Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NFL Legend Lends Helping Hand

Former Green Bay Packers legendary guard Jerry Kramer was a beast on the football field. His dominating presence was one key factor in Vince Lombardi and his squads dominance of the NFL in the sixties.

During the time Kramer played in Green Bay from 1958-68, the Pack won five NFL championships, including Super Bowls I and II. Kramer was a leader, a solid teammate and a winner. He was a five-time all-pro and named to the all-NFL 50th anniversary team in 1970.

Now the 70-year old Kramer is still leading and winning. Only his goal now is not to win championships - it's to help retired players in financial trouble.

How can any NFL player be in dire straights? We'll the big money era in professional football didn't begin until the eighties. The salaries really went sky high when the free agency era began in 1993. These millionaires today should be set for life. Back then the money wasn't so great.

Kramer made a whopping $8,000 his first year in the league. When he made all-pro in 1960, his earnings were $9,000 a year! The most he made in one season in the NFL was $27,000 during Green Bay's Super Bowl heyday.

The players from his era were allowed to start collecting a pension when they turned 45, but the payout dropped dramatically when they turned 62 and could collect Social Security. For example, Kramer's pension was $452 dollars a month until he turned 62, when it fell to $158. As a matter fact, players who retired before 1959, aren't even on the NFL Pension Plan.

In an effort to do something about the problem, the Packer great recently sold a replica of his Super Bowl I championship ring for $19,000. All the proceeds went to help older players.

"I have always felt great concern and frustration regarding the condition of some of the retired players who helped build the league," Kramer said when he announced he was putting the ring up for auction. " I won't see a dime of that."

Kramer plans on having more auctions to raise funds and is setting up a charitable trust that will distribute money to needy players.

Kramer has answered the call once again and is leading the way. Just like he did for Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor on the Packer Sweep. Let's hope other former and current players will lend a hand and help out their comrades in need. These men who played key roles in making the game what it is today.

For some unknown reason, Jerry Kramer is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite this miscarriage of justice, number 64 has proven once and for all, he is a hall of famer - on and off the field.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Carson's Corner Podcast - NFL News

This week the Corner podcast takes a look at Ricky Williams and Onterrio Smith - two NFL backs with drug histories trying to resurrect their careers in the CFL. Neither have to worry about drug testing from the CFL (the league doesn't test), but a career-ending injury on the hard Canadian surfaces is a concern.

Also, Paul Tagliabue wants to expand the NFL into global markets by playing two regular season games outside of the United States starting in 2008. Is it a good idea? Listen to the podcast and find out what the Corner thinks.

Download mp3 here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Ironhead" Dead at 39

Many forget that there was a bus in Pittsburgh long before Jerome Bettis arrived in 1996. A 6-0, 260-pound bus made of iron who would obliterate would-be tacklers and make defensive coordinators tremble.

Craig "Ironhead' Heyward was making a name for himself at the University of Pittsburgh before going on to an 11-year NFL career. Heyward retired in 1998 after being diagnosed with a recurring brain tumor.

It was that tumor that finally stopped "Ironhead," who died Saturday at the all-too young age of 39.

Nicknamed "Ironhead" for his battering running style, Heyward finished his collegiate career as Pitt's third all-time leading rusher with 3,086 yards (behind Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin). An unconventionally sized tailback at 6-feet, 260 pounds, he rushed for 1,791 yards in 1987 to earn consensus All-America honors and finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Heyward's 1987 rushing total is second in Pitt annals only to Dorsett's 2,150-yard season in 1976. Heyward joined Dorsett as the only Pitt backs to rush for 100 yards or more 12 times in a single season.

Following the '87 campaign, Heyward elected to forego his final season of eligibility and turn professional. In the 1988 NFL Draft he was selected in the first round by the New Orleans Saints with the 24th overall pick.

Heyward went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL, including five with New Orleans (1988-92) and also had stints with Chicago (1993), Atlanta (1994-96), St. Louis (1997) and Indianapolis (1998). His best season as a professional was in 1995 when he was selected for the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,083 yards. His 4.59-yard rushing average ranked fourth in the NFL that year. He also collected 177 catches for 1,559 yards and four touchdowns in his career.

Despite his massive frame, Heyward was a beloved teammate, a jokester and one of the most respected and liked players in the NFL. Even after the tumor, known as a chordoma, caused him to have a stroke a couple of years ago, he remained upbeat. Even after the chordoma wrapped itself around the base of his brain like an Anaconda in its death squeeze - it did not defeat his spirit.

