Dear Ocho

LA Times

Dear Chad,

That look says it all brother. As Bill Duke said in Menace II Society, “You know you done f*cked up, don’t cha???” Where did it all go so wrong? You thought you were marrying the Prom Queen, but after The Headbutt Heard ‘Round The World, you’re looking more like the prom fiend. After the debacle that was the 2011 season, I just KNEW you had your shit together now! Back home in the MIA, amongst the people you love (and who love you), on a team where you could really shine – and in the division where you could stick it to the Pats twice a year! I guess Joe Philbin didn’t see it that way. He’d already tired of your act since OTAs, and when you got all Roemello Skuggs on your new bride, well, that was just too much Liberty City for his Green Bay ways to tolerate. Which was unfortunate for you, because I think a more tenured coach (Tony Sparano for example) would have given you a longer rope on this one – especially since you’d been a relative Boy Scout your entire career. But Sparano’s no longer with the Dolphins, and now neither are you.

This had to have begun back in Cincinnati. We forget today, but it was only three short years ago that the Bengals were featured on Hard Knocks. We’d known Chad the Prolific Receiver well by then, and had already been introduced to “Ocho Cinco” in all his diva glory, but Hard Knocks in ’09 is when you arrived in full: for better and, we know now, worse. Your eccentricities and colorful metaphors were excused as Chad Being Chad, but when you tried briefly (and foolishly) to “hold out” in spring 2008, owner Mike Brown and the organization began to sour on you. And once Marvin Lewis – arguably your biggest supporter through the years – began to sour on you, you knew the jig was up. After Slim Henry’s untimely and unfortunate death, and with the direction the organization was going, a fresh start was probably best for both parties. The Bengals did you a solid when they flipped you to the Patriots for some Dunkin’ Donuts coupons, because it gave you your only best shot at getting a ring, but you [and your Prius] never would fit in up there.

I truly think you spent too much time bowing and genuflecting to the cheat great Coach Belichick (not to mention kissing Tom Brady’s ass) and not nearly enough time being yourself, which is to say BALLIN’ OUT!!! I know you and Terrell are close, but damned if you’d ever done such a great T.O. impression (dropping passes) before last season. When Tedy Bruschi unfairly ripped you for “not being in the playbook enough,” you basically ate it – and none of your teammates piped up in your defense. We should have known then that Ocho Cinco was not long for The Patriot Way, but in terms of plain ol’ football, it’s puzzling why your output wasn’t greater. With playmakers like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker stretching the field, it’s amazing to think that with your speed *alone* you couldn’t catch more than 15 passes all year (even if you used the damn playbook to prop up your XBox).

But we’re forgetting one KEY ingredient to this disgusting gumbo that’s been cooking: Evelyn. Out of 140 characters sprang your love for this broad who was, up to that point, “famous” for having been engaged to…*drumroll*…Antoine Walker. Of course she has since gained additional fame for throwing bottles at people’s heads, but we digress. This all came along as your Twitter star was skyrocketing, and maybe you saw an alliance with some photogenic arm candy like her as a smart business move, but I’m here to tell you: that stock ain’t worth shit now. I’m all for building your brand, and when the NFL lockout rolled around in summer 2011, you were better-positioned than ANYONE to ensure a steady stream of income away from the field. Your momma was proud. Dancing With The Stars was another in a line of smart decisions for your brand, but your pimpin’ started getting real raggedy when you went Kobe on us after the news broke that you’d run up in Cheryl Burke and you did the non-apology/apology thing with Eve around last Valentine’s Day. If she wasn’t cool with the fact that a grown, single man (and popular, desirable pro athlete) had a fling with a beautiful woman with whom he’d spent considerable time, I’d have told her ass to KICK ROCKS!!!

