regular season. Unfortunately, as seen throughout the entire decade, the fans had very minimal power to affect the league and ownership’s intentions. In September of 2007, Clay Bennett told the press that if a new arena weren’t a possibility, he would take the case to the NBA’s relocation committee to work his way out of the Supersonics’ lease in Seattle.[24] Additionally, Bennett made a palpable effort to limit local media coverage of the team during the ’07-’08 season, which thoroughly detached the team from the fans.[25] In April of 2008, the Seattle Times released an email transaction from 2007 between Bennett, McClendon, and Tom Ward:

 

“Is there any way to move here [Oklahoma City] for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?” Ward wrote. Bennett replied: “I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!” Ward: “That’s the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here [in Oklahoma City] next year.” McClendon: “Me too, thanks Clay!”[26]

 

The leaked emails were nothing short of a slap-in-the-face to Sonics fans. If the new owners of the team had blatant intentions to move the franchise from the very beginning, how were the local fans of the team going to take action in any kind of meaningful way? Again, it’s clear that there was essentially nothing the fans could do to prevent relocation.

 

In March of 2008, Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer made a commendable offer to the city and state legislatures, offering an arena proposal that would only include $150 million in public tax dollars, with the other $150 million coming directly out of Balmer’s pocket.[27] Protestors gathered in front of the Capitol in Olympia, demanding that there be a vote on the proposal. Frank Chopp, Washington State’s Speaker of the House, who had historically been adamant about his disdain for any form of public subsidization of professional sports facilities, declared that there would be no vote on Balmer’s proposal.[28] This all but sealed the Sonics’ fate.

 

In a final, albeit fruitless attempt to keep the Sonics from relocating, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, who had previously been silent on the issue, decided that he wouldn’t mind being reelected to office in the coming election year. Therefore, in order to earn the public’s favorability, Nickels decided to sue Clay Bennett in late-2007 for violating the Supersonics’ lease. The hearing would be scheduled for June of 2008. There was a storm of questions surrounding Nickels’ sincerity, considering that he hadn’t expressed any opinion on the matter until 2007. Prior to the 2008 hearing, Bennett had predictably won the vote at the NBA’s relocation council, with a tally of 29-1 in favor of moving the franchise to Oklahoma City (Mark Cuban was the only owner who voted against relocation). If Greg Nickels were to lose the 2008 lawsuit, the team would move to Oklahoma City for the ’08-’09 season and would stay there indefinitely. Nickels’ only line of defense in the case was the fact that the Supersonics’ lease in Seattle didn’t expire until 2010. Despite Nickels’ efforts, Bennett’s attorneys were steadfast in their arguments against him. They claimed that the Sonics’ lease had become economically dysfunctional and that there was no solution other than to relocate the franchise. Bennett’s witnesses testified that the Sonics didn’t promote economic activity for the city. From an outsider’s perspective, Bennett’s group made quick work of Nickels during the hearings in 2008.[29] Although it became painfully clear that the lawsuit was futile, the people of Seattle still had hope that their city would fight to the end. In what was one of the most gutless acts in the entire process, Greg Nickels announced prior to the conclusion of the hearings that the city had accepted a severance package from Clay Bennett for a meager $75 million, in which the Sonics were to move to Oklahoma City immediately, whereupon they would be renamed the “Thunder.”

 

Bennett announced that the settlement calls for a payment of $45 million immediately, and would include another $30 million paid to Seattle in 2013 if the state legislature in Washington authorizes at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena by the end of 2009 and Seattle doesn’t obtain an NBA franchise of its own within the next five years.[30]

 

In a mere stroke of a pen, a 41-year legacy of tradition and culture was usurped from Seattle for a 75 million dollar check. The Sonics were gone, and the fans had literally nothing to show for it.

 

The downfall of the Seattle Supersonics was a nightmare for the city of Seattle and the team’s fan base. Throughout the entire process of business transactions and league influence, there was an unjustifiable lack of power from the fans of the team. This brings forth an important question in the world of sports. If the fans provide the revenues and culture associated with a professional franchise, how can it be fair to disregard them entirely when making decisions to increase profits? It is a crime against society that loyal fan bases, often with a rich tradition that weaves inseparably into the history of the city, is completely extorted and exploited to the extent of powerlessness in these transactions. The Supersonics departed Seattle on July 2nd, 2008. Since then, there has been an enormous upheaval of public disappointment regarding this tragedy. Aside from the occasional “I’m sorry” from national media, there has been nothing done to correct this injustice. Learning from the case of the Supersonics, there needs to be a critical dialogue about the commercialization of sports, and the corruption that can manifest from it. Are enormous profits worth the alienation of entire regions? In 2008, Seattle’s population of one million was defeated. The victor, per usual, was money.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] “Paid in Full: Schultz Buys Sonics from Ackerley for $200M.” Sports Business Daily, January 12, 2001.

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] Sonicsgate. Directed by Jason Reid. Performed by Clay Bennett and Howard Schultz. Bellevue, WA. October 9, 2009.

 

[4] Jayda Evans. “2005-2006 Sonics: Whose Team is This?” The Seattle Times, November 1, 2005.

 

[5] Sonicsgate, Jason Reid.

 

[6] Frank Hughes. “Why Schultz tuned out and sold out the Sonics.” ESPN. July 21, 2006. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

[7] “KeyArena.” Wikipedia. May 06, 2017. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

[8] “AROUND THE NBA.” 1995. The Washington Post (1974-Current File), Oct 29, 1.

 

[9] David Stern Interview with Mitch Levy. Key Arena, Seattle, WA, United States: Supersonics PPV Broadcast, 1995. Transcript.

 

[10] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[11] “Finance.” Finance – Seattle Public Facilities District. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

[12] “Stadium Facts.” CenturyLink Field. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

[13] Ron Judd. “Let’s remember who got Sonics in this crunch.” The Seattle Times, November 4, 2007. Accessed May 6, 2017.

 

[14] Seattle Times Staff. “Horsefeathers: The legacy of I-91.” The Seattle Times, November 13, 2006.

 

[15] Associated Press. “Stern asks lawmakers for Key Arena renovations.” ESPN. February 23, 2006. Accessed May 06, 2017. http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=2342493.

 

[16] Jim Brunner and Bob Young. “Why Seattle is Losing the Sonics and Storm in 10 Easy Steps.” The Seattle Times, November 14, 2006.

 

[17] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[18] Bruce Schoenfield. “Where The Thunder Comes Dribbling Down the Plain.” New York Times Magazine, October 24, 2008.

 

[19] Percy Allen. “Sonics Could Find a Suitor in Oklahoma.” The Seattle Times, February 8, 2006.

 

[20] Percy Allen. “Sonics co-owner McClendon fined $250K.” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2007.

 

[21] Ibid.

 

[22] Percy Allen. “An Interview with Clay Bennett, Owner of the Sonics.” The Seattle Times, May 20, 2007.

 

[23] Jayda Evans. “Mr. Stern, We Have Your Number.” The Seattle Times, November 2, 2007.

 

[24] Mike Bianchi. “Orlando Magic’s ownership shines compared to demands made by Supersonics’ owners.” The Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2007.

 

[25] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[26] Jim Brunner. “E-Mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle.” The Seattle Times, April 10, 2008.

 

[27] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[28] Brian Robinson. “The Sonics Left Because of Frank Chopp.” Sonics Rising. April 15, 2013.

 

[29] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid

 

[30] Associated Press. “SuperSonics, Seattle reach last-minute settlement.” ESPN. July 03, 2008.

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

 

Allen, Percy. “An Interview with Clay Bennett, Owner of the Sonics.” The Seattle Times, May 20, 2007.

 

Allen, Percy. “Sonics Could Find a Suitor in Oklahoma.” The Seattle Times, February 8, 2006.

 

Allen, Percy. “Sonics co-owner McClendon fined $250K.” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2007.

 

“AROUND THE NBA.” 1995. The Washington Post (1974-Current File), Oct 29, 1.

 

Associated Press. “Stern asks lawmakers for Key Arena renovations.” ESPN. February 23, 2006.

 

Associated Press. “SuperSonics, Seattle reach last-minute settlement.” ESPN. July 03, 2008.

 

Bianchi, Mike. “Orlando Magic’s ownership shines compared to demands made by Supersonics’ owners.” The Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2007.

 

Brunner, Jim, and Bob Young. “Why Seattle is Losing the Sonics and Storm in 10 Easy Steps.” The Seattle Times, November 14, 2006.

