NFC West: Cris Carter
It’s not even a question, as far as New England Patriots fans are concerned. Rice, you’ll recall, was outspoken in his criticism of the Patriots in general, quarterback Tom Brady in particular, in the wake of Deflategate. The San Francisco 49ers’ Hall of Fame receiver, who also spent time with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, said before Super Bowl XLIX that if the Patriots won, they should have an asterisk next to their name for cheating.
“This is going to follow them, you know, for the rest of their lives,” Rice told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game last month, while also bringing up Spygate. “Because when you look at it, when people go back and they think about the New England Patriots, they're going to think about these controversies. So it's unfortunate.
“I've always wanted to do things the right way. I didn't want to take any short cuts or anything like that. It's just unfortunate that we're talking about them using underinflated footballs instead of talking about the Super Bowl.”
Rice admitted before that interview in an ESPN feature on gloves worn by pass-catchers that he himself had used stickum.
“I know this might be a little illegal, guys, but just put a little spray, a little stickum on them, to make sure that texture is a little sticky,” Rice said.
So rather than the Greatest Of All Time, Patriots fans see Rice as the Greatest Hypocrite Of All Time…or somesuch.
Rice, meanwhile, has taken a lot of heat on social media for his seemingly duplicitous stance on cheating but Tweeted that all players used the banned substance in his playing days.
Fellow Hall of Fame receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter, meanwhile, dismissed his colleague's claims by saying he never used stickum.
I apologize ppl after doing my research about stickum! The NFL banned this in 1981. All players did it! #equalplayingfield— Jerry Rice (@JerryRice) February 7, 2015
God made my hands, he put #StickumGate on them,never a need to use anything but my God giving talent, and perfect it with a Jugs machine.— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) February 9, 2015
Rice, though, is not the only former 49ers player to take a shot at New England and Brady. Charles Haley, who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the night before Brady won his fourth ring, the same number as Joe Montana, recently went on the offensive.
“Joe didn't have to cheat,” Haley told the Talk of Fame Network. “I’ve lost all respect [for Brady]. When your integrity is challenged in the game of football, to me, all his Super Bowls are tainted.
“This is what Charles Haley believes – it’s going to come back to haunt him one day. If the league doesn't come down on this guy…everybody is talking about it. Nobody believes it was by accident. It is what it is.”
Patriots fans have not been thrilled with Haley’s take either, obviously.
I was among the 46 selectors for a fourth year and can tell you it's extremely difficult reducing the field, particularly on the final cut from 10 to five.
Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells and Warren Sapp were the modern-era candidates left standing this year. The Hall of Fame will enshrine them in Canton, Ohio, this summer.
Allen, Ogden and Sapp were eligible for the first time. Michael Strahan, also a first-timer, made the initial cut to 10 before missing the cut to five.
The strong push by newly eligible candidates contributed to former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. missing the cut from 15 to 10. This is the second year in a row that DeBartolo has made the final 15 without advancing to the final 10. Art Modell, Kevin Greene, Will Shields and Tim Brown also missed the first cut.
While this isn't the end for DeBartolo as a candidate, some voters seem to struggle supporting contributors over players on the final reduction.
Rules allow no more than five modern-era candidates to be enshrined in a single year.
Former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals great Aeneas Williams made the cut to 10 for the second consecutive year. That's a strong indication voters consider him worthy -- eventually. Cortez Kennedy, for example, earned enshrinement last year after twice making the final 10.
Voters discussed Parcells' candidacy for more than an hour, the longest discussion for any candidate. Rules prevent voters from disclosing more specific details about the proceedings.
Curley Culp and Dave Robinson earned enshrinement as senior candidates.
Andre Reed, Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Williams and Strahan missed the cut from 10 to five.
Their names are shaded in the chart below: Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Aeneas Williams, Jerome Bettis and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
The first two men listed qualify as seniors candidates. Their enshrinement does not affect the maximum five slots available to modern-era candidates.
