Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Booty call

I figured I'd get an early start on what promises to be a plethora of puns on the name of the newest Vikings quarterback, John David Booty. When Tarvaris Jackson struggles, the press will wonder if the Vikings should "call on Booty." If he has a good game, they'll label him "Booty-licious." If the Vikings are selected to play overseas and the game is in Germany, and Booty gets the start, the headline will read "Das Booty." Feel free to leave your own in the comments section.

Anyhoo, once you get past his piratical name, it's tempting to see Booty as the great savior of the Vikings' shaky quarterback situation. For the first time since his arrival in Minnesota, Tarvaris Jackson may finally be skating on thin ice, and, despite Brad Childress' reassurance that (paraphrasing from his interview right after the selection) "Tarvaris is still our quarterback, but we realize that every NFL team needs more than one quarterback," it seems likely that, barring a tremendous season from Jackson, Booty will get his chance to start, either in 2008 or shortly thereafter.

Booty's college fame certainly contributes to the hype. While not as famous up to the expectations of his predecessors at USC, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, who were drafted first and 10th overall in their draft classes, Booty's pedigree and success (18-3 as a starter in 2006 and 2007) can't be completely ignored. His overall numbers are lesser than Palmer's and Leinart's largely because he enjoyed only two seasons as the starting QB (and missed three games to injury in 2008). If you compute all three passers' rating (using the NFL system -- college uses a different system that I have yet to comprehend), you get 110.7 for Leinart, 96.6 for Booty, and 85.9 for Palmer. That's not a spectacular endorsement, since Palmer has clearly had the better NFL career than Leinart thus far, but it might show that Booty isn't as far off when compared to the other two as you might think. And Booty's strong 2007 season (2,361 yards, 23 TDs, and 10 Ints. in 10 games) comes after losing top targets Steve Smith and Keary Colbert to the 2007 NFL Draft.

All that being said, as much as we like to criticize NFL execs (Matt Millen in particular) for making idiotic moves in the draft and free agency, they probably know more than we do. The fact that all 32 teams (they can't all be run by idiots), the Vikings included, passed on Booty multiple times probably speaks some to his actual talent level, or at least perceived talent level. Football's Future says that Booty has "mobility," "a very good arm," and "all the physical talent to be a quality quarterback in the NFL." On the flip side, he "has a tendency to lock onto receivers," "had an issue having his passes tipped at the line of scrimmage," and "will panic at times, believing the rush is closer than it really is." If I read those six snippets of text without any other context, I would wonder which Vikings QB they were describing: Booty or Tarvaris Jackson.

And yes, we hear ad infinitum that Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck were 6th-round picks or that Kurt Warner was an undrafted free agent, but the reality is that star players, at any position, are rarely found in the fifth round or later. Here is a list of all quarterbacks drafted in the fifth round or later since the merger in 1970. 19 of them managed to throw for at least 10,000 yards, but the list only contains a few truly good players, while also being populated with the likes of Jeff Blake, Steve Grogan, and our own Gus Frerotte. If there's any silver lining, it could be that the Vikings have gone this route before and come up with multi-year starters Brad Johnson and Wade Wilson. Still, the list goes on for 361 names, meaning that, all things being equal, Booty has about a (19/361) = 5.2% chance of lasting long enough to throw for 10,000 yards in the NFL. Not exactly odds I'd be willing to bet on in Vegas.

John David Booty may or may not be the answer in Minnesota. (One thing is certain: He won't take his #10 jersey from college to the pros.) Then again, if Plan A is another year of Tarvaris Jackson, it's not a bad idea to have a Plan B (preferably one that doesn't include Brooks Bollinger). At the very least, having him on the team will make things interesting this season, though the first time Jackson struggles, he can rest assured that the Metrodome fans won't "boo" him.

They'll be chanting "Booooooooooooooooty."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Welcome to Minnesota, Tyrell Johnson

As I write this, the fourth round of the draft is wrapping up, and the Vikings have had just one pick so far: Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson. I'm not entirely enamored with the pick, for reasons I'll get into below, but I'll reserve final judgment until I see the rest of the Vikings' picks, which won't happen for another 15 picks, the 150th in the draft.

As for Johnson, he appears to be a solid player. When he was picked Mel Kiper, Jr. said he thought he might be the best safety available in the draft, better even than Miami's Kenny Phillips, who went 12 picks earlier to the Giants. (Here's list of safety draft prospects.) ESPN calls Johnson "a strong, well built safety with excellent straight-line speed and an explosive lower-body," but "somewhat stiff in his hips, which limits him in certain coverage situations." He had 55 tackles and 6 interceptions (returning one for a touchdown) in 2007 on a defense that gave up 27.6 points per game against so-so competition, so it's likely that he was the best player on a mediocre defense.

(FLASH -- As I finished the last paragraph, the Vikings traded up to draft USC quarterback John David Booty with the 137th pick. Verrrrrrrrry interesting!)