 

Brunner, Jim. “E-Mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle.” The Seattle Times, April 10, 2008.

 

David Stern Interview with Mitch Levy. Key Arena, Seattle, WA, United States: Supersonics PPV Broadcast, 1995. Transcript.

 

Evans, Jayda. “Mr. Stern, We Have Your Number.” The Seattle Times, November 2, 2007.

 

Evans, Jayda. “2005-2006 Sonics: Whose Team is This?” The Seattle Times, November 1, 2005.

 

Hughes, Frank. “Why Schultz tuned out and sold out the Sonics.” ESPN. July 21, 2006.

 

Judd, Ron. “Let’s remember who got Sonics in this crunch.” The Seattle Times, November 4, 2007.

 

“Paid in Full: Schultz Buys Sonics from Ackerley for $200M.” Sports Business Daily, January 12, 2001.

 

Seattle Times Staff. “Horsefeathers: The legacy of I-91.” The Seattle Times, November 13, 2006.

 

Schoenfield, Bruce. “Where The Thunder Comes Dribbling Down the Plain.” New York Times Magazine, October 24, 2008.

 

Secondary Sources

 

“Finance.” Finance – Seattle Public Facilities District. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

“KeyArena.” Wikipedia. May 06, 2017. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

Robinson, Brian. “The Sonics Left Because of Frank Chopp.” Sonics Rising. April 15, 2013.

 

Sonicsgate. Directed by Jason Reid. Performed by Clay Bennett and Howard Schultz. Bellevue, WA. October 9, 2009.

 

“Stadium Facts.” CenturyLink Field. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Spring Cleaning: The Baggage of Drafting a Quarterback

In this tweet, NFL Network shows the Patriots’ formation for the final play of Super Bowl LI. They highlight each player, showing which round they were drafted, to emphasize the diversity of the draft-round discrepancy present on the Patriots. They fail to include one player in this graphic. This player is Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round and would have only contributed to the meaning of the graphic. So, maybe the NFL completely forgot to include him. I wouldn’t buy that for a second, but I suppose it’s possible. It’s much more likely, however, that the NFL has a newfound level of contempt for Brady after the “deflategate” lawsuit. The league literally spent millions of dollars in an attempt to bring Brady down for an equipment infraction. I think it’s interesting then to observe the discrete, behind-the-scenes politics of the NFL. They’re an enormous business. Don’t let yourself believe they don’t have bad blood with certain people. Just an interesting thought.


This weekend the 2017 NFL draft unfolded in Philadelphia where all 32 NFL teams added new talent to their rosters. As expected, there was a clear strength at the cornerback and safety positions this year. The first round included many of the big names at defensive back, including Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, and several others. The surprising theme of this draft was the evident desperation for a quarterback by several teams. The quarterback class this year, as I alluded to in last week’s article, isn’t exactly robust based on projections. In what appeared to be a complete rejection of draft analysts’ predictions, many front offices proverbially bit the bullet to acquire a new signal caller in this year’s draft.

 

The first round had the San Francisco 49ers positioned to draft the second overall pick. Before their selection, the Chicago Bears traded up one spot to grab the second pick. The amount of assets the Bears forked over in exchange for the #2 pick is staggering. Chicago surrendered their 3rd round pick (No. 67 overall), their 4th round pick (No. 111 overall), and their 2018 third round pick. While San Francisco was able to acquire several picks by simply moving down one spot, Chicago was able to claim North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky as the future of their franchise.

 

Chicago has had a far from ideal situation at the quarterback position for a considerable length of time. After Rex Grossman proved to be far from competent in the 2000s, Chicago traded for Jay Cutler in 2009. Cutler, who was supposed to resurrect Chicago to its former NFL glory, proved to be an 8-8 kind of guy at best. For years, Bears fans had to watch Cutler sulk around the field, hurling ill-advised passes in every direction, and being humiliated at the hands of Green Bay any time there was a glimmer of hope for a postseason appearance. Chicago released Cutler from his lucrative contract this offseason and signed NFL journeyman Mike Glennon. Glennon had very little success in Tampa Bay, but that can mainly be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t given much playing time. He’s a poor starter and an apt backup. Either way, Glennon is not going to provide the Bears any kind of long term solution at QB. It was inevitable, then, that Chicago would draft a quarterback within the next few years. It wasn’t expected, however, for them to trade away several mid-round draft picks so they could select Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was projected to be taken in the mid-to-late first round. There were a lot of questions regarding his NFL-readiness, and he only started one season for North Carolina.

 

The trade up by Chicago shows a lot about the state of the franchise. Their willingness to trade away so many valuable assets leads me to believe that Chicago is extremely desperate to put together a respectable season. Head coach John Fox is likely going to lose his job if the team doesn’t perform well next year. They’ve been a legitimately bad team for a while, and their instability at QB has soured the fans’ perception of how functional the organization actually is. If Trubisky ends up being a quality franchise quarterback, then the move will be worth it. However, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an upside in giving away so many picks in such a deep draft. The Bears could have beefed up their defense with those lost picks, but are now instead banking on the hopes that they found their next franchise QB.

 

The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to get the No. 10 overall pick from the Buffalo Bills. In order to do this, Kansas City gave up the No. 27 and No. 91 overall picks. With the upgrade, the Chiefs selected Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. I found this move to be peculiar, especially for a well-run organization like Kansas City. The Chiefs have a talented roster and they’re capable of making a deep playoff run. This year they needed to fill holes at linebacker and defensive back in order to make a push towards the Super Bowl title they’ve been coveting during the Andy Reid era. By selecting one of the many big name defensive prospects at No. 27, I think there would be a real chance for Kansas City to win a championship. Their window is very much open. Selecting a quarterback to play as Alex Smith’s backup for the upcoming year was too conservative for my taste. Smith will likely be on his way out within the next year or two, but there simply was no need to expend so many resources for a quarterback who had a 13-19 record in college. I would think that Kansas City has a lot of pressure to “win now,” but from this decision it appears that they’re looking to the future. I don’t agree with this move, but, as with Chicago, if Mahomes proves to be a long term solution at QB, the trade will be worth the lost draft picks.

 

The Houston Texans, in true Houston Texans fashion, traded their No. 25 overall pick and their 2018 first round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the No. 12 pick in this year’s draft. After trading up, it was inevitable that the Texans were going to take Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. Two QBs had already been selected, and it was common knowledge that Houston had no solution at quarterback for the upcoming season. They traded Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, ironically, earlier this offseason. When Tony Romo retired in April, it became mission-critical for Houston to find a quarterback. The issue for Houston has been much of the same for the last five years. They’ve built a formidable team with talent all over the field, especially on defense. They’ve been on the brink of a 13-3 kind of season for an exhausting number of seasons. The only thing holding them back is the instability at the quarterback position. Matt Schaub fell off the face of the Earth after a dreadful 2013 campaign. 2014 and 2015 were defined by a revolving door of less-than-ideal signal callers, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden. Yikes. The Texans were desperate, and acted accordingly in this year’s draft by going after Deshaun Watson. There’s a lot of varying opinions on Watson’s ability to convert to the professional level, but with his tremendous success at Clemson, I don’t think Houston had much of a choice other than to draft him. I believe that while Houston expended two first round picks in order to grab Watson, their trade-up made the most sense given the current state of the franchise. There’s now a lot of pressure on head coach Bill O’Brien to put together a deep playoff run. Given the rising trajectory of the other AFC South teams, Houston needs to be sharp this season for that to happen. A lot of that responsibility is now nestled on the shoulders and helmet of their new rookie quarterback.

 


Keep those eyes peeled for NFL Spring Cleaning, every Monday morning! Follow me on Twitter if you haven’t already, @andysweeps. Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Can The Patriots Actually Go 16-0?

Yes, I know. The Patriots are the NFL’s most obnoxious team, starting off as an underdog in 2001, and becoming a national favorite for beating the big, bad St. Louis Rams. That’s right. Can you imagine the Patriots were 14 point underdogs to the Rams? Since then, the biggest spread is 12 points when the Patriots, well, let’s not talk about that one. Anyways, the Patriots are coming off a 14-2 season in which Tom Brady only lost one game, to Seattle, in which Rob Gronkowski punctured his lung. In the past two seasons, with Dion Lewis active, the Patriots are 17-0. For next season, not only will the Patriots have Dion Lewis back, but they will also have Bills running back Mike Gillislee (who led the league in yards per carry), Brandin Cooks (arguably the fastest receiver in the league) and Stephon Gilmore to play alongside Malcolm Butler. Yes, the Patriots very well could be even better this year than they were last year. Also, it has been revealed that the Patriots have one of the easiest schedules next season.

