Saturday, March 29, 2014

Northwestern University Football Players Unionizing?

   The NCAA should never have let the smart kids play football!  Now the Chicago District of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Northwestern University  football players are permitted to unionize, meaning that they are considered employees of Northwestern University.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it could eventually shake the foundations of college sports, which are currently run as a monopoly controlled by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 
Now that Northwestern University football players are allowed to unionize, the NCAA's hypocrisy may finally be exposed.
    I believe that this is the correct decision and predict that the student athletes are going to continue to  kick the NCAA's butt in court. 
    The NCAA is currently allowed to make millions of dollars from college football, and they act like they are protecting the players' virginity by preventing them from selling their autographs, or heaven forbid someone in America might sell a t shirt or something.  Why is it fair for a video game to have a player's picture on it, and make millions of dollars, and no money goes to that player, only to the NCAA? 
    Why is okay for the NCAA to prevent student athletes from getting summer jobs?  Isn't that kind of like shaking kids down for their lunch money? 
   Why is it considered okay for players to get concussions, knee injuries and other potential long-term health issues?  If these things happened to a coal miner, the employer would have to pay a pile of money to take care of them.  But because it happens to a student athlete, it's considered okay for schools to provide medical care while they are in school.  But they are  allowed to just leave these players to rot when they get older.   Why is that considered fair?
     The NCAA argues that players are, uh, compensated by getting a free scholarship.  Well look,  if you agree that the scholarship is a form of  compensation, then you are basically admitting that the student athletes are professionals.  In that case, it becomes a discussion of what they are  worth.   Shouldn't it  be all right to have a professional representative negotiate how much compensation they are entitled to?  That's one facet of unionization.  
Cartoon Credit:  MacLeod Cartoons.
      The NCAA argues that it is an amateur association, but in reality they make millions and millions of dollars and use it to pay salaries and make themselves rich.  Players have to work very hard, and risk serious injury while they get paid nothing and yet the coach may make millions of dollars per year while wielding almost complete control over the players.   Some nonprofit!
     What the court has ruled is that if it barks like a dog, has four legs like a dog, sits up and begs like a dog, it probably is in fact a dog.  Playing football is in fact a job and the schools can not continue to prevent players from being compensated and taken care of.   
      No doubt the NCAA will appeal and argue that the players should continue tobe given some sort of quasi-slave status.  But I think they will lose.  The NCAA is just too powerful and makes too much money to justify taking it away from student athletes. 
    Clearly, if the unionization decision stands,  this is going to change the way that college sports are run.  In the long run it will be a better deal for the student athletes.  It might give an advantage to some schools which are better situated to have rich alumni and big media contracts.  But overall I have no doubt that it is going to result in a fairer system, with less power concentrated in the hands of the NCAA. 
    Stay will be a wild legal ride for a while. 


Rookie QB? Ask the Buffalo Bills....

     The 2013 Buffalo Bills (which happen to have been Coach Pettine's team in 2013, by the way)  are an interesting case study. Much like the Browns, they have had mediocre production from the QB position for a number of years. In 2013, they had the opportunity to draft the first QB in E. J. Manuel. What's not to like? 6'4" 237 lbs, fast and smart with a good arm, played in the ACC.

Would first round pick E. J. Manuel propel the Bills into the playoffs?   Not quite....

    Manuel was installed as the starter for the Bills. He had some decent games and won a few for the Bills. But the Bills were 6-10 again this year, same as last year. Truth to tell, when Manuel got injured the Bills eventually installed Thad Lewis (the Browns number 3 qb in 2012), who actually played a little better than Manuel, with higher qb rating and lower INT percentage, etc. So getting the big strong qb did not lead to an instant turnaround, but he is probably an upgrade--over time--compared to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Lewis. I see at least 5 guys that I think may be similar to Manuel--good enough to start, but not a one-man team. If you are willing to wait till 2015 and 2016 they will be worth it. But for just one year, it is hard to compete against a less talented guy that has some NFL experience. 

Thad Lewis is undersized, not as gifted an athlete as E. J. Manuel, but because of his experience and grit he was a bit better than E. J. last year. 

     Mike Lombardi liked to congratulate himself for finding a potential starting qb in Brian Hoyer. I think he is ok as a caretaker type qb, though eventually he will be overtaken by one of the young guys. But the Browns also cut Thad Lewis to sign Hoyer, and Lewis might be just as good as Hoyer. In 2013 I would say that Lewis was better than Manuel. 

     If the Browns do improve their team in 2014, I'm looking for most of the improvement to come from the running game, linebacking, O-LIne and defensive backfield, rather than the qb position.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The $24 Million Dollar Queston for the Cleveland Browns

