MORT'S MAILBAG: Oct. 11
Q: Longstanding Rams fans such as myself (over 20 years) can't help but be pleased with the team's on-field performance the last two-plus seasons. Does their front office have the attention to detail in terms of contracts and salary-cap management to maintain the team's current run? Do the Rams have their key players signed and a cap status favorable to adding the word "dynasty" to all the superlatives attributed them? -- James, Dahlgren, Va.
|Rams WR Isaac Bruce and some of his key teammates are under contract for the long haul.|
MORT -- James, the untold story of the Rams' rise to greatness is that Jay Zygmunt, the team president, has been almost brilliant in locking the big guys up to long-term yet reasonable contracts. I'm talking about Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace, etc. Torry Holt is still playing with his rookie contract, so that might get a little tricky, but no executive has done a better job managing the roster (or salary cap) better than Zygmunt.
Q: Whose bright idea was it to put the Cowboys and Redskins on Monday night? Also, all Dallas needs to do to prove Jerry Jones right is win 10 out of their next 12. He hasn't recanted that statement yet, has he? -- Casey Trowbridge, Aberdeen, S.D.
MORT -- Casey, I think because it was the Redskins-Cowboys (a great rivalry), along with Marty Schottenheimer coming back, the league thought it could sneak this game under the wire. In other words, nobody apparently had the foresight to see that these would be a pair of 0-4 teams. As for Jones' prediction, you are right. They can win 10 of their next 12 to fulfill Jerry's prediction. Why not all 12?
Q: Is there a chance that the Denver Broncos could pick up a second wide receiver before the trading deadline? The receivers the Broncos have cannot step it up to a professional level and Brian Griese just does not have enough confidence in the others, especially with Kevin Kasper going down. Three receivers that come to mind who are with winless teams are Dallas' Joey Galloway, Washington's Michael Westbrook and Buffalo's Eric Moulds. Any of these three would fit under the cap room Denver has left. -- Rich Spino, Toledo, Ohio
MORT -- Rich, I think Mike Shanahan is exploring another receiver, and the two obvious names are Michael Westbrook and Terry Glenn because their teams are willing to trade them. But Shanahan is not going to pay a prohibitive cost for these guys; Olandis Gary obviously is trade bait for New England because they have a RB need, while Washington has Stephen Davis. As for Galloway and Moulds, that won't happen. Moulds is not available, and the problem isn't the Broncos' salary-cap space -- it's the team that trades the player that takes the big hit.
Q: Please tell me the Raiders are going to keep coach Gruden after 2002! Why would they be dumb enough to let him leave? -- Ryan, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
MORT -- Ryan, signing Gruden to an extension is the most important thing Al Davis and the Raiders must accomplish off the field. It will be a close call as to whether it gets done, though it was not a good sign that it didn't get done prior to training camp, because that was the goal of Gruden's agent, Bob Lamonte. The only reasons it did not get done are money and perhaps a little more control for the coach.
Q: Do you think that Saints fans should be worried about the team's lack of ability to score touchdowns in the red zone, especially following four field goals rather than touchdowns against Minnesota? -- Michael, New Orleans, La.
MORT -- Michael, I think Jim Haslett is concerned about it, so that's enough. Aaron Brooks is making just enough mistakes to keep the offense from breaking through, but it's early.
Q: How far can the Browns' defense carry them? The offense has looked good at times, but they've made big mistakes (fumbles) that have allowed the Chargers and Jags to get back into games. The good thing is that these mistakes are pretty much the only points the defense allows, but can they keep it up? -- David Ebersole, Cleveland, Ohio
MORT -- David, as wonderfully as the Browns have started, I think they do have sufficient holes to keep them from, say, being a playoff contender. Butch Davis is very concerned about the offensive line. The running backs are solid but they're not special. Receiver-wise, Kevin Johnson made some clutch catches vs. San Diego, and Dennis Northcutt is coming back from injury. But the strength of this team right now is defense (Courtney Brown is coming back soon) and the quarterback, Tim Couch. To be honest, that is the foundation of a potential playoff and Super Bowl team. The defense still needs more talent, but this is a very well-coached team that is playing with passion.
Q: When are you going to give Chicago some proper credit. You picked them to go 3-13 this year. You called them this year's Chargers. I'll bet you a six-pack and a pizza that they go at least 9-7 and get a wild-card spot. -- Shane Leitelt, Apopka, Fla.