When the Vikings traded up, skipping over three teams (Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati) to move up and take Johnson (and giving up a fourth-round pick in the process), I was excited to think they might draft Brian Brohm, who was a favorite choice of mine, though I'll admit that mid-first-round was probably too high for me to try and get him). When the Vikings passed on Brohm for a player I'd never heard of, I was disappointed, especially when Brohm went a few picks later to the Packers (who, at the time, seemed far less concerned about Aaron Rodgers' fragile psyche than the Vikings did about Tarvaris Jackson's). The Booty pick has assuaged some of those doubts, though I still have to wonder about the need to trade up, though perhaps the Vikings sensed that the Bengals would look for safety help after losing Madieu Williams to Minnesota.

Finally, we come to the question comes of need. You want your first two picks, at least, to be able to fill in immediately or within a year or two. Williams is entrenched at the one safety position, but Darren Sharper will turn 33 this December and is entering the final year of his four-year, $20 million contract he signed before the 2005 season. So, in a sense, this is the perfect situation for Johnson. He plays sparingly as a rookie, learns what he can from Sharper and Williams, and, in theory, steps into the safety position full-time in 2009. At the very least, he looks like a solid run-stopper who might need to grow into a coverage role.

With the Jared Allen deal wiping out most of the Vikings' high draft picks, the success or failure of Tyrell Johnson (and, now, John David Booty) will largely determine the success or failure of the entire 2008 draft for the Vikings. Johnson is well positioned to succeed and perhaps even star in a couple years, adding to what already looks to be a loaded defense.

Tyrell Johnson video highlights:

Clip #1
Clip #2

Friday, April 25, 2008

NFL Draft Mad Libs!

Admit it. You loved Mad Libs as a kid. When I was in grade school, we wasted many trees' worth of paper on such shenanigans -- which was OK because International Falls has a big paper mill in town and lots and lots of trees nearby.

In that spirit, I've crafted a Mad Lib for the NFL Draft! Just pick an answer for each category below, without looking at the text at the bottom of this entry, and then match up each answer with its corresponding number in the text entry. Hilarity then ensues!

(1) Man's first name
(2) Animal (plural)
(3) Number
(4) U.S. City
(5) NFL position (quarterback, kicker, etc.)
(6) Current NFL player who plays position in (5)
(7) Talent or trait (such as leadership, speed, kindness, etc.)
(8) Talent or trait
(9) Verb ending in "ing" (like hiking or sewing)
(10) Last name
(11) Current NFL Draft Prospect (like Jake Long or Joe Flacco)
(12) Ordinal number (like first, second, third, tenth, etc.)
(13) Number between 1 and 16
(14) Future year (i.e., greater than 2008)

And here's the story!

Let’s see what Mel Kiper, Jr. has to say about that last pick:

“I think (1)_____ is going to be a great player for the (2)_____ for the next (3)____ years. He excelled at the University of (4)______ and the team really needed a top-notch (5)_____ after losing (6)_____ to free agency. He brings (7)_____ and (8)_____ to a team that really lacked both qualities last year and his (9)_____ is among the best I’ve seen in years. When I talked to Coach (10)_____ last week, he told me he hoped (11)______ would drop to the team’s (12)____ pick, but if that didn’t work out, he had a backup plan, and that plan’s come to fruition. I see this team winning at least (13)____ games this year, maybe more, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make the Super Bowl by at least (14)_____."

Thanks, Mel!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jared Allen a safe bet; Vikes not so much

I just flew in from Las Vegas, and boy are my arms (and the rest of me, considering I took a 1 a.m. red-eye) tired...

I've already spoken at length about what I think of Jared Allen. As for the deal he got and what the Vikings gave up to get him, I approve. He's at least as good as any player we would have received with our first-round pick, and the team's last nine third-round picks have been likes of Marcus McCauley, Dustin Fox, Darrion Scott, Nate Burleson, Willie Offord, Eric Kelly, Doug Chapman, Ramos McDonald, and Stalin Colinet. You have to go back to Moe Williams in 1996 to find anything even remotely resembling a regular contributor, and he was hardly irreplaceable. As for the money -- $31 million guaranteed and up to $74 million including incentives -- I have faith in cap guru Rob Brzezinski, who's always engineered the system to keep the Vikings well under the cap and in great shape each off-season. It might be that the Vikings don't go after anyone significant in 2009, but with Allen, Madieu Williams, and Bernard Berrian coming on in 2008, I think I could live with a quiet year.

But enough of the serious talk. Now, here's the story of the serendipitous moment when I learned of the Allen trade and what I did about it.

As mentioned, I was in Las Vegas the last two days, attending the GAMA Trade Show. It's a show about games, but don't worry, it's very, very boring. Around when the day was wrapping up, I wandered, footsore, to the sports book at the Paris casino to rest for a bit before seeking dinner. A few baseball games were on the big screens, and I had a mini-TV at my seat where I put on Pardon the Interruption, without sound.

As the show wrapped, Tony and Mike did their "Happies," and in this case the scroll along the bottom said "Happy Trails to Jared Allen." I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I thought it could mean only one thing. My eyes darted from baseball game to baseball game, looking for some sort of sports news scroll along the bottom and, sure enough, about a minute later, I saw the official announcement of the Allen-to-the-Vikings deal.

