NFC East: Mike Tomlin
New York Giants owner John Mara was talking again Wednesday night about the looming contract extension for Giants coach Tom Coughlin, saying it would be done sooner rather than later. And there's no reason to doubt Mara. Coughlin's contract has never been a problem before, and as he's coming off his second Super Bowl title in five years, there's no dispute over whether he deserves a new one. My guess all along has been that it'll be a three-year deal, and as for salary, I think this Forbes list of the highest-paid coaches in sports offers some clues.
You see the Washington Redskins' Mike Shanahan tied for second on that list at $7 million per year. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl titles, though the most recent one came 13 years ago. The Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid ranks 10th on this list at $5.5 million per year, and as you may have learned by reading some of the comments on this blog, Reid has yet to win a Super Bowl. The Patriots' Bill Belichick ranks first at $7.5 million, though Forbes admits that's a pure guess and no one knows what Belichick, who's won three Super Bowls, actually makes.
It may be difficult for some who have perceived Coughlin as perpetually on the "hot seat" during his time in New York to imagine him among the highest-paid coaches in sports. But the numbers and the titles and the circumstances say he's earned it. And when the announcement does come, I believe it'll come with an eye-popping number attached to it.
So Mike dug up a Star-Ledger story about Spagnuolo from 2008. It's a really good story about Spagnuolo's life and career, and worth the read. But for our purposes at the moment, this is the important part:
The next morning, Giants coach Tom Coughlin called. On Sunday, Spagnuolo drove to Giants Stadium, nailed the interview and was offered the job. When he returned to the Eagles complex, it was to pack up his belongings, not sign a contract, which would have been difficult because Spagnuolo felt Eagles coach Andy Reid had kept him from a promotion.
People close to Spagnuolo say he was in the running to become the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006, but Reid wouldn't release him from his contract. Reid was worried that longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson would take a head-coaching job, and Reid wanted Spagnuolo to move into that slot.
But when Johnson dawdled, then decided he didn't want to interview for any available head-coaching positions, Vikings coach Brad Childress already had hired Mike Tomlin. Spagnuolo was crushed.
"Those were probably the darkest days," said a friend, who requested anonymity. "Working for the Eagles the last year was very tough for him."
So, hey, something else to consider as Eagles fans imagine Spagnuolo (who hasn't been fired yet, by the way, and will be pursued by more than one team if he is) as the answer to all of their problems. A quote from an anonymous source in a four-year-old story doesn't necessarily mean that Spagnuolo wouldn't want to return to the Eagles as their defensive coordinator. It doesn't mean things are bad between Spagnuolo and Andy Reid. But it's at least worth stepping back and wondering if the solution that makes sense in all of our heads looking in from the outside makes sense in the heads of the people who'd actually be making the decision. Call it food for thought, in case the breakfast links weren't enough to hold you.
This could indicate that these two teams are showing strong interest in Burress, who played for both in the years before his arrest. Mort cites sources who tell him Burress is in line to make more than $10 million over two years with the Giants if he can make up with Coughlin.
But this could also indicate that Burress isn't getting the kind of interest he likes, and that two teams that have prior relationships with him are doing him the courtesy of meeting with him to at least make it look to other teams as if he has suitors.
I'm a skeptic by trade and by nature, so I want to believe that last thing. But I don't doubt Mort's reporting, and it does sound as if the Giants' interest is sincere. Perhaps they're worried enough about Steve Smith's knee that they see a need there. Surely, it's easy to imagine getting enough from Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham that Burress won't have to be over-taxed in his first season since his prison term ended.
But $10 million over two years? Is there really enough of a market for this guy to justify a number like that?
Again, it's beyond me.
"Expect the unexpected" was one piece of advice Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had for new Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys' official site looks back on the significance of the 1991 draft.
New York Giants
UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers, a player the Giants are reportedly interested in, improved on his 40-yard dash time during his pro day workout on Tuesday.
"The Suburbanites" will be back together in May to be honored at a dinner to benefit Life Athletes.
Former Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas is getting ready to open the doors to his new training center.
Moving the Chains has an update on the players the Eagles will work out prior to the draft.
Brian Orakpo is fulfilling a promise he made to himself before he hit it big.
USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith will visit with the Redskins before next month's draft.
