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Staring into my crystal ball…

February 22nd, 2006 Comments off

It’s still February, and I just wanted to make some predictions that I feel are at a time that is way too early, just to test my prognostication skills. It’ll be interesting to see how these end up a year from now. I’ll probably come back in July and make some more, and we’ll see how many of these predictions have proven true or false at that time as well…

  • The Falcons will not trade Matt Schaub. Just like the potential Drew Brees to Atlanta deal of 2004, any proposed deal between Atlanta and another team will fall apart due to a discrepancy on desired compensation.
  • However, if the Falcons do trade Schaub, it will be to the Detroit Lions. Martz wanted him badly in ’04, but McKay “stole” him from him, and he would be the ideal young QB to bring to Detroit to compete with Harrington and run that offense.
  • Bryan Scott will regain one of the starting safety positions this year. Yes, I agree he played horribly this past year. But I think it’s too early to close the book on Scott’s career, and I also believe that the Falcons won’t address the position as desired to prevent Scott from starting. I suspect we will draft a rookie, and add a veteran, but I do not see Rodney Harrison or anyone else of his caliber landing here. So Scott will have ample opportunity to win his job back.
  • McKay will surprise most of us in the first round. Last year, I had the team pegged to take a defensive lineman or defensive back in Round 1, but instead we took Roddy White. I have us pegged to target those same positions again in the opening round this year, but I think McKay is going have me doing a double take when Tags announces the pick. What sort of surprise? I have no clue of course, that’s why it will be a surprise.
  • T.J. Duckett will be a Falcon again in 2006. Not because of a lack of willingness to deal him on the Falcons part. But only because unlike No. 8, there isn’t a huge market out there for No. 45. Besides Pittsburgh and Carolina, there aren’t too many teams I see giving up a high pick for Duckett. The Steelers will be content with Parker and some unnamed power back, and the Falcons won’t deal with Carolina unless it involves Steve Smith or Julius Peppers, which we know ain’t gonna happen.
  • Among the Falcons free agents, none of the big names will be back. The Falcons will go after another player instead of Keion Carpenter. Brian Finneran will take more money and more playing time elsewhere. Todd Peterson will get a good contract offer elsewhere, not to mention new kicking guru Steve Hoffman likes the young guys. Kevin Shaffer will bolt because of money as well. And everyone’s favorite Dez White will sign with another team to only be cut at the end of training camp. Or returning free agent class will consist of Ronnie Heard, Fred McCary, Kevin McCadam, and Barry Stokes. Why them? Because nobody else is going to want them.
  • After having byes in either Week 8 or Week 9 the past three seasons, we won’t get so much love from the schedule this year. Expect something pretty early or late like a Week 4 or Week 11 bye which is going to make it even harder on the new strength crew to help this team last better over the course of an entire year.
  • Keith Brooking, DeAngelo Hall, Patrick Kerney, and Michael Vick will be the only Falcon Pro Bowlers in 2006. If I had to pick a fifth possible player it will be Ed Hartwell.
  • The Falcons defense is going to look totally different in 2006 and rank in the Top 10 overall. Mostly because players like Hartwell, Kerney, Hall, and a few others will have significantly better years this upcoming year than they did last year.
  • The Falcons will finish second in the NFC South in another tight race between teh Panthers and Bucs.
  • Even with Vince Young taking over the starting spot, the Falcons will continue their dominance of the Saints in 2006.
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Our Imperfect World

February 14th, 2006 Comments off

Rumors have swirled in the past two weeks that several teams are in the hunt for Matt Schaub, and have already offered the Falcons compensation in the form of first or second round picks for him. Two of the rumored teams are the Cowboys and Bengals. I’ve also heard the Jets and Dolphins mentioned, but I’m not sure how grounded those particularly rumors are.

But nonetheless, the Falcons should jump at such a proposal. As most know, Schaub was a third round pick in 2004, and frankly if the Falcons can get a third rounder back or better, then they didn’t lose anything in drafting him. I’m of the mindset that the Falcons should accept even as little as a 4th or 5th rounder for him.

Why? Because, I believe when you have Rich McKay as your GM, a 4th or 5th rounder can be as valuable as a 3rd rounder to some other teams. Demorrio Williams, Chauncey Davis, Michael Boley, and Chad Lavalais have all been selected in those rounds since McKay’s arrival here and combined for 46 starts this past year.

Also, I base this on the fact that Schaub is unlikely to be a Falcon beyond this year. He is an RFA at the end of the season (if the Collective Bargaining Agreement is extended prior to then), and will likely be on the trade block. I believe if the Falcons don’t trade him this off-season, they will do so next year, because it will be their last chance to get some sort of compensation for him. Even if not, and he remains for the ’07 season, you can be about 99.9% positive that once he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season, he’s going to jet Atlanta. So he has a shelf life of 1 or 2 years here in Atlanta, max.

As I said, a 4th or 5th round pick under McKay seems to be a pretty solid bet, and that player like the 4 I mentioned above probably have a shelf life of 4 or more years in Atlanta. Possibly you can get 2 or more good years out of them as starters. Schaub has a maximum of 2 years as a backup, so which is more valuable?

