Sunday, January 19, 2014
Sunday notes: A spy in the house?
By Rich Cimini
Championship notes (hopefully) for a championship Sunday:
1. Knock, knock. Who's there? Bill. Bill Belichick: The New England Patriots' coach is one win away from his sixth Super Bowl and a full week of access to the New York Jets' facility in Florham Park, N.J. The prospect of the SpyGate kingpin roaming the halls has to be unnerving for Jets fans -- and maybe the organization, too.
The AFC team in Super Bowl XLVIII will practice at the Jets' facility, the NFC team at the Giants' place. That's the set-up. The trepidation is understandable, considering Belichick once got into a heap of trouble for illegally videotaping the Jets' signals during a game, but I wouldn't get too concerned. The facility will remain fairly secure. According to the league:
- Coaches don't share coaches' offices. So, no, Belichick wouldn't have the chance to put his feet up on Rex Ryan's desk.
- Teams usually hold meetings at their hotel, where meeting space is set up by the league. Both teams are staying in Jersey City.
- Teams usually eat at the team hotel, so they won't get to sample the impressive fare at the Jets' cafeteria.
- Equipment is loaded into the locker room and kept there for the duration. Depending on the type of practice, the players will get dressed in the locker room. You can bet the Jets' staff will inspect it beforehand, removing any type of intelligence (i.e. game plans or iPads) left behind from the season.
- Most host teams will have their staff off during the times the Super Bowl participant is at the facility, so there's no chance for the staff to see the AFC team's staff or players. Too bad; a Ryan-Tom Brady encounter at the water cooler would've been priceless.
- The visiting team will be protected from potential espionage as well. Windows of any office with a view of the practice field will be taped over.
Chances are, Belichick, whose disdain for his former team is well documented, would feel more uncomfortable than his hosts. In the field house, he'd practice beneath giant murals of members of the Jets' Ring of Honor, including the one that got away from the Patriots -- Curtis Martin. Around the building, he'd see "Play Like a Jet" references on the walls, probably making him queasy. In short, it's probably the last place in the world he'd want to prepare for a Super Bowl.
2. Thoughts on the Rex-tension: Before Ryan finalized his contract extension, there were some people who thought he'd take a chance and coach out his current deal, becoming a free agent in 2015. That's tough to do, of course. When someone puts $4 million on the table, it's hard to walk away. He reportedly is due to make $3.3 million in 2014 (under his previous contract) and, from what I understand, he'll get a small raise for 2015 -- figuring close to $4 million guaranteed. Some people say he didn't get as much security as he coveted -- 2016 is a quasi-option year -- but I think he did OK for a coach who has missed the playoffs for three straight years.
3. Bottom line on Rex: Because it's technically a "multi-year" extension, the contract will create the perception that Ryan is safe beyond 2014. Yeah, it might quiet some of the speculation, but here's the reality: He's back to where he was before the 2013 season. As someone who knows Ryan told me, "If he bombs, he's gone."
4. Merit raises: RB Bilal Powell and WR Jeremy Kerley, heading into the final year of their rookie contracts, each received a $744,000 bump for 2014, thanks to salary escalators, according to overthecap.com. It brings their salary up to $1.389 million in '14. To earn an escalator, a player (drafted in Rounds 3 through 7) must play in at least 35 percent of the snaps in two of his first three seasons or 35 percent of the total snaps over the three-year period.
5. The Simms spotlight: Backup QB Matt Simms has a link to two of the "Final Four" quarterbacks -- and, no, I'm not referring to the fact that his famous dad will be broadcasting the Patriots-Broncos AFC championship. In 2010, Simms attended the Manning passing academy in Louisiana, hosted by Peyton Manning, Eli and their father, Archie. It's a four-day event for high school and college quarterbacks. One of Simms' fellow campers was Colin Kaepernick. In a skills competition, Simms finished second, ahead of Kaepernick and some kid named Andrew Luck. Yeah, Simms always could sling it, and now he's starting to mature as a player. The Jets recognize it, signing him before the season ended to a one-year, $495,000 contract (the second-year minimum).
By the way, Taylor Potts of Texas Tech (who?) beat out Simms in the skills competition.
6. Not 'The Man': After Friday's incident, I guess Geno Smith shouldn't expect to land one of those cool headphones commercials, a la Kaepernick.
7. So long, Sammy: Waiting in line at a restaurant the other night, a Jets fan asked me, "Can we get Sammy Watkins?" The draft still is more than three months away, but fans already have developed an affinity for Clemson's stud wide receiver, who would address a huge need for the Jets. Could Watkins fall to 18th? No way. An NFC scout, whose team picks in the top 15, said Watkins wouldn't get past them.
"He ain't gonna be there," said the scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Tell John Idzik, unless he trades up, he won't get him. He's a great kid, he works hard and he has some of the quickest hands you'll ever see. This kid has an unbelievable talent. He can fly and he has courage."
8. If not Watkins, then ...: There will be other wide receiver options for the Jets at 18. Marqise Lee (USC) could be there. A longtime scout told me, "I like him. Big-play ability. I could see the Jets taking two receivers in this draft and signing one in free agency." Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) is a rising talent. Said the NFC scout: "He's got first-round talent. Before this year, every time I saw him, he was dropping easy ones, but he's matured and improved. He's running routes better and it seems like he's finally figured it out."
9. Dreaming of Johnny Football: Unless Johnny Manziel pulls an embarrassing stunt before the draft (thrown off a plane?), he won't fall to the Jets at 18. Some mock drafts project him going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Our NFC scout said of Manziel, "He has unbelievable instincts. He's got eyes in the back of his head. He can run and throw and win games. But he's kind of small. He looks like a peanut. Durability could be a big issue, but that [kid] can play." It would be a major upset if he lasts beyond the top 8.
10. Losing games and viewers: TV ratings are soaring for the NFL, but the Jets are one of 10 teams whose local ratings have declined for two straight years, according to the Sports Business Daily. Their two-year drop is 19 percent, the second highest in the league. Only the Oakland Raiders (22 percent) suffered a bigger fall off. By the way, the New York Giants weren't far behind at minus-15 percent.