But you went the other way. You further tied Eve to you, and after a lost season, with your athletic confidence no doubt waning, you left yourself no choice but to wife that ass. Chad, if what you said about her withholding the [drawers] from you during your struggles last season is true, you both need your asses whupped. And now that Eve has filed for divorce from you (likely without speaking to you since the events of Saturday), it’s clear that she’s been a net negative to you – much the same as Elin was to Tiger. Why athletes think they need a trophy wife is beyond me: especially since Derek Jeter has dated maaaaaaad women, remained a bachelor, and kept his reputation (not to mention endorsements) FULLY in tact! Once VH1 pulled the plug on the ill fated Ev & Ocho, ol’ girl had no reason left to “stand by her man,” so she didn’t. Which should let you know what she was about from jump street

In closing bruh, I (like a lot of people) would like to see you continue your NFL career, as you’ve brought us a ton of enjoyment through the years – doing it with style and humor, on and off the field. But the fact is that you’re a 34-year-old receiver with declining production and a suddenly tarnished reputation (and again, no team).  That’s not to say you can never catch on with anyone else (Moss and T.O. have managed to do it), just that now you’re pushing the boulder uphill, for the first time in your charmed career. This all started once you and Eve started “beefing” on Twitter – and by your logic, anyone that could make you “put the sticks down” had to be The One. Me, I’d have kept on playing FIFA.


The Voice of Reason


Hello Mile High!

Reuters / Rick Wilking

Top 10 “facts” about Peyton Manning’s 10-day-old Bronco career:

1. Donald Brown is not on the guest list.

2. The earth’s largest, concussion-proof football helmet is being constructed there as we speak – both in navy and that hideous brown/white.

3. Peyton’s only response to Reggie Wayne’s congratulatory phone call was, “You’re dead to me.”

4. Peyton wouldn’t step foot in the Broncos locker room until it was completely fumigated from Jay Cutler’s “stank.”

5. John Elway mistook Ashley Manning’s tits for apples, leading to an uncomfortable moment in the stables.

6. Peyton greeted new defensive coordinator (and ex-Jags coach) Jack Del Rio by announcing “You’re still my bitch!”

7. Jim Irsay drunk-dialed Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to tell him “Don’t say I never did shit for ya…”

8. Center J.D. Walton’s balls are “badly chafed and raw” from Peyton’s obsession with perfecting the snap.

9. Tim Tebow shat in Manning’s locker before skipping town.

10. The rest of the Broncos complained, “We’re already tired of the fuckin’ Oreos.”

Jaguars Lack Bite

USA Today

For a floundering franchise that ranked 25th in home attendance last year – and has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons – the Jacksonville Jaguars sure were tardy to the Tebow Trade Party. One wonders how excited the Jags even were to attend, because once the lights went up, there were no party favors left to be had: the Jets had picked ’em clean. After a captivating sophomore season, during which he delivered an AFC West title and a riveting playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow seemed poised to solidify his hold on the Broncos’ starting QB position. Instead, the arrival of Peyton Manning in the Mile High City only expedited Tebow’s ticket out of town. The Broncos’ sudden harvest of QB riches, that in turn necessitated moving The Messiah, offered an unexpected bounty to a team enterprising enough to recruit Tebow to lead its flock. That team was not the Jaguars.

Since its inception in 1995, Jacksonville’s NFL tenure has been a roller coaster ride: Tom Coughlin did the unthinkable by guiding the Jags to the AFC Championship Game in only their second year of existence, compiling a sparkling 49-31 record over his first five seasons at the helm. Dark days soon followed, and after three consecutive losing campaigns Colonel Coughlin was summarily stripped of his rank. Jack Del Rio succeeded him – if you consider one playoff win in nine years a success. Outgoing team owner Wayne Weaver surely tired of Del Rio’s empty promises, so Weaver fired the former NFL linebacker as a housewarming gift to new steward Shahid Khan – who inherits the Jags’ checkered history along with an ocean of tarp-covered seats.

Khan’s first order of business is restoring hope to a jaded fanbase. After some speculation that the Jags would be a relocation candidate once the NFL flies its flag in Los Angeles again, the billionaire’s purchase of the franchise came with the understanding that he’d keep the team in Florida. Khan elected to retain general manager Gene Smith, whose evaluation could best be termed incomplete after three years. As this new regime’s first head coaching hire, the Jags settled on Mike Mularkey, former head man in Buffalo and late of the Atlanta Falcons coaches’ booth. With Jacksonville’s holy trinity (owner|GM|head coach) in place, the question remaining is who will pilot the ship, and Blaine Gabbert didn’t exactly earn his wings during a pathetic rookie season.

