AFC East: Emmitt Smith
Gary Horton and Field Yates break down the Bills and examine what the team needs to accomplish in free agency.
Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News offers his thoughts on the future of guard Andy Levitre. "I wouldn’t pay Levitre elite guard money. He’s not worth it. Levitre is a very good player. He hasn’t missed a game in his four-year career, or rarely a play. But he’s not great. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl. He doesn’t dominate. It’s good to keep the line together. Chemistry is vital for an O-line. But guards are replaceable. Teams reach the Super Bowl all the time with restructured lines. The Ravens did it this year. Games are decided by playmakers; the Bills don’t have enough of them on either side of the line of scrimmage."
Defensive tackle Randy Starks remains the strongest candidate to receive the team's franchise tag, writes Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I want to be a Dolphin, [and] not just for one more year,” Starks tweeted out on Sunday. “Discount, yeah. Clearance rack, heck no! I want to be here and finish here!”
New England Patriots
It was reportedly on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles where team owner Robert Kraft first mentioned the idea of a contract extension to quarterback Tom Brady. "I was probably wearing my fan hat as much as anything else," Kraft told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "I just didn't want to ever see this become like Joe Montana leaving San Francisco, Emmitt Smith leaving Dallas, Brett Favre leaving Green Bay, Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis. If Tom Brady played out this current contract and left us, there was no doubt in my mind that someone out there would pay him top dollar, and they should, for his ability, his leadership and his unselfishness."
The Patriots have yet to decide how -- or if -- they will use the franchise tag.
New York Jets
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: "I am talking to an NFL general manager not long ago about the Jets, and the guy starts talking about the Giants, the move Ernie Accorsi made for Eli Manning in the 2004 draft, one of the biggest trades in the history of New York sports teams, one of the best, one of the most important. 'When you wait and wait and finally get your shot at the guy you want, you better be right,' the guy said. 'The Jets made their big move on [Mark] Sanchez and turned out to be wrong.'”
Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com says the Jets remain in contact with free-agent quarterback David Garrard, but a deal is not imminent.
Here are some thoughts on the Hall of Fame and the AFC East:
- I don't see any sure-fire locks this year, which is rare. Maybe Bill Parcells fits in that category. But the group overall is solid. I'm sure there will be plenty of tough discussions on the Hall of Fame panel, because every spot is pretty much available for the 2012 class.
- In terms of the AFC East, I like the chances of former New England Patriots and New York Jets running back Curtis Martin. He missed the cut last year, but this seems like the type of year a great, consistent player like Martin gets in. He is fourth all-time in rushing (14,101 yards), and the three ahead of Martin -- Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders -- are all in Canton.
- Former Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed is a tougher call. This is the sixth time he's been a finalist, and each chance the odds appeared against him. This may be his best chance Reed has. The class is wide open and Reed may be able to grab one of those slots. I am not on the Hall of Fame panel, but my prediction is Parcells, Martin and offensive lineman Will Shields will get in. I think Reed could be fighting for the remaining slots with great players like Cris Carter, Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Jerome Bettis.
Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, likely will be available at that slot. The Dolphins easily could be in the market for a back because Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams don't have contracts.
Ingram visited with "First Take" on Friday and pitched himself as a versatile backfield weapon while also easing concerns about his surgically repaired knee.
"The thing with me is I want to be a complete back," Ingram told co-host Jonathan Coachman. "I don't want to be just a first-, second-down back or just a third-down back or just a short-yardage back.
"I want to be a back that can contribute and be on the field every single down -- first, second, third, fourth down, short yardage, goal line, pass protecting, go out and catch the ball and run routes."
These disappointments received the most votes for each club:
- Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
- Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
- Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
- Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
- Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
- Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
- Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
- Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
- Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
- Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
New England Patriots
- Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
- Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
- Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
- Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
- Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
New York Jets
- Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
- Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
- Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
- Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
- Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Reed and Martin were among the 15 finalists for induction, but neither AFC East star made the cut Saturday when the next induction class was determined.
