Seven Points With Charlie Bernstein
In this offseason edition of Seven Points, we discuss Tim Tebow’s belief that you can’t go home again, meddling owners, the Bears throwing money around like cinder blocks, the Broncos offseason title, “Bountygate,” Buffalo gearing up for a run and much more.
Tebow Spurns His Hometown
With 11-time Pro Bowler Peyton Manning choosing to play for the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow’s future in Denver as a starting quarterback was finished. The Broncos decided to take the best offer for the former first-round pick and let the circus exit town.
“Tim is a great kid,” Broncos czar John Elway said. “If I want someone to marry my daughter, it would be him. But I think with the opportunity to have Peyton Manning’s services, we had to take advantage of that. Now that it’s happened, we have to go back and address Tim and see what the best situation is for the Denver Broncos, as well as for him.”
On Wednesday, two teams emerged as trading partners with the Broncos, the New York Jets and Tebow’s hometown Jacksonville Jaguars. According to Elway, Denver let Tebow pick his situation.
“There was more [offered] from Jacksonville, but I think that we looked at it and it was close enough, and we were in contact with Tim throughout the day, and talked to him,” Elway told ESPN Radio in Denver on Thursday, via Lindsay Jones of theDenver Post. “He knew what was going on the whole time. The reports that he was not involved are not accurate.”
Tebow told the media that “he didn’t have any say” in his final destination.
So why would Tim Tebow not return home to sell out Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and capture the adoration of thousands of fans that bleed orange and blue and now teal, all wearing the “Number 15?”
The only answer is pressure and competition.
The player who some have said has a “cosmic force of competitiveness” shied away from a quarterback competition between Blaine Gabbert, the worst rookie starter in 2011 and Chad Henne, who was run out of Miami after 30 starts? In a city where many claim he is loved unconditionally?
Could it be possible that Tebow chose the bright lights and marketing opportunities of New York City because there would be….(gulp)….an easier road to a starting quarterback job behind the shaky Mark Sanchez (because we know it can’t be about the money)?
Whatever his reasons were, Tim Tebow either doesn’t care for his city as much as has been previously stated or he feels less than confident in his own abilities. Either way, this isn’t the stuff that heroes are made from.
Bears Refuse to Pay Forte
In his four seasons with the Chicago Bears, running back Matt Forte has been the primary focus of the offense. Forte has averaged better than 1,500 yards from scrimmage each year with 29 touchdowns as he’s kept afloat the mostly one-dimensional Bears offense.
Forte was having a career year in 2011 as he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage before suffering a knee injury that kept him out of Chicago’s final four games. Despite pressure from Bears players, fans and media, the team decided to spurn him of a contract extension and let the financial matters be handled in the offseason.
“It shows me I’m playing well and doing my job, but it also gets kind of old,” Forte told ESPNChicago.com when asked about the support from teammates and fans about a new deal. “‘Pay the man’ doesn’t get me paid. It’s nice to hear but it’s not a solution to anything.”
Chicago’s way of handling things in the offseason was to place the franchise tag on Forte essentially preventing him from negotiating with another team.
“I don’t want a one-year deal. I want a long-term extension. I think if they use the franchise tag that’s kind of a cheap way to go out. I want a long-term extension. I’ve been drafted by Chicago. I want to stay there so it’s not something I’m looking forward to. Everybody who is doing anything no matter what you’re doing if you’re working and doing an exceptional job, you want your boss to kind of notice that and not a pat on the back but compensate you for what you’re doing. That’s in anything you’re doing. It kind of makes you feel undervalued,” Forte explained.
The Bears and Forte’s people are seemingly miles away on an extension and they fired another shot which can be deemed as a sign of disrespect as they inked free agent running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million deal with $7 million guaranteed. Roughly the same amount of guaranteed money that Forte is due to receive while playing on the franchise tag.
Forte initially took exception to the move to sign Bush.
“There’s only so many times a man that has done everything he’s been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last….,” Forte said via his Twitter account.
Matt Forte appears to be done playing the role of nice guy. Despite not having a long-term contract entering the 2011 season, Forte didn’t hold out or make any waves publicly. He instead showed up to work every day, was as productive as ever and trusted that the Bears front office would do the right thing. They clearly didn’t and it appears that Forte is going to have to take a different course of action to attempt to receive the contract that he so richly deserves.
Hands On Ownership In Jacksonville
When auto parts tycoon Shahid Khan executed his purchase of the Jacksonville Jaguars just over four months ago, he wasn’t exactly a household name amongst American billionaires. The enormous NFL fan tried to take his talents to St. Louis a few years back and purchase the Rams, but due to circumstances beyond his control he was unable to complete the deal.