All of the above seemed to set the stage for the prodigal son’s return to the Florida coast, but it wasn’t in the cards. Despite Mularkey’s insistence that he wanted Tebow, the Jags either weren’t willing or savvy enough to outbid the New York Jets for his services. The Jets offered to contribute half of the $5 million balloon payment owed Tebow for the coming season, and 4th and 6th round picks, for the QB and a 7th rounder from the Broncos. Jacksonville reportedly offered to pay “more than half” of the $5 million, along with a 4th rounder – but no sweetener. The Jags’ stated reasoning was their steadfast belief that you build teams through the draft – though ironically their draft record has been spotty, and none of their recent high draft picks have delivered a fraction of the value Tebow did in two short years in Denver (namely a playoff win).

Throughout his time in Buffalo and stints as offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Dolphins and Falcons, Mularkey’s coaching style has displayed hints of innovation, but he prefers to establish a power running game as the engine of offensive production. With the Jags, he has the makings of a solid offense in running back Maurice Jones-Drew, newly-acquired wide receiver Laurent Robinson and talented tight end Marcedes Lewis. The lynchpin still is Gabbert, and by whiffing on Tebow the Jags appear to have gone all-in on pocket rags – Mularkey’s track record developing quarterbacks notwithstanding. I shudder to think Jacksonville’s preference for Gabbert is predicated on the image of the prototypical quarterback, because how many rocket-armed male models have petered out at the position? The graveyard of never-weres is littered with them.

So I suppose Jaguar fans (the brave few who actually attend home games) will be left to wonder how Tim Tebow would look in teal and black. That means untold season ticket and jersey sales down the drain, not to mention the monumental goodwill squandered. A shame too, because I fear they’ll likewise be left to wonder what a winner looks like. Football fans at-large were also robbed – of an epic “mustache-off” between Khan and head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams (who were rumored to covet Tebow) for Timmy’s honor. So we’re all losers.

NBC Sports

USA Today

NFL Free Agency: Musical Chairs

AP Photo/David Duprey

On the sports calendar – for football junkies in particular – this is among the most enjoyable times of the year: spring is in the air, which means the NCAA Tournament is just underway; the NBA season is in the homestretch; Major League Baseball and The Masters are just around the corner; and the NFL Draft is imminent, preceded by its dashing twin – FREE AGENCY. An institution now as closely identified with the NFL as helmets and shoulder pads, the beginning of the free agent signing period is a critical window wherein the rich typically get richer, the desperate spend lavishly, and the shrewd stand to benefit greatly. There has been plenty of all three since Tuesday afternoon’s shotgun start to the proceedings, covered of course in painstaking detail by every sports media outlet under the sun. But it’s all talk until the pads start popping, so in that spirit – and until the first OTAs of the offseason – let’s do some armchair quarterbacking of selected free agent signings:

Mario Williams/DE
Signed with: Buffalo Bills
Terms: 6 years, $100 million
Verdict: Next to Peyton Manning’s impending signing, this is The Granddaddy of ‘Em All. Second-guessed by pundits after being selected first overall by the Houston Texans in the 2006 draft, Williams has quieted the pro-Reggie Bush chorus with his relentless play and outstanding production (53 sacks in 82 games). Following consecutive Pro Bowls, Williams submitted a pedestrian 2010 season (by his lofty standards). In 2011 he moved to outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, but still registered 5 sacks in as many games before going down with a torn pectoral muscle – prematurely ending his season. Despite being an integral part of their defensive alignment, re-signing Williams wasn’t financially feasible for the Texans.

Enter the Buffalo Bills: following 12 years of playoff futility, and saddled with an unfortunate inability to attract high-profile free agents, the Bills have quietly made solid moves in the past year to shore up their roster in a packed AFC East. After drafting future franchise cornerstone Marcell Dareus 3rd overall in the 2011 draft, Buffalo has signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Stevie Johnson to lucrative contract extensions, and plans to do the same with RB Fred Jackson. Adding Mario Williams to an already-formidable defensive front that includes Dareus and Kyle Williams is a home run that could, barring injury, become a grand slam and propel the Bills into the 2012 playoffs.