Reed has been a finalist five times. For the second year in a row, the Buffalo Bills legend finished ahead of Cris Carter and Tim Brown in the selection process, which pares down the group of finalists from 15 to 10. Reed made the top 10, while Carter and Brown did not.
But Reed didn't make the next cut to five. That's the group the selection committee makes a final yea or nay vote on, with 80 percent agreement required for induction. The committee approved all five.
Reed will have to wait to join his former teammates already honored in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy.
Reed made 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns and played in four consecutive Super Bowls. He's known as one of the best yards-after-catch receivers in NFL history, perhaps second to only Jerry Rice, and among the grittiest over-the-middle threats.
Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler. He posted 13 seasons with at least 50 receptions, tied for second all-time. He's tied for third in postseason history with five 100-yard games. His 85 postseason receptions rank third.
Martin, a star running back with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, was on the ballot for the first time. His former coach, Bill Parcells, advocated Martin be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Martin ranks fourth in all-time rushing yardage behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, a pretty good crew -- if you're into that kind of thing.
Martin rushed for 14,101 yards and scored an even 100 touchdowns, 90 on the ground and 10 more off catches. He ran for 1,000 yards in 10 straight seasons, the second-longest streak in league history. Martin was the 1995 offensive rookie of the year and made five Pro Bowl rosters.
Carter was another Hall of Fame finalist with an AFC East connection, albeit barely. Carter finished his career with the Miami Dolphins, catching eight passes over five games in 2002. His 130th and final touchdown was with Miami.
That gave every AFC East club a link to Saturday's selection process.
Martin is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and will find out Saturday whether he will join the 65 other legends who've gone straight to Canton without delay.
New York Daily News writer Gary Myers examines the possibility Martin will get the Hall of Fame call Saturday. Martin's beloved coach, Bill Parcells, asserted Martin should coast into Canton.
"If the idea is to separate yourself, you got the case right there, you can't dispute it," Parcells told Myers. "Come on. That is roller skates."
Martin played 11 seasons and led his team in rushing every time. He finished with 14,101 yards (fourth all-time behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders) and 90 touchdowns. Martin added 484 receptions for 3,329 yards and 10 more touchdowns, giving him an even 100.
Martin was Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1995 and made five Pro Bowl teams.
Up to five modern-era candidates will be inducted. But with fellow first-timers running back Marshall Faulk and cornerback Deion Sanders almost certain to gain approval, essentially three spots are left.
The other 15 finalists include running back Jerome Bettis, receivers Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, defensive ends Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol.
"I haven't been an individual accolades type person," Martin told Myers. "But I have found myself thinking about the Hall of Fame more. I think that it speaks to the intangible qualities that I like to be associated with my name.
"To even be in consideration for the Hall of Fame, you've done a little more than just performed on the football field. It speaks to your dedication, to hard work, the level of competition, the way you compete. Even being mentioned is very humbling to me."
Tomlinson took the fourth quarter off because the Jets were dominating so thoroughly. Still, on 19 attempts he had enough time to amass 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Not too shabby for a 31-year-old the San Diego Chargers deemed too washed up to keep.
"I know what age I am, but that doesn't mean I can't play," Tomlinson said after his first 100-yard game since 2008.
He has 25 games of 100 yards and at least two touchdowns, tying Jim Brown for the NFL record. Emmitt Smith is third with 21 such games.
Tomlinson also passed Tony Dorsett and ranks seventh on the all-time rushing list.
"He's playing some inspired ball," said Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. "He's pretty lucky. He's getting some good handoffs, you know."
Tomlinson has rushed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He owns an incredible 6.1-yard average per carry. He's on pace for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"He's playing so hard and having such a good time," Sanchez said. "He looks like a little kid, running his heart out, taking on hits."
Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were eligible for the first time, and both were no-brainers. Space is limited in each class, and the voters weren't going to induct two receivers.
But Reed views 2010 as a step in the right direction. The legendary Buffalo Bills receiver won't get into the Hall of Fame this weekend, but he's walking up the front steps.