So, without further adieu, here is a very biased, yet somewhat factual way of convincing myself, and other Patriots fans that they should not only repeat as champions, but not taste the agony of defeat once all of next season. Since they are the Patriots, we’ll start them off 6-0 against the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins because that is only fair. The Patriots, since they won their division last year, will face two other division leaders, the Texans and the Steelers. Since the Patriots play the Texans about as closely as Varsity Teams play Junior Varsity Teams, and this is a home game, we’ll move the Patriots on to 7-0. The Steelers, on the road, are never easy to face, but the Patriots have two corners capable of matching up with anybody on the Steelers, and the Patriots more than handled the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Some may say, “hey, didn’t the Steelers lose Le’veon Bell in that game?”. Yes, they did, but Bell was largely stopped before he exited the game. The Steelers generally beat the Patriots when they have a top defense, which they do not now, and the Patriots will have Gronkowski and Cooks running wild, and we will likely see a few spikes from Gronk and a few arrows shot into the stands by Cooks. So, yes, the Patriots are now 8-0.

In order to not waste your time, we will forget games against the Chargers, Saints, or Panthers, who, as a group, combined to win one more game than the Patriots last year (18-30 combined), while the Patriots only needed 19 games to win 17. Had the Patriots had Brady for their home loss to the Bills last year, it is likely they would have equaled that number by the other three teams. Also, for the game against the Saints, the Patriots will have Brandin Cooks fully motivated to show his old team what they are missing out on. So, yes, the Patriots are now 11-0. This is when things start to get a little more difficult. The Patriots will still have games against the Falcons, Bucs, Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. The Patriots face the Chiefs at home to open up the 2017 NFL Season, and Roger Goodell will be in Gillette Stadium for the first time since DeflateGate. The only sad fan leaving New England will be the sad, temporary Chiefs fan named Roger, who has to give Tom Brady his fifth ring. As for the Buccaneers, they might have Jameis Winston, but they have got nothing on defense to stop this high powered offense, and the hoodie usually does pretty well against young quarterbacks. Speaking of young quarterbacks, Denver still has no idea who they will start at quarterback, and they only scored 3 points against New England last year, when they were at home. While this might be another home game, the Patriots defense has only improved with players like Gilmore and Ealy in the fold, while the offense has gotten even better. Good luck to Denver’s secondary, which might be elite, but they have no way of stopping the two tight end attack, with Dwyane Allen now playing second fiddle to Gronk. Expect the Patriots to score more than 16 points in this one, and expect Denver to score roughly the same. They’re now 14-0.

This now leaves the two toughest games of the year, Oakland and Atlanta. Many football fans were disappointed when Derek Carr’s knee injury stopped the dream matchup between the present, being the Patriots, and the future, the Raiders. Oakland’s offense is loaded with players like Carr, Crabtree and Cooper, but their defense also boasts players like Khalil Mack who could make Tom Brady’s life a living hell. If this game was in Oakland, which the schedule might have you believe, this would be a much tougher call. However, this game is in Mexico, where Tom Brady is basically a god, and you can surprisingly find him on billboards everywhere. Unfortunately for Oakland, I do not think they can beat the Patriots on a neutral field, and I expect New England to play well. Expect Brady and the Patriots to do their homework, and not be thrown off in this high-altitude challenge.

The final matchup involves one team who blew a 25 point lead in the super bowl, and another team that made the best comeback in Super Bowl history. Expect Stephon Gilmore to key in on Julio Jones, and Malcom Butler to shut down Sanu. With this game being at home, the Patriots likely won’t need Brady to throw for 400 yards in the second half to win this one. Yeah, the Patriots are going 16-0, and if I had the money to, I would have already booked my tickets to Minnesota to see Brady get his 6th ring, and tie the Steelers’ FRANCHISE for most Super bowl wins. I guess the next question is if Brady throws for more or less than 56 touchdowns this year. Stay tuned.

 

P.S I know we, as Pat fans, are insufferable, but we’ll be just like the rest of you when Brady retires, in 2035.

 

NFL Spring Cleaning: The 2017 Schedule and Upcoming Draft

“I’m gonna drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy. I can promise you that.” -Payton Manning, Super Bowl champion.

 


This past Friday the NFL released the 2017 regular season schedule. There are four regular season games being played in London: Ravens-Jaguars Week 3/4 (week subject to change); Saints-Dolphins Week 4; Vikings-Browns Week 7/8 (again, subject to change); and Cardinals-Rams Week 7/8. There will also be one game in Mexico City in Week 11 between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders defeated the Texans in the inaugural Mexico City game last year, which was a huge success for the NFL. At this current rate of growth, the league is going to continue efforts to promote itself internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw NFL games being played in China or Australia within the next decade.

 

With the release of the schedule every year, there’s an inevitable display of anger from fans on social media, proclaiming their team got shafted with too difficult a schedule. By nature of the NFL schedule being only 16 games, it’s very much a reality that some teams will have a substantially more grueling road to the postseason. In fact, there’s a tool that fans can use to observe the strengths and weaknesses associated with each team’s regular season matchups. There’s more variability in the NFL standings from year-to-year than any other major professional sports league. In that regard, it’s expected for fans to get upset when their team has an unfavorable schedule. What is bothersome, however, is that so few people seem to fully grasp the scheduling system the NFL uses. Luckily for you, I am here to provide invigorating football knowledge at a charge of $0/hour.

 

Each NFL team plays 16 total games during the season. This takes place over the course of 17 weeks, which allows for each team to have one bye week. Bye weeks take place from Week 4 to Week 12. It’s advantageous for teams to have their bye week between Weeks 8-12. A bye before Week 7 is premature and defeats the purpose of the bye. The NFL season only gets harder on players and coaches as it progresses into the colder months of November and December. You could argue that players will always welcome a week off, but if you’ve only played 3-5 games before your bye, that leaves you with 10-12 consecutive games to finish the season. Considering the fatigue and injuries that accumulate in the latter half of the season, an excessive stretch like that can create dysfunction both on the field and within a locker room. It’s worth noting that of the 12 postseason teams last year, only four had their bye weeks before Week 8. I’m not saying that the positioning of a team’s bye week is a determinant of their success, but it’s certainly a factor.

 

There are two conferences in the NFL: the NFC and the AFC. Each conference has four divisions, organized by region: North, East, South, and West. Each of the eight divisions has four teams. For example, the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles all reside in the NFC East. Using the Philadelphia Eagles as the guinea pig (because I enjoy the thought of incensed Eagles fans taking up arms on social media when the schedule is released), I can describe the rotation-based cycle that commands the scheduling system.

 

 

The Eagles will play every team in their division twice; once at home and once on the road. Every team does this every season. The divisional part of the schedule develops real rivalries that hold tremendous gravity in players’ and fans’ minds. Such rivalries include Philadelphia-New York Giants, Pittsburgh-Baltimore, Green Bay-Chicago, Seattle-San Francisco, New York Jets-New England. The team with the best regular season record from each division claims the division title and earns an automatic playoff berth, which only increases the intensity of divisional rivalries. Indeed, late-season divisional matchups make for some very tasty broadcasting. Simply, divisional games make up six of the 16 games on an NFL team’s schedule.

 

Eagles’ 2017 regular season schedule:

 

Looking at the Eagles’ schedule after accounting for their divisional matchups, you’ll see that they’re set to play against six teams from the other NFC divisions. The Eagles will square off against the @Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, @Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, @Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers. Without reading any further, review that list of teams and try to determine if there’s a pattern (hint: there is). Seattle, Arizona, LA, and San Francisco make up the NFC West. The NFL has a cycle of scheduling so that divisions are set up to play each other on a rotating basis. All the teams from the NFC East will play against all the teams from the NFC West in 2017. Last year, the NFC East was matched with the NFC North. In 2018, the NFC East will play against the teams from the NFC South. The cycle will then repeat, so every division within the conference will be scheduled to play the other three divisions once every three years. Along the same lines, if the Eagles play the Arizona Cardinals at home during this East-West cycle, then they will play at Arizona in the 2020 season. In 2023, the game will be in Philly again. Unless the league expands or reorganizes its divisions, it is guaranteed that the Eagles will play every team in the NFC once every three years, and will play each respective team at home or on the road every six years. We’ve now accounted for 10 of the 16 games on an NFL team’s schedule.