San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig was among the 12 semifinalists not making the reduction to 15 this year. The others were: Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Joe Jacoby, Albert Lewis, John Lynch, Karl Mecklenburg, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Tasker and George Young.
The next round of voting begins and ends one day before the Super Bowl. I'm one of the voters and will have a tough time reducing to five on the final ballot, as usual. It's a select group that makes it in the end. Strong cases can be made for each of the four players eligible for the first time. Adding them to the list makes it tougher for some of the holdovers.
ESPN has made available a fuller version of the recent Randy Moss interview with Lil Wayne.
This one runs not quite three minutes and includes Moss' reflections on outspokenness, Cris Carter as a mentor and his motivation for returning from a one-year retirement.
- "Sunday NFL Countdown" features Trent Dilfer's look at the "different paths" Vernon Davis and Mike Singletary have taken since Singletary sent Davis to the locker room during a 2008 game. The timing is right for this one with Davis and the 49ers facing Singletary's Minnesota Vikings. This show begins Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.
- "NFL Matchup" features Sal Paolantonio, Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge looking at how the Arizona Cardinals' disguised coverages fouled up Tom Brady, and if they'll bother Michael Vick; how Seattle's blitz will be key against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers; and how Alex Smith uses pre-snap adjustments to benefit the 49ers' offense. This show airs Sunday at 3:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
- "Monday Night Football" features the Seahawks and Packers from CenturyLink Field. A two-hour pregame show features Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Stuart Scott, Dilfer, Steve Young, Rick Reilly and Lisa Salters.
What, nothing on the St. Louis Rams? Must be another case of West Coast bias.
The video shows ESPN analysts Tim Hasselbeck and Cris Carter offering thoughts on quarterback competitions around the NFL, including the ones in Arizona and Seattle.
Hasselbeck thinks Seattle would be best off going with Matt Flynn so that Flynn can "assert himself as a leader" on offense and the team in general. That thinking reflects what's important from a quarterback's perspective: clearly defined roles. No position on the team is quite like quarterback, the thinking goes. Rather than encouraging competition at the position, teams should seek the clarity that enables a starter to assert himself as the leader of the team.
Carter, meanwhile, thinks the money Arizona paid to Kolb gives Kolb a two-year window -- last season and this one -- to prove he was worth the investment.
Flynn, like Kolb, is the highest-paid quarterback on his team's roster. Seattle paid considerably less for Flynn, however, making it easier for the team to justify heading in another direction at the position.
Arizona has an extra exhibition game this season, extending the window for a quarterback competition. I think that makes it less critical for the Cardinals to settle on a starter quickly. Seattle's situation carries additional risks. The team is splitting reps three ways at a time when NFL rules have reduced the number of practice opportunities. The team also has the standard four exhibition games, one fewer than Arizona.
Anyone with a strong grasp of NFL history would place Cris Carter, Raymond Berry and Steve Largent on a short list for receivers with the surest hands.
Hall of Famer Ken Houston, speaking for a 2008 piece on all-time great wideouts, stood up for AFL stars Otis Taylor and Lionel Taylor.
"Lionel Taylor, I mean, he would catch a BB," Houston said.
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, speaking for the same piece, said Randy Moss, then with New England, had the best hands in the NFL at that time (2008).
"A lot of guys can catch," Thompson said then. "He can catch on any platform, as we say in scouting. He can adjust and catch it over the top of somebody's head, catch it falling down, and it doesn't matter if he is covered."
With Moss now on the 49ers, it is possible Crabtree does not possess the best hands among wide receivers on his own team.
Oops. I wasn't going to take the bait on this one, but now it's too late. Time to regroup.
Bottom line, I suspect Crabtree has impressed Harbaugh this offseason, and Harbaugh would like that to continue for as long as possible. By offering such strong public praise for Crabtree, Harbaugh is setting a standard for Crabtree to meet this season. He realizes Crabtree has the ability to meet that standard, or else he wouldn't make the statement.