"My phone was blowing up when we got to the final 10," Reed recalled of the selection process, which concludes Super Bowl weekend. "I hadn't gotten to the final 10 yet. You're only a stone's throw away then."
He also received more votes than Cris Carter for the first time, indicating Reed's candidacy is on the rise.
Reed's case is an interesting one that has been explored on this blog before. When the seven-time Pro Bowler retired in 2000, he ranked third all-time with 951 receptions. He has slid to eighth and probably will drop out of the top 10 this year. Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward are closing in.
"That's just how it is," Reed said. "A lot of guys are going to have a lot of catches. The game has changed. Now it's pass to set up the run. Before it was run to set up the pass. But maybe catches won't be as much of a factor. It'll be how many championships, how many times did you go to the Super Bowl? It'll be more team-oriented because anybody can catch 800 balls nowadays.
"In 1989, I caught 88 balls. That was a career year. These guys are catching 100 balls left and right now. Wes Welker had 100 balls three years in a row. Is Wes Welker going to be a Hall of Famer? I don't know. It's an accomplishment to catch 100 balls a year, but ...
"Keyshawn Johnson caught 800 balls, but nobody really talks about him. Great receiver, but do you put him in? Steve Smith? Keenan McCardell? Those guys are on the wayside."
Reed was the best receiver on a team that won an unprecedented four consecutive conference titles. The Bills couldn't manage to win one Super Bowl, but that hasn't barred Reed's teammates from the Hall of Fame.
Twenty years from now there likely will be more inductees from the Bills of the 1990s than the New England Patriots of the 2000s. Already in are quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. So is James Lofton, who spent four seasons with Buffalo.
"I played in the best era of wide receivers ever, if you ask me," Reed said. "All the guys that are in my era are Hall of Famers. The next group of guys will be Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss.
"They'll be arguing about those guys, but it'll be a different argument because of how the game has evolved."
While folks are formulating those arguments, Reed is content to wait his turn.
"I'm humbled by it," he said. "I don't trip and say 'Aw, man!' If it's going to happen, it's not on my time. It's on somebody else's.
"My friends and family are more upset about it that I am. When it's my time, it's my time."
With such talent in the backfield, folks have wondered how new head coach Chan Gailey will delegate the touches among Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Those who assume Gailey will spread around carries with a semblance of equity shouldn't be so sure.
In fact, if Gailey doesn't designate a workhorse and ride him hard, it would be the first time he declines to do so since his rookie season as an offensive coordinator in 1988.
In an ESPN fantasy football column, Matthew Berry provides an enlightening look at Gailey's history with running backs since the Dallas Cowboys hired him to be head coach in 1998. The chart also included Gailey's subsequent play-calling gigs with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
As we can see, Gailey doesn't split carries. True, he had Emmitt Smith in Dallas, but Gailey saddled up Lamar Smith in two seasons with Miami and Larry Johnson, who played only 12 games for Kansas City in 2008.
Not included in Berry's chart are Gailey's pre-Dallas stops as offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (1988-89) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-97).
The trend of one dominant back generally remains.
In his first season as an NFL playcaller, Gailey had a pair of over-the-hill backs in Tony Dorsett and Sammy Winder. Dorsett had 181 carries for 703 yards, while Winder ran 149 for 543 yards. The next season, however, rookie Bobby Humphrey took over with 294 carries, nearly three times as many as Winder.
Jerome Bettis was Gailey's go-to guy in Pittsburgh. Eric Pegram managed 509 yards on only 97 carries in 1996, but the Steelers' second-leading rusher the next season was quarterback Kordell Stewart.
Gailey's track record shows an obvious preference for one back taking 300-plus handoffs.
NOTE: As readers correctly pointed out, Thurman Thomas was not Miami's second-most-productive back in 2000. That was J.J. Johnson. The chart has been adjusted, removing Thomas and inserting Johnson. Actually, quarterback Jay Fiedler had more rushing attempts than either of them.
