Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Giants: Burress update

I am sure you already know, so this is not a news flash for you, but the Burress case has been postponed until June 15. Brafman, Burress lawyer, is apparently trying to negotiate a deal with the NY DA that will avoid jail time completely and the NY DA is insisting on some jail time. That part you already know, because it has been reported copiously in the media.

My take on this is simple. There is now virtually no chance that Burress will play in 2009. His only hope was that this would get resolved quickly, and that the resolution would involve little or no jail time, that he would get a minimal suspension by the NFL and therefore could theoretically return by around midseason. The court date, where he enters his plea, having been postponed to June, now gives the two sides time to work out a plea arrangement, but I don't think this delay helps Burress. Obviously, a deal could be closed at any moment, but the longer it goes before a deal is made, the less likely it is that Burress will play this year.

If the DA absolutely insists on some jail time, I don't know what leverage Burress has with which to negotiate. The facts in the case seem pretty clear and are not in great dispute. The only thing Burress has on his side is that it will be very costly for NYS to prosecute, he has a very good lawyer, and NYS might actually lose the case if it goes to trial. Doesn't sound like much, but even if that is the Burress side's leverage, NYS could still insist on a minimal sentence of 6 months and 1 year's probation, which is not an unreasonable offer. It just so happens that for someone who is a professional athlete, missing one year of playing time can never be regained and probably will cost him $7M or so.

To me it looks like a very high probability that if Burress puts on a helmet ever again, it will not be in the 2009 season.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Giants: Burress case

Please see this article in ESPN.com about the lawyer for Burress, Ben Brafman, trying to get Burress off with a lesser charge. This is the only way it can work for Plaxico to avoid jail time - if the charges are changed to a 3rd degree gun possession charge before Burress enters his plea next Tuesday. Once the plea is entered, and it is locked in that the charge against him is 2nd degree felony gun possession, he's cooked. This is the charge that carries with it a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 1/2 years. But if the charge is changed to 3rd degree possession, it is still a D-class felony, which means that it can not be plead down to a misdemeanor. But, some of those charged with 3rd degree possession actually avoid jail time and get only probation. It is not a majority of the cases, so even if it is reduced to 3rd degree, Burress is still not home free. There is a fourth degree gun possession charge in NYS that is a misdemeanor. About 25% of those charged with 3rd degree possession are given only probation, while others receive some jail time. NYS in the borough of Manhattan has a very high conviction rate on these gun possession charges, so if it goes to trial, he's in a load of trouble.
But even if the charge gets reduced to 2nd degree gun possession charges, AND he makes a deal where he is on probation for 18 or 24 months, he will surely get suspended by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy. How long will the suspension be? I would suspect it would be a minimum of 4 games and could be as much as an entire season. If I were a betting man I would guess it would be 6-8 games. This is the best case for Burress and I think it is a low likelihood, even though he does have a very capable criminal lawyer defending him.

I saw some other writers pick up on the same thing that I said earlier - that Reese has said the Giants would welcome Burress back, but Coughlin has been somewhat less that open armed with his statements.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Giants draft strategies

Giants were awarded the highest compensatory pick possible in this years draft - a pick at the end of the third round. This was compensation for the loss of Gibril Wilson as FA to the Oakland Raiders before the 2008 season. This 3rd round pick is slotted at number 100 overall in the draft. All compensatory picks come after that round has completed and all other teams have made their selections for the round. The Giants now have 10 draft picks this year: 7 of their own, 2 in the Shockey trade from new Orleans and this 3rd round compensatory pick. They have 5 picks in the top 100. As I said in a previous post back on March 4th, with a team coming off a 12 win season, having signed several big free agents and having very few personnel holes to fill, it seems almost certain that the Giants will not use all of those draft choices themselves. In fact, I think it would be a miscalculation to use all of those draft picks, because there is no way that 10 rookies are going to make this Giants team. Compiling draft choices, trading down to acquire more draft picks - those are strategies that teams like the Lions use. They have to rebuild their entire team, so they get a load of young fresh players in and try them out. They can't be any worse than the players they had before - may as well get some young guys in and see who can play. But a team like the Giants, that is coming off a successful year and has a strong team, is not looking for volume, they're looking for studs; they want quality not quantity. So, it seems like the best thing to do would be for the Giants to package some of these picks together, trade up and get a higher selection in the first round to grab someone that they think can be a real impact player for them.

Assuming the Giants want to move up in the first round - a reasonable question to ask is how high can they move up. How many additional draft choices will it cost them to move up from the 29th slot, where they currently sit, to the 10th or 15th slot, where they would no doubt be in a better position to get a high impact player. The moves, the trades, the jockeying for position that all teams try to do in the draft are not at all arbitrary, but rather are governed and guided by specific valuations for the draft slots that all the teams use. These valuations that I am referring to come from something called a Draft Value Chart. The chart gives a point value for every draft pick, from rounds 1 through 7 and slots 1 through 32. One simple example of how to use the points on this chart is as follows. As you can see, the first pick in the first round is worth 3000 points and the second pick is worth 2600 points. The 18th pick in the 2nd round is worth 400 points, so theoretically, if you had the 2nd pick in the first round and wanted to move up to the 1st overall pick, you would have to offer the team that held that first selection the 18th pick in the 2nd round (if you had it) in order to make the trade fair. The NFL tradition has it that this Draft Value Chart was made up by Jimmy Johnson back when he was running the Cowboys, to guide their front office in their draft selections. It became known, was published and has become the bible for making draft choice trades equitable. All the GMs of all the NFL teams use this to make sure that trades are fair.

