Monday, September 03, 2007

KingWatch: Get whacked

Peter King is up to his old tricks (eight quotes of the week) as well as some new but still tired tricks in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback. Three times in the column he uses "whacked" as a verb in the sad, middle-aged, Sopranos-watching sense that makes us all uncomfortable. The first two times, he uses it appropriately to refer to players being cut from NFL rosters. The third time, he uses it to refer to Rodney Harrison's four-game substance-abuse suspension. Tsk-tsk. If you're going to drop that kind of "lingo," Peter, get it right: "Whacked" is final. You get whacked, and you don't come back. Harrison is coming back, ergo he didn't get whacked. He got popped. Now for The 5 Dumbest Things King Said This Week:

1. The column opens with one of the most moving, insightful pieces of writing ever to appear in MMQB. It's just too bad that King didn't write it. In the true spirit of Labor Day, King has outsourced the first three pages of this week's column to Ross Tucker, who went to training camp with the Washington Redskins hoping to win a roster spot as a backup offensive lineman and ended up on injured reserve, his career over. It's a fascinating first-person account of what it feels like to get cut from an NFL roster for what you know will be the last time. Tucker starts by describing the fateful cellphone call (he was getting lunch at Subway), then takes us through the process of turning in his playbook, saying goodbye to fellow players, his coaches and even the owner, and concludes by describing his outlook. He speaks wistfully of the past and confidently of the future. Excellent stuff. You should read it.

Now, here's the problem: In the protracted setup to Tucker's piece, King describes how every team opens camp in July with roughly 80 guys and has to get rid of 27 of them by the beginning of the regular season. Multiplied by 32 teams, King writes, "That's 864 dreams, give or take a few, crushed." But that's assuming that for every single guy who gets the ax in the final cutdown, it means his NFL dream is over. That just isn't true. Getting cut is undoubtedly a painful disappointment, but the dream will continue for many of these guys.

First of all, there are the guys who will be picked up by another team ASAP. The biggest names to be let go during camp cutdowns -- Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich -- knew they wouldn't be out of work long. Trotter has already agreed to terms at Jon Gruden's retirement home in Tampa. And far from being crushed, Leftwich says he's thrilled that Jacksonville chose to release him rather than force him to play musical chairs at quarterback for another season. King himself cites the case of defensive end Quentin Moses, whom the Raiders drafted in the third round, then cut at the end of camp. King writes: "Moses will play, and play well, in the NFL, and the Raiders will be embarrassed over this. The Cardinals claimed him. I bet he'll be starting for the Cardinals by Oct. 1." Hardly a dream destroyed.

Meanwhile, dozens of other players eliminated in the final cutdowns will be wearing NFL uniforms before the season is out. Injuries will always open up roster spots, and guys who impressed in camp -- and in preseason games -- are often the first to get the call. Plus, when a player who did make an opening-day roster fails to perform to expectations, there's one more job available. The Giants, for example, went with Lawrence Tynes at kicker instead of Josh Huston, but if Tynes lasts the whole season, I'll eat my hat. Finally, every team has an eight-man practice squad, where late cuts can find a temporary home. The pay isn't much, comparatively speaking -- $4,700 a week -- but it's a foot in the door. You get to practice alongside the real players, but you retain free-agent status and can sign with any team at any time.

So, yes, final cutdown day can mean the end of a career. But it often doesn't. In fact, it can even serve as a much-needed kick in the ass. "Eight hundred sixty-four dreams crushed" is big and dramatic, but the truth is far more nuanced.

2. Three of the quotes of the week concern the Leftwich situation. Quote No. 4 is Leftwich telling King last month that he's excited about playing this season and, now that he's healthy, looking forward to becoming one of the league's best quarterbacks. No. 5 is Jags coach Jack Del Rio announcing that David Garrard will start at QB. And No. 6 is an unidentified friend declaring that Leftwich is "euphoric" about his release. King pisses all over that last idea, with a quickness: "Wait a minute. Something sounds fishy here." While King appears to understand that Del Rio has fucked over Leftwich (and really the whole team) with his asinine QB management, he can't get over the salary Leftwich was supposed to receive this season: "But this is $5.1 million you're not going to get back, Byron."

