#1 – McGahee’s End Could Help Ravens Spend
This is one crazy NFL off-season already, and with fans forced to face up the reality of the impending labor strife, it seems that any opportunity to turn their collective focus toward anything moderately on-field related will have NFL fans jumping in with both feet. For evidence of that look no further than the apparent stir caused among Ravens fans yesterday based on the speculation by the Sun’s Mike Preston that the Ravens are likely to release Willis McGahee.
The reaction was a much bigger surprise after all than the realization regarding McGahee itself should have been. McGahee’s original deal with the Ravens, was reported to be a 7-year deal structured to be 3 years, meaning that by the end of the third season McGahee’s salary cap number would likely be preclusive to the team’s ability to keep him around beyond that time. The fact that Willis was a Raven at all in 2010 should have been a moderate surprise in the first place, and is likely at least somewhat attributable to the absence of a salary cap last season. Add to that the Ravens apparent wait and see approach, indicating that no players were likely to be released before the expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement in March, and it’s apparent that fans are dying for something…anything unrelated to labor negotiations to talk about.
Given the recent trends at the running back position league-wide, and the apparent wear and tear that has been exacted on Ray Rice of late, it’s easy to envision the Ravens looking to get younger at running back for 2011. What’s more, the failure of a number of recent highly drafted running back prospects, and success of almost as many undrafted free agents in recent seasons could lead to a bounty of running back talent in the late rounds of this year’s NFL draft and beyond. Say what you want about Ozzie’s recent draft record, but his success at finding running backs has been consistent throughout his tenure with the Ravens.
The league, in recent seasons, has shown a willingness to use running backs for all they’re worth while they’re young and relatively cheap, seemingly exhausting most of their talent before having to commit to big, long-term paydays. In the modern salary cap environment (presumably coming back in 2011) facilitating a position like running back “on the cheap” might free teams up to spend outlandish money for the types of talent that’s tougher to come by through free agency.
While I can’t envision the Ravens looking to break the bank and salary cap on a player like Nnamdi Asomugha, it’s reasonable to think that they could afford to if they were sure they could cover the running back position credibly with 3 low paid options. They might look elsewhere in the system too, to places like tight end and/or safety, places where they’ve always been able to find inexpensive, late round talent, at positions that are propped up to a degree by the system, and places where they’re reasonably certain that they could maintain strength in that system without committing a ton of money to the effort. If Joe Flacco matures and becomes a reliable top-10 in the league quarterback instead of a top-5 QB, that too could mean a savings of $5-$8 million per season, in this NFL, where corners and rush ends have seemingly been recognized as the most valuable defensive commodities, spending through free agency might be the only way outside of finishing 2-14 of coming by these types of players.
#2 – LT - Last of the Hall of Fame Running Backs?
Speaking of the plight of Willis McGahee, or the plight of the modern running back in general for that matter, it seems that we may be moving quickly toward the end of the Hall of Fame running back era.
There are 28 players in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame listed as modern era halfbacks (more than any other position but offensive and defensive line) with Marshall Faulk on his way in 2011. There are another handful of hopefuls who are retired and waiting hopefully on the call for induction, and there’s LaDanian Tomlinson. After that, it might be quite a while before we see another halfback able to put together the type of career that merits induction into the NFL’s hallowed hall.
In this modern landscape of multi-headed backfields, and where running backs are being employed more and more in short, over the middle passing options that wide receivers used to build their reputations on, the league seems to be chewing up and spitting out running backs at a record pace. While guys like Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson might be well on their way, at this point they’ve done little more (or arguably less) than Terrell Davis, who is still waiting on a call from the hall, and unlikely to get it in the minds of most or Jamal Lewis for that matter.
I’d encourage you to enjoy LT while you still have the chance, it may be a long time before you see another hall of fame running back.
#3 – Melo-Dramatic Ending
At long last, and after countless speculation, offers, counter-offers, and innuendo, the Knicks and Nuggets have finally agreed to a deal that will deliver Melo to his stated destination of choice in New York. There he’ll join forces with Amar’e Stoudemire to form their own “little big 2“, with arguably nothing else to speak of.
In getting the deal done, and thanks to the pressure provided by the Nets, the Knicks parted company with Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, along with a bevy of draft picks (only 1 first rounder), and some cash to boot. The Nets, for their trouble are reportedly set to get Mozgov and one of the Nuggets’ other new acquisitions for a pair of first round picks that were central to those two teams’ own Carmelo talks. The Knicks will also reportedly send Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to Minnesota for Corey Brewer.
That leaves the Knicks with 2/3 of their own big 3 in the making in Anthony and Stoudemire, along with uber-second round pick Landry Fields, Brewer and Chauncey Billups if he reports for duty with the Knicks in the backcourt, but next to nothing in support of Amar’e up front. Rony Turiaf remains from the Knicks original roster and he’ll be supported, lightly, by Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams (also acquired in the Anthony deal).
The Knicks were a nice early story, and will ultimately benefit from the attraction that is Anthony and Stoudemire, but for this season at least, they look to have taken a pretty significant step backward. Felton could be viewed as found money by the Knicks, but was one of the most effective (and seemingly quickest) point guards through the first half of the season in Dantoni’s system. Gallinari was having a disappointing season, but was a legitimate threat from the outside with a developing post game, and Mozgov is a reasonably skilled 7-footer with a pretty legitimate upside; he’ll be a welcome addition in New Jersey. But since New York had no real stake in the Eastern Conference this season anyway, it may be one step backward with the intent of taking two big steps forward with two franchise forwards in tow.