Personally I think the chart is out of date and is not reflective of modern day NFL operations, specifically as influenced by the salary cap and the much larger contracts given to the higher draft picks. In the 5 year period when Jimmy Johnson coached the Cowboys 1989-1993, they greatly valued the very top draft choices, perhaps rightly so. Probably the need to create this draft value chart was created because of the Herschel Walker trade, when a bunch of players and about 12 draft picks changed teams. The Cowboys gave away Walker and 4 draft picks; and in return received 5 players (one of which they traded) and 8 draft choices spread out over 4 years. You needed some guidelines to evaluate whether the trade was fair or not, so a draft value chart was probably developed. Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys front office of that period greatly valued the top draft choices as the best way to build a team. Today, they are still the best way to get star players, but the burden of paying them an enormous salary limits how many other players you can sign, therefore minimizing their value compared to the draft value chart circa 1990.

For example, the first slot in the first round is worth 3,000 points as I noted above. Each of the next 3 picks are worth 400 points less successively, 2=2,600; 3=2,200; 4=1,800. After that the value of the next several picks drop by only 100 points, so that the 6th slot and the 8th slot are worth 1600 and 1400 respectively. Theoretically, according to this chart, you could trade the 6th and 8th slot in round 1 for the number one overall pick. That does not seem like a good trade to me. Sometimes you can get a once-in-a-generation player with that first overall pick, but more often there is great value in most of those top 10 picks and you're likely to get a star player among them. I would much rather have 2 in the top 10 than just the top overall pick. I think this may be why it is so hard for the team holding those top few slots to trade down for additional picks. According to this draft chart, the value of the top picks is too high and it costs too much for the lower teams to trade up.

For you financial analysts out there, note that the draft value chart does not have a present value or future value component. In other words, it is certainly true that a trade where you acquire a pick in next year's draft is not as valuable as one in which you acquire a pick in this year's draft. For example in the 2004 Rivers-Manning trade, the Giants gave their 3rd round pick in that same 2004 draft and a 1st and 5th in the 2005 draft. This seems to be a lot, unless you discount the Giants 2005 draft picks somewhat, because they came a year later. So, even though there is no specific present/future value component in this chart, it is implied by the trades that are made that include future year draft picks at a lower point total.

Despite the flaw that the draft value chart has of overvaluing the higher draft choices, it is nevertheless still accepted as the bible for concocting draft choice trades. Using this as the basis for trades, what can / should the Giants do to optimize their draft? The total number of points that are represented by the Giants picks in those first 3 rounds are:
Round 1/29 (their own): 640 points
Round 2/13 (from Saints): 450 points
Round 2/28 (their own): 300 points
Round 3/27 (their own): 136 points
Round 3/36 (compensatory): 100 points

The Giants strategy in the draft should be to bundle some of their 10 draft choices and trade up, so that they get fewer, higher quality players coming into camp. The Giants could bundle some of their picks at the top of the draft and move up in the top 10 or 15 to get a star. Alternatively, we should realize that the Giants have 5 picks in the top 100 players in the draft and that is indeed an enviable position to be in. They could hold on to these 5 picks expecting to get impact players with them and instead make their moves to consolidate draft choices at the bottom of the draft. They could bundle the 5 lower round picks to come out with 2 or 3 higher 2nd day draft picks and still come to camp with 7 or 8 draftees. I have come up with a few scenarios/proposals below:

Scenario I
Giants take their own 1st round pick and package their two 2nd round picks, (1,390 draft value points) and trade up to get a top 10 player. They could get an 8 (1,400) or 9 (1,350) with that package.

Scenario II
In addition to the above package of draft picks, the Giants could include their own 3rd round pick (136) and could move up as high as 6 or 7 in the first round. Compensatory picks are not tradeable, so the Giants could not include that in any package.

Scenario III
Giants could package their own 1st round pick with their own 2nd and 3rd round pick, holding on to the 2nd rounder they got for Shockey. That would allow them to move up to a top 15 pick and nab the 14th or 15th pick in the first round.

Of course, all of these scenarios require a trading partner in the appropriate slot that wants to move down and get some additional players. Of all these specific scenarios I think I like scenario III the best. The Giants move up significantly and get a top 15 player, but maintain 3 picks in the top 100 and have a relatively high 2nd round pick from New Orleans. If there is a particular player that the Giants rate very highly and want specifically to draft, I would not mind if they took scenario I and moved into a top 10 in the draft. I like scenario II the least, because with the Giants record of drafting, having at least 3 picks in the top 100 can usually yield some good talent.