Khan is quickly putting his stamp not only on his team but also the rest of the league as he’s made strong statements about free agency, then spent no money. Khan made some comments which could be taken as insulting to Jaguars fans and has now undermined his front office.
Despite the Jaguars front office having no interest whatsoever in trading for former Broncos and now Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, Khan nearly forced a deal to bring the quarterback back to his home town.
Here is what Khan had to say:
“Earlier this week I asked Gene Smith and his staff to explore the potential of acquiring Tim Tebow. I think we have a duty to consider all avenues of improving the Jaguars on and off the field, especially given the unique circumstances involving the player. I appreciate the high level of due diligence Gene and his staff dedicated to this matter, even as late as this evening, and I am very satisfied with the outcome. Our commitment to developing Blaine Gabbert was, and still is, central to our goal of returning the Jaguars to elite status in the NFL. We’re looking ahead with zero regrets.” —
What Shad Khan did when attempting to encourage (force) a trade for Tim Tebow was undercut the authority of general manager Gene Smith. Smith doesn’t receive nearly the admonishment he should from his poor drafting and constructing of a team, but why have him in the position if he doesn’t have the final say on personnel?
Even though the team wasn’t able to acquire Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert now must deal with the “ghost” of Tebow and the fact the owner wanted him. Gabbert hasn’t given Jaguars fans much of a reason to get behind him as a rookie and this will only make things more difficult entering his second year.
It’s understandable that Khan wants to put his own stamp on the team that he just paid $760 million to acquire. In doing so, he has already alienated some fans, potential season ticket holders, his coaching staff, general manager and young quarterback. At this point, he appears to be a Jerry Jones clone, just without the rings and pedigree.
Broncos Are The Champs of Free Agency
It’s difficult to argue that the Denver Broncos have won the lofty title belt of offseason champions via knockout. Replacing the league’s worst passer in terms of completion percentage with a future Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning, that alone is enough to bring home the hardware.
Add in the fact that the Broncos acquired cornerback Tracy Porter to play opposite Champ Bailey and just recently signed former Houston Texans tight end Joel Dreesen to help out with blocking assignments, and Denver is poised not only to make a run in the AFC West, but possibly all the way to New Orleans to the Super Bowl.
Although the Porter and Dreesen signings are nice, the move that will make the champions of March transcend to champs of the actual football season will be if Manning can regain his form of two years ago.
“I don’t consider it much of a risk, knowing Peyton Manning,” Broncos czar John Elway said. “I asked him, ‘Is there any doubt in your mind that you can’t get back to the Peyton Manning we know of?’ And he said, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind.’”
Make no mistake, Denver is clearly in a “win now” situation. When most teams take a similar course of action, the action is to “damn the future” and worry about the present. The Broncos are taking this “home run” type of swing without actually sacrificing much other than owner Pat Bowlen’s money. Even though they dealt former first-round pick Tim Tebow, nobody in the organization believed he was the player who could get them where they needed to be. Therefore Denver had no real future quarterback to hand the reigns over to and they are now trying to relive the glory days of the twilight of John Elway’s career in the twilight of Peyton Manning’s.
“I realize I don’t have 14 years left, by any means,” Manning said. “This isn’t something where I’m just building a foundation to do something in two years or three years. This is a ‘now’ situation.”
Right now, the Broncos look like the team to beat in the AFC West at the very least.
Addition By Subtraction Doesn’t Make Sense For Texans
A breakthrough 2011 season by the Houston Texans has led to enormous expectations for 2012. Unfortunately, Houston will be trying to follow up their first AFC South title and playoff victory without many of the key cogs that led the team to last season’s success.
Salary cap issues and the switch to the 3-4 scheme caused the Texans not to be able to engage in a bidding war to retain the services of former first-overall pick Mario Williams as the Pro Bowl defensive end landed in Buffalo. Houston also jettisoned former Defensive Rookie of the Year DeMeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round pick.
“It was a little surprising when I first heard of the move, but at the same time, it was good because I knew I was coming to a good team,” Ryans explained. “I was excited about that because I know how good this team was in previous years and last year. I’ve gone down the road there and I knew I was coming to a good team.”
Offensively, the Texans released right tackle Eric Winston who had started each of his last 80 games with the franchise. Winston, largely regarded as the best right tackle in football moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“That’s modern NFL and that’s salary cap and that’s the way things go,” Winston said of his release. “I feel like I’ll be in a similar situation with a team that is on the brink of breaking through, so I feel like I’m still going to a really good situation where it’s not that much different.”