We should all recall Harbaugh's calling quarterback Alex Smith "elite" and promoting him for the Pro Bowl last season. Then as now, Harbaugh was standing up for his guy. Smith enjoyed the finest season of his career and even outplayed the truly elite Drew Brees at times during the 49ers' playoff victory over New Orleans. The way Harbaugh backed Smith played a role in that performance, in my view.
Back to Crabtree. He has the ability to rank among the most sure-handed receivers in the game. He has not yet earned that status, but now he has little choice, right?
As the chart shows, Crabtree finished the 2011 season with 12.2 receptions per drop, which ranked 28th in the NFL among players targeted at least 100 times. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 80 receptions and only one drop. Those numbers are according to ESPN Stats & Information, which defines drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort."
Crabtree suffered six drops last season by that standard, a few too many for the player with the best hands his head coach has ever seen on a wide receiver.
A young Bill Romanowski famously infuriated teammate Harris Barton and others by taking undue shots at Jerry Rice during San Francisco 49ers practices.
With that in mind, it should come as no shock to hear that an opponent might have slapped a bounty on Romanowski's head back when NFL mayhem went largely unregulated.
That doesn't mean it happened.
To review, Cris Carter says Romanowski threatened to injure him early in a game.
Carter says he bought protection for himself by offering free dinners for offensive linemen if they could get him through the game unscathed.
It's the latest opportunity to misapply the word "bounty" to an NFL scenario, and it's predictably happening.
Carter's comments have brought Romanowski, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the 49ers, back into the news as a corollary to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. I'm struggling to see the connection. How about you?
Offering cash for intentionally inflicting injuries on specific players bears little relation to one teammate looking out for another in the manner Carter described.
While Romanowski has denied he made injury threats, Carter would have been justified taking seriously any promises Romanowski might have made.
Romanowski's reputation as a dirty player had roots in his days with San Francisco. "Romo" left little doubt through subsequent actions while with Denver and Oakland, including the time he spit in J.J. Stokes' face and attacked teammate Marcus Williams.
Torry Holt needed 131 games, making him the fastest to the milestone in NFL history. He set another NFL record by reaching 1,300 yards in six consecutive seasons.
The St. Louis Rams made note of those milestones while announcing plans to honor Holt during a ceremony Wednesday. Holt, who last played in the NFL for Jacksonville in 2009, will sign a one-day contract with the Rams, then formally retire with the team that selected him sixth overall in the 1999 draft.
After filing a Holt appreciation piece last week, I've put together a chart comparing Holt's career numbers to those for the Rams' current receivers.
The pace Holt set in getting the first 11,000 of his 13,382 career yards bears revisiting.
Larry Fitzgerald has 9,615 yards in 124 games. He would have to gain 1,385 yards in his next seven games -- 197.8 yards per game -- to reach 11,000 as quickly as Holt.
Andre Johnson, with 9,656 yards in 122 games, would have to gain 1,344 yards in his next nine games -- 149.3 per game -- to match the feat.
The Rams have provided comments from Holt and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff in advance of the news conference:
Holt: "I loved everything about being a Ram, and I feel blessed that I’m able to formally finish my career with the organization that drafted me in 1999. The fans and the city of St. Louis have been so good to me. I feel very fortunate that I was able to come to St. Louis and be surrounded by so many outstanding players and coaches. This is where it all started, and it’s fitting that this is also where it ends."Note: I've updated this item to include the second chart, provided by the Rams via Elias Sports Bureau. The total for Rice, 133 games, is one more than I had counted initially.
Demoff: "Torry's career achievements define him as one of the franchise's most exciting players, and it's only appropriate that he complete his remarkable career in a Rams uniform. As a key figure in one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, Torry spent an entire decade thrilling St. Louis fans with his clutch catches. We're proud to celebrate this special day with Torry and to welcome him back home."
Expectations are naturally low after Moss, 35, produced sparingly for three teams in 2010 before sitting out the 2011 season.
But what does history tell us?
With an assist from Pro Football Reference, I've put together a list of 20 productive seasons from receivers age 35 or older, ranked by most receiving yardage.