Comments please.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Giants - some updates, reflections and rumors

There were rumors floating around a month or so ago that the Giants were interested in Braylon Edwards and that they had dangled Matthias Kiwanuka in front of the Browns as trade bait. There was no confirmation of this and I would say that it didn't even rise to the level of a "rumor", it could probably have been more closely characterized as pure unadulterated speculation. Apparently there is a new rumor floating around that has a little more substance to it because of its specificity (ok - tell the truth, have you ever read a blog post or even legitimate newspaper article about football with the word specificity in it?). Anyway - these new slightly more substantive rumors allege not only that there were trade discussions between the Giants and Browns about Edwards, but also outline what the actual proposals were for these trades. Giants offered the two draft picks that they got in the Shockey trade, a 2 and a 5 from New Orleans, slotted at 14 in the draft order. Browns rejected this and asked for Steve Smith in addition to the draft picks. Giants did not want to give up Smith but offered either Manningham or Hixon for Edwards instead of Smith, an offer that the Browns were not happy with.

We don't know for sure if these trade discussions actually happened, but they don't seem so far fetched. I am slightly surprised about the inclusion of Manningham in the trade. We have all been hearing that the Giants coaches are very high on Manningham from a size, elusiveness and speed perspective. He missed training camp last year because of injury and the coaches felt that set him back, significantly. But he is penciled in to be a big part of the offense this year, apparently. If that's the case, why would he be offered as trade bait for a player that had a serious case of dropsies last year? Even so, it's not surprising that the Browns did not want him, because Manningham has not shown anything yet in his career. The only team that could have a good read on him is the Giants themselves who see him in practice everyday. If the Browns had been impressed with him and wanted him after his college career, they had three rounds to draft him ahead of the Giants.

From the Giants perspective, relying on Manningham could be considered a risk and I would have more confidence in it if someone other than Gilbride was the Giants OC. I don't think Gilbride stinks as OC, as some Giants fans do. But neither do I think that he is a brilliant innovator, creative or possessive of a genius offensive mind. He is capable, but let's put it this way: you won't be running into Gilbride at a MENSA meeting any time soon. The reason I think counting on Manningham is particularly questionable is because the Giants seem so close to the promised land and slotting in an unproven player to be your deep threat seems full of downside. If the Giants offense were a bit more creative, I might feel safer about using Manningham. Having said that, I think the Giants personnel and talent evaluation is excellent and have proven their mettle over the last several years. Consequently, I will trust their instincts. It is possible that the Giants will sit tight with what they have at the WR position and draft someone appropriate in the 1st or 2nd round to augment the talent that they have on the roster.

Some of the rumors about the trade can be found:
Newark Star Ledger
New York Daily News

The same comments I made about Anquan Boldin apply to Braylon Edwards: the Giants would probably have to redo his contract and pay him some serious coin. With some of the open salary cap space spent on defensive FAs already, the likelihood of an Edwards trade is probably slight.

The NFL draft is now about a month away - look for some posts coming up about that soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giants: Boldin rumors; other plans

Boldin Rumors and acquiring a WR
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the Giants biggest need on the offensive side of the ball is a big play WR to replace Plaxico Burress. Jerry Reese and the Giants are still taking the position that Plaxico would theoretically be welcomed back into Giants land. This of course presumes that he resolves his legal problems and steps forward to become a cohesive member of the team, following all the team rules, etc. Reading between the lines, it's plain to see that Colonel Coughlin would not be quite the welcoming sort that Reese appears to be. When asked, Reese sounds conciliatory and says things like "Welcome him back... legal issues... yada, yada, yada". Coughlin at first said that he is not so sure that he would be welcomed back, but more recently has toed the company line and said simply: "He has to work out his legal issues first." He does not even add: "... and then we'll see". Coughlin does not want him back and/or does not expect him back. Reese probably does not expect him back, but if by some remarkable, fortuitous chain of events, he gets out of his legal obstacle without any felony conviction or jail time, perhaps he can be rehabilitated and convinced to follow Coughlin's rules and be a functioning, valuable member of the team again. I think it is extremely unlikely. If he gets jail time, he will be suspended on top of that by the NFL, and he will probably miss more than 1 year of his career. If he negotiates some kind of plea arrangement, avoids a trial and jail time, he is still not free and clear in terms of his NFL career. Of course all of you armchair lawyers, experienced in the rules of law by watching episodes of Law and Order (gung-gung) for the last 17 years know that when an alleged perpetrator (I love saying stuff like that) arranges a plea deal, he must admit guilt, he must allocute to the court as to the exact nature of the crime and the method in which he committed it, and he is GUILTY! If he is guilty, even of a lesser charge, the NFL will no longer be bound by presumed innocence and due process; they will suspend him and he will be probably gone for a year in that circumstance also. Consequently, the Giants need a big play WR.
Anquan Boldin has said he is unhappy with his contract and he wants out of Arizona. Following the Super Bowl, he calmed down a little bit and backed off his demand, but now the rumors are heating up again that he wants out of Arizona and the Giants are one of the teams purportedly interested. Take a look at these articles around the web that seem to hint at these rumors. ProFootballTalk.com hints at the rumor, as does Newsday-online .
I think it is unlikely that the Giants will make a deal with the Cardinals for Boldin for the following reasons:
Giants have signed a lot of players in the FA signing period and have eaten up a lot of their open cap space. Even if trading for Boldin were theoretically possible, the Giants would then have to pay him. If he wants Larry-Fitzgerald-type-money in Arizona, approximately $10M per year, where Fitzgerald is the lead dog; how much money would he want in NY where he would be the lead dog? Answer - a lot.
Add to this, the fact that the Giants probably want to redo Eli's deal and tie him up for a long time, which will result in more constraint on the salary cap. Giants won't want to give up a boat load of draft choices for Boldin and have him unhappy here that he has not signed a long term deal. All things considered, Boldin to NYG is a long shot.