NFC West blogger Mike Sando has pulled back the curtain on the once-mysterious voting process, and the transparency is staggering. Let's take a closer look at how the four teams from the Beast fared in the Power Rankings:
6. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles should've moved up more than two spots following consecutive wins over the Colts and Redskins. Sando agreed with me, giving Philly a No. 5 vote. But John "The Professor" Clayton apparently wants to see more from Michael Vick and friends. He gave the Eagles their lowest vote with a stunning "8." If the Eagles beat the Giants on Sunday night, I think the voters will finally stand at attention to Andy Reid, who needs to invest in a rain repellent jacket.
8. New York Giants: The voters could've been much tougher on the Giants. AFC North guru James Walker punished them a bit with a "10" spot, but Clayton had them two spots ahead of the Eagles at No. 6. I guess he's giving the Giants some grace based on all their injuries heading into the Cowboys game.
21. Washington Redskins: Sando hammered the Skins with a No. 24 vote -- and I think that's about right. That was an embarrassing performance in a big spot. Clayton has the Redskins at No. 18, ahead of the Chargers and the Texans. There's no way I'd have the Skins in the top 20 after that poor effort against the Eagles. It seems like the voters were in a very forgiving mood this week.
29. Dallas Cowboys: I thought the Cowboys would jump four or five spots after beating a team that was in the top five of the Power Rankings. But only Walker tried to move the Cowboys up -- to 27. Clayton and AFC South stalwart Paul Kuharsky left the Cowboys twisting in the wind at "29." Surely Jason Garrett and his magic lectern deserve better.
"I don't need to go into detail of who said what, what happened to who, all those things, he said she said," Phillips said. "There wasn't anything big that happened that made a difference. We worked out what we had to work out on the sideline, and that's what we normally do. And that's what happens with a lot of teams a lot of times."
Newman has always been a class act, but there's absolutely no excuse in the world for shoving an assistant coach. Do you think Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would stand for something like that? Not in a million years. But Phillips wants to remain friends with his players, so he hates the thought of calling them out in public. Perhaps he disciplined Newman in private, but I have my doubts about that.
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com hammered Phillips pretty hard on his blog earlier this afternoon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
After watching the Grammys last night, I decided to stay up and watch our local CBS affiliate's exclusive interview with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. CBS 11 anchor (and Troy Aikman's former clipboard holder) Babe Laufenberg sat down with Romo in a suite at the Four Seasons and covered a variety of topics, including the Cowboys' lack of leadership.
Here's the exchange, which is brought to us by Tim MacMahon, the bureau chief of the blog formerly known as "Matt Mosley's Cowboys Blog."
Ch. 11's Babe Laufenberg asked Tony Romo whether the framework was in place for a leader (or leaders) to emerge at Valley Ranch.
"Oh, yeah. No question," Romo said. "What are you referring to, Jerry?"
Babe replied by pointing out that it certainly didn't seem like anybody stepped to the forefront last season.
"We didn't win," Romo answered. "It's simple. It's kind of dumb."
Babe said that when a team isn't winning, that's when a guy ...
"Does what?" Romo interrupted. "Yells at everybody and then you win?"
Then Romo delivered a [lecture] on leadership.
"You wanna know why Michael Jordan was a great leader? He won six NBA championships. Then, all of a sudden, when he gets in people's faces, he's a great leader."
(Editorial comment from Mosley: Michael Jordan was a great leader before he left Chapel Hill, N.C.)
"A great leader is someone who wins, and you figure out how to win. Some people, it's getting in people's faces. Some people, it's being positive. Other people, it's walking the line and doing it the right way. And that guy shows everybody else, because they see him doing it, and they figure out, 'I'm going to walk in that line, too, and do it.'
"You know, there's many different ways to do it. I think people who sit there and say they need to see leadership, well, they're kidding themselves. Because if you need to see someone be a leader, they're probably not a leader all the time.
(Editorial comment from Mosley: Sorry, but I think the Steelers can "see leadership" in Mike Tomlin. You can see it in his day-to-day actions. But something tells me his leadership is what provided the framework for the winning -- not the other way around. If the Cowboys think they have to win before leaders start to emerge, they'll be waiting a long time.)
"You can look back and say, 'Oh, we should have done talking more.' ... I don't know that ... When somebody talks to me, it does nothing as far as, OK, thank you. Just leave me alone for a second. I need to think about what I need to do to improve on the next play. Or give me some technical aspect that you can use. 'Listen, when the corner is sitting down doing this, you need to ....' That stuff will help you the next time you're out there.
"Saying, 'C'mon! Let's go! Get ready! C'mon! Do better!' ... OK, I will. (rolls eyes) It doesn't solve anything.
