Welcome to Summer: Where “Stick to Sports” has no place to hide.

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By Will Stevenson

Oh Summer, why doth thou forsake thee? If I were into baseball as I once was, then the sports calendar wouldn’t be a bottomless pit full of coach talk hypothetical lists. What I have noticed during the “off-season” is sports fans grasp for anything to talk about, and when the major sports aren’t on television, their true colors come raining down. Opinions, or reactions have used to be marred back in the day before social media. Even if your co-worker told you Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest player of all-time, you may counter with Bill Russell, and then that would be the end of it. Now, that conversation can and will be had around a million times a day, every day. The comment section has become America’s fine dining establishment where anyone can go to be heard. Never mind the fact there are hired commentators for every website and Facebook as well. Nevertheless, we are drawn to any story that can give us substance, and if it doesn’t have any, we will hypothetically make something interesting out of it.

The summer months will now be known for domestic violence allegations, NBA Free Agency, NFL Minicamps, draft stock, front office movement and League posturing for the upcoming seasons. The News Cycle comes and goes so quickly, it is hard to keep up with what is new news, and what is old news. Remember the OJ Simpson coverage? Ezekiel Elliott? The continuous Kyrie and Melo trade rumors. Remember when Phil Jackson left the Knicks? How about the Mayweather/McGregor pre-fight world tour? Lavar Ball? Almost every one of these stories has been covered in the past month or two, or even a few weeks ago, but now they are old news. The current media conversation revolves around Colin Kaepernick, Josh Rosen, NBA trade rumors and the obligatory “Top ‘insert number’ list” for the sports we love.

The ‘off-season’ sports cycle brings about something different inside the sports fan: Real Feelings. Each topic in the above paragraph brings out conversations that most are not comfortable with in an open forum. All you have to do is click on a Colin Kaepernick link to see what America thinks as a whole on the topic. No longer are “X’s and O’s” the end all be all to our sports allegiances. During the season we will all watch the Redzone Channel, pregame shows, follow fantasy leagues and forget all about what Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe were debating because there is now a box score to look at. During the summer months, there is no place for “Stick to Sports” to hide. Honestly, there are other things we could pay attention to, but what fun would that be? I don’t mind a conversation on any of these topics, nor do I mind to read up on the many debates of my fellow Bookers and Tweeters. I have one question: Are we evolving through these topics, or do we just want to be right? I always wonder what the agenda is of a post about Lavar Ball, or a “Kaepernick is not being blackballed” thread. I wonder if people even care what is going on, or is there only goal to ruffle feathers, and are they being paid to do it? From what I have witnessed, more people have equipped themselves with knowledge on these topics, while others continue to say the same old ignorance.

Not only have the commentators been open to the non-sports topics, the media has jumped into the pot as well. No longer do fans have to sit around and wonder if the people they see on camera feel the same way they feel. More and more commentators are freely putting their stamp on their message about topics that go on outside the realms of actual game-play. I enjoy it, even Will Cain. There can’t be a Ray Lewis without a Shannon Sharpe. There can’t be a Will Cain without a Bomani Jones. For my selfish reasons, I want all the opinions to be out there, running rampant as closeted PCers race to find a boring monologue to post in response.

It is weird how the sports world is portrayed against the entertainment world. Many of us are old enough to remember Beavis & Butthead, SouthPark and StickDeath.com, but somehow a player flipping a bat after a homerun, or a player high-stepping into the endzone is cause for uproar. More people are tuning in to politics, but do not want politics near their sports.

Maybe it will never change. Maybe those who post things will never concede to racism in sports, college athletics being a non-competitive industry, or the need to treat athletes as humans like us. Maybe people still believe marijuana should never be used, but Oxycontin is just fine. Who knows. All I know is I love the summer months, because Stick to Sports has no place to hide.

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Got A Safety Idea? The NFL is Willing To Grant Your Wish.