I think the Giants are hopeful about their WRs. They are high on Manningham; Hixon has shown talent and I don't think they have given up on Moss. Steve Smith is a proven commodity, the leading pass catcher for the Giants last year, but he is more of a possession receiver. I just get the feeling that the Giants are going to stick with the WRs they have, supplement them with someone in the draft and wait to see how the Plaxico thing resolves itself. They may decide to add a proven, pro WR in a trade later in the off season, after the draft, but I don't think it's going to be a high end, big time player like Boldin.

Maybe the Giants are going to stick with what they have and become even more heavily reliant on the running game. Maybe that's why they signed lots of DL-men. They anticipate being involved in lots of ugly, low scoring games, with an even more conservative offense.

Signing DTs
The Giants signing of Canty and Bernard as DTs are significant for several reasons, besides the obvious. Primarily, of course, the Giants wanted to sign some very strong players in the middle of the defense and go back to having a strong DL rotation both at DE and DT. Robbins is getting on in age and even though he is still a very good player, he started to compile some injuries last year, especially towards the end of the year. Reese has shown that his philosophy is to get rid of aging players when they start to show that they are getting injured more frequently. I don't think Robbins will get cut this year, but surely, depth where a key player might get injured is important.

There is a second important message in these signings which will affect defensive assignments next year. In 2007, when the starting DEs were Strahan and Osi, Tuck was the 3rd DE in the rotation. But as Tuck improved and showed his tremendous talent, the Giants wanted to get him on the field more often and would often slot him as DT, especially in passing downs, to get their best pass rushers and best players on the field for more snaps. In 2008, Strahan and Osi were both gone, because of retirement and injury, and Tuck was the starting LDE, taking Strahan's spot with Kiwanuka playing RDE. The Giants continued with their plan of keeping their best pass rushers on the field and would often slide Tuck inside to DT on passing downs and use Tollefson/Wynn/McDougle as DE. They were not as talented and physical as Tuck and would not be effective inside at DT, so they often played DE and Tuck moved over. This happened more when Robbins was injured and the Giants felt it important to have an inside presence. I think this plan had some negative consequences. First of all, you want your best pass rushers to be able to operate in space. The middle of the OL/DL is very cramped, it is easier for the OL to double team one player or at least give a little help and therefore mitigate the advantage that Tuck may have had. The year before, when Strahan and Osi were on the ends, they were the ones that demanded the help and the double teams from the OL, therefore Tuck had a little more freedom inside. This year, when Tuck was the main weapon, he was easier to help out on when he was at DT.
Furthermore, because the interior of the OL/DL is more congested, bodies are falling on top of each other and the chance of injuries, specifically leg injuries is far more likely. Injuries can happen anywhere of course, but the falling-on-your-leg type injury is more likely when there are lots of big bodies in tight quarters. Perhaps some of Tuck's late season leg injuries were a result of his taking too many snaps and taking lots of them at the DT position. I also think the remarkable talent of Tuck, who is big and strong as well as being athletic and fast is mitigated when he plays the inside. His speed becomes a less important attribute.
I think the Giants realized this and are dedicated to keeping Tuck playing almost exclusively on the outside this year. For this reason, they signed Canty and Bernard, players that are going to take snaps at DT and remove Tuck from the DT rotation. But it's more than just signing some random players at DT - Rocky Bernard in particular is one of the best pass-rushing DTs in football. It's not just that the Giants got some warm bodies to play DT, they specifically got a player that can keep Tuck from having to move inside and allow the Giants to keep him pass rushing from the DE position. Now with Osi, Kiwanuka and Tuck, the Giants have a formidable DE rotation. At DT they have an impressive group with Canty, Bernard, Cofield, Robbins and Alford. There is also a fair amount of flexibility, because Alford and Canty can both play some DE if necessary, situationally or because of injury.

Giants : Bills and TO

Take a look at this not-very-serious analysis of the Buffalo Bills and their signing of TO on the humorous and irreverent onion.com web site:


Note: if you are under 16 years of age or are offended by foul language, do not read the article.

Thanks to follower and frequent reader DarrenW for bringing this article to our attention. The link is also listed in the side frame under "ALL SPORTS"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Giants - off season moves

Some facts and considerations for the Giants: Giants have an absolute gaggle of starting caliber DL-men. Giants have 9 sure picks in the upcoming April draft: 7 of their own picks and 2 picks acquired from New Orleans in the Shockey trade. They will probably also be awarded a 10th pick, which will be a compensatory pick for losing Gibril Wilson as a FA in 2008. They have only one major hole to fill at WR and otherwise are fairly well situated. They even signed a backup safety today, C.C. Brown, filling out a compliment of players at the safety group. Brown is also an excellent ST player. (Note: New York sports teams now hold the world's record for having players under contract named "CC" at 2, with Sabbathia of the Yankees). With all this wealth of talent on the defense, excess draft picks and moderate personnel requirements, I think we can draw the following conclusions about the Giants upcoming plans in player acquisition and the draft:

  • With all the riches on defense, it seems that the Giants will concentrate their player acquisition and drafting towards the offensive side of the ball.
  • With a team coming off a 12 win season and losing very few important players, it is extremely unlikely that there is room for 10 draftees to make the team or even to get a legitimate chance to compete for a roster spot. It seems pointless to waste draft picks to fill up the practice squad.
  • Consequently, it seems very probable to me that the Giants will not keep all 10 draft picks and will probably package some of them to move up in the draft. They will have fewer, higher draft choices, rather than many, lower ones. I wouldn't be completely surprised if the Giants include some of the excess talent in the DL to make a trade package more attractive. This package could be used to move up with a better draft choice and/or to haul in a proven pro WR.
  • In addition to WR, Giants need to do something in the OL. They have been very fortunate the past two years to have been largely healthy in the OL, but their depth at the T position is limited. At the interior of the OL, there is great flexibility with players able to move around to different positions. They have Boothe as a backup T but he is nothing more than a backup player. Guy Whimper is an unknown after spending 2008 on IR. He showed a little bit in 2007, but apparently did not progress as much as the coaches would have liked. If the Giants can move up and land one of the top OTs, it is a good bet they will go there. If not, they will certainly select OL depth later in the draft.
  • Even though the Giants have specific needs at OT and WR, the Giants do not stretch in the first round and take a player for need at a specific position that is not first round value. They will take the best athlete available and the best first round value, except for positions of great strength. For example - I don't expect them to take DL-man, but would not be surprised if they take LB if they find one of particularly good value.
  • I still think that the Giants should try to nab a pro WR because no matter how good the draftees are, very few rookie WRs have a huge impact in that first year.

Breaking news this morning has the Cowboys cutting TO. If I recall correctly, he signed a 4 year $34M contract last year, which has 3 years left to go on it. There was $12M of guaranteed money on it, which means that the Cowboys will take a $9M salary cap hit this year for the unamortized portion of the $12M bonus getting accelerated into the current year. Of course, I have not reviewed the contract and the foregoing calculation assumes that the $12M in guaranteed money was all one time, up front signing bonus. It may have been structured differently by the Cowboys changing the affect, but it potentially could cause a bit of a hit for the Cowboys. Of course, the accelerated bonus will be offset by removing the cost of TO's scheduled salary in 2009, but it is likely that there will be a net salary cap cost. (Note: Please be aware that these are my own calculations and assumptions, not based on any official word from Cowboys or NFL.) Perhaps the Cowboys relatively quiet behavior in this year's FA market was influenced by their contemplating the release of TO and the accompanying salary cap hit it would create this year, thus creating some constraint. It is also rumored that the very high priced PSLs that Jerry Jones has been selling for his new stadium have not sold quite as rapidly as he thought they would because of the economy. Cowboys had many more high priced tickets than, for example, the Giants did. Giants made a point of keeping most of the PSL prices relatively affordable. 90% of the PSLs in the upper tier at Giants Stadium were $1,000. The highest priced PSLs in Giants stadium are $20,000, and there are very few seats at those prices. In Dallas, the lowest priced PSL is $2,000 and there are not many seats at those prices. There are 30 years licenses that range from 2,000-5,000 and what they call permanent licenses range from $16,000 up to $150,000. It's the influx of cash and the revenue stream from the new stadiums that gives teams cash flow to pay big up front bonuses. Maybe there's a little pinch this year for JJ and the 'Boys.

Question of the day: would you try to sign TO and bring him to the Giants?

Giants PSL : A personal story

Permit me to wax eloquent for a moment and talk about a subject that is personal to me but that I hope some of you will be able to relate to.

I have been on the waiting list for Giants season tickets for about 25 years. I have moved very slowly up the list making about as much progress as an iceberg trekking its way from Greenland to, oh... let's say... South America. At last count I had gotten all the way up to number 15,937. In normal times, at the normal rate at which Giants season tickets turn over and become available, that is still probably about 10 or 15 years away from getting tickets. However, the upheaval of personal seat licenses for the new stadium has created a seismic shift in the landscape for fans waiting for season tickets. No doubt, you've heard lots of chatter on sports talk radio about how greedy, how awful, how unfair the Giants are for instituting this personal seat license policy. There are lots of heart rending stories about families that have had season tickets in their name for 30 years or more and now have to give them up because they can't afford to come up with the expensive seat licenses. I guess it is sad that a family has to surrender tickets just because of money, but there is another perspective, and I hope you don't find it arrogant or unfeeling of me to present it. Specifically, the personal seat license policy has given the opportunity for thousands and thousands of loyal Giants fans to step up and have tickets available to them, where they could never have had them before. Currently, Giants stadium has about 70,000 seats. It is a fair assumption that every season ticket holder has at least 2 seats - nobody goes to the game alone - and many control as many as 8 or 10 seats. I know of some people that control 80 seats, but they are in it for profit, so we can exclude them from this little calculation. We can probably assume that the average number of tickets per account is 3 or 4. For simplicity sake - let's say 3 1/2 seats, which means that there are about 20,000 different families holding season tickets. The season ticket holders line is more than 200,000 deep, so there are more than 10 times as many people looking for seats as there are holding seats. One could argue that is unfair to those 200K loyal fans waiting for seats to be excluded from buying simply because someone else got in line first. If I go to a movie and get sold out, I accept the fact that I can't go in for this showing, but I am not excluded permanently from catching the flick - I can catch the next viewing. Seems to me it should be the same for Giants season tickets. You've had your tickets for 30 years - it might be nice to give someone else a chance.