The previous night, I'd checked out the futures bets for the Super Bowl Championship. New England, I believe, topped the odds list at 9-5, with Indy and Dallas next at 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. The Vikings were given 10-1 odds, a bit high, I thought (and the same odds as Cleveland, of all teams). Among the rest of the NFC North, the Packers and Bears each rated 15-1 odds -- way higher than I'd ever rank the Bears -- and Detroit was at 60-1 odds, better only than three other teams.

So, as I learned of the Allen deal, I glanced back at the big screen with the NFL futures odds. Minnesota hadn't changed; still 10-1. I could have seen it going up a point or two, maybe up to 8-1, once the Allen deal was better known, and hey, when you learn of your favorite team making a major trade while sitting in the sports book of a casino in Las Vegas -- well, that's a call to action if I ever saw one.

So I put $10 down on the Vikings. It'll pay $110 if they win the Super Bowl. A friend of mine, a Steelers fan, says he has a rule: He never bets on the Steelers. Hard to argue with the Steelers' track record, so maybe he's on to something. Then again, I've never bet on the Vikings and they've won exactly zero championships. So maybe I'm on to something, too; maybe the Vikings will only win if I bet on them! At the very least, they've never won when I didn't bet on them, so the opposite might be true, right? (I know there's some high-school level logic that points out the fallacy in that reason, but I don't want to hear it.) Here's hoping.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Polls show NFL still #1; NBA falling

Firstly, check out Luft Krigare's post regarding the Jared Allen-to-the-Vikings deal and why it may not happen. The source may be a touch questionable, but it makes it look like a deal is now rather unlikely. I really can't get behind the "nuclear option" of giving up two first-round picks, but a first and a second wouldn't trouble me too greatly. With all the free agents the team has signed, and figuring that Allen would at least be as good as any first-rounder we might get, then the team would essentially only be "losing" a second-round pick, for which the additions of Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams, and Thomas Tapeh, I think, serve as fair compensation.

Anyway, on to what I actually planned to write about. I recently referenced an old post that itself referenced a Harris Interactive poll that laid out the most popular NFL teams in a 2007 poll. Harris Interactive now has several 2008 polls available for perusing, and while many are interesting (and not sports-related), I thought I'd bring up the February 5 poll about which sport is the most popular among Americans and its interesting findings.

Not surprisingly, pro football ranks #1 overall, with a wide margin over the #2 sport, pro baseball. Despite taking its lumps from the strike, steroids, and competitive imbalance, baseball still remains high in the public rankings, though other sports have certainly narrowed the gap. For 2008, college football ranks third and just behind that is auto racing, which presumably encompasses both NASCAR and open-wheel sports.

After those four, it's not even close. Auto racing is listed as the favorite sport of 10% of poll respondents; next up is, perhaps suprisingly, hockey at 5%, followed by men's pro basketball, college basketball, and golf, each at 4%. Keep in mind that the poll was conducted online, meaning that Internet access was required. It could be theorized that inner-city blacks, who would be far more likely to vote for basketball over hockey or golf, were underrepresented, and therefore basketball should be higher than its perceived ranking.

Regardless, basketball has definitely taken a precipitous tumble since the mid-'90s, when Michael Jordan ruled. The sport was a solid third, behind the NFL and MLB, until 2004. Jordan retired after the 2003 season, and the new crop of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade haven't done enough to return the sport to its glory days. Considering that basketball wasn't much better in 1985 (6%) and 1989 (7%) might mean that Jordan and other stars of the '90s produced more of an aberration in the rankings than what should be perceived as the norm.

Another supposedly transcendental athlete, Tiger Woods, hasn't appeared to do much to boost men's golf in the rankings. Since he turned pro in 1996, the rankings for golf (starting in 1997) have been 6%, 4%, 4%, 5%, 4%, 4%, 4%, and 4%. And, for all its troubles, hockey seems to be doing surprisingly well, even if the poll data is slightly skewed, as mentioned above. Soccer, at 2%, is as dead as it ever was, while boxing, whom really, really old people like Bert Sugar, seem to think is still relevant, checks in at 1% -- lower than bowling. If I had any one suggestion for future polls, it would be for Harris to include mixed martial arts among its response choices, if it's not already present.

Below the main charts, you can find subcharts detailing how the top four sports rate with individual demographics. Most are fairly easy to understand: Auto racing is popular with conservative Southerners (and unpopular with Hispanics and college grads), while college football rates well with college grads and Southerners. Some of the data are unusual, though, and deserve comment:

* College football rates poorly with African Americans. There's no lack of blacks on college-football teams, so this might be the financial divide that prevents many African Americans from entering college in the first place.

* Conversely, while college grads like college football, they're not so keen on pro football, and neither are post-grad students.

* Baseball, thought to be the most conservative and resistant to change of all the major sports, looks to have its chart flip-flopped. Among its proponents: Easterners, the relatively young (30-39), and Democrats, most of whom could fall under the blanket of "liberals." It's detractors: Southerners, Republicans, and senior citizens (65 and older), which generally fit the bill of "conservative." I guess rock themes in ballparks and endless Yanks-Sox coverage has finally had an effect.