By Will Stevenson

Technology has surpassed basic human philosophy. Technology has allowed us to talk to people around the world without talking. I even test drove a car without even driving the car! I assumed I would have to be on some type of medicinal for that to happen but it’s true. The NFL in many ways has been able to stay ahead of the curve in some aspects of technology when it comes to actual gameplay. Robots have been used for tackling exercise, analytics allow players to be tracked during practice with the exertion of energy. Tablets have seemed to replace the pictures of plays as quarterbacks go over them on the sideline. The one thing that has separated the NFL from their safety issue is the equipment the players use: Specifically the Helmets.

The helmets the players use are similar to the air bag: It should protect you from hd on collisions, but in no way will it protect you from being hurt. If you play football, the chances of having a concussion are imminent. There’s no feasible way to prevent a head injury with the collisions and speed of the game, but with the proper equipment, the injuries can be minimized. Now most fans think of the big hits that happen in the secondary or over the middle of the field, but it is the regular jousting of offensive and defensive lineman that compile over careers that will lead to CTE.

The NFL is a business, an as a business they have deals with partners for their equipment and sponors. The NFL launched a new program to outsource their safety issues to the masses. Tech companies now have the opportunity to give their ideas to the NFL for a grant to further their own saftey ideas in conjunction with the NFL Research Inc. This new program is called the HEADHEALTH CHALLENGE. This new program invites proposals for inmprovements in football portective equipment including helmets and relative technologies, turf systems, shoulder and other pads, and additional innovative concepts. The TECH CHALLENGE is operated and managed on behalf of FRI (Football Reasearch Inc) by Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Instuitute (Duke CTSI). So if you are a tech company, manufacturer, or a sporting goods company, the NFL is willing to give grants to fund your research. Now I don’t knw how hands on the NFL and the NRI would be with each company they grant, but it’s a way to get into the business. I also am unaware what control the NFL would have over the product if it is selected to be used by the NFL. We will see if the risk is worth the grant money and we’ll be able to gage if this is a true partnership, or if the NFL is using the grant money to bogart new ideas.

The first round of winners has already been announced.

TECH Challenge I Winners:

  • VyaTek Sports received a grant of $190,000 to support development and testing of its Zorbz technology, a series of highly efficient energy-absorbing modules added to a helmet system that can be removed and replaced after a significant impact.
  • Guardian Innovations received a grant of $20,000 to support biomechanical testing of its Guardian Cap technology. The Guardian Cap is a decoupled, soft helmet cover designed to augment football helmets and reduce the severity of impacts.

I’ve been critical of the NFL and their committment to safety versus their committment for profit. They are giving companies an opportunity to develop for them and paying them for it. On the outside it looks like a nice and innovative thing to do, but as we all know, when it comes to businesses, nice things are done with an angle in mind.

The TECHCHALLENGE II is now running and will be from April 18th until June 14th. For more information or submission, go to: www.PlaySmartPlaySafe.com/HeadHealthTECH.

 

Fear And Loathing To Las Vegas: 31-1, the Raiders are leaving Oakland

By Will Stevenson

Welcome to the NFL where business is booming. As a North Carolinian, I have watched professional teams come and go, and I’ve often wondered why this state hasn’t been a part of the events that go on in our professional leagues. We haven’t had a baseball team, so watching the Braves on TBS or the White Sox and Cubs on WGN were the regional options.  Our basketball team was here, then went to New Orleans with our good players and ultimately drafting Chris Paul, then leaving us with an expansion team called the Bobcats. Oddly enough the HB-2 sent the 2017 NBA All-Star Game to New Orleans, so yet again New Orleans was there to take our karma (Somehow I feel David Stern is behind this, but I digress). Our football team came in 1996, I was there when they played their home games at Clemson Stadium. The Carolina Hurricanes are our hockey, which they were relocated from Hartford.