While on the waiting list, I have been going to Giants games by buying tickets from a friend who is a season ticket holder. He retired, moved down south and since he was no longer able to attend games regularly, has been nice enough to sell me tickets to five regular season games per year, plus the preseason games, which I also take off his hands. It's still not the same as having your own tickets, however. To get tickets in my own name has been an interest, a strong interest, a passion, ok - I'll admit it - an obsession of mine for some time. My wife, ever the faithful, supportive partner, concerned about my fulfilling this ambition was going to do everything in her power to help me achieve my quest. Unbeknown to me, a few weeks before my birthday in February, she composed a letter and sent it to the Giants requesting that I be granted season tickets for my birthday. When my wife, God bless her, does something, she does not do it half way; she goes full bore. This was not just an ordinary letter requesting tickets, of the type the Giants must get hundreds of times per week. This was a testimonial to me as a great humanitarian, community servant, religious leader, philanthropist, helper of the blind and downtrodden and healer of the sick. I was unaware of her attempt, reading this letter after the fact, and it sounded like she was describing the reincarnation of Mother Theresa. It brought tears to my eyes until I realized it was about me. The letter went on to explain in great detail what an obsessed, committed Giants fan I am, providing much documentary evidence to prove the point. She enclosed a picture of my surprise 56th birthday party which had an LT theme. (Get it? - LT wore # 56). She provided the invitation that she sent out for the party which made reference to LT and required everyone to wear a Giants jersey to the party. She provided a picture from said party that had my entire family dressed in Giants jerseys, including my then 2-month-old grandson who was asleep in my arms wearing a Jeremy Shockey jersey. She included a picture of me and my youngest son attending the Giants-Miami game in London in December 2007. (Note: my son was studying overseas in Europe that year and would have missed the entire Giants season, so I scalped tickets, flew him and myself over to London to attend the game.) Of course there were pictures of us at our many tailgate parties at the stadium. Even I was impressed.

But wait - there's more. She didn't just send this to the Giants ticket office or to the Giants sales office who are selling tickets for the new stadium; she sent it directly to the executive offices and addressed it to the owners, Mara and Tisch themselves. Here's where the story gets interesting. About one week after the Giants received this package from my wife, she received a letter back from the Giants saying that someone from the Giants sales office would be contacting her husband shortly to offer seasons tickets. This was not a form letter, it was dictated by John Mara to his administrative assistant and it was signed by Mr. Mara himself, in his own hand. I waited for a day or two for the sales office to contact me, but when I did not receive a call or email, I decided to call them myself. I telephoned the ticket office and after listening to the prerecorded message, was connected to an actual live person in the ticket office. I explained that I had received a letter from the Giants saying that I would be contacted about season's tickets. The person handling my call said that she would connect me to the sales office. Before she could do that, I interrupted and explained that the letter that I had received was not from the sales office, rather it was from John Mara himself. Without missing a beat, she said that she would connect me to the Giants executive office instead of the sales office. The phone rang and was picked up by John Mara himself. I recognized his distinctive and distinguished voice immediately from all the radio and TV interviews that I had heard over the last few years. He was completely understated, unpretentious and very engaging. The public impression he delivers of being a humble, "regular" guy is precisely matched by his telephone presence. He is, simply stated, a very nice man. He answered the phone with a simple "Hello". I was startled at recognizing his voice and realizing who he was. I had expected that I would be connected to an assistant or an administrative layer of blockers for the owner, and I simply said - "John?"... not "Mr. Mara"; I called him John. Boy did I feel stupid; we're not exactly on a first name basis. He could have sensed impertinence on my part and said something like "who is this?" in a stern voice, instead he calmly and softly replied "yes". I went on to identify myself, thanked him for taking my call, explained to him that I was the one whose wife sent the package requesting tickets and thanked him again for his personal response to the letter. I thanked him also for giving me the opportunity to buy season's tickets and he replied that he was genuinely happy that he could do so. He also told me exactly whom to talk with in the sales office if I had some bureaucratic difficulties, gave me that person's direct extension and the call seemed about to end. But I decided that I just couldn't let the opportunity pass, because unless he invites me to his daughter's wedding, this is surely the last time I will ever get a chance to speak with him.

So we started reminiscing about our common Giants history - we are about the same age, I am 3 years older - and share, therefore, approximately the same memories of Giants past. I told him that I go way back with the Giants. I remember when home games were not televised and you had to sit around the radio to listen to home games to find out what was happening to your team. His response was one phrase: Marty Glickman, who was the radio voice of the Giants for many years. I wanted to impress him, so I told him that the radio color analyst for the Giants, Glickman's partner, was Al DeRogatis who later went on to be the main football color commentator for NBC TV. Then we started to reminisce about all the old time players and he was as easy and friendly as he could be. We talked about the famous players: Robustelli, Katkavage, Huff, Tittle, Gifford, Rosey Grier, Rosey Brown, Del Shofner and some others. But we also shared memories of some of the lesser know players, who were Giants favorites in their day: OL-men Bookie Bolin, Darrel Dess and Ray Wietecha; Phil King, Jimmy Patton, Erich Barnes, Joe Morrison, Aaron Thomas and some others. I concluded by telling him that I have been going to Giants games with my kids for a long time using someone else's tickets and, as silly as it may sound, the time we spent together at those games was a real bonding opportunity for our family. He said that he has heard that same sentiment from lots of other families and it makes him feel good about the enterprise that he runs and the fans that support his team. I came off, not with the rough impression, but with the direct, personal knowledge that he was a very decent man.

When you root for a sports team, of course you root as much for the uniform as you do for the players in them and often identify with the owner and the management . But you want to feel that the players, the management and the owners that you are rooting for are decent, good people. It's sometimes hard to do that nowadays with the invasive reporting and with the money, greed, ego, self promotion and self centered attitudes that seem to pervade sports. I left this exchange satisfied and convinced that the owner of the Giants, Mr John K. Mara is a man that I am very happy to root for.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Giants FA signings

It's hard not to love the signings that GM Reese has done, loading up the defensive front and giving a shot of energy to the team. Just to review, the Giants resigned their own FA, Brandon Jacobs to a 4 year deal worth $24M. But that is old news, happening before the FA agent signing period of 27th February. The big news is how the Giants have loaded up their front 7 with the signings of Rocky Bernard from Seattle at DT, Michael Boley from Atlanta at OLB and the big signing of Chris Canty from Dallas. By my count, the Giants now have 8 DL-men in the fold ready to play next year: Ueminyora, Tuck, Cofield, Robbins, Kiwanuka, Canty, Bernard and Tollefson. The significant thing to notice is that all of these DL-men were starters or were significant players in the rotation. Tollefson probably played the least of all these players, but even he played often and fairly productively as a pass rush specialist on 3rd downs. I didn't even mention Jay Alford on the above list, becasue he was mostly a back up, but I am very high on Alford and think he will be a very good player and has made several significant impact plays in his time here. (The sack of Brady on 2nd down with less than 30 seconds left in Superbowl comes to mind as one of those "impact plays".) Of course, Ueminyora was out for the year, but my point is that the Giants have outstanding talent and depth at the DL and with Osi coming back after his injury, they will feature two pro-bowl DEs, lots of talent in between and could really control the line of scrimmage with that front.

Canty is a beast. He is a monster of a man, very tall and because of his bulk, is very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage. He played DE in the 3-4 Dallas defense, which means that, depending where the OLB lines up, he played either inside or outside at Dallas. He is big enough to play DT and quick enough to play DE. He always played very well against the Giants and bothered Eli at the line of scrimmage because of his size, reach and athleticism. (Nostalgia moment: Canty was the beast that batted down Eli's pass intended for Steve Smith on 2nd down in the NFC divisional round playoff game right before the completion to Boss in the :47 TD drive right before halftime. Giants scored anyway, as you may recall... I'm just saying - Canty's good.) Other things to note about Canty - he played for Parcells in Dallas who raved about him; and played for Al Groh in college at Virginia who also praised him to the skies. Groh and Coughlin both come from the Parcells coaching tree, so Canty won't get any surprises at Camp Coughlin.

Rocky Bernard has been starting at Seattle and playing very well for some time. He is one of the best pass rushing DTs in the league and with the depth and quality that the Giants now have at DL, they will be more protected from injuries and will be able to rotate their players to keep them fresh throughout an individual game, and in fact throughout the season. Everyone noticed that the Giants pass rush wore down as the season went along. An injury to Tuck slowed him down and Kiwanuka, playing his first full professional season as starter and every down player, was also not as strong at the end of the year as he was at the beginning. Parcells, in the same interview he gave talking about his former player, Canty, praised Bernard strongly, completely unprompted. He was not asked about Bernard and noted to the reporter that he was a real good player also.

Fred Robbins has 1 year left on his contract and had an injury filled season. His hands were broken, he had shoulder injuries and he had a knee injury that required an arthroscopy since the season ended. My guess is that they will not re-sign Robbins in 2010 and will rely on Canty as the starter at DT. The beauty of this signing is that it sets the Giants up both now and for the future.

The other interesting signing is OLB Michael Boley. He has lots of talent, but had lost his starting job last year at Atlanta and you could question whether it was a wise signing. IMHO, this was a perfect match to the signing of the big bruising DL-men that the Giants brought in. Surely, the Giants have to find out why he lost his job and both coach and motivate him to recapture the form he had when he was a 4-year starter for Atlanta. But the reason I like the signing is that in many respects, LBs on the defense are the parallels of RBs on the offensive side of the ball. Look at it this way: take the best RB in football and stick him behind a terrible OL and he does not get a chance to show his skill. Conversely, put a decent RB behind a great OL and he is elevated, becoming a very good player. You can't make a star out of someone that has no talent, but as a generalization, the OL makes the RB. Just as an example, consider the case of Thomas Jones, the RB for the Jets. In 2007, the Jets OL played poorly - D'Brickshaw was still learning his position, they had very poor play at both G positions and Mangold at C declined a little bit because he didn't have Kendall at G playing next to him. Jones averaged about 3.5 yds per carry in 2007 and looked done. Then in 2008 the Jets invested heavily in free agency and upgraded their OL, bringing in all-everything G Alan Faneca and Damiane Woody at T. Suddenly, almost miraculously, Thomas Jones runs for 1,300 yds in 2008. Same back, better OL, from one year to the next, vastly different results.