 

Along with the divisional rotations within conferences, the same system applies when NFC teams play AFC teams in the regular season. The Eagles, as well as all other NFL teams, will only play four games against teams from the other conference in a given year. Each NFC division is paired to play against an AFC division each season. The Eagles will play against the AFC West in 2017: the Denver Broncos, @Kansas City Chiefs, @Los Angeles Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders. The other teams in the NFC East will also play against these AFC West teams. The Eagles, along with the rest of the NFC East, played against the AFC North last year. In 2015, they played the AFC East. In 2014? The AFC South. It’s the same rotational system that was explained above in regard to the NFC divisions. The Eagles will play each AFC team once every four years. The matchups again alternate on a home-road basis so that the Eagles will only play in Denver every eight years, and the Broncos will only play in Philly every eight years. Now we’ve covered 14 of the 16 regular season games on a team’s schedule.

 

2016 Regular Season Standings:

 

If the NFL uses a rotation of divisions for scheduling purposes, then why are the Eagles playing the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears? These remaining two NFC teams appear to have been chosen at random. The Panthers are from the NFC South, and the Bears are from the NFC North. It’s already been mentioned that the NFC East is playing the NFC West, so it’s understandable that fans become confused with this part of the schedule. The Eagles, who despite Carson Wentz’ best efforts pitifully finished last in the NFC East last season, are playing Carolina and Chicago for that very reason. Carolina finished last in the NFC South in 2016, as did Chicago in the North. The NFC East isn’t scheduled to play against the North or South in 2017, but each team will play against one representative from each of those divisions. The Dallas Cowboys, who are also scheduled to play the NFC West and AFC West, will play the Atlanta Falcons (South) and the Green Bay Packers (North), since those teams won their divisions in 2016. The New York Giants will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South) and the Detroit Lions (North), because those teams finished second in their divisions. This has been extremely technical and, if I’m being honest, I would like to punch myself in the face right now for actually writing a post about this. If you’re still not comfortable with the league-conference-division terminology, here’s a nice explanation from NFL.com.

 

For those who are interested (qualifications!) the NFL also selects certain games each week to broadcast on primetime national television. These games are intended to be the most exciting, dramatic, and meaningful games of each week in the NFL season. The first game of the season will see the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, September 7th on NBC at 8:30PM EST. The rest of the primetime games can be found here, courtesy of USA Today.

 


The 2017 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 27th at 8:00PM EST. After several months of careful evaluation by NFL front offices, teams are reaching the final stages of evaluation before selecting their rookie classes for the upcoming season. DE Myles Garrett from Texas A&M will likely go first or second. The first two rounds of the draft will see several defensive backs and edge-rushers selected, as most of the top talent this year is distributed into those positions. Several teams will beef up their secondaries and pass-rush for the next several years because the defensive talent in this draft is remarkable.

 

On the other side of the ball, the 2017 quarterback class isn’t particularly robust. The top signal-caller prospects this year are Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Mitch Trubinsky from North Carolina. Expect these two guys to be selected in the mid-to-late first round by teams like Cleveland or Washington.

 

The 2017 offensive line class has been called the worst in decades. This is obviously a problem for NFL teams looking to build strength in the trenches, but it also sheds light on a larger league-wide issue. The OL position has deteriorated significantly in the NFL because linemen are not longer taught the traditional repertoire of skills in college. At the collegiate level, when most offenses have abandoned the 5-step drop and instead opt for the shotgun formation, the offensive line doesn’t necessarily need to have the technical pocket-protection technique required in the NFL. When these players (particularly offensive tackles) reach the NFL, they’re unfit to protect their quarterback because they’re now tasked with the burden of blocking the most explosive edge-rushers in the world while their QB is executing a 3 or 5-step drop. The footwork and timing of this skill needs to be learned early in an offensive lineman’s playing days. There’s now a huge disparity between the OL in college versus the professional level, and NFL teams are suffering tremendously from it.

 

Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft, top-10:

 

Next week, I’m going to break down the draft, evaluate which teams picked well, which teams picked poorly, and what the implications of the draft will have on the future of various NFL teams. In one of the most stressful weeks of the year for scouts and general managers, be sure to read up on the drafting needs of your team so that you don’t sound like a fool when you’re talking to your buddies because let’s face it, there’s truly nothing more satisfying than being right.

 

Look forward to NFL Spring Cleaning every Monday morning. As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter, @andysweeps. Take care and enjoy the spring weather.

The Regular Season is Finally Over… So who’s the NBA MVP?

The NBA regular season came to a close last Wednesday, with the only major postseason implications being that the Pacers and Bulls grabbed the 7th and 8th seeds respectively in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Heat just missed out on their second consecutive playoff berth in the post-LeBron Era after an abysmal 11-30 (.268) start to the season thanks to an impressive 30-11 (.732) finish, good for the best in the conference after January 14th and trailing only the Golden State Warriors for the best win percentage in the league for the second half of the season.

But the one story that has been on every NBA fan’s mind this season has remained the same: who will win the league’s most prestigious honor as its Most Valuable Player for the 2016-17 season? For months, there were four candidates in contention: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. While each certainly had their merits that would deem them worthy of the honor, including individual statistics, team success, and advanced statistical analysis of player performance such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the consensus that it will come down to Harden vs. Westbrook. There is little doubt that James and Leonard will finish 3rd and 4th, but we are virtually guaranteed to see the pair of explosive Western Conference point guards as winner and runner-up.

What will determine the outcome of the highly-contested race will be the criteria by which the candidates are evaluated. For instance, if “team success,” typically defined as its overall win percentage, is regarded by voters as the most consequential factor, then it would be appropriate for Harden to win given that his Rockets finished the season with a record of 55-27 (.671), while Westbrook’s Thunder finished eight games back at 47-35 (.573). Alternatively, if individual accolades are determined to be the most meaningful component of an MVP’s résumé, then Westbrook should be handed the crown considering that he shattered Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old record of 41 triple-doubles in one season, in the process becoming only the second player in the league history to average a triple-double over the course of the 82-game NBA regular season (after Robertson in 1961-62).

On one hand, if league MVP refers to the most valuable player as it pertains to one’s team, meaning that he not only leads the team to victory but also improves the performance of the teammates around him, then James Harden deserves to win. The 2016-17 Houston Rockets were one of the 10 best offenses in NBA history, and The Beard has led the charge all season after shifting over to the point guard position. Although he may not average a triple-double, his stat line of 29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.1 RPG, and 27.43 PER is nearly as impressive, he leads the league in win-share total (15.0), and generates more points off assists than any other player in the NBA (27.1 per game). In addition to his remarkable offensive prowess, Harden has also been a superior defender than Westbrook this season, contesting 8.2 shots per game to the OKC superstar’s 3.6. Oh, yeah, and he also had 22 triple doubles on the season.

On the other hand, if the MVP award belongs to the player most valuable on a league-wide scale, then it is Russell Westbrook who deserves to win. His stat line of 31.6 PPG, 10.4 APG, and 10.7 RPG speaks for itself, and his PER of 30.70 is the highest in the league by a whopping margin of 3.02 (Kevin Durant hilariously ranks second). Westbrook also holds the NBA record for pace-adjusted triple-doubles according to the Versatility Index, which calculates the “geometric mean of points, rebounds, and assists per 100 possessions”  at 21.5 per game, once again blowing away the competition (Harden’s 2016-17 season ranks second at 18.3, followed by Westbrook’s 2015-16 and 2014-15 campaigns at 18.0 and 17.6 respectively). In addition, Brodie sports a ludicrous usage rate of 41.7% while still maintaining a true shooting percentage of 55.4%, and those numbers only increase when the game is on the line. The final argument on Westbrook’s behalf is the simple fact that the offensive talent around him is inferior to Harden’s squad. For instance, the Thunder minus Westbrook make only 30.9% of their wide-open threes, while a Harden-less Rockets team converts 38.3%.