With North Carolina being more famous for their collegiate sports, our history as a professional sports state pails in comparison to places such as Cleveland, Green Bay, New York, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. Although I don’t have a long-standing connection with the Carolina Panthers or the newest version of the Charlotte Hornets, I still have an understanding of how it feels to know the team you invest your time and money into is leaving to another city. With today’s 31-1 vote to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, those feelings of betrayal and emptiness were connected once again. We’ve all seen this coming for the past couple years and we should have know it was going to happen when the Rams moved to LA, and then subsequently the Chargers. The Raiders stayed in Oakland, but most knew it wouldn’t be for long, as Las Vegas was ramping up their proposal. With that 31-1 vote, Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins voiced his concern with the Palm Beach Post, “My position today was that we as owners and as a League owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us.” Is that a general concern of the fans, or is Stephen Ross looking at his mid-dumpster fire of a money-making franchise and seeing what is to come on the horizon?

All Las Vegas needed was a team, any professional team to get the NFL on board. Baseball wasn’t budging, the MLS isn’t in the Big Four as far as major sports are concerned here in the states, and the NBA wasn’t ready to test those waters after the debacle of a weekend with their All-Star game (Shoutout PacMan Jones). That leaves one left: Hockey. That’s right, the NHL, a league that has undergone major construction with their relocation over the years through their rebranding after work stoppages and the loss of network sponsorships, has paved the way for professional sports in Las Vegas.

The NFL has continuously noted the conflicting interest of gambling and a possible move to Las Vegas, but it’s 2017, and with the world being so technologically advanced, there’s no need to refuse uncharted territory that can be seen as financial gain. A fan base is key to the business of relocation, but the Raiders won’t see Las Vegas for another 2-3 years with the opening marked for 2020. For the NFL, that’s plenty of time to decide on PSLs (Personal Seat Licenses), sponsorships, parking, traffic, and promotional tactics: And Hotels. Let us not forget this is a business, and when a new sports franchise is coming to town, there are business partnerships that must be forged: Restaurants, Hotel Chains, Flights, Ticket Packages, “Ambassadors”, Spokesmen, Commercials, etc.

Enough of the business aspect, let’s get back to the fans in Oakland. The Oakland fan base has once again suffered. Their team is leaving, and their team is actually good with a promising offense running the show. You know what that means: The Raiders have two years to go for it all. I know stacking rosters to win isn’t the most efficient way of building a championship contender, but the Raiders have only one chance to do it. With the Patriots maybe-slowing-down but not probably, the Raiders need to win the Superbowl with the team they currently have. They need to win before the fans have to choose between going to Las Vegas or possibly rooting for either of the teams in LA. Help us all if any Raider fans have to cheer for the Rams.

This is a day when all Raider Nation collectively post on social media to grieve. Every meme, picture, comment section, Twitter think-piece and Facebook Group is already feasting at the Vegas trough. Just as Kendrick Lamar said to rappers about his upcoming album, Oakland has two years to get their sh*t together. In two years you will only have the Warriors to cheer for, and I’m sure that traveling package for Las Vegas won’t be cheap. Your significant other will only allow so many “football trips” to see the Raiders play in Vegas, and I’m sure some of you are already planning to fail two years in advance.

Happy Monday Oakland, Happy Monday.

PS: Who will be the next “Purple” in Las Vegas? Ask for a friend.

Heads Up: Roger Goodell hires the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sills

By Will Stevenson

“There is no higher priority for the NFL than player heath and safety and we continually seek to raise our standards and then surpass them” – Roger Goodell

I loved football as a youngster. I loved the running game, deep passes, big hits, and shutdown corners. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to grow weary of a game I used to salivate over on every level. With each crushing blow, I wince harder, and rather than thinking, “That’s a great hit”, I lean more towards, “I wonder how he’ll be feeling on Tuesday morning.” Since Roger Goodell has become the commissioner and figure-head of the NFL, he has fought to bring order and continue the upward revenue for the league. From his dealings with Michael Vick and “Bounty Gate”, to domestic violence, Goodell has seen his good days and bad. With the Personal Conduct Policy only going to a low percentage of the players in the NFL, there is one issue that he cannot avoid, nor hope it just falls by the wayside: Concussions.