Although Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans may not have been best suited for the Texans 3-4 defense, they were and continue to be great football players. Right tackle Eric Winston may not be the same player he was two seasons ago, but he was the most sought after tackle on the open market. Throw in the loss in free agency to tight end Joel Dreesen and the Texans may have had one of the worst offseasons of any team in football.
For a team like Houston which so desperately wants to take the next step toward Super Bowl contention, losing talented players who were also locker room leaders is probably not the best formula. In the NFL if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. It’s impossible to believe that the Texans are better in any way than the team that finished last season with a playoff loss in Baltimore.
Buffalo Has Eyes on A Title
Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. will turn 94 years old in October. Clearly his days are numbered as one of the founding owners during the AFL-NFL merger is desperately seeking his team to climb out of the cellar and into the postseason before he climbs, well…somewhere much less permanent.
Wilson received a small taste of success as his Bills team raced out to a 5-2 start last season before the bottom fell through on 2011, as they lost eight of their final nine games. A once proud Bills franchise that earned four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 1999 and Wilson is taking a proactive approach to changing that status.
The Bills biggest issue in recent years has been their defense, as they finished 30th in the NFL in points allowed in 2011. With a league in which the most successful teams throw the football consistently, the only way to defense the pass is to affect the opponent’s quarterback. Buffalo believes it can now deter opposing quarterbacks as they inked Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency.
Owner Ralph Wilson, general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey hope that the $127 million that was assigned in contracts will be able to change the defense to an elite unit and the culture to a winning one.
“It really is a big deal for us and an exciting time,” general manager Buddy Nix said. “We think this made us a lot better. This guy’s (Anderson) about as productive as anybody around for the number of snaps he played.”
“You don’t get many chances like this to be the guy to help the team get across the hump and that’s what I’m definitely here for,” Mario Williams explained.
Adding both Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to a defensive line with young talent such as Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams should make Buffalo immediately competitive on that side of the ball. The only way to stop great quarterbacks like Tom Brady is to gently place them on their backs and it appears as if the Bills now have the manpower to do just that.
“Words can’t express how I’m feeling,” Anderson explained after signing his deal in Buffalo. “I’m in a blessed situation right now. I’m going to try and help the Bills, and Bills Nation, and try to take it to a whole other level.”
Offensively, Buffalo managed to keep Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Johnson and they return a healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick who reportedly played the second half of last season with cracked ribs. A healthy Fred Jackson is back in the fold and he will be used as a tandem with C.J. Spiller.
Although Denver may have won the mythical title of offseason champions, the Bills aren’t far behind.
Saints Get Slammed
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell once again showed why he’s the last person you should lie to in any NFL related matter. After being promised that there were no “bounties” occurring over the past few seasons in New Orleans, Goodell dropped the hammer on the Saints organization.
The suspensions are as follows (courtesy of NFL Media):
The New Orleans Saints are fined $500,000. In addition, because the violation involves a competitive rule, the Saints will forfeit their selections in the second round of the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective April 1.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season.
Former Saints (and current St. Louis Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely from the NFL, effective immediately. Commissioner Goodell will review Coach Williams’ status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether to reinstate him, and, if so, on what terms. Commissioner Goodell said he will give close attention to the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings.
Saints assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt is suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season.
The Saints and the individuals disciplined today are expected to participate in efforts led by the league office to develop programs that will instruct players and coaches at all levels of the game on the need for respect for the game and those who participate in it, on principles of fair play, safety and sportsmanship, and to ensure that bounties will not be part of football at any level.
With Drew Brees not under contract long-term and all of the changes that will occur in New Orleans, it appears as if the Saints window for a second Super Bowl title has sealed shut.
Barber Back for One More Year
The Tampa Bay Bucs will have cornerback Ronde Barber patrolling the secondary for one more year as the soon-to-be 37-year old will return for his 16th season with the team. Barber’s future with the team was unclear as new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano wouldn’t commit to the veteran as well as the team signing free agent cornerback Eric Wright.
Dolphins Sign Garrard
In an offseason filled with disappointment, the Dolphins treated their fans to just a little bit more. Instead of signing a legend to play quarterback like a Peyton Manning or a young potential star in the making that knows Joe Philbin’s system in Matt Flynn, Miami signed…..David Garrard.
This is the same Garrard who has failed down the stretch nearly every season since becoming the starter in Jacksonville and it’s also the same Garrard that gained nearly 20 pounds immediately after signing his $60 million contract. Miami likely would have been better off keeping Matt Moore as the starter instead of putting him together with Garrard in an open competition.
Although the playoffs seem as likely as a Powerball championship for Dolphins fans, there is USC quarterback Matt Barkley waiting in the 2013 draft…..assuming they don’t win too many games to get knocked out of the sweepstakes like what occurred in 2011.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie