If we're lucky, this will be the last of it — for a while, anyway. A year ago, the NFL was fighting with the players over money. This year it's fighting with game officials over money. All this off-field contentiousness is getting a little tiresome, if you ask me. How about channeling some of that aggression into football, where it belongs? Or does the NFL Network count on it for programming?
Yes, another season is upon us — the league's 93rd, for those of you scoring at home. The New York Giants, the defending champs, already have lost at home to the Dallas Cowboys, so hope abounds from Baltimore to San Francisco. As the Washington Redskins make their final preparations before heading to New Orleans, here are a few thoughts rattling through my head:
Will we see a market correction this year, or will the NFL's love affair with the forward pass continue its upward spiral (if you'll pardon the expression)? Last season, Drew Brees (5,476), Tom Brady (5,235) and Matthew Stafford (5,038) topped 5,000 yards and Eli Manning (4,933) just missed. Those are four of the top six totals in league history. Statistical upheaval of that magnitude simply doesn't happen every day or every decade, even.
Increasingly, the running game seems like something teams do to break the monotony from all the throwing. Do you realize Eric Dickerson has held the single-season rushing record for 28 years now (2,105 yards, 1984). That's 15 years longer than the mark has ever been held. The way the game is going, moreover, it's hard to imagine anybody surpassing Dickerson — unless, of course, the NFL goes to a longer schedule. And with all the concussion consciousness, that doesn't appear likely.
Because of this bombs-away mentality, the Redskins' secondary issues are a major cause for concern. In camp, they lost two safeties they were counting on — Tanard Jackson (drug suspension) for the long term and Brandon Meriweather (knee) for the short term. That's not good news, especially with Jimmy Graham, the Saints' all-world tight end, on tap this weekend.
I still think the key for Jim Haslett's defense will be the ability of Brian Orakpo and Co. to pressure the passer. There aren't many great secondaries these days; it's all about getting to the quarterback. Still, it's interesting that, during Joe Gibbs' second term, the Redskins spent two high first-round picks on safeties — Sean Taylor (fifth) in 2004 and LaRon Landry (sixth) in '07. The position was considered that important. And now it's so relatively unimportant that, well, name the Redskins' starting safeties (without looking at the depth chart).
Speaking of Jackson, he's the fifth Redskin since December 2010 to be suspended for four or more games — either by the league or the club. The others, in case you'd forgotten, are Albert Haynesworth (conduct detrimental to the team), Phillip Buchanon (PEDs), Fred Davis (recreational drugs) and Trent Williams (ditto). How many other franchises have had five guys serve major suspensions in a stretch of only 20 games?
It's embarrassing. And yet, I don't get much sense of that from the organization. Which suggests there'll probably be another guy who gets suspended before long.
A word about the death of Art Modell, the former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Obviously, there are strong feelings about him, for and against. The "against" faction, headquartered in Cleveland, will never forgive him for moving the Browns to Baltimore in 1996 (though the team's name and records remained behind for the expansion Browns to inherit).
All I know is, in Modell's first 13 seasons running the Browns (1961-73), the club went 117-59-6 and played in four NFL title games, winning one. The Ravens, meanwhile, won the Super Bowl in their fifth year in town (and remain a league power today). Have there been better owners? Sure. Have there been worse? Many, many more.
Yes, Modell fired Paul Brown, the coach who helped found the franchise and led it to incredible heights. But by 1962, when Brown got the gate, he'd lost his fastball (as he showed with the Cincinnati Bengals years later). And Cleveland, I'll just point out, was without an NFL team for three years — 1996, '97 and '98. That's it. We're not talking about Osama bin Laden here. We're talking about an owner who, like every other owner, made certain decisions out of self-interest. Part of the reason Modell still is reviled in Browns country, I suspect, is that the owner who followed him knew a heck of a lot less about football than Art did.
That's all for now. In January, we'll revisit this column — and some of the opinions it offers — and hopefully not wonder: What in the world was Daly smoking?
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