Yes, I totally realize that Schaub would be a steal for another team at such low compensation. But frankly, a middle round draft pick has a higher future upside than Matt Schaub does, even when considering his skill and abilities.

Some people have been skeptical to ship Schaub off because he’s one of the top backups in the NFL. The Falcons would be hard-pressed to find a backup as competent as him to play behind an injury-prone Vick. That is definitely true, but Schaub set the bar pretty high, and it would be a lofty goal if the Falcons constantly had a backup of his caliber on their team. I’m not saying the Falcons should aim low, but you’ve been a bit spoiled by having Schaub, and sometimes you just have to accept a little disappointment. Most NFL teams have a guy playing second fiddle that probably would lead a team to only 4 or 5 wins over a 16 game schedule. Not everybody can have someone capable of leading a team to the playoffs. Sometimes you just have to live with having an average player, because there just aren’t enough good players to go around.

Another reason I’m so quick to ship off Schaub for relatively minimal compensation is that I’m not deluded enough to believe that if the Falcons simply wait a year, Schaub’s stock will rise even higher. That same sort of judgment was involved when Doug Johnson was Vick’s primary backup. Most Falcon fans were confident in Johnson’s abilities up to that point (he had done little to make us believe he was a bad player) and even when Vick went down in ’03, many felt the Falcons could be able to split the 6-8 games that Vick was initially expected to be out. Boy, we were wrong.

This is the NFL to all those that don’t know. And trying to guess the future is like trying to guess the future, which means it’s next to impossible. One can only look at how players rise and fall over the course of a single year in terms of draft stock to know that. One can look at how a team’s initially expected strength of schedule vastly changes from how it looks in the preseason to the end of the regular season. The turnover that seems to occur yearly in the playoffs is another reason why trying to guess the future is next to impossible. Assuming Schaub’s value is only going to increase from one year to the next is the same as assuming the Falcons would win 9 games this year and make the playoffs, as predicted by most at the end of 2004. You just never know.

When you look at that term we call “likelihood,” Schaub is likely only to start one game next year because that’s what he’s only managed to start the past 2 years. So how much more can Schaub’s stock improve if he gets only 1 opportunity to really shine?

I don’t expect most to be on the same page as me in accepting a 4th round pick for Schaub. I’m just of the mindset that if I’m Rich McKay, my thinking is that a 4th round pick can do a lot to help me build this team down the road, while Matt Schaub offers very little.

In a perfect world, we would be able to keep Matt Schaub forever and it wouldn’t cost us tons of money, and he and Michael Vick could play happily side by side and skip through a field of daisies holding hands, and the Falcons would win the Super Bowl, and Chad Johnson would get traded to the Falcons, blah blah blah. But it’s not a perfect world. Our imperfect world tells me that we should strike while the iron is hot.

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Surprise, Surprise (You do know its 2006 right?)

February 7th, 2006 Comments off

In My Humble Opinion…
Stephen LeeSurprise, Surprise (You do know its 2006 right?)

I feel bad that my first post has to be nothing more than a rant, but so be it. The Super Bowl is supposed to be the biggest game of the year. More people around the world tune in on Super Sunday than any other sports event in the world and the millions of people that watched this last Sunday got treated to four quarters of terrible football and even worse officiating. Now I am not going to hop right onto the conspiracy theorist band wagon, but I will say there is plenty of reason to be concerned. Everyone who has watched the game or seen any coverage of it since has seen the infamous Darrell Jackson “push-off”, Big Ben’s “touchdown”, and Matt Hasselbeck’s “illegal block” by now and even a die hard Steelers fan could see these calls were at least questionable. The long and short of it is that the officials who have been blowing calls all year managed to go out with a bang on the biggest stage possible. I am not going to sit here and re-hash the calls and continue to assault this deceased horse like every other sports writer has. What I will say is it’s time for the NFL to step into this century and embrace some other methods of officiating the game.

I look at it this way. I am a photographer by trade and I spend part of the summer months hiking through the back country of some of the United States most beautiful national parks. While on my hikes I can track my precise location using my palm pilot which is no bigger than the common checkbook. This device can tell exactly where I am in the world within two-and-a-half feet. Technology has come far enough to do that but the NFL can’t use technology to decide when a ball crosses the goal line/first down maker? Instead we have to depend on the judgment of a handful of men who aren’t even in a position to make a sound decision half the time. Seriously guys, the fans deserve better than that.

How many times over the course of the year did we as fans gather together to cry and moan about a questionable spot, a missed first down, or an overturned TD? The solution to this problem is as simple as a small transmitter placed in the ball that would be picked up by sensors in the first down makers/pylons as it passed through them. It would pose no threat of injury to the players, it wouldn’t impede or slow down the game, it only makes good sense. If the NFL is so terribly opposed to this at least put a camera in the pylons so the officials have a better view if the call is in question.