I remember when Mohammed Mossaqui of the Cleveland Browns was knocked out by linebacker James Harrison as he caught a ball over the middle, catching the eye of every media outlet on the conversation of “Big Hits”. I remember a linebacker stumbling off the field, and then attempting to get back on the field after it seemed he had no idea where he was. I even remember when the “NFL’s Big Hits” were marketing on the NFL’s website, while the league was fining players left and right for illegal hits. NFL Countdown discontinued their most popular segment of “Jacked Up”, and conversation continued after the death of Junior Seau.

Although I have been, and will continue to be skeptical of the NFL having concussions and all other player injuries at the center of their concern, they are doing what all public businesses should do in this public relations climate: Upgrade your staff. After the concussion lawsuit, which wasn’t nearly enough, the NFL has repeatedly told us that player safety is the main issue they want to continue to address. They have not trimmed the season to 14 games, but they have made kickoff returns virtually impossible, given strict striking options for receivers and quarterbacks, and made the “defenseless receiver” a household adjective. The NFL desperately needed to upgrade their medical staff for the future of their players.

With the hiring of Dr. Allen Sills as the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, he brings a noteworthy checklist:

  1. He is a Neurosurgeon
  2. Professor of Neurological Surgery
  3. Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation
  4. Founder and Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center

That sounds pretty good right? I cannot sit here and criticize the hiring at this moment, because I don’t have any evidence at this time that this hire will be a failure. I do wonder what his role will be specifically. At this moment, his role is vague, which it should be, but I would imagine they already have plans in the works for this new position. What will be the issues Dr. Sills and the NFL medical staff will tackle for the upcoming season? Will they continue to tinker with specific on-the-field habits? Will they be able to adapt helmets, pads and various player equipment even though they have deals in place? Will they look at the 16 game schedule and the horrific scheduling around Thursday Night games? Will they look at practicing habits and the old-school way of thinking when it comes to mandatory off-season workouts and preparation? Will marijuana ever be the norm and prescription drugs be run out of the NFL?

I know, wishful thinking. I cannot tip my cap, nor throw it at Roger Goodell for this hire. So for the moment, we will wait and see what comes next for the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer. I hope his interests are with the players of the NFL, not the Owners of the NFL, because we’ve seen how those in power lean towards the interests of the NFL Owners.

Again, wishful thinking.

How Many People Will Be Overpaid During this Year’s NFL’s Free Agency Period?

By Leo Silbert

Every year players seem to be getting more and more per season, setting new salary records for position groups and setting the salary floor for a player of a certain level.  Last year, Olivier Vernon was given more guaranteed money than J.J. Watt was given by the Texans, even though he is not the same level of a player as Watt (not a jab at Vernon, more me saying no one is at the same level as Watt therefore no one should be paid more than him at his position).  Vernon wasn’t the only high-priced free agent from last offseason though, with Josh Norman signing a record high contract for a corner back, Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson signing the 2nd and 3rd highest contracts given to a defensive tackle and Kelechi Osemele becoming the highest paid guard in NFL history.  For the most part, the big signings of this past free agency period worked out well for their teams, but that is a rare occurence with many more examples of free agent flops than success stories over the years (like Albert Haynesworth, Nnamdi Asomugha and Brock Osweiler).

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First, there were 6 players franchise tagged so far, quarterback Kirk Cousins and Le’Veon Bell were given exclusive franchise tags, becoming the 16th and 17th players to ever be given the exclusive franchise tag while edge rushers Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Melvin Ingram, defensive tackle Kawann Short and corner back Trumaine Johnson were given non-exclusive tags.  These 7 players would have been the cream of the crop in free agency so now with them being basically off the market (unless a team wants to give up 2 first round picks to go along with the cost of the players who have been non-exclusive tagged) so that means the lesser players on the market will be given the kinds of deals the top guys would have taken up.  There has also been 2 mega deals given out to Eric Berry and Antonio Brown which set new standards for a market deal at the safety and wide receiver positions respectively.