Lurking in the shadows is Buffalo’s run of horrendous luck: the Bills started last season 4-1 before losing 9 of 11 to close. Similarly, they started 2008 5-1 before finishing 7-9, sealing then-coach Dick Jauron’s fate the following season. Other teams interested in Mario’s services – reported to be the Bears, Falcons and Seahawks – missed out on signing or even courting Williams, however if he turns out to be a bust in Buffalo, they will no doubt be thankful for the financial flexibility they maintained.

Vincent Jackson/WR
Signed with: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Terms: 5 years, $55 million
Verdict: Why couldn’t the Bucs make a move like this when Raheem Morris was still their coach? After Jon Gruden’s surprising ouster following the 2008 season, the Bucs underwent a complete shift in organizational philosophy, transitioning from a veteran team (that won Super Bowl XXXVII) to one riddled with young, unproven players. They fired GM Bruce Allen and promoted Mark Dominik to the position, and Dominik in turned elevated Morris to head coach from his recent appointment as defensive coordinator. However, the suddenly thrifty Glazer family didn’t spend to provide Morris with a roster capable of winning. The Bucs produced a miracle 10-6 season in 2010 behind the strong arm and clutch play of QB Josh Freeman, but their only noteworthy roster move that offseason was signing punter Michael Koenen away from the Falcons. A dismal 4-12 season followed, after which Morris was summarily dismissed.

The arrival of new head coach Greg Schiano has apparently signaled a return to generous spending by the Glazers, as they’ve broken the bank to sign Jackson, Carl Nicks (a mauler of an offensive guard), and cornerback Eric Wright. Jackson’s signing holds the key to the Bucs’ fortunes in 2012: they were non-competitive in too many games last season, and a big reason was the regression of WR Mike Williams. The Bucs’ defense also suffered from injury and inconsistency to the point they could not stop many teams, which, coupled with their offensive struggles, made winning all but impossible. For Tampa Bay to establish a solid running game behind LeGarrette Blount (or his replacement), opposing teams must respect the Bucs’ aerial attack, and a proven commodity such as Jackson will go a long way in that regard. Again, barring injury, the Chargers’ loss should be Freeman and the Bucs’ significant gain.

Cortland Finnegan/CB
Signed with: St. Louis Rams
Terms: 5 years, $50 million
Verdict: For a team as starved for a cover cornerback as the Rams, this signing was manna from heaven – though one can only wonder if they paid too high a price to secure Finnegan’s services. St. Louis actually began the 2011 season with a fair amount of promise, based primarily on a rapidly-gelling defense and the significant potential of QB Sam Bradford. The Rams brought in ex-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator to tutor Bradford, but a rash of injuries quickly sank St. Louis’ season, resulting in coach Steve Spagnuolo’s firing. The Rams’ long list of  the walking wounded included four of their top five cornerbacks, making the Finnegan acquisition a natural.

That being said, Finnegan’s career stats call into question the amount of his hefty contract. Known as a hard-nosed (some would say “dirty”) player, Finnegan has been extremely durable, missing only three games in the last five seasons (over which time he was a full-time starter in Tennessee). However, he’s registered only 14 career interceptions and 1 Pro Bowl appearance (in 2008), and has been in the headlines as much for his skirmishes with opposing players as for actual plays he’s made to help his team. The fact of the matter is St. Louis needs far more roster upgrades than just adding Finnegan to return to competitiveness, though their mega-trade with Washington that netted three first-round picks and a second-rounder should put the Rams on the fast track.


Reggie Wayne/WR
Signed with: Indianapolis Colts
Terms: 3 years, $17.5 million
Verdict: Bit of a shocker that Wayne would re-sign with Indy, given the Colts’ drastic new direction and the ongoing assumption that he would join Peyton Manning wherever the QB lands. This was obviously a good move for Wayne financially, and for the Colts competitively considering the loss of WR Pierre Garçon to the Redskins.