Former teammate Bobby Hebert recently told that despite his serious illness, "The one thing he's still got and that hasn't changed a bit is that devilish sense of humor of his. Hopefully, that will keep him going for a while." Unfortunately, it didn't. Heyward succumbed two weeks later.

I for one refuse to remember Heyward as the guy who lost his battle with cancer. I'll remember him as the battering-ram running back with an exceptional smile who brought happiness to the fans and players alike.

Rest in peace "Ironhead." We'll miss you.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Interesting Personnel Moves From Bucs, Chiefs

It never fails. After the first wave of free agency and the draft ends, there is always interesting signings of older veterans in the second wave of free agency that potentially could make a big difference in a teams playoff chances.

This year is no exception. Recently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed former all-pro wide receiver David Boston and the Kansas City Chiefs are close to working out a deal to pick up former all-pro tackle Kyle Turley, who was out of football last season.

I know what you may be thinking? So what! These guys are no longer serviceable and it isn't that big of a deal. Not so fast my friend.

Boston, who has been dogged by steroid accusations for most of his career, has only played in five games in the past two seasons because of a knee injury. But Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he looked sharp in his tryout/workout, so he was signed almost immediately.

If and I know it's a big if, Boston can stay healthy - Tampa Bay has hit the jackpot. When 100 percent, Boston is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Just look at his career stats.

The 6-2, 228-pound Ohio State product was drafted in the first round in1999 by the Arizona Cardinals. He caught 40 passes his rookie season and then had 71 receptions in 2000 and 98-1,588 in 2001, which earned him a spot in the pro bowl.

The injury bug hit him in 2002 and Boston finished with 32 receptions that season. He signed with the Chargers in 2003 and bounced back for a 70 catch, seven touchdown season. Steroid allegations and personal problems dogged him in San Diego and he was released after one season. After that came two injury-filled season with the Dolphins that produced five receptions.

In four healthy seasons, Boston's numbers are impressive, 279 catches for 4,107 yards, 24 touchdowns and a 14.7 average. If he can keep his head on straight, stay healthy and get close to the form he used to have, the Bucs got a steal. Gruden already has Joey Galloway and impressive young wideout Michael Clayton. What they need is a solid number three and Boston could be the guy.

Turley, one of the best right tackles in the game during his prime, will be trying to latch on to an NFL team in a new position - tight end. Chronic back problems have forced him to drop weight. He is now listed at 262 pounds and has been working out as a tight end.

Kansas City coach Herman Edwards likes the idea of having a former all-pro right tackle being a blocking tight end for Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes, if he returns. Turley was a sixth round draft pick by the Saints in 1998 and proceeded to become entrenched at right tackle for the next five years, missing only one game in that span.

He signed a free agent deal in 2003 with the Rams and after a solid season that saw St. Louis make the playoffs, things changed drastically.

The back injury caused him to miss all of the 2004 season and a falling out with then Rams head coach Mike Martz (Turley reportedly threatened to do bodily harm to Mad Mike), sealed his fate in St. Louis. He was released after the season and was out of football last year.

The situation is very similar to Boston's. If his back holds up, KC could have a solid blocking tight end that could keep Tony Gonzalez fresh. If Turley can grow again and regain old form - then Edwards has a solid right tackle on his roster.

Sometimes the biggest moves in the offseason are the signings of veterans like these. Signings that go practically unnoticed. For some franchises it can mean the difference between a 6-10 record or a 10-6 one.

And while the Boston signing and the potential Turley signing are the most intriguing so far, it isn't over by a long shot. More veterans will be released as teams scramble to get under the cap and sign their draft picks. It's during this time of the year that playoffs teams are made. That's what makes it so worthwhile to watch the wire.

The fun is just beginning.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

NFL Owners Conclude Meetings

The NFL owners announced an August 18 date to decide on a new commissioner to replace the retiring Paul Tagliabue.

An eight-man committee headed by Dan Rooney (Steelers), Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Jerry Richardson (Panthers) and Al Davis (Raiders) will trim a pre-determined list down to 3-5 individuals and the 32 NFL owners will vote.

Leading candidates for the job include Roger Goodell, NFL Chief Operating Officer; Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons GM; Dick Cass, Baltimore Ravens president and Michael Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former chairman of the FCC.

They appear to be the front runners, but more names will be added and a surprise could come forth. The NFL will and should take its time in selecting a new commissioner. The league has been blessed with two of the greatest leaders that any sport has ever had in Pete Rozelle and Tagliabue.