Military service members honored during Chicago bears game

The first person who is almost assured to be overpaid is going to be Alshon Jeffery.  When Jeffery is healthy and not suspended and on his game, he is one of the top 15 wide receivers in the league, but since he is going to be a free agent, chances are he will end up being paid like a top 5 wide receiver.  Because Jeffery is the top receiver on the market, teams will be competing for his services hard and he’ll likely end up with a deal similar to the deals given to Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.  Another receiver to likely get overpaid is Terrelle Pryor from the Browns.  This was Pryor’s first real season of any real production at the receiver spot and he is already 28 years old, but his market value is projected to be around $9 million per season right now but that is likely to be raised by teams trying to outbid the Browns who have the most cap space in the league with over $100 million to give out this season.  Other wide receivers who I can see getting overpaid are: Kenny Still due to his speed and the fact that Taylor Gabriel was such an important piece on the Falcons as a speedy deep threat, Terrance Williams due to his size and that he was on a good offense in Dallas and Kenny Britt due to his size and the fact that he got 1,000 yards receiving with a bad Rams offense.

USP NFL: AFC WILD CARD-OAKLAND RAIDERS AT HOUSTON S FBN USA TX

Next, I am going to go over the guys trying to cash in on a great season in their contract year.  First is obviously AJ Bouye who before this season wasn’t well-known to anyone but by the end of the 2016 season, he was playing like one of the 5 best corners in the league.  He is also helped by the contract Josh Norman was given last off-season as a very similar player.  Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals played like a top 10 safety for the first time in his career and he has to be loving how Eric Berry set a new high for safeties since Jefferson will likely get something somewhat close to Berry’s deal?  Jonathan Cyprien is another safety who stepped up his game immensely at the safety position this past season so he is also set to be paid handsomely.  Zach Brown had a breakout year on a 1 year deal with the Bills so he can end up getting a similar deal to the one given to Jerrell Freeman last year.  Nick Perry finally showed some of his first round potential in his fifth season and is now set to hit the open market.  Ricky Wagner was horrendous in 2015, but has possibly turned his great contract year into $10 million per season.  Terrelle Pryor also fits into this category.

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Now, I’m just going to list the offensive guards who are going to benefit from not only Kelechi Osemele’s 5 year $58 million deal from last off-season, but also from Laurent Duvernay-Tardif’s 5 year $41.25 deal that sets the market for an above average guard.  First off is Kevin Zeitler who is one of the best guards in the game and has a chance to set a new record high contract for a guard this off-season as Osemele did last off season.  Then there is TJ Lang who is a little bit older, but he is another top 1o guard in this league and will be paid as such.  Larry Warford has had an up and down career, but he is going into free agency on an upswing so his contract will too.  Ronald Leary is a good guard who thanks to Duvernay-Tardif can expect more than $40 million in a contract in his near future with his pedigree of being a part of one of the best lines in football upping his stock. And finally J.C. Tretter who can play both guard and center well will be looking for a new contract possibly outside of Green Bay so he can go into free agency with the reputation of being versatile and being a part of one of the best lines in the league.

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And finally, here are the players who will be overpaid because they are now the best at their positions available after the top guys got stuck with the franchise tag.  Jabaal Sheard was the top pass rusher on the Superbowl winning Patriots so he can now probably expect over $40 million over a 5 year deal.  Stephon Gilmore has never lived up to his first round billing, but with Trumaine Johnson being franchised and Logan Ryan saying he will let the Patriots match any offer he will get in free agency which means to pry him away a team would have to go into Josh Norman money territory, which I don’t believe any team will do, and AJ Bouye having already been covered in this article, then Gilmore can expect somewhere in the $12 million per season area.  Both Jonathan Hankins and Brandon Williams will end up in the contract range of Damon “Snacks” Harrison’s 5 year $46.5 million deal signed last off-season with Kawann Short being tagged and likely expecting something in the Fletcher Cox contract stratosphere.  Colin Kaepernick hitting the market could lead a team to believe that they can fix his faults ad pay him $12 million a year.  As for running backs, I don’t think any of them will be overpaid unless they go to the wrong system like Jamal Charles to a power running scheme or Adrian Peterson to a shotgun running scheme.