Steve Hutchinson/G
Signed with: Tennessee Titans
Terms: 3 years
Verdict: Picking up a 7-time Pro Bowler is almost always a good thing – especially if it helps the Titans sign Manning. Either way, if Hutchinson has anything at all left in the tank, he should bolster an already-solid offensive line and help blow open some holes for RB Chris Johnson.

Curtis Lofton/LB
Signed with: TBD
Verdict: I mention Lofton to highlight an unfortunate conundrum of free agency, namely how a team such as the Falcons can practically usher a dynamic young cornerstone of its franchise – one who’s been the starting middle linebacker on 3 playoff teams and amassed almost 500 tackles in 4 NFL seasons – out the door, possibly to a division rival. It was announced this afternoon that the Falcons have agreed to terms with DE John Abraham on a new contract, so let’s hope they have the same luck keeping Lofton in the fold.

Goodbye Blue Sky

“And like that, he was gone…”

Fourteen years in fifteen minutes: that was the math facing Colts owner Jim Irsay and now-departed QB Peyton Manning as they stood behind a lonely dais Wednesday. How do you possibly pay tribute to such a long and stellar career, and the exemplary author of it, in so brief a period? Before those looking on could even consider the question, the man of the hour had been thanked and in turn gave thanks profusely, then – like the setting sun – was suddenly gone from view. What did we witness in those 15 minutes, in those 14 years? If you ever watched Peyton, you will know the two were virtually identical.

He entered the league under immense scrutiny and massive expectations, yet for me, the first hint that Peyton Manning would thrive in the cauldron that is the NFL occurred during the 1997 Heisman Trophy presentation. When Michigan DB Charles Woodson was announced as the winner (deservedly so), Peyton was clearly devastated, his reddened face betraying him. However in the few seconds between the announcement and the obligatory congratulations from the other Heisman finalists, he managed to gather himself and warmly embrace Woodson, displaying the style and grace that would be his permanent signature.

We’ve heard all about Peyton’s Hall of Fame résumé in the days and weeks leading up to yesterday’s announcement – the 3-13 rookie campaign, followed by a 13-3 sophomore season; the 11 playoff appearances and 4 MVPs – but what has always impressed me most is how he’s gone about his business. You never saw a fiercer, better-prepared or more driven competitor, yet you also never saw a better leader, more supportive teammate or finer ambassador for the game than Number 18.

One of the knocks on Peyton coming out of the University of Tennessee was “he can’t win the big one,” and the Volunteers’ national championship the following season did little to refute that assertion (fairly or otherwise). The Colts’ often unsightly playoff losses early in the Manning regime further added fuel to this fire, however in workmanlike fashion, he simply kept his head down and continued to refine his mental resolve and crunch-time performance. As his legend grew, Peyton’s ever-expanding regular season highlight reel gave rise to deeper playoff runs: most famously, the Colts stumbled against the Patriots in ’04 and ’05 before eventually vanquishing their nemesis en route to the ’07 Super Bowl title.

The miraculous thing is, after each of those games – whether they ended in victory or defeat – Peyton’s face betrayed neither impostor. As he did during the Heisman presentation so many years before, he always offered congratulations as graciously as he accepted them: the mark of a true gentleman. Peyton’s unyielding play, and the regal manner with which he comports himself and treats others, have earned him the universal respect and reverence of not only the quarterback fraternity, but the entire NFL (and judging by the unprecedented interest in yesterday’s press conference, the viewing public to boot).

Those 14 years culminated in Wednesday’s announcement, the scope of which hardly seemed befitting of someone who’d given so much of himself to the game, his team and his city – and asked so little in return. Before Peyton spoke, Irsay was clearly taken by the moment, explaining how he grew right along with his QB: from a young owner to a silver-haired Lombardi winner. Then it was the dearly departing’s turn to address his adoring masses, and you felt wistful that The Day had descended so swiftly. In true Peyton fashion, he stood tall and saluted those great and small, which made us feel – ever more viscerally – that we had been a part of his remarkable journey in Indianapolis.

So where does The Great Man go from here? The answer to that was left to another day, for when it was said and done, there were no more audibles to call, no more checks or pre-snap reads to make. There was only one final, scripted play for Peyton Manning to run: a victorious kneel-down.

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