This year’s MVP race is shaping up to be one of the closest in recent years, and rightfully so. The important thing is that whoever the winner may be, be it Harden or Westbrook, is undoubtedly worthy of the honor, which is certainly the case for both players. What is also noteworthy, however, is that the MVP battle is not the only one in which these two superstars have been pitted against one another, for Harden’s 3rd-seeded Rockets are currently taking on Westbrook’s 6th-seeded Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and hold a 2-0 lead. As for my own picks? I say the Rockets win in 6, but Westbrook gets the last laugh after Houston gets knocked out of the playoffs in the Conference Semifinals by the Spurs in 7 as he caps off his historic season by riding off into the offseason with the MVP trophy by his side.

Premier League Matchday in Review

Those who have not been keeping up with the Premier League in 2016/17 should be kicking themselves as this campaign is set to end in fantastic fashion. The title race is legitimate and all bets are off as every match is critical for squads looking to reach the top four and achieve automatic qualifying spots for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Equally as important is the fight to stay out of the relegation spots in the bottom three. On this day two years ago, Leicester City defeated Swansea to move out of last place in the league and begin their climb out of the relegation zone to remain in the Premier League and shock the world the following season. Here’s how the fixtures played out:

 

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR        4 – 0           BOURNEMOUTH

WATFORD                               1 – 0           SWANSEA CITY

SUNDERLAND                        2 – 2           WEST HAM

STOKE CITY                            3 – 1           HULL CITY

EVERTON                                3 – 1           BURNLEY

CRYSTAL PALACE                  2 – 2           LEICESTER CITY

SOUTHAMPTON                     0 – 3           MANCHESTER CITY

WEST BROMWICH ALBION   0 – 1           LIVERPOOL

MANCHESTER UNITED          2 – 0           CHELSEA

MIDDLESBROUGH                  1 – 2           ARSENAL

 

Key Matches and Storylines:

Tottenham are four points back from the top of the table. I can confirm that this is not a drill. A few weeks ago, the league had seemed all but won by Chelsea, but it now looks as if it may come down to some massive ties at the end of the season. They have won their last 7 in the Premier League, outscoring opponents 22 – 4 across that span. Yet again, the Hotspur were getting their fill of goals including contributions from the main man Harry Kane and the South Korean international Heung-Min Son. The creativity of Christian Eriksen was on display as well as he picked up his 12th assist, good enough for second most in the PL.

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku finds the back of the net again for Everton as he remains in the lead for the Golden Boot this season. The combination of pace, power, and technical ability that Lukaku routinely displays is almost completely unrivaled across the top leagues in Europe. With 24 goals and 6 assists thus far in this campaign, the Everton board of directors have hinted that they would not be willing to let Lukaku go unless they receive an offer in excess of £100 million. If these rumors have any merit to them and if a club were to make an offer, it would break the £89 million record transfer fee that was set just last summer when Paul Pogba left Juventus for Manchester United.

Manchester City are getting major production from the trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero, and the lightning-fast 21-year-old Leroy Sané. These boys seem to all be in sync and some of the skills displayed on counterattacks by Sané are just ridiculous. City really do have one of the most purely talented squads on the planet, but they’ll need to continue putting in good performances to ensure their finish in the top four.

Roberto Firmino scores again for Liverpool as they hold their third place position in the PL. The Reds were put to the test by West Brom’s persistent defensive line but one goal proved to be enough as Tony Pulis’ side has lost some of the offensive fluidity that they showed earlier on in the season.

On Sunday morning Chelsea and Manchester United were set to clash in a vital match for both sides. The Chelsea players were well aware of the 4 – 0 victory for Tottenham the day before, and many expected a strong response from the London club. However, they had likely been preparing for a Manchester United lineup that would include the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Jose Mourinho instead opted for young studs Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard to lead the attacking front line and Chelsea were unconvincing across the board. 2 of Chelsea’s 5 Premier League losses this season have come in their last 4 matches so Antonio Conte will be looking to rally the group and finish atop the table.

In the last fixture of Matchday 33, Arsenal regained their footing after turmoil has surrounded the club in recent weeks. Arsène Wenger finally made structural adjustments to the lineup, switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation and bringing Rob Holding back into the squad after a long drought of Premier League appearances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also started for the first time as a right wing back, and his tenacity, versatility, and commitment to the club were all apparent in his Man of the Match performance. Although it was not a completely dominant display, the Gunners will look to use this as momentum moving forward. They sit sixth in the table and it looks as if they will need Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil to string together quality performances if they are to snap up a top four spot. Quick reminder: the North London Derby is set for 4/30 at 11:30 EST.

In other news across the league, Xherdan Shaqiri scored another screamer for Stoke City as they leapfrog Leicester into 11th place. The ex-Bayern Munich man made his signature cut onto his left foot before placing a beautiful strike into the top corner from almost 30 yards out.

18th place Swansea City really could have used the 3 points against Watford and they are still struggling to find form. The only Welsh team in the Premier League may be sent down to the Championship next season.

The upcoming week hosts UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, FA Cup semi-finals, and Premier League matches. Today, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich square off as well as Leicester City and Atletico Madrid. Tomorrow’s slate features AS Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, and Juventus. All games kick-off 2:45 EST.

NFL Spring Cleaning: ‘Shawn Lynch, Dean Blandino, and Moderately Infuriating Things

 

At the end of last week, NFL Network reported that Marshawn Lynch was officially coming out of retirement to sign with the Oakland Raiders. This was unexpected by NFL fans, especially due to Lynch’s repeated sentiment since retirement that he doesn’t miss football. Conversely, the former Pro-Bowl tailback ‘Beast Mode’ has been an active positive force in his hometown community located in Oakland. Marshawn’s desire to play again may stem from the Raiders’ impending move to Las Vegas. He’s known to be exceptionally benevolent, especially towards Bay Area inner-city neighborhoods. Perhaps as a final testament to his love for his city of origin, he’s suiting up one last time to give the people of Oakland a lasting memory of him as both a football player and hometown hero.

 

 

Personally, I think it’s nearly impossible to dissect the reasoning behind some of Lynch’s actions and statements. He’s an immensely interesting human being, but his unorthodox and erratic behavior only solidifies that any kind of serious attempt to understand his underlying motives is futile. This is not a bad thing, rest assured. Lynch is one of the most fantastic figures in NFL history. It’s a sound argument to say that anyone who’s familiarized themselves with Marshawn Lynch is completely enamored with his persona. From his infamous interactions with the media, to his coined image and brand “Beast Mode,” to his random appearances in television shows, it’s difficult to determine whether I liked him more as a player or as a person. Nevermind his statistics or his notoriously punishing running style, Marshawn the person has provided us with a degree of entertainment so unusual for an NFL running back, it’s left an indelible mark on the souls of football’s global consumers. There’s something about him that’s so intriguing. On Sundays, you could tune into a Seahawks’ game to see Marshawn mercilessly abuse defenders with ankle-breaking agility and spine-crushing physicality. The following day, you’d see a bit on ESPN revealing something outrageous he said or did in a postgame interview. I have an internal conflict regarding the prospect of personally meeting Marshawn. Half of me wants to approach him and give him a hug because of how awesome he is, while the other half of me is worried my spindly 155-pound frame would crumble into dust particles if I were to get within 10-feet of him. The combination of his bruising rushing attack and his public display of absurdity is what makes Marshawn such a refreshing presence in the sports celebrity landscape. He doesn’t let preconceived notions of the status quo interfere with his desire to be himself. It’s a terrifically admirable trait for a famous athlete to follow this template of selflessness and hilarity.

 

 

In the days since NFL Network’s initial report of Lynch’s agreement with the Raiders, it’s since been found that no formal contract has actually been signed. Marshawn sent out a tweet reaffirming this point. However, its likely that the Raiders are holding off on signing the retired running back until they find agreeable trade terms with the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch is technically still on contract with the Seahawks, meaning that Oakland will have to compensate Seattle if Marshawn indeed decides to come out of retirement. This is merely a logistical front office issue, which likely won’t take long to settle. Look forward to seeing the 30-year old Lynch in black and silver next season before the Raiders pack up for Vegas. Here’s a video of Marshawn telling the entire 2010 Saints’ defense that he is their biological father, and that they are nothing more than paltry children.