That may eventually be the case, but the future Hall of Famer joined the Jets with no preconceived notions heading into the summer.
Tomlinson stopped by the ESPN 1050 studios in Dallas on Thursday, sitting in with the "Ben and Skin" show and talked about a role that hasn't been finalized. He will compete for carries with sophomore Shonn Greene and rookie Joe McKnight.
"The thought process is kind of like when you go to college, when you graduate from high school and go to college, you don't look to go in and start," Tomlinson said. "If it happens, it happens. But you go in to find a role on the team, to be a part of something special. That's where I am.
"I think at this point in my career, people put this label and this title on you once you get to a certain age: 'Yeah, he has to be a backup now.' I absolutely don't believe that. You determine your role on the football field, and that's what the Jets have been so great about, allowing me to do that.
"They didn't put a label on me at all. They didn't say 'You know what? You're going to be a backup.' They said 'No, you're going to prove what you can do on the football field,' and that's all I can ask."
Tomlinson, from Texas Christian University, also takes part in a discussion about whether Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders was the better back, shares his thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys backfield and talks about his greatest single achievement on the field and off.
The project was put together to celebrate the 75th draft, which begins April 22. NFL.com editors got us started by narrowing each team's list of candidates down to the top 10.
Fans can vote through April 18 at NFL.com. Parts of the list will be revealed on NFL.com and the NFL Network beginning April 19. The top 10 will be saved for the draft telecast.
These 20 players, listed in alphabetical order, have received the most votes so far:
- Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys (first overall, 1989)
- Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers (first, 1970)
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots (199th, 2000)
- Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns (sixth, 1957)
- Dick Butkus, Chicago Bears (third, 1965)
- Brett Favre, Atlanta Falcons (33rd, 1991)
- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens (26th, 1996)
- Ronnie Lott, San Francisco 49ers (eighth, 1981)
- Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts (first, 1998)
- Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (27th, 1983)
- Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (82nd, 1979)
- Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings (21st, 1998)
- Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (fourth, 1975)
- Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers (16th, 1985)
- Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (third, 1989)
- Deion Sanders, Atlanta Falcons (fifth, 1989)
- Mike Singletary, Chicago Bears (38th, 1981)
- Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (17th, 1990)
- Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (second, 1981)
- Rod Woodson, Pittsburgh Steelers (10th, 1987)
He just has to wait his turn.
For the fourth time, the legendary Buffalo Bills receiver was a semifinalist who didn't make the cut. Receiver Jerry Rice, running backs Emmitt Smith and Floyd Little, guard Russ Grimm, defensive tackle John Randle, linebacker Rickey Jackson and cornerback and esteemed coach Dick LeBeau were selected Saturday for the class of 2010.
Nobody expected Reed to be honored with Rice and Smith on the ballot for the first time. That left two fewer spots available for the others.
But there were some interesting developments in this year's selection process that bode well for Reed's candidacy in 2011.
There had been a belief among Hall of Fame voters Cris Carter must be inducted before Reed could make it. But for the first time, Reed finished ahead of Carter in the process.
When the list of 15 semifinalists was pared down to 10, Carter and Tim Brown (in his first year of eligibility) didn't advance. Reed did after failing to make the final 10 last year.
And as Reed's career numbers continue to slide down the all-time list each season -- a tight end passed him this year, and Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward probably will knock him out of the top 10 next year -- there was concern Reed's credentials would dim.
Maybe that won't be the case.
Reed caught 951 passes for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. He went to four straight Super Bowls. Had the Bills won one of them, the chances for his induction would be moot. He'd probably already be in.
"It's not just about how many you caught, but when you caught them," Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network's induction show. "To go to four Super Bowls, that means all of your catches meant something. So hopefully he will be here one day."
Unfortunately, that's as far as Reed will get in 2010.
Reed owns numbers deserving of the Hall of Fame. He made 951 receptions and won four AFC championships. But he has been left standing outside the velvet rope because other worthy candidates have passed him by.
