Friday, February 27, 2009

Albert Haynes-worth the Money?

NFL insiders considered defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth the biggest catch of the NFL free agency season, and the Washington Redskins reeled him in Friday morning, signing the former Tennessee Titans standout to a massive contract.

How massive? ESPN's John Clayton says the deal is for seven years and $100 million, though with incentives it could be closer to $115 million. There are reportedly about $41 million in guarantees and over the first 13 months of the deal, Haynesworth is expected to make roughly $32 million.

This after giving corner DeAngelo Hall $54 million over six years -- $22.5 million of which is guaranteed. Think the Redskins are hoping 2010 comes without a salary cap?

(NOTE: As I wrote this, the Redskins released corner Shawn Springs, saving $6 million toward the salary cap. The team also recently restructured the contracts of offensive tackle Chris Samuels and defensive lineman Cornelius Griffin -- and last week they released linebacker Marcus Washington.)

Haynesworth, who led the Titans last season with a career-high 8 1/2 sacks, also had 75 tackles, 22 quarterback pressures, seven tackles for a loss and forced four fumbles. Once known as the guy who stomped on Andre Gourad's head a few years ago, Haynesworth had developed into a dominating presence on the defensive line.

But how will he play out in Washington, a place many a free agent has gone in recent years to see their careers flounder? I'm looking at you, Adam Archuleta and Deion Sanders.

On the one hand, the deal makes a lot of sense for Washington; the Redskins need help on the offensive and defensive lines, and Haynesworth, if he produces even a fraction of what he did a year ago, would provide just that. It could also spell the end of the line for Jason Taylor, who was due to receive $8 million from the Redskins this season.

Taylor's performance suffered in 2008, though that was more because defensive coordinator Greg Blache moved him from the left end where he made a career to the right side. Adjusting to a new position, and injuries, kept Taylor from being productive and unless he restructures his deal, I think the Haynesworth signing singals the end for Taylor in D.C.

There are other issues to consider with Haynesworth. He's missed 22 of 112 career games due to injury. Some have questioned his mindset. Was Haynesworth's 2008 season a product of knowing he was about to be a free agent? Did he play out of his mind just to get a big payday, only to somewhat shut it down after signing on the dotted line?

And though Haynesworth hasn't caused problems since returning from suspension after stomping on Gourad's head, he's shown on occasion to be a bit of a hothead. Is that the sort of mindset the Redskins need? If Haynesworth can produce the way he did in 2008, and give Washington the pass rush it sorely missed last season, it might not matter.

Still, $100 million is a lot of money to commit to someone with just one dominant season. If Haynesworth had been this dominant for three or four consecutive seasons, the signing wouldn't bother me so much. But Haynesworth hasn't done that, and I can't help but wonder if this is going be yet another signing in Washington that looks great in February and March, only to look like a colossal waste come October.

I hope Haynesworth proves me wrong; really, I do. But I'll have to see it before I believe it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deserved Hilarity

From last night's Late Show with David Letterman, the Top 10 Message's Left on Alex Rodriguez's Answering Machine:

10. Hey, it's Mark McGwire. Want to get together this week and not talk about the past?

9. Joe Torre here -- thanks for helping book sales.

8. Could you find a steroid that keeps you from choking in the playoffs?

7. Are you worried this will taint the championships you didn't win?

6. It's Bernie Madoff. Nice try, but I'm still the most hated man in New York.

5. Michael Phelps here. Got any snacks?

4. This is Sammy Sosa. Just pretend you don't speak English.

3. Michael Phelps again. Did I call you, or did you call me?

2. Hey, it's Rod Blagojevich -- I'll say you're innocent if you say I am.

1. It's Madonna. You got a phone number for Jeter?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Surprise Surprise

I'm not the least bit surprised to find out over the weekend via Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, even though he went on the record last year saying he never took any such things.

Let's face it: when it comes to the Steroid Era is baseball, no one is immune to scrutiny.
Sure, we wanted to believe A-Rod was clean, even going so far as to say he would overtake Barry Bonds' mark of 762 career home runs and return pride and glory to the game.