 


On Friday, Dean Blandino, the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, decided to resign from the title he’s held since 2013. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Blandino is leaving his current line of duty in May to pursue a broadcasting opportunity. Blandino is 45 years old, and is likely moving on from his current position due to both family reasons and stress-related factors. The VP of Officiating is one of the most public platforms in the NFL. Blandino was tasked with the pleasantry of convincing coaches, owners, and fans that the games are indeed officiated from a fair and objective standpoint. The best way I can explain Blandino’s job is that he’s the little league coach who has to deal with angry parents about their sons not getting enough playing time, except instead of five or six angry parents, it’s millions of outraged and often misinformed football fans condemning the perceived wretchedness of NFL officials when their team loses on Sunday. Blandino sometimes had so many complaints about a particular game or call that he had to speak to a television audience on Monday mornings, reassuring everyone that the same things he said the week prior still hold true. If that sounds like fun to you, I heard there’s a recently opened position.

 

 

Blandino’s resignation is curious because of the various rule changes approved during the annual league owners’ meeting in March, many of them as a result of Blandino’s personal efforts. It was decided this offseason that plays under review would be analyzed by referees via a tablet, rather than under the industrial-sized box hood formerly used. Sidenote: why the hell did that exist all the way up until now? Which company produced those things? Did they sell other products? Or did they specialize solely in making obnoxiously large replay booths? Was there a man in the booth who just stood there idly, patiently awaiting the possibility that the official would come in to have a conversation with him at some point during the game? They should have been out of business by 1994. Anyway, another facet of the rule change included the agreement that all plays under review would ultimately be decided by the officiating command center in New York. Up until now, it was at the discretion of the head official on the field to make the call. With this centralized replay officiating system, controversy over particular calls will theoretically become less prevalent. Blandino has spent several years trying to implement a more universal system of replay review, so it’s a bit odd that he decided to jump ship after he finally achieved this goal. The officiating department is always going through progressive changes to make the game more fluid and palatable for viewers. There will be a tremendous effort to pick up the pieces that Blandino has laid down the last few years, especially considering that much of the current policies are oriented towards Blandino’s preferences. It will be critical to find a new leader who has both on-field experience and the administrative abilities to handle a profession as publicly accosted as the VP of NFL Officiating.

 


Other offseason news:

-Dan Rooney, the longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died at age 84. Rooney was a significant figure in both the NFL and in Pittsburgh. It’s a sad loss for the Steelers’ and NFL community.

-St. Louis has decided to file a lawsuit against the NFL for moving the Rams to Los Angeles. All 32 NFL teams are defendants in the case. It’s nice to see these previously-extorted cities stand up for themselves, at the very least.

-There are theories that the Celeveland Browns have been bad for so long that their fan base is significantly deteriorating. The Browns have two first round daft picks this year, but is that going to make much of a difference for the 2017 campaign? Almost certainly not. It’s critical, however, that they don’t make the same mistakes they’ve committed in the past when drafting twice in the first round.

 

That’s all for this week. Tune in every Monday for NFL Spring Cleaning. There’s going to be a lot to discuss with the upcoming draft! Follow me on twitter, @andysweeps.

 

 

Premier League Review

Premier League Matchday in Review
 
This week in the English Premier League there were a number of important games involving teams at opposite ends of the table. Here’s how the matchups played out:
 
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR           4 – 0           WATFORD
MANCHESTER CITY                 3 – 1           HULL CITY
MIDDLESBROUGH                    0 – 0           BURNLEY
STOKE CITY                              1 – 2           LIVERPOOL
WEST BROMWICH ALBION     0 – 1           SOUTHAMPTON
WEST HAM UNITED                 1 – 0           SWANSEA CITY
AFC BOURNEMOUTH              1 – 3           CHELSEA
SUNDERLAND                          0 – 3           MANCHESTER UNITED
EVERTON                                 4 – 2           LEICESTER CITY
CRYSTAL PALACE                   3 – 0           ARSENAL
 
Key Matches:
 
Following some concern over an injury to Harry Kane, Tottenham are right back on track and look to be the team, if any, to challenge Chelsea for the title. Dele Alli and Heung-min Son continue in excellent form, compiling 27 goals between them.
 
Manchester City get a victory over Hull City which holds their four point lead over Manchester United in fourth place, guaranteeing a Champions League spot for next season. Sergio Aguero with a goal and Raheem Sterling records his seventh assist of the season.
 
After looking very shaky early on in the match, Liverpool ultimately pulled themselves back via Brazilian duo Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. The Reds will need them to hold onto this form with Sadio Mané sidelined with injury for the next two months.
 
Chelsea recover after dropping points to Crystal Palace and the title seems all but theirs as key players continue to impress.
 
Romelu Lukaku is an unstoppable force and Everton are scoring goals again this season. They’ve had a number of players impress in different areas and they’ve looked confident at home in Goodison Park.
 
Arsenal disappoint yet again as the nightmare continues on. The fan base is divided and the future of the club is hazy as uncertainty surrounds Arsène Wenger, Alexis Sánchez, and Mesut Özil.
 
This week we also have UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday and Wednesday. Juventus hosts Barcelona and Dortmund squares off against Monaco tomorrow at 2:45 EST.

2017 Major League Predictions

It’s that time of year again.  Opening Day is quickly approaching and on come the onslaught of predictions that everyone makes.  Very few ever get many predictions correct, but it is always fun to try and see what points you made became realities.  So let’s dig in!

The National League

National League West:  Last year the teams finished from worst to first:  Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants and Dodgers.  The Padres are continuing a rebuild and will not have Kemp this year meaning they will be even worse.  The Diamondbacks should be healthier and better with Pollock, but at best, I see them as a .500 team unless Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker make big steps forward.  The Rockies made some moves in the offseason and looked good in the second half of the year, but injury problems seem to be biting them early and I don’t think they will be able to recover.  I think they will end up with a similar amount of wins as last year, but they have the potential to make big improvements.  The Giants are an even more interesting case because they were good last year with a terrible bullpen.  Melancon was their major addition to fix this problem, but I am not sure it was enough.  Their core has also slowly been disintegrating after losing Linecum, Sandoval, vintage Cain and now Castilla, Romo and Pagan.  I think they would be on the downward trend without adding Melancon, but as is, will have a similar season to last year.  The defending division champions are the Dodgers and no one has made any giant steps to catch them.  In fact, they are the team that should have the most improvements because they had a record-breaking number of injuries last year and should be healthier this year.

Final Prediciton:

  1. Dodgers: 97-65
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

National League Central:  Last year: Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs.  The Reds and Brewers are still nowhere near contending.  The Reds no longer have Bruce, so they will still be worse.  The Pirates seem to have lost their way and will be reliant on McCutchen finding his MVP form or maybe Marte and Polanco stepping up their games.  Still, their pitching does not seem to be up to the challenge and I think they will be mired in mediocrity or worse if they trade McCutchen.  The Cardinals should have a better season than last year because they played as sloppily as any Cardinals team in recent memory has played.  They were young and their inexperience showed, but with another year under their collective belt, they should be better.  I even expect them to put some pressure on the Cubs.  I expect a regression from the awesome season the Cubs had last year mostly because of their pitching.  Lester and Lackey are each another year older and Hendricks had a crazy career season last year.  That being said, they still have a great offense and will still be very good even if they do not finish with the best record in the league.

Final Prediction:

  1. Cubs: 96-66
  2. Cardinals
  3. Pirates
  4. Brewers
  5. Reds

National League East:  Last year:  Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals.  The Phillies are somewhere between terrible and bad.  The best case scenario for them is probably 75 wins, but hey, at least Ryan Howard’s contract is done.  I expect the Braves to be competitive for a large part of the season.  They were reenergized by the addition of Kemp last year and they added some veteran pitchers, so they may be in the wildcard or divisional race for a while until they inevitably fall out of it.  The Marlins, unfortunately, have been tragically set back by the death of Jose Fernandez.  Even before his passing, they had trouble with starting pitching and now they have a lot of question marks despite having two cornerstones on offense in Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.  I would be surprised if they finished above .500.  The Mets and Nationals are the two most volatile good teams in baseball.  The Mets may have matched the Dodgers in terms of impact injuries last season, and the Nationals seem to be completely different from one season to the next.  The Mets hope that their starting pitching is healthy for the regular season, but it is more important that they be ready for the playoffs because their offense showed that, when healthy, it can carry the team to 87 wins.  The Nationals are going to need to hope that Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy can buck the every-other-year trend that has been going on.  A bounce back season from Harper should help, but honestly, Turner and Murphy are still question marks.  They each did it for a year or less.  Can they repeat?  I go with the Mets over the Nationals ultimately because the Nationals have more problems with their bullpen and unproven closer.

