The Great Debate: Rodgers or Watt for MVP?

2 Jan
Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt are the frontrunners for the NFL MVP award.
Credit: si.com

It was perhaps the most immediate silence following a Packers touchdown I had ever heard at Lambeau Field. Forget about the 4-yard score to Randall Cobb in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers was hurt. And he wasn’t getting up. Nearly 80,000 Packers faithful held their breath as Rodgers collapsed to the ground clutching his left leg. They might as well have been lying on the field beside their quarterback.

It’s a special connection, this Lambeau thing. All who don green and yellow on Sundays are family – those on the field, those in the stands and those screaming frantically at the television.

Although this time there were no screams, no cheers, no rejoice.

Just silence.

I, for one, became misty-eyed as I watched the center of the Packers family get carried off the field and escorted to the locker room on a cart, as chants of “MVP” echoed throughout Green Bay.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for sentiment.

But it was the regular-season finale with a division title and first-round bye on the line. Would Rodgers be named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player at season’s end if he was forced to leave a game of this magnitude due to injury?

I tensely watched as the NFC North showdown between the Packers and Detroit Lions continued. My mind was set on the bigger picture. I knew where the path led without Rodgers.

Halftime came and went. The Packers’ 14-point lead evaporated and hope vanished.

Until a camera shot revealed someone stretching in the tunnel during the third quarter.

It was Rodgers, clad in green and yellow armor with a cape fluttering behind him. OK, it wasn’t that extreme, but you wouldn’t know it the way the crowd reacted as he emerged onto the field.

This man is Green Bay’s hero and perhaps the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL.

Hope had returned. It was showtime.

On one leg, Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 30-20 victory.

With a performance for the ages, he may have earned himself a second MVP award.

THE DEBATE

The battle for MVP will most likely come down to Rodgers and another one of Wisconsin’s finest, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is seeking the first MVP by a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. This season, Watt became the first NFL player to record 20 or more sacks in two separate seasons.

His numbers speak for themselves: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, four forced fumbles, five total touchdowns and one intimidating bloody nose. But here’s why Watt won’t win the MVP this season:

While Watt recorded 20.5 sacks, 14 of them came against AFC South opponents, so he did a majority of his damage during six games within the division, including six sacks alone in two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Every game in which Watt recorded two or more sacks was against the AFC South as well. Talk about feasting on your division.

When talking about Rodgers in terms of why he won’t win the MVP, people point to three losses against opponents with top-tier defenses: the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills – all road games.

Go ahead and hold those three games against Rodgers, but don’t be naïve to the fact that a majority of Watt’s success took place against mediocre opponents. He didn’t do a whole lot against elite competition either.

Rodgers’ 2014 campaign goes beyond the numbers, which aren’t anything to sneeze at: 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a passer rating of 112.2. Of his five interceptions, four of them went off his intended receiver’s hands.

While the stats are impressive, there’s one word with far more substance in terms of Rodgers’ MVP-worthy season:

R-E-L-A-X.

Following the loss to the Lions in Week 3, Rodgers famously spelled out and repeated the word, placing additional pressure on himself and the Packers’ offense to perform, and perform quickly.

He owned it and delivered one of the best 10-game stretches in NFL history. He’s the primary reason why the Packers have won their fourth consecutive NFC North title and are one of the favorites in the playoffs.

Rodgers is the MVP this season because he plays the most important position in football and excels at it more than his counterparts. Not to mention there were a number of games this season in which Rodgers put the Packers so far ahead he didn’t have the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter and improve his stats.

Still unsure about the MVP? Consider this:

If the Texans offered Watt for Rodgers in a trade, would the Packers accept it?

Now, what if the Packers offered Rodgers for Watt? I’d be willing to bet the Texans would accept that trade faster than a New York second.

Additionally, the Packers would be in worse shape without Rodgers than the Texans would be without Watt.

Take Watt out of the Texans lineup. What happens? They go from a non-playoff team to… a non-playoff team.

Take Rodgers out of the Packers lineup. What happens? They go from the No. 2 seed to most likely missing the playoffs.

The MVP debate is so difficult this year because it’s between two players who play drastically different positions. At the end of the day, give me Rodgers.

Watt will have to settle for a consolation prize as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a front row seat to watch the playoffs from home.

The Dating Game: Where’d Chivalry Go?

31 Oct
Credit: innerbonding.com

Credit: innerbonding.com

I recently came across an article about something that rarely exists in our culture nowadays, something that almost made me grab a dictionary to rediscover what it meant.

Chivalry.