My contention is that in some ways and for some defenses, the LBs are in similar situations with their DL as the RB with his OL. The RB relies on his OL to cut holes for him through the DL and the LB relies on the DL to keep the OL at bay so they can be freed up to make plays. If the DL is weak, cannot occupy and tie up the opposing OL sufficiently, blockers can fire out to the next level and handle the LBs. A great DL can give an average LB group the chance to make lots of plays and converesely, a weak DL that cannot break down the blockers, can make even a talented group of LBs play below their capability. Of course there are exceptions to this rule - a great LB can overcome weak DL play and in fact make the DL look better, but the general rule still holds. For this reason, the signing of Boley is a good match to the signing of the big beefy DL-men that the Giants nabbed. Boley is a small-ish OLB who is extremely quick and a good tackler. The Giants need speed at the LB position to do a better job covering TEs and playing in space. When it comes to stopping the running game, with the size and quality of the DL, a slightly undersized, active LB will do well because of the size of the DL in front of him. The Giants are not signing players simply to fill up the roster, they are not filling in players at positions just because they are FAs that play that position. They have a definite plan in designing the team and finding players to match their specific needs and the style that they want to play.

I will give another example of finding a style of player from the Giants of two years ago. When Tiki Barber retired, Brandon Jacobs was elevated to the top of the depth chart at RB. Tiki was very successful, but his style of running was different than Jacobs'. Tiki would like to run out in space, sliding to one side of the line, have the OL and the lead FB sliding out in front of him. The blockers would typically not be hammering or knocking back the defenders in front of them. Rather they would just put a body on a body, engage the defenders and push them, taking them whichever way they wanted to go. Tiki would get right on their hips, set up the blocker, wait for the defender to commit, and then cut to the open lane. Tiki was so good at setting up the blocker and so quick at changing direction that this style was very effective. Jacobs does not run this style; he is a bruiser. The OL and FB that block for Jacobs have to employ a different style than they do for Tiki. They have to not just engage the blocker and let the RB set up the block; they have to put a hat on a hat, get the defender moving backwards and let Jacobs use his force to run over, through, past the defender. With Barber, you needed a smart, finesse OL/FB and with Jacobs you needed a power blocking scheme. Reese realized that Jim Finn was a finesse FB, perfect for Tiki but he would not be as effective in front of Jacobs. Consequently, one of his first moves as GM was to sign Vonta Leach, RFA FB from the Texans who was a big bruising hitter, to an offer sheet. The Texans matched the offer and the Giants did not get their prize, but Reese's intentions were set. When Madison Hedgecock became available, Reese pounced and quickly signed him to an extension when he saw how good he really was. This analysis is a bit of a digression, but it shows Reese's and the Giant's thinking - they don't just look for players to fill positions, but have a fixed idea of what type of player fits their style. The style of the OL/FB has to match the style of the RB.

By contrast, take a look at what the Cowboys did: they needed a backup qb because Romo's injury exposed Brad Johnson as over-the-hill. They traded Anthony Henry, their starting CB to the Lions for QB John Kitna. This is a bad move for several reason:
  • Kittna is not that good. Furthemore the Lions are clearly in the market for a new QB and when they find one, were likely to cut Kitna. So even if the Cowboys are infatuated with Kitna for some reason, they probably could have gotten him without a trade.
  • Backup QBs are important, but not as important as starting CBs.
  • There are several other backup QBs available on the FA market that are at least as good as Kitna. Specifically: Leftwitch and Garcia are both unsigned. Even Chris Simms is available.
This was a signing to fill a roster spot having nothing to do with bulding a team. It's as if they scouted him by looking at his stats on nfl.com

As the Cowboys get further away from the Parcells era, his influence in personnel decisions will be more and more missed. As Jerry Jones becomes the only decision maker with no input from a weak coach, the Cowboys will decline.

Looking forward, the Giants now have lots of flexibility in the upcoming draft. I believe they will still draft a LB, but now, it does not have to be in the first round. More important, they still have to find themselves a WR threat and have some flexibility there too. Finding a proven pro WR would be better than relying on a draft pick from college. Rookie WRs are not usually impact players their first year because of the complexity of the position. But, I implicitly trust the Giants college scouting and talent evaluation departments. The draft is very deep in three positions this year: WR, LB and OT. There are at least 4 or 5 WRs that may go in the first round: Crabtree from Texas Tech; Maclin from Missouri; Nicks from UNC; Harvin from Florida and Kenny Britt from Rutgers. The WR pool in FA was very weak, the only capable WR was Houshmandzadeh, who was really a # 2 WR without big time speed. He is off the market, having signed with Seattle. The only way to get a pro WR is to manufacture a trade and this is hard to do. Anquan Boldin expressed interest in leaving Arizona but will probably end up staying. With Kurt Warner shopping for another team, the door may be ever so slightly ajar for the Giants to swoop and make a trade for him. Boldin may be more disillusioned with the Cardinals if they fail to sign Warner, but it still has to be cosnidered very unlikely. With all the talent the Giants now have, they could take some of their considerable assets and bundle it into a very attractive trading package. They could take some of the talent they have on the DL, some of the additional draft picks they have and either trade for a pro WR or move up in the draft to be in position to take one of the top 5 college WRs.

They could stay where they are in the draft, choose the best player available and find another star somewhere on the team. If one of the stud OT's falls to the Giants, I would not be surprised if they snatch him.