Because of them, the National Football League has grown into a multi-billion dollar juggernaut and surpassed baseball years ago as the nations favorite sport. Heck, most teams in the league can draw 40-50,000 for a preseason game! The individual chosen will have gigantic shoes to fill.

In other news from the meetings, as expected the league said no to Reggie Bush getting his number changed. He wanted to wear his number five from college, but the NFL has a rule that running backs wear 20-49. Five is reserved for quarterbacks and kickers.

The league started the numbers policy back in 1973 and haven't deviated from it except last year when receivers were given permission to wear numbers in the teens. The change was made because of all the tight ends and receivers that make NFL rosters now. Most franchises were running out of numbers in the eighties.

The NFL is a league of tradition and I agree with them. Bush knew what the league rules were and no matter how talented he is, he is not bigger then the game. Agree or disagree, those are the rules of the NFL and players have to abide by them.

Finally, the owners took one step forward in their determination to have a franchise in L.A. as soon as possible.

The NFL will give $10 million dollars, $5 million each to Los Angeles and Anaheim (the two front-runners for a team in the L.A. area) to use towards looking into refurbishing an existing stadium or to look for locations to build a new one.

The owners have stated emphatically that they don't want an expansion franchise, because they would have to create a 34th team as well for scheduling purposes. The league really favors the refurbishing of the L.A. Coliseum.

The NFL knows that to build a new stadium in the Los Angeles area will run about $600-850 million (chump change!) and the Coliseum is financially better for a new owner, the city and the league to get a team in right away. After the franchise is established in the area and revenues are flowing, then and only then, get to work on a new stadium.

Look for the San Diego Chargers or the New Orleans Saints to be the team that will land in L.A. The NFL would love for the Chargers to go. The franchise started in Los Angeles back in 1960 as a member of the old AFL.

The league wants to keep the Saints in New Orleans to reward their fans for staying by the team even after the destruction that Katrina left on the city. The problem is owner Tom Benson has wanted to leave New Orleans for years, even before Big K showed up. Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the U.S. and the Superdome, even with the refurbishing it received, is an outdated stadium.

Only time will tell, but rest assured, the NFL is firmly resolved to have a franchise in Los Angeles and it's only a matter of time before it happens.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Bush Message Could Be Messy For Saints

The New Orleans Saints felt it received a gift from God when USC tailback Reggie Bush fell to them with the second pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

The Saints grabbed Bush immediately after the Houston Texans decided to select DE Mario Williams out of NC State with the top overall choice. Texans owner Bob McNair and ousted GM Charlie Casserly proceeded to sign Williams to a six year, 54 million dollar contract.

New Orleans fans, looking to celebrate anything after Hurricane Katrina, rejoiced on the air during draft day and went out and rewarded owner Tom Benson and the Saints with a sellout of all season tickets.

The Bush era began in a positive way, but now, things aren't looking so good. Bush told in a recent interview that the Saints need to be open at the negotiating table. "We have to have a fair offer. One that meets with our expectations." The 'we' and 'our' meaning Bush and his agent Joel Segal.

The word was not mentioned but the meaning and implication were obvious - if Bush didn't get the offer he wanted then a holdout is possible. What does he want? A contract similar to or slightly better than the one Williams got from Houston. Maybe that's why the Texans passed on him?

And while it's too early for New Orleans to push the panic button just yet, a holdout is something the franchise, the city and Bush for that matter, do not need.

Benson, a notoriously frugal owner, has been trying to get out of New Orleans for a decade. He may not be willing to give in to Bush's demands. The city and its inhabitants need someone or something to look up to. The football fans seemed to have found it in the USC product. But what will the reaction be to Bush if he does holdout.

Bush will be hurting his career if he has a protracted holdout and misses significant camp time. Everyone who has ever done so has suffered for it in their rookie season. The NFL is faster, more explosive and more dynamic than college. A holdout has to go through a steep learning curve to get into a groove.

A recent example is Chicago running back Cedric Benson. The Texas star was absent for most of training camp and suffered for it. He failed to remove Thomas Jones as the starter and when he started to come on by the middle of the season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

This may be all smoke and mirrors just to get a big contract. Unfortunately, this is an all-too common occurrence in the modern NFL. Guys who haven't played a down are getting eight and nine million dollars a year with huge signing bonuses. The agents have to because there is no guaranteed contracts in the National Football League, so the signing bonus was created. It's up-front money that's guaranteed.