Final Prediction:

  1. Mets: 94-68
  2. Nationals
  3. Braves
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

National League Wildcards

  1. Cardinals: 90-72
  2. Giants vs. Nationals at 87-95:  Scherzer outduels Bumgarner: 1-0 Nationals win.

National League Wildcard Game (Nationals @ Cardinals)

Cardinals come back against the Nationals bullpen:  Cardinals win 3-2.

Divisional Series

Mets @ Cubs:  Mets win 3-1 due to two strong pitching performances from Noah Syndergaard.

Cardinals @ Dodgers: Kershaw gets revenge in a 3-2 series win.

Mets @ Dodgers: 4-0.  Mets dominate behind offensive surge from Lucas Duda.

 Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
MVP:  Yoenis Cespedes

The American League

American League West: Last year: Athletics, Angels, Astros, Mariners, Rangers.  There is not much to report on with the Athletics, so short of another miracle rebuild from Billy Beane, they will finish in last again.  The Angels had an interesting season last year because they had a really bad record, but were only outscored by 10 runs.  However, their pitching still is not very good and they rely too much on Trout and an aging Pujols.  At best, they will finish .500.  The Astros, Mariners and Rangers could finish in any order 1, 2 and 3.  The Astros showed their inexperience and youth last year, and they suffered from a down year from Keuchel.  They are going to be hoping for a bounce back from him and that experience will make them better, but their pitching is still shaky.  I still really like their lineup and the additions of Beltran, who they took from the Rangers, and McCann.  The Mariners seem to be stuck in the “just-missed-the-playoffs” zone with a win total somewhere in the 80s, but I think the addition of Segura might push them closer to that goal.  I still see them finishing in second.  The Rangers are a team I expect to take a step back.  They won a lot of close games that could have gone either way, and their pitching does not seem to be there.  Cole Hamels appears to be on the decline, and Yu Darvish is inconsistent and frequently injured.  The loss of Beltran will also hurt.

Final Prediciton:
Astros:  95 – 67
Mariners
Rangers
Angels
Athletics

American League Central:  Last year: Twins, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Indians.  The Twins will probably be better this year because they can’t be as bad as they were last year.  Can they?  The White Sox should be worse.  I expect them to slowly trade away all there players throughout the season as they enter a true rebuild.  Ultimately, they will have upwards of 90 losses.  The Royals are an interesting case.  They still have too many players who play too hard to be terrible, but they could trade a couple of those players.  I expect them to have a win total in the 80s and be around where they finished last year.  The Tigers are on the decline, and at best will win a wild card, but they could also bottom out and finish below .500.  They are relying on older players staying healthy and last year’s rookie of the year, Michael Fulmer, having an even better season.  I don’t see it.  The Indians are far and away the best team in the American League and could even be the best team in all of baseball.  Adding Encarnacion was big, and if their rotation could stay healthy, then they have a very complete team that rivals the Cubs with an even better bullpen.  This division should not be even close, but that is why we play the games.

Final Prediciton:
Indians: 101-61
Royals
Tigers
Twins
White Sox

American League East:  Last year:  Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox.  The Rays are stuck in sub-par play.  Hopefully, Archer can have a rebound season and they will have a couple of surprise youngsters.  At best, they will finish around .500.  The Yankees may have a surprisingly good offense, but their pitching is a mess behind Tanaka who is closer to a second starter on a good team than an ace.  They will finish right around .500.  The Orioles are always overlooked and always perform above expectations because they always have a good bullpen and a great lineup.  Nothing should change this year except there should be some regression from their rivals.  The Blue Jays will miss Encarnacion who was the final piece to a great lineup.  Now they have a good lineup and will be relying on their pitchers like Stroman and Sanchez to keep them near the top of the division.  I expect a regression to being close to a .500 team.  The Red Sox are being set up to be baseball’s biggest disappointment.  When they traded for Sale, some said that they had the best rotation and lineup in the American League.  I never loved their rotation.  I like Sale, but don’t trust Porcello whose success fluctuates from year to year and Price who had a bad year last year.  Now Price is hurt and so is Pomeranz, who was a solid 4th starter.  People also underestimate the impact of losing David Ortiz who was at the heart of that lineup.

Final Prediction:
Orioles: 91-71
Blue Jays
Red Sox
Yankees
Rays

Wild Cards
Mariners: 87-75
Rangers: 86-76

American League Wildcard Game (Rangers @ Mariners)

Mariners tee off of Rangers pitching:  Mariners win 11-5.

American League Divisional Round:

Orioles @ Astros:  Orioles win 3-2 by winning battle of the bullpens

Mariners @ Indians:  Indians win 3-0 by over powering Mariners

American League Championship Series (Orioles @ Indians):

Indians win 4-1 with strong starting pitching performances.

Cy Young:  Carlos Carrasco
MVP:  Carlos Correa

World Series (Mets @ Indians)
This World Series features two-like teams with great rotations and a lot of power.  The Mets have the slightly better rotation, but the Indians have the better line-up and much better bullpen. Ultimately, the Mets will have to rely on all their starters going 7 or 8 inning and that will be too much to ask for for four games.

Indians win the World Series in 7 games.

World Series MVP:  Francisco Lindor

NFL Spring Cleaning: Tony Romo, Richard Sherman, Ben Roethlisberger

From pure definition alone, I am an adult. I spend a considerable amount of my free time reading and learning about large humans who are paid handsome sums of cash to run into each other at full speed. This morning I drank about 50 ounces of coffee before 11:00am. Donald Trump is the president of the United States for the next four years. The Seattle Mariners are 1-6. This is Earth, the only place any human has ever called home. You and I and every other person is experiencing the world completely differently. I think that’s pretty cool.

 

Last week, I discussed the many hypothetical situations in which Tony Romo could find himself playing for an NFL team next season. Conveniently, less than 24 hours after I published my thoughts, NFL.com reported that Tony Romo was going to retire from professional football. Romo would be released by Dallas shortly thereafter with plans to join CBS as the leading NFL broadcast analyst alongside Jim Nantz.

 

Tony Romo is thirty-six years old and played a total of 14 seasons in the National Football League. When he announced his retirement on Tuesday, the reaction from the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the league was palpable. Jerry Jones, owner, general manager, and full-time hype man of the Cowboys, made a public statement in regard to Romo’s retriement. “Tony has been a wonderful representative of the Cowboys organization for 14 years, and he left everything he had on the field. He will leave us with many great memories and a legacy of being, truly, one of the greatest players in Cowboys history. We are thrilled for him and his family that he will be able to continue working as a professional in the game he so dearly loves.” Dallas head coach Jason Garrett also had words on the now-retired quarterback, stating, “That relentless spirit that Tony plays with is contagious. He makes his teammates better. He makes his coaches better. He makes his team better. He has grown so much as a player and as a person over the course of his career and has made a significant impact on the lives of so many. I consider myself fortunate to be at the top of that list. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work with Tony Romo, one of the greatest players in Dallas Cowboys history.” Additionally, there were hundreds of tweets last week from players and celebrities commending Romo on his fantastic career. Jason Witten, Dallas’ veteran #1 tight end, posted a sentimental essay on Twitter where he eloquently detailed his experience playing with Romo. It’s clear that, with the retrospect of his retirement, Romo was one of the most beloved and respected players in the entire NFL.

 

 

Romo’s success throughout his career is often misunderstood by fans and haters alike. Romo signed with Dallas in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University. In his first two seasons, the only real game action Romo experienced was holding kicks as the backup quarterback. On October 23rd of 2006, Cowboys’ starter Drew Bledsoe was benched and Romo was given the reigns over the Dallas offense. From that point forward, Romo was the certified starter and face of the franchise in Dallas. He was known for being exceptionally composed in the fourth quarter, where he mounted 30 game-winning drives during his career, the most in Dallas Cowboys’ history. While he was undoubtedly an elite passer for the majority of his NFL tenure, his reputation was plagued by his subpar track record in critical games, including the postseason. In six total playoff games, Romo went 2-4 and never advanced further the NFC Divisional round. Many of these late season blunders were in due in large part to Romo’s poor performances down the stretch. Simply put, the Dallas Cowboys played in many season-defining games between 2006 and 2014, and lost most of them in embarrassing fashion. Whether Romo is at fault for these painful failures is a subjective matter, but his passing statistics in elimination games are much worse than his regular season output. Despite Romo being mostly successful as the starter in Dallas, his reputation for “choking” in big games will forever impede upon his otherwise illustrious legacy in the minds of football fans.

