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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Some Things to Think About -- SportsProf Might Not Be Able to Blog for a Week

SportsProf will be out of the country for about one week (and no, he will not be standing on the Champs Elysee watching Lance Armstrong capture his sixth straight Tour de France or Greg LeMond throwing ripe tomatoes at him while he does so) and is uncertain whether or not he'll be able to blog, so he wants to leave his devoted blog readers with some things to think about, as follows:
1.  The Big Unit.  Reports on the wire services today indicate that Randy Johnson is more likely to stay in Arizona than he is to accept a trade anywhere else.  Which means, of course, that a trade well might be imminent.  In the past, SportsProf has always thought that the big late July trades are part of the suspense that makes baseball fun.  Who will give up say AA first baseman Jeff Bagwell for reliever Larry Andersen or Class A pitcher and home state prospect John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander?  SportsProf is worried, for reasons he cannot fully articulate now, that a payment by the Yankees of millions for Johnson would be bad for the game.  The Yankees would have to make a big cash payment because they don't have many prospects to trade.  If the Commissioner has the guts he's been trying to display, he'd step in and prevent that type of transfer from happening.  If he doesn't do something, then, well, he'll prove that he's no Bowie Kuhn.  Kuhn, while a flawed commissioner, did step in and prevent Charlie Finley from fulfilling the legacy of Connie Mack's A's and selling key players to the Red Sox and Yankees in the mid-1970's (he called Bowie Kuhn "the village idiot" at the time).  So while you're flexing you're muscles against the players' union on the steroids issue, Mr. Commissioner, flex your muscles against the Yankees for the other problematic substance issue -- throwing too much money around.  Let's see if you're truly looking out for, gulp, the best interests of baseball. 
However they are defined these days.
2.  Andy Reid.   The pundits are circling around now like sharks.  Not only is the pressure on the Eagles to finally get to the Super Bowl after losing three straight NFC championship games, the last of two at home, but now the Eagles have to play 2 games against both Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells, not to mention 2 against Tom Coughlin.  Oooh, the watchers are saying with the tone of voice that middle schoolers use to get someone in trouble, the Eagles should be really scared -- the competition is just too touch. 
And, of course, the pundits are saying that the Eagles are weaker at corner because they failed to re-sign either the self-named blanket, Bobby Taylor, or Troy Vincent.  They do give the Birds credit for inking Jevon Kearse (one of many feet-challenged defensive linemen on the Eagles) and trading for Terrell Owens, and they're right to, because the Eagles' front office was very silent up to the first-day of the free-agent signing period, only to sign Kearse on the first day.  Still, though, you get the sense that they doubt Reid can be more than a poor man's Merv Levy and get to the Super Bowl.
There is enough to doubt, but Reid seemingly has done a masterful job on the personnel front, along with the team's capologist, President Joe Banner.  Last year they let Hugh Douglas and Brian Mitchell walk, and those players laid eggs with their new teams.  Douglas was ineffective with Jacksonville, and Mitchell had an awful year returning kicks for the Giants.  And, by letting Mitchell go, the Eagles paved the way for Brian Westbrook, who had a masterful season for the Eagles. 
This past off-season, after a lot of public discussion (where the fans on the talk shows lamented the Birds' moves), the Eagles decided to let Bobby Taylor, either 31 or 32, and Troy Vincent, 33, go the route of free agency.  The Eagles seem content to let third-year players Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard man the corners, with rookie Matt Ware, a tall corner out of UCLA, backing them up.  "Mistake," said the water-cooler GMs.  "There's not a shutdown corner among them.  Awfully risky."  True, Brown and Sheppard didn't have great seasons filling in for Taylor and Vincent when both were injured, but Vincent showed signs of age and Taylor showed signs of being brittle, and, further, the Eagles' had a woeful pass rush last year.  Even the best corners could have trouble covering if their teammates in the trenches can't put pressure on the other team's QB.   SportsProf isn't guaranteeing that Brown and Sheppard will be all-Pros, but he does demand that Bird watchers give them a fair chance.
A few years ago, the Birds let their starting middle linebacker, Jeremiah Trotter, go the way of free agency instead of heeding his loud demands and signing him to a 5-year, $25 million contract.  Trotter was vocal about the lack of appreciation he was being shown, and he took his skills to division rival Washington for a lucrative contract.  Oh, the water-cooler GMs criticized the Birds for letting "The Axe" go (they loved how strong and physical he was), but Trotter had a bad two years in Washington, got hurt, and was released after last season.  The Eagles had let him go in the first place because they were worried about his gimply knee (which he had hurt in college at Stephen F. Austin) and his frequent overrunning of plays, and they didn't (and still don't) view linebackers as all that important to their defensive schemes (relative to linemen and backs).
So what happened?  Trotter is back, having mended fences with Reid, to whom he apologized for handling his situation badly two years ago.  He signed for the veteran minimum, and he'll back up starting MLB Mark Simoneau, who, after winning the NFL's defensive player of the month in October, wore down as the season progressed.  Simoneau is a small middle linebacker, and he doesn't appear to have the "fight in the dog" talents of that other small middle linebacker, Zach Thomas, which goes to show you that at some point, even in the pros, size does matter.  So enter Trotter, who should, at least, give the water-cooler GMs something to talk about.
The point in all this?  Andy Reid knows what he is doing.  Vincent is a better instinctive corner than Taylor, and he might have a decent year left in him, and Taylor might as well.  But thus far, Andy Reid has shown that he knows what he is doing, both as a coach and as a GM.  The bet here is that no pundit will be crowing about how the Eagles erred in letting these two players become free agents.
And while Joe Gibbs is back and the Tuna is toiling in Dallas, in 2004 it is they who have to show they can outdo Andy Reid and knock the Birds off their perch, and not vice versa, strange as that may sound.
3.  There are other topics to talk about, such as the U.S. Track and Field doping scandals, the NHL's labor situation, the basketball venue for Iranians Jaber Rouzbahani and Hammid Hadadi this fall, the Olympics (and whether, despite the "defections", the U.S. will win the gold), and the story about the two Air Force Academy football players who will be court-martialed for steriod use.  Funny how our tax dollars' priorities go -- use steroids at a Division I school that is not an arm of the U.S. government, go undetected and be a football hero; use them at Air Force, and go to jail.   Character, after all, is fate.  SportsProf will cheer a bit for the Falcons this fall.
Have a good week; I hope to blog when I can.