Still, I long for the days when a rookie would sign a reasonable contract, get into camp and learn the system and then earn a big contract out on the field. Believe me. If he's good, he'll eventually get the big bucks, through an extension or free agency.

Just sign and get into camp - perform on the field - the money will follow. Because you never know. Bush may be the next Sayers like everyone says or he could end up being the next KiJana Carter. Nothing is certain until he proves it on the gridiron, not at the negotiating table.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

L.A. Closer to Bringing Back an NFL Team

It's no secret that outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has wanted a team back in Los Angeles ever since the Rams and Raiders defected in 1994. It's the one goal he hasn't been able to accomplish in an otherwise impressive tenure.

Despite numerous rumors throughout the past decade of an expansion team or even an existing franchise moving to the City of Angels, nothing has become of it. All the while, the cash-stuffed NFL owners and management keep hoping that someday the second largest media market will have a pro football team to call its own.

Make no mistake, Tagliabue and company want a team in L.A. and will put one there before the decade is out. Even if the Southern California fan base is somewhat apathetic at times to even having an NFL team in the first place.

For those who are old enough to remember when the Rams were strutting their stuff in the seventies. A then record seven consecutive division titles, five NFC championship game appearances and even a Super Bowl berth in 1979, weren't enough to bring out the L.A. crowd.

Even with all that success, Carol Rosenbloom's Rams didn't have a sellout. Yes they played in that cavern known as the Coliseum. But even so, fellow tenant USC managed to out-draw the Rams during their Super Bowl year, causing the first blow that would eventually see the Rams leave California and call St. Louis home in 1995.

No matter. Money is what's driving the latest push to get a team in L.A. The NFL has grown so rapidly since 1994 that not having a team in the second largest media market is foolish. The revenues are too much to resist. Even at the risk of some fan apathy.

The city has picked up on Tagliabue's desire for a franchise to go back there. The Los Angeles City Council just recently voted to spend $25 million dollars on improvements at the Coliseum in hopes of speeding up the process of getting a team.

There is also a proposal on the table to spend upwards of $800 million dollars for a complete renovation of the stadium should the NFL owners approve a motion to put a team in L.A. by the 2009 season.

I for one think it would be a good idea to bring a team back to Los Angeles. It's a city that has had a rich NFL history since the Rams moved from Cleveland in 1946. It's a large TV market that will increase the amount of revenue shared between clubs and will only make the game better and more competitive because of it.

The problem comes in deciding what city will lose its franchise. We already have 32 teams so an expansion team is out of the question. It would wreak havoc with the schedule. That means an existing club will be picked. The most likely candidates are the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and even the Colts and Vikings have been included in the talks.

The choice that makes the most sense is San Diego. The franchise started in L.A. back in 1960 and with the city council recently voting down a tax increase for a new stadium, Chargers owner Alex Spanos could be on the move.

The NFL is doing the right thing. Los Angeles needs a professional football franchise and the NFL can be even greater with the City of Angels on board for the long haul.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

QB Delight

This weeks podcast on Carson's Corner focuses on two quarterbacks. One coming and one going. New England signal caller Doug Flutie decided to hang it up after a 21-year career in the NFL, CFL and the USFL.

Joey Harrington will changing scenery, going from Detroit to Miami after a deal was struck late last week. How much of an impact can he make for the Dolphins. The Corner also takes a look at how the Ramonce Taylor arrest will effect Mack Brown and Texas.

Download MP3 here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Smith Should Go To Hall

Former All-Pro Jimmy Smith, wide receiver of the Jacksonville Jaguars, announced his retirement on Friday after 14 years in the NFL. In his press conference he stated that the time was right to go out on top and that he'd left a good legacy on the field.

Amazingly, some analysts and writers spoke out almost immediately after with columns and editorial pieces screaming that Smith will not and should not be enshrined in Canton. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Jimmy Smith is one of the all-time greats at his position. The stats speak louder than his words ever could. After injury problems and struggles at Dallas, where he played from 1992-94, the Jackson State product found a home with the expansion Jaguars in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was in Jacksonville that Smith and QB Mark Brunell found each other. And while no Super Bowl berths came out of it (the Jags did go to the AFC championship game in 1998), the Brunell-Smith combo was one of the most potent in the NFL.

For his career, Smith has 862 receptions, good enough for seventh place on the all-time list and more than any receiver currently in the Hall. His 12,287 receiving yards is eleventh in history to go along with 67 touchdowns. Of course all of those marks are Jaguar team records. Even more impressive was his 70 catches for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns last year at the age of 36.

