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The New York Giants and Buffalo Bills are perfect teams to meet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game and be the first to open training camp.
These are franchises with much riding on this season. The extra week of camp and extra preseason game can help them determine if they are heading in the right direction.
It's probably better that the Bills report on Friday and practice the following Sunday, two days before the Giants. In many ways, this is the most important season for the Bills since their four-year run of AFC championships in the early 1990s. The team's future in Western New York is up in the air.
During camp, the Bills will officially go on the market to be sold, following the passing of owner Ralph Wilson. Former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, current Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Donald Trump and Jon Bon Jovi are among the potential bidders.
Everything is on the line with this sale. The right owner can help convince the state and area to invest in a new stadium and secure the Bills' future in Western New York. There seems to be enough local interest to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
In addition to "The Sale" in Buffalo, you have "The Trade." During the draft, the Bills moved up five spots in the first round to acquire wide receiver Sammy Watkins. It cost them a first- and fourth-rounder next year.
The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999. They haven't had a winning season since 2004. They've strung together three consecutive 6-10 seasons and haven't won more than six games since 2008. Trading away a future first-round pick is dangerous for a perennial 6-10 franchise that doesn't know for sure whether EJ Manuel is the quarterback to get it out of this funk.
|The Bills gave up two of next year's draft picks, including a first-rounder, to move up and select receiver Sammy Watkins.|
Manuel needs the extra camp time to work with the offense and form a connection with Watkins. He showed great potential in the 2013 offseason, but knee problems nagged him through the preseason games and kept him from getting off to a good start.
Now, there is no margin for error. If Manuel doesn't show he can be the franchise quarterback this team needs, the Bills won't have a first-round pick in 2014 to potentially find a player to challenge or replace him. The stakes are big.
The Giants also are at a crossroads. They have their two recent Super Bowls wins (2007, 2011), but they've missed the playoffs four of the past five years, including the past two. Tom Coughlin has been the right coach for this proud franchise, but missing the playoffs for three straight years could make ownership start thinking about the team's coaching future. I wouldn't say Coughlin is on the hot seat. The owners know how good he is as their franchise's leader; he probably has two years to turn it around.
But this is an important camp for Eli Manning, who is coming off a horrible season. Coughlin replaced offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride with Ben McAdoo. In April, Manning underwent a minor ankle cleanup surgery. His health is fine, but he hasn't had the full offseason to work with his pass-catchers and fully execute the offense.
He says the new offense has re-energized him. But it's Manning who has to re-energize the team.
This is an important summer for these two New York franchises.
Q: I read an article about the San Francisco Giants banning culturally offensive attire due to an incident on Native American Heritage Night. When fans wear headdresses, it is an insult to those who actually earned theirs. I don't think that is covered enough in all the coverage about the Washington football team. Their name is offensive, yes. But more than that, the fans of the Washington team, the Chiefs, the Cleveland Indians, the Biloxi High School Indians -- all of the fans of Indian-related teams -- can't all be Native American chiefs. So maybe people don't know what they are doing is wrong. The Giants should be commended for doing this. I hope more teams join in.
Darrin in Long Beach, Mississippi
A: You are right about people being naïve about being wrong. That's why the Redskins debate is worthwhile. I'm sure Dan Snyder will resist changing the name, but more debate about the subject might lead to a change. Any group that feels offended has the right to speak up. We will see if there will be any change.
Q: Atlanta failed to draft a pass-rusher with a high pick but beefed up the D-line with space-eaters. Some columnists have proposed that the pass rush will be improved just by freeing up the existing outside linebackers to get to the QB. How realistic is that expectation?
John in Pleasant Hill, California
A: The Falcons' pass rush has to be better. Their nickel defense gave up 6.48 yards per play and 7.75 yards per attempt and had only 23 sacks this past year. The return of a healthy Kroy Biermann will help. Former Dolphin Paul Soliai is a big, physical addition to the defensive line, but it's unclear how the Falcons will use him. He's a run-stopper who could draw an extra blocker, but he has only 4½ sacks in his seven NFL seasons. I'll be intrigued to see if Ra'Shede Hageman can get into a pass-rushing role in the nickel. He might be a pretty special athlete.
Q: Wouldn't an easy and effective solution to the tight end/wide receiver situation be to set aside a smaller set of jersey numbers for TEs? That will force them to decide before a season -- or really, a career -- whether they are a TE or WR. Then, when someone such as Jimmy Graham, who would be forced to wear, say, a number between 76-82 is assigned a franchise tag, it would be assigned to the number, not the player. This could also work for offensive tackles versus guards. Just divide the numbers allowed for O-linemen further into position brackets.
Nick in Washington, D.C.
A: This isn't a number issue. It's a collective bargaining issue. The players association would have to work out a deal with the NFL on reclassifying the tight end position. The Graham grievance brought up a valid point. The receivers who work the outside make the big bucks. The slot guys make less. If a tight end is in the slot, what does that mean? Halfbacks also line up in the slot. If the union and the owners can agree on a solution, they could make the uniform numbers work.
Q: Here's a suggestion for altering franchise tag guidelines. One player can be tagged, and it gives him a three-year deal that makes him the highest paid player on the team, regardless of position. It almost makes it a "franchise player" tag versus just a franchise tag. The contract is fully guaranteed for three years. The player gets a fair three-year deal, and the team knows it has that player for three years at least.
Matt in Richmond, Virginia
A: That would be too drastic. A team that has a quarterback with a big contract isn't going to tag a position player and give him $18 million to $22 million a year. Teams with high-dollar quarterbacks would lose the ability to use the franchise tag, and the tagged player would lose the ability to hit the free-agent market until he's close to 30 years old. This is a creative solution, but, like I wrote last week, the solutions might create more problems than the current system.
Q: I was listening to Mike Golic discuss Josh Gordon's pending suspension. At one point he stated that if suspended, since he wasn't being paid, his salary would not count against Cleveland's cap for that year. Is that a true statement? And if it is, how would that affect his contract for the next year? Would he be paid this year's money next year or would the contract go on in its normal course? Also, is the organization allowed to use the cap savings this year to pick up other players during his suspension?
Dennis in Warrenton, Maryland
A: If Gordon is suspended for the year, his contract would be tolled, meaning his deal would be put on pause and he would still have two years remaining when his suspension is lifted. His salary would not count against this year's cap. Plus, the team would have the ability to try to get him to pay back the prorated amount for one year of his signing bonus, a total of $518,209. Gordon would count only the $518,209 on this year's cap if he is suspended. If the Browns get the signing bonus back, they would get a rebate on the amount in next year's cap. The bigger problem, though, is that the Browns would lose one of the best young receivers in the game.
Q: For the past 18 years, no team that played on Thanksgiving has won the Super Bowl. For 2014, the Bears, Lions, Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks and 49ers all play on Thanksgiving. Do you think one of them can break the curse?
Boris in Yigo, Guam
A: I did not realize that. Part of it is because Dallas and Detroit are the two traditional Thanksgiving hosts. The Cowboys have been an 8-8 team for the past three years and most recently won the Super Bowl in the 1995 season. The Lions have made only one trip to the playoffs since 1999 and never have reached the Super Bowl. The addition of a third game in 2006 hasn't ended the trend, but it might this year. San Francisco and Seattle are two of the best teams in football. The Bears are contenders, and the Eagles might have the best team in the NFC East. Interesting thought.