Jerry Rice was 35 when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury early in the 1997 season. He returned to catch 82 passes for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns the following season.
Rice shows up on the chart three times, most recently in 2002, when he had 92 receptions for 1,211 yards at age 40.
Rice is a special case, obviously. He was also less dependent than Moss on raw speed, which tends to be fleeting as players get older.
The odds are stacked against Moss, but other 35-and-up receivers have occasionally produced at a high level.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News kicks off the coverage by expressing shock over some of the candidates not enshrined this year. Tim Brown, Charles Haley and Eddie DeBartolo Jr. were three such candidates with strong Bay Area ties. Purdy: "Congratulations to the six new Pro Football Hall of Famers. But please pardon those of us who are out here in the tailgate area with the guys who didn't make it, sipping bewilderment beer and still scratching our scalps." Noted: I shared similar feelings before becoming a Hall selector a few years ago. Specifically, I wondered how in the world Cris Carter fell short. It seemed laughable at the time. Having been part of the process, it's much easier to see how these things happen. But there is still shock even among the selectors themselves over certain candidates not making it. We all have our own points of view. The key is to remember that worthy candidates get in eventually, but not all at once. And sometimes, having multiple players at the same position splits votes on the reduction from 10 to five players. That has happened at wide receiver recently, but in looking at the five modern-era finalists enshrined this year, I've got no problem with the group. The others can wait, just as this group did. Their time will come. Having five spots for 15 finalists inevitably means that some fans' favorite candidates will miss the cut in a given year.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explains why he found Cortez Kennedy worthy of Hall enshrinement. Boling: "The Hall selection committee got this one right on Saturday afternoon by recognizing Kennedy as not only an elite defender, but a player who helped change the game as a force of destruction from the interior line."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with former Seattle linebacker Dave Wyman for thoughts on Kennedy making the Hall as an interior lineman. Farnsworth: "Usually the only people that notice players like that are other players or coaches, or anybody in the NFL that is looking at film. Those defensive tackles are in there doing all the dirty work that’s not really getting their names in the paper. But Tez, he did all that, plus he had all the numbers. He has great statistics for an inside player. It’s just too crowded and there are just too many bodies in there, so it’s just not physically possible most of the time to make plays in there. But Tez did it. Some guys are just able to make that jump to become better pros than they were in college, and those are usually guys who are Hall of Famers."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle links to audio for Wyman.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on Hall finalist Aeneas Williams while offering insights into the process for enshrinement. Somers: "It often takes players several years to make it to the final 10. Williams did it in his first year as a finalist and his third year of eligibility."
Anwar S. Richardson of mlive.com checks in with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald for thoughts on Calvin Johnson's next contract with Detroit. Fitzgerald: "He should (have a higher contract than Fiztgerald). He's at the top of the game right now. He's an extremely, extremely impressive talent. He has no weaknesses. I think that's what makes Calvin so impressive is to be around him. He's a really down-to-Earth guy." Noted: The contract Fitzgerald signed raised the bar for elite wide receivers. Johnson is one of the few with a legitimate case that he has earned at least as much as Fitzgerald commanded, even though Fitzgerald commanded his deal at a time when Arizona could not use the franchise tag on him for leverage.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the Rams' games in London to continue as scheduled despite initial objections from the St. Louis stadium authority. Thomas: "The Rams are scheduled to play New England on Oct. 28 at Wembley Stadium. In an agreement announced late last month, the Rams are to play a regular-season home game in London in each of the next three seasons. But the CVC pointed out a week later that the lease terms prohibited the Rams from playing home games anywhere but the Edward Jones Dome. The contention over the London games came at a time when the Rams and the CVC were exchanging proposals over possible upgrades to the Dome as part of the lease agreement. If the Dome is not considered a 'first tier' facility, the Rams could break their lease after the 2014 season. As a result of that impasse, ticket sales for next year's game were temporarily postponed. But as a result of Sunday's developments it will be a short-lived postponement."
Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.
That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.
A few thoughts on the process and the results:
- This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
- Former St. Louis Rams
and Arizona Cardinals
cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
- The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
- Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
- DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
- Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.