Of course, any survey can be made to say practically anything, but these numbers still paint an interesting picture of American's preferences when it comes to sports. And the next time your buddy tries to tell you that MLS is catching on, tell him that it's on equal footing with horse racing and bowling. Hopefully, that'll shut him up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Jared Allen watch

The Kansas City Chiefs have begun talks to trade their franchise player, defensive end Jared Allen, and the Minnesota Vikings appear to be one of the interested parties. Allen has scheduled visits to both the Vikings and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the draft, and the Vikings, with more and better draft picks than the Bucs -- the likely compensation for Allen -- appear to be the front-runner.

To which I have to say: Excellent!

Allen is one of the premiere talents at his position, and a rising star in the league. He led the NFL in sacks last year, with 15.5, though playing on a 4-12 team limited his exposure. He's only just turned 26 and has averaged nearly 11 sacks per season in each of his four pro seasons while also averaging about 60 tackles a year each of the last three seasons -- a high number for a defensive end -- and forcing 14 (or 13, depending on what stat page you look at) fumbles. He's missed just three games in those four years, including two this year for...

...uh oh. A substance-abuse suspension. Danger, Will Robinson?

I think not. After his tussle with the law over a DUI, Allen has stated that he's "learned his lesson" and apparently even convinced Commissioner Roger Goodell, who reduced Allen's four-game suspension to start the season by two games. All things considered, Vikings fans probably would have preferred that Allen's suspension remained at four games, as his first game back in 2007 was against the Vikings, where he racked up eight tackles and teed off on the statue-like Kelly Holcomb twice for sacks and was a major factor in the Chiefs' 13-10 victory.

Assuming that Allen's troubles with the law are behind him, and I tend to think they are, he would be a great fit for the Vikings. Only 26 years old, his best years may still be ahead of him, and, after losing out on free agents Justin Smith and Antwan Odom, the Vikings are probably ready to offer the moon to sign Allen. As the Chiefs' franchise player, Allen is due about $9 million this year, but a long-term deal would probably be front-loaded, as they often are, so as to minimize the later cap hit. The Vikings were $32 million under the cap when free agency began, and the Vikings probably still have about $15-20 million left -- more than enough to sign Allen to a long-term deal, especially if they don't have to pay for a first-round pick.

Ah yes, there is that part: The Chiefs will likely want at least a first-round pick for Allen, and probably also another, later pick and/or players as compensation. Seeing as how the Vikings have two third-round picks, a first- and third-rounder would seem like the starting point for a negotiation, and if that's all it takes to land Allen, I'd consider it a fair deal. Assuming the team is targeting a defensive end in the draft -- probably Derrick Harvey or Philip Merling -- landing Allen would preclude any need to draft a defensive end this year. Plus, who would you rather have on your team: a fairly young, proven, possibly elite NFL player or a rookie whose never played a down in the NFL? If that's the choice, I'd up the bidding to three players/picks, if that's what it takes to snare Allen. Hey, maybe the Chiefs will even throw Tyler Thigpen back to us. He has to be a better backup QB than Gus Frerotte.

You don't often get the chance to land a player the caliber of Jared Allen, especially for the potentially low price of two draft picks. If this works out -- and we should know by the time of the draft -- then the failure to acquire another defensive end earlier in free agency might have actually worked to the Vikings' advantage. Let's hope so.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Los Angeles Vikings?

This news snippet fell under the Minnesota Vikings heading on my Yahoo home page today. Don't worry, it's nothing to get too excited about -- the team isn't going anywhere just yet. Rather, the Vikings were tossed out as a possible candidate for relocation to L.A. (along with the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Diego Chargers, three other cities with "stadium uncertainties"). Still, Minnesota has already lost one pro sports team to the City of Angels, and, when the Metrodome lease expires after 2011, and with plans for a new stadium in limbo, where will the Vikings play?

Unlike former owner Red McCombs, Zygi Wilf has made no noise about moving the team, though he clearly still expects public money to go to the funding of a new stadium. At the end of the day, Wilf's a businessman, and if he can't get the deal he wants in Minnesota, he'll likely look elsewhere or sell the team to a party that can find the Vikings a new home.

That brings us to Edward P. Roski, Jr., the developer mentioned in the Los Angeles article, who says he can construct a stadium in L.A. -- shock of shocks! -- without taxpayer's money. It would be interesting to see how that holds up once the delays and cost overruns that accompany virtually any construction of this magnitude hit, but his bold statements have certainly gotten people's attention. And, as quiet as the NFL has been publicly on the front of putting a team in Los Angeles (content instead to play regular-season games in England and Canada), there's no doubt that a pro team in the nation's #2 most-populated market is on Roger Goodell's wish list.

Roski aside, it's a pipe dream to think that any pro sports owner will ever again foot the bill for a new stadium completely out of his own pocket. If the Vikings want a new stadium, fans will have to pay for it. It's easy for me to sit here -- in Charlotte, N.C. -- and say, "Let's build a new stadium in Minnesota." It's not my tax dollars that are going to pay for it. And I'd wager that about 90% of the comments on similar "Should the stadium be built with taxpayer money?" posts online are some variation of "Just get it done!" without any thought to the financial consequences.