MORT -- Shane, the Bears are definitely better than I thought. I am not ruling them out as a potential wild-card team -- not yet. I also don't want to get too excited this early. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet you the Bears don't go as far as that great Little League team you had down there this year.
Q: I'm a really disgusted Redskins fan. I know Ron Wolf, the former Packers GM, lives in Baltimore. Can you see a situation where after the season, Dan Snyder hires Wolf to be the GM and he brings in a young assistant coach to replace Marty? I'm thinking a coach like Gary Kubiak. -- Peter Swanson, Atlanta
|Marty Schottenheimer and the Redskins have some serious problems.|
MORT -- Peter, I have a feeling Ron Wolf is going to be mentioned for a few jobs as this season winds down. But one of the things Ron loved about Green Bay is that he did not really have an owner to answer to. If Snyder fires Schottenheimer after one year, it would still be a sign that you have an impatient owner. I'm not ruling anything out, but Wolf retired because he didn't feel the same burning desire to do the job. Maybe a year off will refresh him.
Q: I'm a loyal Cowboys fan, but as much as it pains me to admit, I've been impressed with how the 49ers have rebuilt their defense via the draft. Jerry Jones has been known to emulate other teams (see Rams offense, QB situation). Why won't Jerry take a page from San Francisco's rebuilding through the draft and not trade away draft picks in search of magic in a bottle? -- Craig, New York
MORT -- Craig, I think Jerry Jones has taken note of what San Francisco did. Believe it or not, he didn't see his own franchise crash in time. When he traded for Joey Galloway, he envisioned Troy Aikman being his quarterback for three to five more years. Now that he understands the condition of his franchise, I believe they will hold onto their draft picks. But Bill Walsh isn't hanging around Dallas to oversee the rebuilding of the Cowboys, is he? I will say this: The Cowboys do have some good, young (and fast) players on defense.
Q: Being an alum from Alabama, my opinion of Shaun Alexander may be a bit biased, but the guy can flat-out run the rock but just needed an opportunity. Sunday seems to back that up. My question is more about Mike Holmgren as a GM. For all the praise that's been sent his way in the past, it seems that he may be a poor judge of talent. Do you agree? Ahman Green being traded, Shaun wasting away on the bench -- and Matt Hasselbeck seems to be a bust of large proportions. I'd appreciate your take. -- Paul Cimino, Washington, D.C.
MORT -- Paul, there's a little contradiction in your case. Holmgren the GM drafted Shaun Alexander. Holmgren the coach has kept Alexander on the bench. Holmgren the GM traded Ahman Green, which motivated him to draft Alexander. Also, it's way, way, way too early to label Hasselbeck a bust. I haven't talked to anyone I respect who scouts Seattle who thinks he will be a bust. Maybe that will be the outcome, but it's not like he overpaid for Hasselbeck in terms of draft choices (he swapped first-round places with Green Bay from 10 to 17 and added a third-rounder). Now, if Ahman Green turns out to be a Pro Bowl back (which I think will be the case), then that ex-Alabama guy better back up his credentials -- or else Holmgren the GM made a mistake.
Q: I've heard about the Redskins and some of them being snitches -- what's the story on that? And far be it from me to criticize someone once as good as Bruce Smith, but I've seen him complaining more this year than I've seen him on the field (even then he isn't really playing). Will the Redskins just dump him, and who else should they boot? Will it ever get better? -- Ryan, Richmond, Va.
MORT -- Ryan, we did a story on NFL Countdown (Andrea Kremer did the interviewing and reporting) in which Smith talked about the concern over there being "snitches" in the locker room. He basically pointed the finger at three ex-Chiefs who are Marty Schottenheimer's connection to the locker room. We are all fans of Bruce Smith, but he has not come off well. But I also think that's what you get when a superstar who has been conditioned to doing it one way for so long is asked to change his training and practice habits. I thought Norv Turner did a great job with Smith last year, but Schottenheimer was brought in to change things. It hasn't worked yet, and I think it may take a semi-dramatic overhaul after this season. I'm sure it will get better, but how much and how soon is the question.
Q: In light of current events around the world, how realistic is it that NFL Europe could fold? It seems like purposely putting hundreds of Americans in Europe in this climate wouldn't be the best idea. And, if NFL Europe does fold, does the NFL have an alternative for a developmental league? -- Dusty Sloan, Ashland, Ohio
MORT -- Dusty, I had not even thought of that but it is obviously going to be an issue. Thanks for getting me on that trail. I'll get back to you.