 

 

During the last few weeks, there was a strong expectation that the Cowboys would release Tony Romo in order to allow him to pursue opportunities elsewhere in the league. The most popular prediction was for Romo to land with the Houston Texans, with other less-credible rumors that he would end up signing with Denver or even the New York Jets. Ultimately, Romo decided that he was done playing football for now, and wanted to pursue other options in the industry. Romo finished his career with the Cowboys as the franchise leader in total yards (34,183) and touchdowns (248). He was selected to the Pro-Bowl four times. It will forever remain to be seen if Romo was capable of taking the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title. He experienced a multitude of injuries during his 14-year career, but his health took a significant downturn in recent years. In 2015 and 2016, Romo played in five total games. He dealt with two collarbone fractures and a spine fracture, which undoubtedly contributed to his eventual decision to hang up his cleats. In the modern days of the NFL, players have become more conscious than ever about their long term health. It’s probably fair to say that football isn’t very good for your body, and when you’re approaching 40 with a family of your own, the bigger picture has to be considered much more seriously. On a positive note, CBS television audiences will no longer have the displeasure of listening to Phil Simms spew his stream of consciousness for three hours during NFL games. Personally, I think Romo will be a great addition to the pool of broadcasters that cover NFL games.

———————————————————————————————

As he’s done so many times during his career, Richard Sherman is dominating NFL headlines, this time in regard to trade rumors. During the last couple weeks, there have been more than just whispers about the 3x All-Pro cornerback potentially being traded away from the only team he’s played for in his six-year career. The only thing different about this particular development is that Sherman isn’t the one talking up a storm. Instead, the Seattle Seahawks’ front office and coaching staff have shown an uncanny level of openness on the situation.

 

Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll stated in an interview last week with The Seattle Times, “We have always had to be open to every suggestion that comes along. There have been some teams that have called, and so we have talked about it.” On Brock and Salk, a local sports talk radio show in Seattle, Seahawks’ general manager John Schneider commented on the subject. “What you’ve seen lately in the news is real. That’s on both sides. It’s just open communication. He knows what’s going on. We know what’s going on. I don’t know if anything would ever happen. But like I tell people all the time, 98 percent of the deals that we’re involved with, we don’t follow through with. But at least we’ve opened that door, gone down the road and seen what’s behind door A or door B.”

 

 

What makes this situation even more interesting is Sherman’s attitude towards the rumors. Sherman sent a text to Albert Breer from MMQB on Thursday, saying “Very little chance it happens, but both sides are listening. I honestly don’t have much more to say about it than what I’ve already said. We have a great relationship. There is a lot of love and respect. There is no bad blood.” Sherman’s response became even more interesting when Adam Schefter said on SportsCenter Friday morning, “It’s been my understanding all along that Richard Sherman was the one who initiated this.” With this context in mind, it’s difficult to speculate why Sherman would want to dip his feet into the trade market. Sherman is a complex person, as can be seen through his many openly controversial statements during his career. I’m not sure if I completely buy Schefter’s stance that Sherman wants to be traded, but I’m also not discounting it as a possibility. Ambiguity at its finest. You’re welcome.

 

The reasons for trading a player like Sherman have to be of the utmost gravity to the Seahawks. As mentioned earlier, Sherman has earned a reputation for being loud and outspoken both on and off the field. His interview with Erin Andrews after the 2013 NFC Championship catapulted him into the upper echelon of NFL superstardom, where he stated his defensive infallibility while simultaenously expressed his distaste for San Francisco and their mediocre #1 receiver, Michael Crabtree. The Seahawks organization, under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, has been notably lenient in its policy towards its players and the way they express themselves. The team has had several star players with iconic personalities, such as Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, and, obviously, Richard Sherman. Despite this, it seems that Sherman may have overstepped his boundaries during the 2016 campaign. In an October victory against the Atlanta Falcons, Sherman got in a heated sideline argument with Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Kris Richard and safety Kam Chancellor. In December, Sherman again erupted on the sideline where he aggressively informed Darrell Bevell that he did not enjoy his goal line play-calling (remember Super Bowl XLIX? PTSD is some shit, let me tell you). Shortly after this confrontation, Sherman declared that he would no longer speak to the media for the remainder of the season, which inevitably left a sour taste in the mouths of many local Seattle journalists. It’s undeniable, then, that Sherman’s behavior last season is a factor in the recent trade talk.

 

Aside from his personality, there are other reasons why Seattle would want to part ways with its All-Pro cornerback. Sherman signed a huge contract in 2014 and is scheduled to make $13.63 million in 2017, and $13.2 million in 2018. The Seahawks have recently been struggling with a dilemma that plagues many successful teams. They have been forced to pay their marquee players in the form of cap-consuming contracts throughout the last four seasons. In the NFL, it’s of the utmost importance for teams to find the right balance between star players and young talent. If a team finds itself caught up in too many large contracts, they consequently won’t have enough cap room to sign young talent to the roster. The Seahawks are in a current state where they need to get younger at several key positions, including cornerback. Sherman’s contract eats a significant percentage of the Seahawks’ total payroll. For the right price, Seattle would likely be willing to ship their star defensive back. It’s been rumored that the ‘Hawks would only relinquish Sherman for a top-tier player and a high draft pick. With the depth at cornerback in this year’s draft, however, it’s unlikely that Seattle will find an acceptable deal for Sherman. There simply aren’t many scenarios in which a team could afford Richard Sherman. Further, even if there was a team that has the assets to acquire him, it’s a completely different question as to whether they would want to absorb the cap-hit that Sherman’s contract would induce.

 

Richard Sherman has been selected to four Pro-Bowls since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011. He has been an All-Pro three times, and has probably been the best press cornerback in the NFL since he started his career. His tall, spindly frame allows for him to shut down an entire side of the field. It will remain to be seen if Sherman is traded, but if anything more of this situation comes about, it’s likely going to occur in the days immediately preceding the draft. Here is a graphic that SportsCenter showed last week, which I thought was telling of Sherman’s success in Seattle.

 

 

——————————————————————————————

 

This past weekend, Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced he would return for another season over Twitter, where he tweeted, “Informed the team I am looking forward to 14th season. Steeler Nation will get my absolute best! -Ben.” This information comes as a relief to the Steelers organization, after Roethlisberger made some ominous statements at the end of last season, including his thoughts on potentially retiring.

 

“Take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health and family and things like that, just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season,” was the quote given by Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh was thoroughly annihilated in the AFC Championship game against New England. This open-ended flirtation with possible retirement came as a surprise to most NFL fans. However, it doesn’t take too much football knowledge to see that the Steelers have been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis the last few years. The Pittsburgh offense has been outrageously potent in recent seasons, which has led many to believe that they are perennial title contenders. Conversely, It seems that Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to get its act together from an organizational standpoint. Steeler players, including several stars, have been getting suspended for banned substances at a perplexing consistency. Mike Tomlin, a good head coach, hasn’t necessarily been the most professional during his career. In a futile attempt to be discrete, Tomlin literally walked onto the field of play and attempted to trip Ravens’ Jacoby Jones during a kickoff return in 2013. In addition to all of this, the Steelers have been notably inconsistent despite their superior talent on the offensive side of the ball. Their entire passing offense is predicated on the deep home run threat. When that doesn’t work, Big Ben bears the brunt of the offensive lapse by having to stand up in the pocket for far too long, absorbing crushing hits by defensive pass rushers. Roethlisberger has been injured many times in his career because of the faults with this offensive philosophy. When the deep ball isn’t working, the other team can control the clock, which renders Pittsburgh’s offense helpless. The result comes in the form of ugly blowouts and unnecessary injuries. Don’t be fooled; these realities contributed largely to Roethlisberger’s frustration during the end of the season last year.

 

 

Roethlisberger has had one of the best careers of any quarterback in NFL history. He’s won two Super Bowl titles in his thirteen seasons. His 301 touchdown passes are ninth all-time, and his 46,814 passing yards rank 10th. In 14 games in 2016, Big Ben hurled for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns, and finished with a completion percentage of 64.4% and a 95.4 passer rating. Ben is still able to perform at an elite level, which I fully expect to continue in 2017. The questions surrounding his long term health, as well as his level of tolerance for Pittsburgh’s antics as an organization, are going to be of critical importance in Roethlisberger’s remaining playing days.

 

Thanks for reading, and remember to follow me on Twitter if you haven’t done so already, @andysweeps.