"I mean, we're not 18 or 17. We don't need to be motivated to play harder in that regard. I think you take the wrong gap or you do the wrong thing, in that regard, that's gonna hurt you. And it will look like you're not playing as hard, but the reality is you just went the wrong way or you did the wrong thing or you threw the wrong pass, whatever.
"I think that execution, if there's a way to execute better, then you need to lead in that regard. You need to figure out a way to help everybody execute better. But it's silly to me to think that someone telling you in your face, 'Do better next time' is going to make you do better next time. Tell me why. Show somebody what they need to do to do better next time. That will go a lot farther, I think."
As a kid growing up in the Dallas area, it was easy to hate the Pittsburgh Steelers. They single-handedly prevented the Cowboys from becoming a dynasty in the '70s. And, of course, last night we had to watch image after image of Lynn Swann toying with Cowboys cornerback Mark Washington.
But I have a completely different feeling about this current group of Steelers. When you see the passion in Mike Tomlin's eyes and the sincerity in his voice, it's hard to root against him. My colleague Gene Wojciechowski makes an argument this morning that the Steelers should take the "America's Team" moniker away from the Cowboys.
"I think what makes America's Team is that anywhere you go in America, that's your home stadium," said safety Ryan Clark. "It's called Steelers Nation for a reason. [The Cowboys] may be called 'America's Team' because they have reality shows. They like to be in the headlines, things like that. ... But it felt like we were in Pittsburgh tonight."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid was named the Motorola NFL Coach of the Week for his performance in Sunday's 44-6 win over the Cowboys. Voters on NFL.com gave Reid the nod over Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was the only person who received the award three times this season. I wouldn't expect any passionate speeches from Reid today in celebration of the award.
|Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE and Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger meet in a highly anticipated game Sunday with playoff implications for both teams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and James Walker
In advance of the Cowboys-Steelers game Sunday at Heinz Field, NFC Beast blogger Matt Mosley and AFC North blogger James Walker agreed to discuss what this December showdown means to the league and the world in general. The Cowboys (8-4) could take a major step toward solidifying an NFC wild-card spot, while the Steelers (9-3) are fighting for a second consecutive division title and a first-round bye.
Mosley and Walker are both en route to Pittsburgh to cover what should be the best game of the weekend. Please enjoy the following discussion:
Both quarterbacks are banged up, but how will each fare in this marquee matchup?
James Walker: Ben Roethlisberger had a minor tweak to his right knee at the end of practice Wednesday, but the Steelers are saying it's no big deal. The larger concern in such a big game is Roethlisberger's shoulder, which has been an issue all season. The injury has gradually taken the deep-passing game out of Pittsburgh's offense. In the past three games, Roethlisberger's longest completion is just 37 yards. Most of his throws of late have been underneath to receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller.
Matt Mosley: Tony Romo is planning to play without a splint on his right pinkie for the first time in a month. At first, he felt some pain when he had to drive the ball on deep out patterns, but he's pretty comfortable at this point. He went back to his favorite target, Jason Witten, last Thursday against the Seahawks. And contrary to what No. 81 might say, Witten's the most important piece of the passing game. But since we brought him up, it's a great sign that Terrell Owens has made a significant impact in the past two wins. The Steelers will use press coverage and have a safety over the top in order to slow down T.O. The Cowboys will counter with some pre-snap motion, and this could also be a breakout game for Roy Williams. With Marion Barber (toe) banged up, the Cowboys might have to lean heavily on their passing game.
MM: If Barber can go, the Cowboys will try to feed him the ball early in the game. But the Steelers do a great job taking away the run. The Cowboys have a left guard (Montrae Holland) who's inexperienced in this offense playing next to a false start waiting to happen (Flozell Adams). The Steelers will exploit those matchups every chance they get. The Cowboys won't say it publicly, but they feel like they can make plays downfield against the Steelers' secondary. Romo does an excellent job sliding away from pressure, and he should have plenty of opportunities. When Romo came back, the Cowboys started playing at a faster tempo. They will try to keep the Steelers guessing. Look for third-receiver Patrick Crayton to have a nice game. Teams tend to forget about him on the backside and this is the type of game where he could end up with 80 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers will try to confuse Romo with a lot of different looks. I've watched all 11 players line up in a two-point stance before. They'll bring pressure from everywhere. It's up to Romo to quickly identify where the pressure's coming from and go through his reads at a rapid rate. Since that's one of his strengths, it shouldn't be a major problem.