     Is this the year that the Cleveland Browns turn it around?  Maybe.   
     There are some big questions that will be answered in the next few months.  First, is new GM Ray Farmer going to be allowed to make the draft selections for the Browns? Or will Jimmy Haslam III seek to emulate Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis, and make his own draft picks?
      And the bigger question is whether the Browns will be allowed to carry salaries at the same level as the other NFL teams, or will they be forced to again lead the NFL in dollars under the salary cap? 
     I wasn't totally thrilled with reports that Bill Parcells claims to have been sent to interview hotshot quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on behalf of the Browns (i.e., Haslam), while the Browns front office is prepared to ignore his advice.  This according to Mark Sessler of (  ).  This tends to reinforce the notion that Haslam may be tempted to make his own calls, and if he doesn't like what his full time GM says, he may just wing it and go with Bill Parcells' gut feeling.   Not a good sign.  Moreover, according to  Derek Harper of CBS Sports  (  ), the Browns have not even interviewed the major quarterback candidates.  That may mean that they don't believe that there are any franchise quarterbacks in this draft.
     If the Browns go with Teddy Bridgewater at the Number 4 position, that will be a sign that Haslam is calling the shots, and that he is afflicted with quarterback fever, that dread disease which causes the sufferer to hallucinate about the abilities of rookie quarterbacks. 
Is Ray Farmer trusted enough to make the draft selections for the Browns?
     The other big issue is the overall payroll.  Last year the Browns front office really did tank the entire season.
     The Browns gave up running back Trent Richardson as well as a fourth round draft pick and a fifth round pick in 2013, getting a 2014 first round pick, a third round pick and a fourth round pick.  They also held back $24 million dollars from the 2013 payroll, which can now be added to the 2014 payroll ($133 Million + $24 Million = $157 Million).  They also cut some of the free agents that they had added, including blocking tight end Kellen Davis (who picked up a Super Bowl ring after the Seahawks signed him), and slot receiver David Nelson, who caught two TD passes against the Browns last year.  
   Howver, though it is abundantly clear that the Browns deliberated tanked the season in 2013, we don't know why the Browns did it.  Was it so that they could add payroll in 2014?   Or was it because Haslam was uncomfortable with his cash position in the wake of the Pilot Flying J rebate scandal?  To some extent the owner has to be responsible either way, but after watching Banner's antics, and I'm inclined to believe that it may have been his scheme to pare down the 2013 payroll.  If so, the Browns personnel might be significantly improved in overall  talent as well as depth this year.   

So whose idea was it to tank the 2013 season?  Was it all Joe Banner's idea?  Or did Jimmy Haslam want to conserve cash for his upcoming legal battles? 

    If this whole mess indeed is Banner's doing, the Browns could get well in a hurry.  They can add some $30 million dollars in payroll, which translates to about  half a dozen starters in free agency, plus a few more from the draft.   We shall see what transpires. 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

NFL Draft Quarterback Prospects in 2014

    The Browns were just kidding about Johnny Manziel.  That's the word now that Banner is out. It may have been a counter-intelligence plot, or perhaps Banner really loved the guy, but now the buzz is that new GM Ray Farmer is looking at other qb candidates, as well he should.  

Now that Banner is gone, Johnny Manziel is no longer the Browns' first choice at quarterback. 

     After the combine, it still appears that this year's NFL draft will have at least  five or perhaps even more qb's taken in the first round.  
     In the case of the Browns,  Brian Hoyer may have a few games left in him before giving way to the rookie in 2015.  We'll have to see how that plays out as Coach Pettine makes that call.  In any case, I don't anticipate that the rookie will be substantially better right away, though perhaps down the road.   

Blake Bortles would be the number one quarterback pick. 

     But back to the draft.  I think  Blake Bortles will be the first quarterback taken, maybe by Jacksonville in the number 3 position unless someone pulls of a trade with St Louis or Houston.   Bortles  has all the attributes that you want to see, including savvy, arm strength, mobility and size.  But Jacksonville would be a hell of a fit for a UCF guy. 

Teddy Bridgewater is All-Everything to some observers.

     Teddy Bridgewater may be next.  Initially I was not as high on him as others.  But at the combine he weighed in at 214 pounds, or nine pounds heavier than his listed weight.  That's not very big in today's NFL, but it is a bit less of a factor. 

   Later in the first round, I expect Derek Carr to be taken and also Jimmy Garoppolo as a bit of a surprise.  The knock on Garoppolo is that he played for a smaller university, but I think that can be overcome with time.  The guys who are too little may still be too little a year from now, but Carr and Garoppolo will likely make progress as quarterbacks.  The Browns are said to be hoping that Carr is available when it is their turn to draft again in the first round, but he may be gone a bit earlier than that.  

53 TDs versus 9 INTs?  In one year?  You have got to be kidding me Jimmy Garoppolo.  You are first round material. 

Zack Mettenberger has all the physical attributes necessary to succeed. 

     Zach Mettenberger had off the field issues and has an ACL injury, but will likely be at 100% by 2015 or even later in 2014.  But at 6'5" and 235 with the proverbial cannon for an arm, there is no reason to not like him.  Most mock drafts have him going in about the third round, but there is an outside chance that could go in the first round if there is a team that can be patient enough to let him develop,  possibly to a team like Cincinnati.   

      Only Bortles and Mettenberger have the  prototypic size for an NFL quarterback.  I also think Mettenberger and McCarron are pretty good.   

       But I don't see any of them jumping in and turning around an NFL team like RG3 and Luck did in 2012.   I think this year's class has some guys who are good enough to start, but perhaps not be outstanding their first year, maybe a little like Geno Smith or E. J. Manual in 2013.  They might get better in their second or third year, but I don't anticipate any of these quarterbacks being stars in their rookie year.

A. J. McCarron is not rated quite as high as some of the other qbs, but how bad would it really be to have him as the team's qb?  Especially if he brings Miss Alabama Katherine Webb with him?  

My rankings:   Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater,  Johnny Manziel,  Zack Mettenberger A. J. McCarron. 

Where they will be drafted:

Blake Bortles                     UCF                                6-5         230        1

Teddy Bridgewater           Louisville                     6-2         214        1

Derek Carr                          Fresno State               6-2         215        1

Jimmy Garoppolo             Eastern Illinois           6-2         219         1

Johnny Manziel                   Texas A&M                6-0         210        1

Zach Mettenberger          LSU                              6-5         235         2

A.J. McCarron                   Alabama                     6-3         214         3

Aaron Murray                    Georgia r                   6-1         201         3

Tajh Boyd                           Clemson                    6-1         222        4

Brett Smith                         Wyoming                 6-2         206         4

Logan Thomas                   Virginia Tech           6-6         248         5

Connor Shaw                     S Carolina                6-0         206         5

David Fales                         San Jose State          6-2         220         7