On the other hand, even if the team doesn't move into its privately funded L.A. stadium, there will likely be other cities out there in the next couple years who would be willing to raise taxes to get a professional football team if Minnesota's citizens don't step up to the plate. It's a catch-22 that every city puts itself in when it couples itself with a pro sports franchise. Eventually, that franchise is going to want a new stadium, and the choices are either pay up (and tick off the citizens) or let the team go (and tick off the citizens). The Metrodome, hideous as it is, is only 26 years old. The Twins are leaving and so soon will (probably) the Vikings. Will we go through this again in another few decades?

Of the other three teams mentioned above, Jacksonville would, I think, be the best fit for a move to L.A. As I've previously brought up, the Jaguars' fan base is nearly nonexistent, and that's a waste for such a good team. (Side note: If I put "JacksonvilleJaguars" as a tag, do you think I'll get the same reaction as the last time I included the "GreenBayPackers" tag?) If the Vikings do move to L.A., though, it would be a tough pill to swallow. Then again, maybe the NFL could pull a Cleveland and ship the Vikings to L.A. and the Jaguars to Minnesota a year or two later...

Hey, it can't hurt to have a contingency plan, can it?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday humor and miscellaney

A few things that I've picked up over the past couple weeks and thought I should share with you all:

* First of all, read the fourth comment on this post. Absolutely priceless. Being in ALL CAPS just makes it better.

* Over on Pat Neshek's blog, the Twins reliever (who's off to a rough start, with a 7.50 ERA after getting blasted in last night's loss) talks about when someone sends in an item and asks him to get a teammate's signature:

"Never ever ask another player to get something signed from another player. It happens...every week I get one of these and have to toss it. I guess in Junior High terms it would be like a guy trying to get the hot girl and using her ugly friend to get in with her...it's just not right."

C'mon, Pat, you're not ugly.

* Tired of hard video games? Try You Have to Burn the Rope. With an ending almost as long as Final Fantasy VI.

* Michael Silver's at it again. Not content with his random power rankings during the season, he recently penned an "Ultimate Mock Draft," where each team could pick any athlete. In theory, then, this list should go from best available on down, taking talent and age into account, and while I do believe Al Davis might be crazy enough to take Devin Hester fourth overall, does anyone still think Carson Palmer is the third-most desirable player in the NFL or that 34-year-old Walter Jones is #5? And injury issues, sure, but Adrian Peterson at #14 and LaDainian Tomlinson at #20?

Of course, instead of taking Dwight Freeney at #17, the Vikings would probably try to trade up to take Tarvaris Jackson.

* Former Vikings offensive coordinator and Rams head coach Scott Linehan thinks that going 9-6 as the starter of a team three years ago makes the Gus Frerotte signing "a good decision" for the Vikings. Good for the Rams, to be sure. Then again, considering how much credit Brad Childress assigns to a quarterback's win-loss record, he probably thinks Jackson and Frerotte are the next coming of Joe Montana and Steve Young.

* Finally, the fine folks who brought you baseball-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, and basketball-reference.com have completed the sporting four-way with the launch of hockey-reference.com. Now, you too can look up who is #213 all time in goals scored in the NHL (Stan Smyl with 262) and find out what players share your birthday. Well done, but when will we see nascar-reference.com? You know it has to be coming...

Monday, April 14, 2008

No argument

I've always been mystified by the different ways the four major sports leagues (and, for the moment, I'll include the NHL) handle arguments with their officials. In one sport, there's virtually no consequence. In another, it can get you a penalty. And in one of the four sports, the officials themselves conduct themselves in a very unofficial way when faced with a boisterous arguer.

That sport, of course, is baseball, where roaring, screaming confrontations between managers, players, and umpires are, if not altogether commonplace, accepted and tolerated. It is also, interestingly, the only of the four sports where an ejection does not include any kind of in-game penalty, apart from the removal of the player or manager. In hockey, an ejection usually includes penalty minutes, in basketball technical fouls, and in football a 15-yard penalty. Yet perhaps it's simply the ubiquity of the ejection in baseball and its acceptance that precludes any other foul being levied against the ejected person's team.

At this point, proponents of Bobby Cox will come up (probably out of the dugout, screaming) with the notion that a good manager will get himself ejected rather than let one of his players argue to the point of being ejected. This, to me, smacks of a "can't leave the bench" kind of excuse. You might remember Game 4 of the Suns-Spurs series a few years ago when Robert Horry decked Steve Nash and several players were suspended for Game 5 for leaving the bench. Many of the talking heads the next day were griping that the penalty shouldn't have been so harsh, that the players "couldn't help themselves" for leaving the bench.

Of course, in hockey, leaving the bench for a fight now results in a heavy fine and likely suspension, which is why you don't see full-ice brawls any more. Somehow, hockey players are able to contain themselves while basketball players, at least in this one instance, were not. Go figure. If, say, a baseball manager of player faced a 10-game suspension for being ejected, I'd imagine they'd find a way to hold their tongues.