Instead, Rodriguez brought distrust and shame.

To be fair, A-Rod's admission to Peter Gammons in Monday's ESPN interview was a step in the right direction. Recent history had shown that guys who own up to using performance-enhancers fare better in the public eye. Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte and Brian Roberts are all perfect examples. Each guy, upon being named in a steroids or HGH probe, came out and apologized.

Do we still rail on them? No -- we save our venom for guys like Bonds ("I never knowingly took steroids"), Roger Clemens ("You misremembered"), Mark McGwire ("I'm not here to talk about the past") and Rafael Palmeiro ("I have never taken steroids -- period").

So in that regard, A-Rod deserves kudos.

Still, the revelation proves that no one should be presumed innocent anymore. Even Ken Griffey Jr., a player I've respected since youth, isn't immune to suspicion anymore. I want to believe he's clean, that he played his career and put up Hall of Fame numbers the right way, but until someone actually proves Griffey never juiced, I have my doubts.

Everyone is at fault when it comes to the Steroid Era: the players for taking the drugs; the players' union for fighting so hard against drug testing; Major League Baseball -- specifically commissioner Bud Selig -- for allowing the union to flex its collective muscle in such a manner; the owners and general managers for turning a blind eye to their own players; and the media, for not reporting their suspicions in the height of the game's resurgence.

The union is also to blame for A-Rod's positive test becoming public. Testing in 2003 was for survey purposes only -- the league was testing to see how many players were juicing and to see if a policy in 2004 would be justified. The test was supposed to be anonymous, and the list of names of those who tested positive was supposed to have been destroyed once 2003 tests were complete.

Only that list was never destroyed. Come to think of it ... why were names even on those tests to begin with? If this was supposed to be anonymous, why figure out who juiced? Wasn't the goal simply to see how many?

If I'm one of the other 103 players to test positive in 2003, I'm nervous right now, because what's to stop some intrepid reporter from unearthing their name and dragging it through the mud as well?

A-Rod deserves credit for coming forward, but he also deserves criticism for taking the banned substances in the first place -- regardless of MLB rules at the time, such drugs were still illegal without a doctor's prescription -- just as he deserves criticism for lying to Katie Couric in last year's 60 Minutes interview.

He may not ever face suspension or jail time, but A-Rod has taken a massive PR hit, and 2009 might not be that much fun for him. But by coming clean, if Rodriguez can weather the coming storm (produce on the field, don't test positive for anything else), he might be better off for it in the long run.

He might even still make the Hall of Fame one day. Which is more than McGwire can say.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

High on the Pedestal

Sometimes it’s easy to forget celebrities and athletes are as human as the rest of us. That is especially true of Michael Phelps, who because of his inhuman feats in the pool, some might think he has gills.

But Phelps offered up another reminder over the weekend, when a photo of him inhaling from a marijuana pipe surfaced in the British tabloid News of the World. Phelps did not argue the authenticity of the photo, which was taken at a campus party at the University of South Carolina back in November, and immediately issued an apology.

Not one of those typical, half-assed apologies we normally get from athletes. You know, the whole “I apologize to anyone who was offended” thing. No, Phelps took complete responsibility for his actions, calling what he did “regrettable” and an exercise in “bad judgment.” Say what you will about the youthful immaturity that led him to smoking marijuana in the first place – Phelps demonstrated remarkable maturity in owning up for his mistake.

I’m not condoning marijuana use – mostly because it’s illegal almost everywhere – and I think Phelps should suffer some sort of backlash from this (the Richland County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday they’re considering charges, pending an investigation), but in light of his apology, I’m willing to give him another chance. I realize this would be his third strike, since he was busted for DUI following the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but shouldn’t we allow young people to make mistakes and learn from them, even if they were thrust into the public eye after turning every pool in Beijing into their personal playground?

Eight gold medals landed Phelps a lot of money, but they didn’t make him infallible.

