Saturday, May 21, 2011
NFC North weekend mailbag
By Kevin Seifert
After some time in the shop, the weekend mailbag is baaaaaaacckkkk.
Typing that word reminds me of the way Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers announced his return from a concussion last season. (I'm baaaaaaacckkkk, he texted to ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde.)
And it was Rodgers' inability to identify the Superman theme song last week that reminded me of the great opening scene from that 1978 movie by the same name. For me, it bears special significance during the NFL lockout.
Surely you recall the scene. Jor-El is concluding the trial of three notorious Krypton criminals. Rendered guilty, General Zod and his companions (Non and Ursa, duh!) are sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone, a glass-like prison that hurtles them screaming into space.
"This is no fantasy," Jor El says. "No careless product of wild imagination. No, my good friends. These indictments that I have brought to you today, specific charges listed herein against the individuals. Their acts of treason, their ultimate aim of sedition. These ... are matters of undeniable fact."
As the NFL lockout continues, can I get any support for the idea of tossing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith into the Phantom Zone, where they will be sentenced to negotiate until such time as a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is reached? Based on General Zod's look of terror, I'm guessing we would have a new CBA in about seven minutes.
I'm available for further fantastical suggestions via the mailbag, Twitter and Facebook.
On with the mailbag:
Tim of Endwell, New York, writes: Do you think the Chicago Bears are giving Mike Martz too much power? With his influence on demanding a veteran quarterback last year, (Todd Collins) the miss-handling of playing time with Devin Aromashodu, and drafting quarterbacks in back to back years. With Martz's track record with previous teams, it seems like he has a lot of influence even though he might not be here for too long.
Kevin Seifert: I think Tim brought up an excellent discussion point. To an extent, the Bears have treated Martz like the mad but brilliant scientist who just needs a full stock of supplies to make crazy magic.
Of course, we don't know what Martz has been denied. But we do know what he's gotten since the Bears hired him last year. He eventually won a battle not only to sign a veteran backup quarterback last summer, but he was also able to return Todd Collins to No. 2 status even after a disastrous early-season outing against the Carolina Panthers.
Martz presided over the fall of Aromashodu, once among quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite receivers. And yes, the Bears have drafted quarterbacks in each of the past two years -- Dan LeFevour and Nathan Enderle -- even though their depth chart seemed set with Cutler and Caleb Hanie. In April, Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell freely admitted that Martz played a key role in scouting Enderle and lobbied for him to be drafted.
Martz "really kind of fell for the kid in terms of the intangibles that he brings," Ruskell said. Ruskell added: "He's done a good job over the years if you look at his track record on guys that maybe weren't at the highest tier. He's done a really good job with finding these guys and developing these guys. So, that certainly weighed into the decision."
Ruskell is referring to Martz's work in St. Louis, first with Kurt Warner and later with Marc Bulger. Does Martz's decade-old success with those players merit the influence he now has over the Bears' personnel decisions at the position?
I see where Tim is coming from. After leaving the Rams in 2005, Martz spent two seasons with the Detroit Lions and one with the San Francisco 49ers. He reportedly turned down a contract extension this offseason, meaning his long-term future with the Bears is uncertain at best. Knowing how transient the NFL coaching landscape is, should any assistant be allowed to choose quarterbacks?
I tend to look at it from another perspective. Martz's skill as an offensive mind and quarterback teacher has never really been questioned. His downfalls in St. Louis, Detroit and San Francisco can be attributed more to personality clashes and philosophical differences. If you hire a coach like Martz and plan for him to be with you for more than a year, it's best to treat him like an asset and hope he can leave a lasting impact on your franchise in a way many other coordinators could not.
This discussion would be more difficult if the Bears were using first and/or second-round draft picks to appease Martz. LeFevour was drafted in the sixth round and Enderle in the fifth. I'm fine with the Bears using a late-round pick on the chance that Martz could accelerate development for a player at the most important position in the game. Even if Cutler's presence means that Enderle will never start for the Bears, it's not unheard of for NFL teams to develop and trade backup quarterbacks for draft picks far exceeding the value of where they were selected.
John of Harrisonburg, Va., wants to take our Flash Points project to the next level: Which NFC North team's Flash Point had the biggest impact on the NFL overall?
Kevin Seifert: My first thought was of Packers Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. But Lombardi's most lasting contribution might have been more cultural and social than it was football-related. Lombardi's "winning is everything" philosophy -- apocryphal or otherwise -- put a national bent into simple wording.
(My personal favorite was his notion that discipline is "character in action," but we'll save that for another lockout/rainy day.)
If you're speaking purely of the impact on football, I think it's hard to look past two of the options on the Bears' ballot.
In 1925, Bears coach George Halas paid Red Grange the sport's first $100,000 contract, ushering in a new level of fan interest into the game.
And in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, Halas introduced the "T-Formation," a look that changed the way the game is played. It encouraged the development of the passing game and ultimately led to the now-traditional two-back set.
For impact on the NFL, I would choose one of those two examples over Lombardi's tenure with the Packers.
SanDiegoLion of Encinitas, Calif., writes: The Detroit Lions are getting some buzz on ESPN outlets on the possibility of them being selected for Hard Knocks. ... I would be shocked if it happened as Mayhew seems like he likes things pretty buttoned up.
Kevin Seifert: I'll admit it. The Lions were the first team I thought of when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed on Hard Knocks earlier this week. (Ultimately I think I would want to see the personalities in the Bears' locker room more than anything, but I digress.) Thanks to their draft position in recent years, the Lions have a host of recognizable skill players and are no doubt eager to shed their moribund reputation over the past decade.
But I'm with SanDiegoLion. If it's up to Mayhew, who rarely speaks publicly himself, there is probably not much chance of this happening. But let's not put it all on Mayhew. Lions coach Jim Schwartz is more accessible but is pretty guarded about internal details for competitive reasons.
Of course, the most memorable parts of recent "Hard Knocks" seasons have not been the inside information but the insight into the personalities of coaches and players. I don't think the Lions, or anyone else for that matter, would lose any competitive edge by participating. But I still would be surprised if the Lions agree to do it.
Lyndon of Slave Lake, Alberta, has been out of touch: I could use some good news on the Vikings. Hit me.
Kevin Seifert: As crazy as it sounds, the Vikings have made more progress on their stadium issue in the past month than they did in the 12-plus years combined they've been lobbying.
Their agreement with Ramsey County to build a $1.057 billion stadium isn't perfect, but it's the most workable plan they've hatched yet. How so? For starters, Gov. Mark Dayton is on board and has committed $300 million toward the deal. That's $300 million more than predecessors Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura were willing to offer.
For the first time, they have multiple sites fighting over them. The city of Minneapolis tried to jump ahead of Ramsey County at the last moment and failed, but competition usually has a way of speeding progress.
Finally, most of the opposition to the project has come from legislators who don't want to consider it until after a state budget is finalized. That's a lot better for the Vikings than if they were making the more philosophical objection that public funds shouldn't be used to pay for sports stadiums.
I really don't know if this Ramsey County deal will get approved. But if you're looking for good news, know that the Vikings are closer than they've ever been to success on this vexing issue.