My point in all this is to question why baseball players are unable to avoid ejection to the point that their manager needs to fall on the ejection grenade and get himself tossed rather than let his star player go. On the one hand, baseball has probably more "unwritten rules" than any other sport, and players always believe themselves to be in the right. ("We never throw at the other guys, but you better believe that guy was throwing at our guy.") Umpire-manager arguments are a way of life in baseball, an indelible part of its history (and histrionics) and, while they do serve a purpose, maybe a manager would be better off telling his players to shut up once in a while.

Then again, I also think the umpires, trained by years of thinking themselves invulnerable and immune to criticism and possessing a remarkable ego, welcome such confrontations, knowing that they have the full authority in the situation. While players in the other three sports usually limit their beefs with officials to the occasional dirty glare or eye roll, the coaches definitely pick up the slack. The vision of Mike Ditka, or any other NFL coach, screaming at a side judge who stoically tunes him out, is as easy to visualize as Lou Piniella getting tossed after his calming drink of bottled water.

So why is it that the non-baseball officials don't fight back? Sure, they'll talk back to the coach sometimes, perhaps even argue their point or try to forcefully explain their decision, but you never get into anything like the classic chest-bumping, dirt-kicking, verbal war you get in baseball (and certainly nothing like this). Why do baseball umpires lower themselves to the level of their foes? Years of zero accountability probably have something to do with it, and, like fighting in hockey, it's probably just one of baseball's little eccentricities that will never be changed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not so Favre away?

I've tried to maintain a relatively even keel regarding a certain former Packer quarterback. I've acknowledged his greatness, even if he was a touch overrated in the latter part of his career. Because of that -- the fact that his team probably won't be that much worse without him than they were with him -- I didn't celebrate too hard when he called it quits last month. Even last week, when the media, desperately starved for any kind of Brett Favre story, simply invented one to sell some papers/get some hits on their web sites, I stayed mostly quiet.

But this is just absurd, degrading, and insulting. "Hey, I know I was adored and admired and unconditionally loved for 16 years. But if you came begging on your hands and knees for me to come back, I guess I might. Maybe. If I felt like it."

It isn't enough that Favre exploited his fame and popularity for years so as to lead the Packers on the last few offseasons as to whether or not he would retire. Now, if Aaron Rodgers struggles or is injured, he's perfect poised to ride in like the cavalry to "save" his struggling team -- provided management gets down on its knees and asks really, really nicely.

Even better, this keeps the media darling in the public eye all season long, and for at least a few more years to come. Every time Rodgers throws an interception (or probably even an incompletion), the questions can begin anew: Will Brett come back? Does he feel wanted? Does he feel loved?

I know the usual trolls will respond to this post saying how terrified I, and all Vikings fans, are of Favre's potential return. On the contrary. I have no issue with facing a quarterback who's got a career record of 17-15 against my team. Of course, the same Packer faithful who ignore Favre's last 10 years of mediocrity probably also think Favre dominated the Vikings every time they played. His recent record -- 9-6 since 2001 -- is also only slightly above average. Over that same time span, the Chicago Bears, with their multitude of ineffective quarterbacks, are 8-6 against the Vikings. I say let the nearly 39-year-old with one good year out of the last three suit up. Every time we played Brett Favre, I knew he had the capacity to tear our hearts out with a great performance -- and I also knew he had nearly the same chance of making a boneheaded play or two that cost his team the game.

Stay or go, Brett, it makes little difference to me. Just make a decision, already.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Comparing QBs across eras

Ever since I started this blog, I've challenged customary statistical measures and the notion that athletes "back in the old days" were better than they are now. (My second post, in fact, is along those lines.) Sure, Tom Brady had them fancy-schmancy 50 touchdown passes last year, but it took a real man like Bob Griese to actually quarterback his team to a perfect season -- never mind the facts that Griese threw 97 passes in 1972 (and 11 more in the Super Bowl) and that his team was #1 in rushing and #1 in points allowed that year. Clearly, Griese was the superior quarterback. Back then, guys played both ways, never got too injured to play, and rubbed dirt in their cuts -- and liked it!

So today, I decided to see if I could find a way to rate quarterbacks across generations to see if, really, Tom Brady's 50-touchdown year was "better" than Joe Montana's best season or even how it compared to old-timers like Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler -- both of whom ate nails for breakfast and could kill a man with their pinky fingers.

Directly comparing stats would be pointless. The NFL of the 70s and even early 80s, as most know, was very different, especially in the passing game. In Staubach's best year, he threw only 27 touchdown passes. Peyton Manning has had seven seasons of 27 or more TD passes. 14 of the top 20 seasons in passer rating have come since 1989. While this might mean that the quarterbacks of today are better -- despite all the rules changes that have served to open up the passing game -- it's probably better to compare quarterbacks to their peers rather than the passers of 30 years before or 30 years after their time. The NFL of 2007 is practically a different league than the one of 1977, or even 1987.

The method I'll be using is similar to ERA+, OPS+, and other measures used to compare baseball players across generations. It's basically:

(100*player stat for year X)/(league average stat for year X)

This could be used for any stat, but I'll use the familiar passer rating. What this essentially does is take a player's passer rating for a season and divide it by the league's rating for that season. A player whose rating was 90% the league's rating would have a value of 0.9. Then the result is multiplied by 100, just for ease of viewing. The above-stated player would have a PR+ (passer rating +) of 90. A league-average player would have a PR+ of 100. If the league's passer rating was 80 and a player had a passer rating of 120, his rating would be (120/80) = 1.5 * 100 = 150.