Perhaps the NFL should hire full time officials and send the part time zebras back to there more mundane (and typically much more lucrative) day jobs. Maybe if the officials spent the entire off season reviewing film and coming to more concrete definitions for things like pass interference and holding we could finally have some sort of continuity from one officiating team to the next. That’s all the fans are asking for. We want the games called the same way for both sides all year. Maybe if the NFL found some younger and more physically fit officials they could find a way to be in better position to make calls. Seriously, there is now way these 40 and 50 year old men can keep up with the action of today’s NFL at all times. Instead the fans are just left to hope that the stripes are in the right place at the right time.

I think the whole instant re-play system needs to be re-vamped as well. Instead of having to stick their heads into a box on the field when the coaches toss the red flag the NFL should take the NCAA’s example. Have an official in the booth review every single play as it happens and if there is something questionable let them decide whether or not to review it. It would help maintain the pace of the game since only the replay official could stop the game. Whoever was reviewing the play would be relatively anonymous, so the official isn’t subject to the pressures of making a decision in the midst of a screaming home crowd. (Not to say that an official could be pressured by the crowd, but you can believe I’d be thinking about the walk back to my car if I had to make an unfavorable call in front of a home crowd.)

Ultimately all I am trying to say is that all over this country fans are forking out millions of dollars every year to see their teams play. These fans have made players, coaches, and owners incredibly wealthy. Is it to much to ask that the NFL take just a small portion of the money they rake in every year to assure that each game is officiated as fairly and accurately as possible? In my humble opinion, I think not.

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The Super Formula

February 7th, 2006 Comments off

I was in Detroit for the Super Bowl, for those still out of the loop. I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I really was there to support a team like the roughly 50,000 or so Seahawk and Steeler fans that seemed to be in attendance. I also believe it didn’t help that the game was in Detroit, which is not a bad city, but not exactly one I’d put at the top of my list to visit for a party weekend.

But going to the game and considering both teams allows me to consider a bit more what it takes to be a Super Bowl Champion. I know it’s not exactly a new discovery, but I think much more than people believe boils down to how a team plays down the stretch. As was the case with the Steelers this past year, the Patriots in 2001, and the Panthers in 2003, a team that moves onto the Super Bowl needs to have a strong finish to their season. The Falcons have not really done that since 1998. I could probably expound a bunch of reasons why that is, but frankly, that needs to change. The Seahawks, like Eagles in 2004, and the Patriots in their two other Super Bowl years weren’t exactly dominate down the stretch, but rather consistent from start to finish during the entire season. That is also another way to go, and I do think the Falcons need to get more consistent, but I think for the way this team is built, it’s better to be dominant in the second half of the season rather than being the most consistent for seventeen weeks.

It’s clear that defense wins championships as has been the case in the modern NFL (since 1995). Besides the Rams in 1999, there hasn’t been a team that was able to win a Super Bowl that had a questionable defense. I don’t think you need a dominant defense that we’ve seen the Bears, Bucs, and Ravens sport in recent seasons, but you need a defense that can control even the most explosive offenses in the NFL. The Falcons defense is not there yet, but I don’t think it’s as far as some may believe. I think overall, upgrading one or two positions on the defensive front, while getting some more help in the secondary (one or two more key playmakers) is going to put the defense on an upper echelon level. Best case scenario is that it gets done this off-season and we see some major improvements in 2006. Otherwise, I think it may take two off-seasons to do it with the hope that no more than a third year for the unit to really gel and hit its stride.

Our offense needs to become more consistent. It’s quite clear that in order to win a Super Bowl you only need to outscore your opponent. In essence, it doesn’t mean you need a very explosive offense capable of scoring 30 points each week, but one that can consistently put 24 or more points on the board (which usually puts you among the Top 10 in points scored in the NFL). We averaged 21 and 22 in 2004 and 2005, respectively, so we are knocking on the doorstep it seems.

A lot of that consistency centers on Michael Vick. I’m not saying Vick needs to become a 100-rating passer, but he needs to become more consistent. I think all Falcon fans seem to realize that when evaluating whether the team can win a game or not, a lot depends on which Michael Vick shows up to the game. And I’m not going to go into all the ways how Vick can improve, but basically all Super Bowl winners and losers had a quarterback that either made plays for them or managed the game well enough that it allowed the rest of their offensive playmakers to make the big plays. Vick probably needs to be closer to the former since our offense isn’t exactly a powerhouse when it comes to the rest of the unit making big plays.

I sincerely believe this team has a two or three-year window of winning a Super Bowl ring. That’s not to say winning one after 2009 is unlikely and that we have to do everything in our power to win immediately rather than continue to build for the future. I think the window may be that small because Vick will likely reach his peak in ability during that period and afterwards his contract may be come so bulky that if we haven’t achieved the desired results in that span, there are going to be a lot of questions about whether Vick is truly the long-term hope we want. Also I believe that is a good window for Mora as the head coach since most head coaches manage to go to their first Super Bowl in their first five seasons in the NFL. I also believe that it is a good window for defensive improvement as beyond 2009, a lot of the veterans we’re counting on now as our defensive core probably won’t be with the team any longer.

My hope is that I will be able to attend Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix in which I hope the Falcons will be playing.

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