Several more will breeze past him this year.
The 15 finalists comprise a loaded group that includes hallowed record-holders Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, both eligible for the first time.
Reed's chances are impacted substantially by the number of receivers in line ahead of him. A maximum of five modern-era nominees can be selected when the Hall of Fame's selection committee convenes Feb. 6.
In addition to Rice, other receiver finalists who should get consideration before Reed are Cris Carter (the only other finalists with AFC East ties), Tim Brown and pass-catching tight end Shannon Sharpe. Carter and Sharpe finished ahead of Reed in last year's balloting.
Carter had to wait a year to get in because Bills owner Ralph Wilson was included in the 2009 class and knocked him out.
How powerful it must feel to make 80,000 people, some of them wearing your jersey, ascend from their seats and cheer your effort.
How exhilarating it must feel to be completely surrounded by fans, pumping their fists and screaming their throats hoarse for you.
To consider the massive audience beyond the confines of the arena, the millions watching at home and around the world on television, or those who don't care one whit about your uniform but maybe drafted you in their fantasy leagues, the sensation must be profound.
NFL players affect the way people feel every time they snap up their Riddells and stride onto the field. In many cases, what transpires on Sunday can buoy or ruin a town's mood for an entire week.
Yet some players' greatest accomplishments happen nowhere near a stadium, aren't broadcasted and have only a handful of witnesses.
These moments often are the greatest feats players will achieve as human beings.
Overlooked too often are remarkable acts performed in the community by the same men who garner so much attention for participating in a football game. They help children, comfort the sick and encourage the destitute -- and don't expect any applause in return.
|Al Pereira/Getty Images|
|Running back Tony Richardson takes great pride in his charitable contributions off the field.|
When NFL Charities recently rewarded 89 player foundations $1 million in grants, three of the five organizations it highlighted belonged to AFC East players: Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, New England Patriots tackle Matt Light and New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson.
"I've been blessed to do what I do for a living, but with that I think it's also a tremendous responsibility," Richardson said. "The fact I can show up somewhere and somebody's life can be impacted, at the end of the day that's how we're all going to be judged."
Richardson's jersey isn't the NFL's biggest mover, but the three-time Pro Bowler and lead blocker for five 1,000-yard rushers has sold his share over the years for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Jets.
One of his jerseys, in particular, symbolizes the influence an NFL player can have on one life.
Christopher, a 9-year-old Kansas boy, was buried in it.
"That's definitely humbling and overwhelming," Richardson said. "It doesn't even seem real. I would never think that I could have that kind of impact on one individual or family.
"You can't even put that into words that you've touched someone's life like that."
Christopher had leukemia. Richardson would visit him at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Christopher, when his health permitted, would attend any event he could for Richardson's organization, the Rich in Spirit Foundation.
On the desk at Richardson's home in Kansas City is a picture of Christopher.
"My philosophy in life is that if you've had a bad day, that's up to you," Richardson said.
"You control how you respond to adverse situations. His picture helps me maintain that perspective. It reminds me how precious life is, how each day could be your last."
|Albert Dickson/TSN/Icon SMI|
|Dan Marino won't be appearing on "Dancing With the Stars.”|
The second-biggest offseason quarterback controversy has been laid to rest.
The next version of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" won't include a contestant traipsing around in clunky knee braces.
To snuff rumors he would be taking part in a series that has given Jason Taylor, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice the chance to cha-cha, Hall of Famer Dan Marino asked the Miami Dolphins to release a statement that he will not be on the show.
"Dan called me to tell me those reports are totally false," Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said. "He's not participating in 'Dancing With the Stars.' Maybe chipping and putting with them, but certainly not dancing."
Thank goodness. Marino never was the most graceful animal, even though the NFL Network ranked him seventh on its list of the most mobile quarterbacks in NFL history -- ahead of Jim Zorn, Doug Flutie and Donovan McNabb.
Go ahead. Click on the link if you don't believe me.