The Quarterback Carousel in February: Great

Will Stevenson

With actual basketball games being out of service since the All-Star Game, the sports world has decided to give us all the transaction stimulation we could handle. The NFL was so taken aback by the NBA, they decided to throw out possible quarterback trade destinations for old guys who either get injured or don’t play well anymore-but they use to play great and now teams who don’t have a quarterback will trade for them-but maybe they shouldn’t because they are old-but then again you could catch lightning in a bottle.

Whew. Football.

The New York Jets, who have fumbled around the past few seasons with quarterbacks we knew to be average, will once again seek out another plus-30 quarterback to lead their team. The Jets have had their chances in the draft, but have not been able to develop a young quarterbacks over the past few seasons with Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg. They went the Ryan Fitzpatrick route and it got them as far as not making the playoffs, again.

The Houston Texans, a punch line for quarterback play over the past few seasons have began to test the waters for the “Used to be good quarterback” club. Somehow, Head Coach Bill O’Brien hasn’t been able to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of these quarterbacks yet. Brock Osweiler was pretty bad last season, and the Texans once again wasted another year as the defense was as strong as usual, but the offense could not sustain consistency in the passing game.

We like to take the video game approach when it comes to the transaction. We have watched Jay Cutler and Tony Romo for the past two seasons and we know they aren’t who they use to be: but that doesn’t matter when it comes to hope. Tony Romo has a back that couldn’t carry his own shoulder blades, and for some reason we think Jay Cutler can “turn it around” with the Jets, even though the Jets haven’t shown the ability to be an offensive threat since the first half of Brett Favre’s only season there in 2008.

So all offseason we will do this whole song and dance all over again. Teams will talk themselves into trading or signing reformation projects  at quarterback. Even though they did not perform well, teams still feel they can be the ones to extract the greatness that was once there.

Somebody is going to be a sucker for Jay Cutler, and I’m just hoping it’s the Jets. Maybe they will go after Romo, God I hope so.

Tag Or No Tag

The Washington Redskins are faced with a hard decision this offseason. They have ample of cap space because they don’t have any one player taking up a lot of their room except for Josh Norman who will count for almost $18 million against the cap this season. The cap killers are usually the quarterback and the linemen but the Redskins don’t have their quarterback locked up for the long-term.

Last season Kirk Cousins played on the franchise tag after wanting to sign a long-term deal but the team was not convinced that he was the man to lead the team so they wanted him to prove it. He played on the tag and he lead the team to finish 3rd in the NFC East and a winning record for the second seasons. They had a chance to get into the playoffs but in the usual fashion, Kirk Cousins didn’t show up in the big game and threw an interception at the end that sealed the deal of the Redskins going fishing for the summer.

Once again, the franchise tag is available for the team to use on him but it will cost even more money this time. The tag will be $24 million for one year and Kirk Cousins has stated he will sign the franchise tag but he will not sign a long-term deal unless it’s the dollar figure that he wants. This man wants Aaron Rodgers type of money and he is not on Rodgers’ level of play. I love the Redskins but I don’t think they should tag this guy. He has shown he can’t get it done and he reminds me of a watered down Tony Romo.

Kirk Cousins had a bad defense this season and Tony Romo has had a bad defense for years and just over the last few years got an offensive line. Yes he choked in big games and only has two playoff wins but at least he has a playoff win. Kirk Cousins has only been to the playoffs once and they lost bad at home against the packers in 2015 season. This man can’t get it done and its time to move on and grow with someone else.

Written by Melvin Jackson III