So ... what's "fishy" about it? Sure, it's hard to imagine being nonchalant when you see your contract torn up with $5.1 million left on it, but it's a stretch to call that suspicious behavior. In the first four years of the contract, Leftwich has received nearly $17.6 million (in a state with no income tax, too). With that kind of money, he could already be set for life. And he's not done making money, either. Really, it's only "fishy" if you believe that Leftwich considers money more important than peace of mind. And peace of mind was hard to come by in Jacksonville the past few years, with Del Rio accusing Leftwich of exaggerating his injuries, and a certain portion of the fan base still pining for Mark Brunell's aging legs and rubbery arms.

About a half-dozen teams have reportedly contacted Leftwich. Why the Vikings or Chiefs haven't snapped him up is beyond me, but he'll go somewhere. He may not start, but if he has to sit behind somebody on the depth chart, he's just glad it's not Garrard.

3. One of the "stats of the week" concerns Colts coach Tony Dungy's autobiography Quiet Strength, which King refers to as "the most popular sports book since Seabiscuit in 2001." Swell, but Dungy's book (what an original title, by the way) isn't really a sports book. It's a book about Christian living in which sports serves as a backdrop. King says that what he likes most about the book is that it has sold more copies than the biographies of Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Jon Gruden and Marv Levy and twice as many as David Halberstam's book about Bill Belichick. Again, swell, but you just can't compare these books. Dungy's is written to appeal to an entirely separate constituency. And jeez, what the hell did those guys ever do to King, anyway?

4. One of the many things that King thinks he thinks is this: "The Bucs kept four quarterbacks, including Chris Simms. I don't expect that to last. I expect one will be dealt or cut by opening day." What did I say last week about expertise? Any fool can look at the Tampa Bay roster and deduce that the team isn't going to need four quarterbacks. Jeff Garcia is the starter, and he's older than dirt, which makes him Jon Gruden's binky and therefore safe. So either Simms or Luke McCown or Bruce Gradkowski will have to go. We can all see that. What we need King for is to tell us which one he thinks will be released. It'd be like King saying, "The Raiders aren't saying who will be the opening-day starter, Daunte Culpepper or Josh McCown. I expect we'll know when the game begins." Great, but what will we know?

5. King sinks to a stupid new low with his latest childish potshot at J.D. Drew, his beloved Boston Red Sox's free agent bust. From the column: "Farcical Baseball Note of the Week: J.D. Drew (hitting .246, seven homers) is making more money this year ($15 million) than Mickey Mantle made his entire career (hitting .298 with 536 homers)." Oh, grow up. Yeah, Drew hasn't come close to earning his money. Yeah, signing him was a bad idea. But did you notice that King didn't actually say how much Mantle made in his entire career? The answer is $1.12 million. That's less than half of the current average salary in Major League Baseball. So you can find literally hundreds of players making much more this year than Mantle ever did while playing much worse. There are legitimate reasons to criticize Drew, and then there are cheap, lazy, fill-in-the-blanks reasons. So guess which one our boy went with.

3 comments:

Nicholas Bergus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas Bergus said...

Want further proof that Mr. King puts no thought into his SI.com work?

In his Monday column, the second thing he thinks he thinks was that the league was unfair in banning a Dallas assistant for taking human growth hormone "solely to help him fight diabetes." (Please note lack of attribution, indicating that King has confirmed that is the only reason the coach was using this drug. And the word solely, eliminated all other possibilities.)

In his Tuesday mailbag, one reader suggested that the NFL might be more worried that a coach was in a position to distribute this banned substance.

"That's a brilliant thought," Peter wrote in reply. He added, "Your smart paragraph gives me reason to think a lot more about this."

After publication's too late for the thinking, Peter.

PCS said...

I'm sure that somewhere in J-school there's a lecture about not believing everything you hear. There should also be something about not believing the first thing you hear, either. I was drunk all through J-school, so I don't recall.

PK did something like this before, a couple months back, when he took one side in the NFL-Comcast dispute one week, then took the opposite side the next week. The dude's like Mussolini sometimes: His opinion depends on the last person he talked to. That's not so bad for a civilian, but for someone who gets paid for his opinions, he should definitely do the thinking before the story goes on the web.