JW: Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is very good at taking away what opponents do best, which gets teams out of their comfort zones. Last week, Pittsburgh took Randy Moss (four catches, 45 yards) out of New England's offense and quarterback Matt Cassel looked lost without his best weapon playing well. I expect the Steelers to do the same to Owens, who could be matched up most of the game with cornerback Ike Taylor along with help over the top from the safeties, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. But what's intriguing this week is Dallas has so many other offensive weapons that it could still pose problems for Pittsburgh. It will be an interesting chess match indeed.
Will the weather and muddy conditions at Heinz Field play a factor in this game?
JW: Pittsburgh is accustomed to playing on this surface, so it will be more of an issue for Dallas. The forecast is expected to be in the high 20s with a 40 percent chance of snow, so that's an advantage for the Steelers, particularly defensively. I've heard so many players around the league complain about Heinz Field this time of year and I think it gets in the head of some teams. Yet I've never once heard a Steelers player complain about playing in the mud. I expect the running games to be very important Sunday. Barber's injury status is huge in this game.
MM: Wade Phillips had his team practice indoors with a DJ when it was 70 degrees outside Monday. He did make the Cowboys practice in "the elements" when temperatures were in the low 50s. He coached in the inclement weather in Buffalo, and he's indicated this week that too much is made of the awful conditions at Heinz Field. Phillips thinks the mud would slow down both defenses, but as James pointed out, the Steelers are used to playing in the Heinz soup. The Steelers put down a new surface, but the fact that high school and college teams play on the field makes for a dicey situation. Romo played in poor weather at Eastern Illinois and he spent a lot of winters in Wisconsin. I don't think the cold weather will faze him. I think Phillips is underestimating how cold it will be Sunday evening -- and it might come back to bite his team.
Which team has more at stake in terms of playoff implications?
MM: The Cowboys have much more at stake in this game, but it's certainly not a must-win situation. The Cowboys will host the Giants and Ravens in consecutive weeks after the Steelers game. If they lose to the Steelers, they can beat the Ravens and then finish on the road in Philadelphia against a team that will likely be out of the playoff picture. If the Cowboys beat the Steelers, it could serve as the impetus for a strong December and push toward the playoffs. The Cowboys have much more to gain here than the Steelers, but I wouldn't dare go out on a limb and pick them to win.
JW: Dallas is more in danger of not making the playoffs, so it's hard to argue that this game isn't more important for the Cowboys. But the Steelers also have a golden opportunity here. They have back-to-back road games against the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, who have a combined record of 19-5, and there is no promise that the Steelers will win either of those contests. So it's very important for Pittsburgh to take care of business at home. A win Sunday combined with losses by New England and the Miami Dolphins and the Steelers are in. There's no point for them to leave anything to chance in the final weeks of the regular season.
Prediction and score?
JW: Dallas struggles in December and has looked ordinary on the road with a 3-3 mark. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh thrives this time of year and is 15-5 in December since 2004. So the Steelers will win this game 24-20. Unless Owens has a huge performance, the Cowboys won't score many points. Romo should face a lot of pressure Sunday, and a turnover or two is all Pittsburgh needs to win at home.
MM: I'm shocked that "Big Game" James has the two teams combining for 44 points. I think the Steelers will win, 17-10. The Cowboys have plenty of weapons on offense, but they haven't seen a defense like this. Even Arizona's front completely baffled the Cowboys for most of the game, and the Steelers are a lot better than that defense. But if Barber's able to bang away at the Steelers' defense, you never know what could happen. Again, keep your eye on Patrick Crayton in this one. He'll be the unsung hero for the Cowboys if they pull off the upset. And though Phillips hates that we keep bringing it up, the Steelers have an advantage in the mud.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
LANDOVER, Md. -- The Steelers travel better than any fan base in the league. It's pretty amazing to look up and see Terrible Towels in almost every section of FedEx Field.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin began the game with an onside kick.
It's a questionable decision -- especially when it doesn't work. It's also a sign that Tomlin has a lot of faith in his defense. The Redskins took over on the Steelers' 36-yard line, but had to settle for a field goal.
I was down on the field watching Redskins receiver Santana Moss warm up before the game. He made some aggressive cuts and then I watched a Redskins official walk over and report that he was indeed going to be active about 95 minutes before the game.
The Steelers desperately need to establish a running game in order to help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Having Willie Parker healthy again could provide a huge lift. The interception by Roethlisberger was caused when defensive end Andre Carter tipped the ball. The Redskins do an excellent job of getting their hands up in passing lanes. Carter is a 6-foot-4 lineman and he has unusually long arms.
I'd say the Steelers are pretty fortunate to only be down 6-0 at this point. They have a botched onside kick and an interception. That's a victory for the Steelers.