By comparing a player to his peers within a season, we should get a better idea of who truly was excellent in any given season. There are obviously other factors that go into a QB's statistical success, most notably his teammates, but that's impossible to factor out. Following is a list of all qualifying QBs since the merger I was able to find with PR+ of 150 or better, meaning they were about 50% (or more) better than the "average" QB of their day:


Well, that's something. With the exception of Montana's 1989, all the best seasons come from the 1970s. Staubach's 1971 was phenomenal. His passer rating was 104.8, compared to a league average of 59.3. By comparison, the actual best single-season passer rating, Peyton Manning's 121.1 in 2004, would have had to be 143.0 to achieve a 176.7 PR+! With the best possible rating capped at 158.3, this is virtually impossible.

Ah, but there is a caveat. Staubach threw only 211 passes in that 1971 campaign, a relatively small sample size. (This also raises the question of whether a 30-year-old guy who missed 25% of the season and threw only 325 passes is worth $60 million.) That was still good enough to rank 20th in the 26-team NFL, so he wasn't a complete fluke, but it still seems like an awfully small sample size.

Even with Staubach out of the picture, it's clear that the top of the list is dominated by 1970s quarterbacks. But here lies our second caveat: Because passer ratings were so low in the 70s, there was a lot of room for a good quarterback to excel and post a high PR+. If, for example, the average league passer rating was 110 (you know, the NFL merges with the Arena League), it would be statistically impossible for a QB to post a 150 PR+ (which would be a rating of 165) because of the cap at 158.3.

However, even taking that into account, no QB has ever approached 158.3 for a season. Even Manning's and Brady's awesome 2004 and 2007 seasons don't come close, and the 158.3 is an artificial cap rather than a natural one. For example, it's impossible for a running back to average better than 99 yards per carry, no matter how unlikely it might be. The cap on passer rating would be akin to the NFL saying no running back can go into the record books with a better than 6.0 yards-per-carry average for a season, which both Jim Brown and Barry Sanders have bested. Still, 6.0 is a practical limit, unlikely to be bested in 99.99% of seasons, as the 158.3 barrier will likely never be broken.

Still, the relatively low passer ratings of the 70s did give Staubach, Stabler, et al, more of a chance to look good relative to their peers. For the record, here are the top passer ratings, and, by extension, PR+, for each year from 1970 to 2007:


* Daunte Culpepper's great 2004 season rates with a PR+ of 137.1, which would put it at #21 on the above list. Both he and Manning "wrecked the curve" that season; if one of them hadn't existed to drive up the league-average rating, the other would rate much higher.

* Billy Kilmer
in 1972 had the lowest raw passer rating of a league leader (84.8) but is still better in PR+ than 10 other top seasons, including two of Peyton Manning's and one of Kurt Warner's.

* Both 2004 and 2007 saw the highest league average passer rating, 80.9, contributing to Manning's 2004 at #8 and Brady's 2007 at #14.

* The lowest league-average rating was 1977, which clocked in at 57.8, allowing Bob Griese to come in sixth on this list with an 87.8 rating.

* The bottom of the list is cluttered with guys who had a slightly above-average season when no other QB could manage a breakout year. Yes, Brian Sipe, Steve Bartkowski, Chad Pennington, Tommy Kramer, and Jim Harbaugh each led the league in passer rating one year. Though it should be clear from this chart that they weren't really that good -- the league around them was just mediocre. And for a guy who's only topped 20 touchdowns three times in the pass-happy early 2000s, I've always thought Steve McNair was awfully overrated.

At the least, I think this shows that maybe the best QBs of the 1970s were, if anything, a little underrated today, with the big passing numbers that everyone is throwing around. I think I'd still rather have Peyton Manning or Joe Montana as my QB than Roger Staubach or Kenny Stabler, but it's nice to see that some of those old-timers could still produce great seasons.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Four years too late


Hate forceouts? They're gone.

Double sigh.

Triple *#&^#$^ sigh.

Why yes, I do hate forceouts. Good riddance.

Gus Frerotte back in Purple. Yay?

In a way, it seemed almost inevitable once the talks began, and yesterday it became official: Gus Frerotte is back with the Vikings after signing a one-year deal with the team. While he does have a three-letter first name going for him, Frerotte looked awful in St. Louis last year and will turn 37 before the season begins. Brad Childress, ever the optimist when it comes to fluffing up his mediocre quarterbacks, had this to say:

"The thing is if you watch tape of Gus in St. Louis, you can still see that he can still fling the football and make all the spot throws."

Yes, he can fling it all right -- often into the arms of opposing defenders.

Frerotte threw 12 picks last year, five of them coming in an abysmal game against the Rams. His season interception percentage of 7.2% is way too high for a player who, if he's called upon to play for his new team, should rely on handoffs and low-risk passes. Finally, the signing of Frerotte pretty much ends the pipe dream Vikings fans had of acquiring Donovan McNabb -- which was probably not much of a reality to begin with -- or even of dealing for a veteran like Sage Rosenfels.