It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.
A look back through those four defeats can provide some context:
- 2010: lost at Seattle, 41-36, in the divisional round. The Seahawks were easy to underestimate as a 7-9 division winner. Matt Hasselbeck and Marshawn Lynch turned in memorable performances. Drew Brees passed for 404 yards, but only two scoring passes. Seattle overcame a 17-7 deficit. The Saints ran out of running backs and became one-dimensional.
- 2006: lost at Chicago, 39-14, in the NFC title game. Brees passed for 354 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears' Rex Grossman completed only 11 of 26 passes for 144 yards, but Chicago suffered no turnovers. The Bears rushed 46 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns. This matchup resembles the Saints-49ers matchup in some ways. Those Bears were 13-3. They were stronger on defense and special teams than on offense. The current 49ers have done a much better job avoiding turnovers. Grossman had 20 picks in 2006, whereas Alex Smith has only five this season.
- 2000: lost at Minnesota, 34-16, in the divisional round. Those Vikings had Randy Moss (121 yards) and Cris Carter (120 yards) catching passes from a pre-injury Daunte Culpepper (302 yards). Jim Haslett was coaching the Saints. Aaron Brooks was their quarterback. Totally irrelevant to the matchup this week.
- 1990: lost at Chicago, 16-6, in the wild-card round. This one also lacks relevance unless the Saints bring John Fourcade out of retirement to replace Brees. Fourcade completed 5 of 18 passes for 79 yards as the Saints' quarterback. Jim Harbaugh was the Bears' primary starting quarterback that season, but he was hurt. Mike Tomczak started this game in his place.
The 0-4 road record sounds bad, and it is, but only two of those defeats came with Brees and coach Sean Payton on the New Orleans payroll. The Saints were much better offensively in 2011 than they were last season or in 2006. What will that mean Saturday?
The Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald realized this when he reached out to his former position coach, Jerry Sullivan, who was most recently with the San Francisco 49ers.
Sullivan has joined Cris Carter and others in helping Fitzgerald and various players at the workouts Fitzgerald is organizing this offseason. Fitzgerald puts together such camps each offseason. This one takes on more significance than others because the lockout is preventing players from preparing at their teams' facilities.
Fitzgerald and Carter addressed these and other issues in the video that follows.
According to the story, Fitzgerald saw Peterson, Von Miller and A.J. Green as players worthy of the fifth overall choice. Miller and Green were not available when Arizona selected Peterson, the highly rated cornerback from LSU. Fitzgerald on Peterson:
"He’s a can’t-miss player, a real difference-maker, and that’s exciting. Things have changed in this league. It’s a receiver-quarterback game now. That’s the name of the game and the wave of the future. We have to go against Sam Bradford twice a season. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning -- the teams that have those guys are the teams that’ll be in the thick of it every year. And you can’t match up with these teams if you can’t stop them outside."
Silver also quoted Fitzgerald on a touchy subject -- the team's decision to select Levi Brown over Adrian Peterson with the fifth choice in 2007. According to Silver, Fitzgerald said coach Ken Whisenhunt "learned his lesson" in that draft. Whisenhunt has defended Brown against criticism, but Adrian Peterson was obviously a more dynamic talent. Fitzgerald:
"Whiz told me he learned his lesson with Adrian Peterson. If there’s an incredible athlete there, you take him, even if you don’t have a need. You find a place for him. It’s like the Vikings with Randy Moss [in 1998]. They had two star receivers in Cris Carter and Jake Reed; they didn’t need Randy. But he was the best player on their board, and it changed their team."
Whisenhunt's relationship with Fitzgerald has always been strong. Earlier this offseason, stories suggested Whisenhunt consulted with Fitzgerald on the team's options for a veteran quarterback. Fitzgerald reportedly favored Kevin Kolb and Marc Bulger, leaving the impression that the team was running personnel decisions through one of its players. This Adrian Peterson revelation comes as no shock, but it's not the sort of thing a head coach wants publicized.