He was selected to five pro bowls and put up impressive stats despite a career marred by injuries and drug addiction. Smith was able to overcome these setbacks and have a stellar career.

Granted, he wasn't always the best teammate and his character issues caused major problems at times, but the Hall of Fame is about performance on the field, not character off of it. Yes it would be nice if all our athletes were great role models who never did anything wrong and always played by the rules.

Unfortunately, that is only in fairy tales or the movies. Reality is that many athletes are not exemplary role models, but the Hall of Fame is not about character. If that were the case do you think O.J. Simpson or Lawrence Taylor would be in Canton? It's about performance on the field.

And if you are judging performance on the field, Jimmy Smith, despite a turbulent personal life, had an amazing and productive career. His numbers and the way he played the game should make him a solid selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NFL Early Picks

The first round of free agency is gone and the draft is behind us. This weeks podcast on the Corner takes a look at what teams are playoff and possibly Super Bowl contenders.

What teams have positioned themselves as front runners in the AFC and NFC? Who are the top contenders for the Super Bowl? Listen in to this weeks Carson's Corner show and find out.

Download mp3 here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Undrafted Free Agents Ready to Stake Claim

Every year players who thought they'd be drafted aren't. It's the nature of the business. Some are able to put the disappointment aside and make a career in the NFL. With 150 players undrafted on NFL rosters last season, it's not a pipe dream for these athletes.

Some of these guys will go on to be starters and some may develop and have a hall-of-fame type career. Just ask Rod Smith if you don't believe me.

The NFL knows this too and every year after the draft, a feeding frenzy begins with franchises signing undrafted players left and right.

Some guys have caught the eye of the Corner and I'd like to share with you the players that may be able to stick with an NFL roster come September.


Baltimore - Drew Olson, QB, UCLA.
Buffalo - Martin Nance, WR, Miami (OH).
Cleveland - Darrell Hackney, QB, UAB.
Houston - Quadtrine Hill, FB, Miami.
Jacksonville - Paul Pinegar, QB, Fresno State.
Miami - Gerald Riggs, Jr., Tennessee.

Olson was a four-year starter with the Bruins and may make the cut with the Ravens. He could learn behind soon-to-be-signed Steve McNair. Nance had a productive MAC career and with Eric Moulds gone, he may be able to latch on. Hackney has tons of athleticism and with Trent Dilfer gone, Crennel needs a backup for Charlie Frye.

Hill is a solid blocker and runner, while Pinegar learned the pro-style offense under Pat Hill and could be the backup to Leftwich. Riggs was inconsistent and had injury problems with the Vols, but with a solid NFL bloodline and Ricky Williams gone for a year, he could end up the number two man behind Ronnie Brown.


Arizona - Greg Lee, WR, Pitt.
Carolina - Brett Basanez, QB, Northwestern.
Chicago - Tim Day, TE, Oregon; Josh Huston, K, Ohio State; Dwayne Slay, S, Texas Tech.
Dallas - Kai Parham, LB, Virginia.
Detroit - Matt Bernstein, FB, Wisconsin.
New Orleans - Anwar Philips, CB, Penn State.
St. Louis - Mike Degory, C, Florida State.
Tampa Bay - Andre Hill, RB, South Florida.
Washington - Spencer Havner, LB, UCLA.

Lee will have touble making the roster, but he was a teammate of Larry Fitzgerald and will be taken under his wing. Basanez was a three-year starter for the Wildcats and could emerge as Jake Delhomme's backup. The Bears may have signed three roster players. Day was a fourth or fifth round pick by some experts, Huston was solid for the Buckeyes and Slay is a big-hitting safety. Parham was rated by some as a third or fourth rounder, but his injury history and lack of size left him undrafted. He is a player.

Bernstein is a leader who works hard and is tough as nails. He could be starting for the Lions very quickly. Philips was an underrated corner who should have been drafted. Many had him rated ahead of teammate Alan Zemaitis, who was slected in the fourth round by Tampa. Degory was a three-year starter for the Seminoles and the Rams have definite needs along the interior line. Hill is a good, all-purpose back who could be Cadillac Williams' backup. Havner was a tackling machine for the Bruins.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

NFL Draft Grades

These were supposed to be posted on Monday, but yours truly was suffering from a little bit of draft hangover and took a couple days off.

This weeks podcast put the finishing touches to the NFL Draft with the Corners official, Grade A, draft grades. Who had the best draft? What team had the worst? Listen in and find out.

Download MP3 here.