There's little doubt that Frerotte's previous experience with the Vikings played some role in the team looking to bring him back. But today's team looks nothing like the Vikings of 2003, where Frerotte filled in admirably for an injured Daunte Culpepper. Randy Moss is long gone, and the focus is very strongly on the running game. Frerotte's got the slight career statistical edge over Tarvaris Jackson (74.3 to 69.0 in passer rating and 4.25 to 3.77 in TYA), but he's 12 years older and, no matter how much Jackson struggles this year, you won't be looking to me to cry for the backup to get into the game.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An even newer way to evaluate QBs

Even semi-casual fans now understand that the old standby of passer rating has its flaws. While new-age stats like AYA (adjusted yards per attempt) and even my own TYA (total yards/attempt) might be better, it's still an inexact science. And statheads with an eye on the draft all know that just because a player put up big numbers in college doesn't mean that success will translate to the pros.

Fortunately, I've come up with a new system that should not only solve these lingering issues but also provide a great way to evaluate both college and pro talent. Wondering if Matt Ryan or Brian Brohm is the best available quarterback in the draft? My new system shows that they should both have similarly excellent careers, and it can all be boiled down into one stat, which I've abbreviated FLAV, which stands for "First-Last Absolute Value."

FLAV is computed by taking the number of letters in a quarterback's first name and subtracting the number of letters in his last name. If you come up with a negative number, simply multiply by -1 to make the value positive. The lower the number, the better the quarterback will be (with a notable set of exceptions, mentioned below), with a value of 0 -- representing a QB with equal letters in each name -- being the optimal result, though QBs with FLAVs of 1 or 2 often have solid careers.

With this in mind, it's easy to see why Brohm and Ryan, both with an FLAV of 0, should be fine. And this should end the debate, once and for all, as to who the best quarterback of all time was. In my mind, it has to be Brett Favre, probably the best FLAV0R (standing for First-Last Absolute Value of 0 with a Ring) to ever play the game, though an equally solid case could be made for FLAV0R Steve Young. And is it any wonder why Michael Vick wanted to be known as Mike Vick a few years into his NFL career?

Many of today's best quarterbacks, like Tony Romo, Carson Palmer (FLAV 0), Drew Brees, Peyton Manning (FLAV 1), David Garrard, and Jeff Garcia (FLAV 2) enjoy success due to their low FLAVs. In fact, the top of the all-time passer rating list is dominated by low-FLAV players Young, Peyton Manning (FLAV 1), Kurt Warner (FLAV 2), Tom Brady (FLAV 2)...and Ben Roethlisberger? A FLAV of 11!?

That's where the F3 corollary comes in. It seems that quarterbacks with three-letter first names are immune to the FLAV rule. In fact, QBs with three-letter first names have had some of the best careers in the NFL. Just look at the large number of successful Joes -- Montana, Namath, Theismann -- with seemingly bloated FLAVs, as well as greats like Dan Marino and Len Dawson. Combine a low FLAV and a three-letter name and you're destined for stardom, not to mention dating and impregnating supermodels, like Tom Brady has done. Many teams overlook this vital part of the FLAV equation, which explains why nobody gave Eli Manning much of a chance in the playoffs and why Delaware's Joe Flacco will likely slip to the second round of the draft.

By now, though, you're probably already ready to poke a hole in this theory by pointing out one of the greatest QB flops of all time: Ryan Leaf. With a strong arm and, more importantly, a FLAV of 0, he seemed destined for greatness.

Ah, but there's a secret about Leaf that few know and that Leaf was always terrified would be discovered, which may have contributed to his high-strung antics and poor NFL career. Like our 42nd president, Leaf was not born with the same last name he carried into adulthood. In fact, it turns out that he is the distant relative of another NFL player, one whose name spells near-automatic doom for any quarterback unlucky enough to fall from his family tree.

It's true: Ryan Leaf's birth name was really Ryan Houshmandzedah. That's an FLAV of 12, folks. If only the Chargers had done their research.

Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without touching up on the Minnesota Vikings' tumultuous quarterback situation. While Kelly Holcomb (FLAV 2) looked good at times in 2007, even low-FLAV players can age ungracefully. Brooks Bollinger (FLAV 4) is clearly not the answer, and any talk of bringing in Sage Rosenfels (FLAV 4) should stop. Donovan McNabb (FLAV 1) seems a good choice, but where does that leave Tarvaris Jackson (FLAV 1)? With such a low FLAV, what is stopping him from becoming the next great, or at least above-average QB?

I think the answer lies in the name "Tarvaris" itself. Let's face it -- do you know any other people named "Tarvaris"? I don't. The name appears to be completely made up, and, while it satisfies the basics of having a low FLAV, the football gods do not take kindly to those who play fast and loose with its simple traditions. If Tarvaris had a more normal-sounding (and preferably seven-letter) first name, like "Terrell" or "Roberto," he could have been one of the greatest QBs of all time. As it is, the Vikings were clearly duped to trade up for him by his low FLAV, and he may sadly never live up to those lofty expectations.

Hey, do you suppose Milt Plum or Sammy Baugh are still available?