Fact is, smoking marijuana isn’t that unusual for a 23-year-old. If Phelps were a typical 23-year-old, this would barely be a blip on the proverbial radar, but given who he is and what he’s accomplished in his athletic career – not to mention the millions of dollars in endorsements he’s raking in – Phelps left typical a long time ago.

In the age of the Internet and cell phone cameras, celebrities and athletes have even less privacy than before; look no further than Arizona Cardinals backup Matt Leinart, who could be seen last offseason entertaining possibly-underage co-eds at keggers with beer bongs and the like. Though the Cardinals never said so, I’m not convinced those parties didn’t contribute to Leinart’s benching in favor of veteran Kurt Warner.

Phelps needs to realize that his fortune and sudden fame make doing most things impossible now – including smoking weed in private. There is no privacy for people like Phelps anymore, and the sooner he realizes that and straightens himself out, the better off everyone will be.

Phelps has said he hopes to compete in London in 2012, but if he doesn’t learn from this the way he promised he would (in the interest of fairness, he said almost the exact same thing after his DUI), he might not be able to compete. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the IOC can’t touch Phelps, since he never tested positive at the site of competition, but if sponsors pull the plug and the law gets a hold of him, that might be a whole different game.

Millions of people, including children, look up to Phelps. This is a chance for them to learn a lesson as well – that our heroes are often as human and mistake-prone as the rest of us, and that athletic prowess is a reason to respect someone, but not a reason to worship.

Though Charles Barkley might argue otherwise, Phelps is a role model. He needs to start acting like one.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers cemented themselves Sunday night in Tampa as the greatest NFL franchise in the league's history. Don't believe me? Count the Vince Lombardi Trophies.

The Steelers won their NFL-best sixth Sunday night, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, taking a brief 23-20 lead when Larry Fitzgerald scampered 64 yards into the endzone with 2:37 to play. Their toughness was impressive, and worthy of respect -- but the Steelers proved why they were the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger engineered the 17th fourth-quarter comeback drive of his career, marching down the field before hitting Santonio Holmes from six yards out for the winning score with 35 seconds left. Holmes caught four passes on that drive, cementing Super Bowl MVP honors when his toes slid across the red grass before momentum carried him out of bounds.

Then, befitting of the league's No. 1 defense, the Steelers forced a Kurt Warner fumble and recovered for the final play of the game.

The Cardinals, despite two turnovers, didn't lose the game; Pittsburgh just won it. James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half wasn't a mistake by Warner; Harrison made a fantastic play on the football. Fitzgerald had a wonderful game, catching seven balls for 127 yards and two scores.

If Arizona had held on for the win, he might've been MVP.

The Cardinals defense kept Pittsburgh out of the endzone twice when the Steelers had driven into the red zone -- including a stop at the 1-yard line -- forcing field goals rather than touchdowns. If the Steelers score touchdowns in those two instances, there is no Arizona comeback.

Whether the Cardinals were a bad playoff team will likely still be debated -- since they were a 9-7 champion of a bad NFC West and lost three of their last five regular-season games by three touchdowns or more. Arizona's run through Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia in the playoffs was impressive, a testament to the leadership of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the mentality he's installed in the desert.

Simply put, these aren't your father's Arizona Cardinals. Maybe not even your big brother's.

What isn't up for debate is the greatness of head coach Mike Tomlin and this year's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had the league's toughest schedule, yet went 13-3 -- beating a very good Baltimore Ravens team twice to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh earned the AFC's second seed, beating San Diego and Baltimore en route to Tampa. The offense might not have been as flashy as New England's a year ago, but the running game combined with Roethlisberger more than did its part, while the defense played hard, physical football on its way to being the league's best, even invoking comparisons to the Steel Curtain.

I can't go that far, but the Super Bowl champion this season is as deserving as any other in recent memory. The best team won the championship this year, and in doing so, the Pittsburgh Steelers, as an organization, can officially call themselves the best of all-time.