I hear it all too often from my female friends: “Love isn’t how it is in the movies.” Of course not; they’re movies. They’re a distorted perception of reality with an incredible amount of entertainment value because they provide an escape, a way for us to live through our favorite characters on the big screen. That’s why we watch them, cherish them, as if they were autobiographies of our lives.

But real life doesn’t come with a script.

You live. You love. You learn. You move on.

Typical romantic comedies – or chick flicks – often lead to unrealistic expectations within one’s own relationship.

That being said, that type of love can be possible – with the right person.

What we used to know as chivalry has become an ancient concept. It’s all but nonexistent. Men generally don’t take care of women the way they used to. And while women aren’t the ones who display the utmost examples of douchebaggery, so to speak, they can still be held somewhat accountable for chivalry’s endangerment by tolerating this type of behavior.

This takes me to one of my favorite quotes, from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”:

We accept the love we think we deserve.

Movies may not always be realistic, but there are many lessons that can be learned from them.

Just because a man does something nice for a woman does not mean he should feel a sense of entitlement, nor should a woman feel obligated to date him. I’m a believer in chivalry, but I don’t think women owe me anything in return. That’s not the point of being chivalrous. I do it because it’s right, and it’s how I was raised. Plain and simple. Having an ulterior motive would nullify being a gentleman in the first place.

But more often than not, kind gestures are underappreciated. Men who hold doors, pick up the tab at dinner, or make any genuine effort to sweep a woman off her feet are often misconstrued as clingy or desperate. If being a gentleman makes me desperate, then I won’t stop being desperate until my desperation leads me to an equally desperate woman who will appreciate my desperate actions.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Ladies, when we do nice things for you, we aren’t suggesting that you aren’t competent enough to handle it yourself. If we open a door for you, it’s not a way for us to secretly check out your ass. Yes, a friend of mine was accused of this once. I’m not sure if he’s held a door for a woman since. If we pay for your dinner, it’s not because we don’t think you’re financially stable enough to put food on the table. We do these things because we feel like we’re making your life easier. We want to show you we aren’t like the other guys. We’re different.

Please forgive the nice guys of the world for wanting to show you more than their bedroom ceiling.

The hookup culture is so prevalent in today’s society, but if it’s what both parties want, then I’m not here to tell them otherwise. Unfortunately a lot of men, especially in college, go about it the wrong way, scheming women into having sex with them. They have charm, they say and do all the right things, but once they get what they want they’re nowhere to be found.

Sure, a wild night in bed might place a man squarely on top of cloud nine, but if he were to take a step back and consider the mental, emotional and potentially physical damage he inflicted upon a woman he took advantage of, he may not feel so high and mighty.

But that’s just it. These men don’t truly care about women. They only want to “get theirs.”

On the plus side, the men who do treat women with respect won’t settle for the bare minimum, which ultimately means they will probably end up with a woman who won’t settle, either.

And when that happens, the sky is the limit for your relationship.

Allow yourselves to be treated by someone who genuinely cares about you. Only then can you create the fairy tale you’ve always dreamed of.

Packers can learn from Brewers’ collapse

27 Sep
Carlos Gomez

The Milwaukee Brewers will miss the playoffs after the best start in franchise history.
Credit: gettyimages.com

From April 5 to September 1, the Milwaukee Brewers stood atop the National League Central standings. During a sizable chuck of that span, they also boasted one of the best records in Major League Baseball.

Something special was brewing in Milwaukee. The Brewers weren’t considered a contender by many during Spring Training, but the sky appeared to be the limit for baseball’s smallest market team in the early stages of the season. The Brewers performed well in every facet of the game, and with each win, their fan base grew hungrier for the first World Series championship in franchise history.

Oh, how quickly things can change.

Prior to the All-Star break, the Brewers lost 11 of 12 games. They continued to unravel in the second half of the season, and their reign in the division disappeared, with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates lurking in the rearview.

The Cardinals have always been a thorn in the Brewers’ side. Despite the Cardinals’ revolving door of players, or so it seems, they manage to compete every season. They’re the class of the NL Central, no question about it. But once the Brewers ultimately fell out of first place, they had no one to blame but themselves.

Their confidence from the beginning of the season was long gone. Instead, their disposition changed. They became complacent, seemingly aware of their eventual fate. They played not to lose, rather than to win.

There was still hope that the Brewers could salvage the season and sneak into the playoffs as one of two Wild Card teams, but even that was too tall a task for the struggling ball club.

The Brewers plummeted in the standings, losing 16 of 19 games in late August and early September. Although not yet mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the Brewers were finished.

For 150 days – a franchise record – the Brewers led the division, but their poor play down the stretch proved costly. Now they’ll be watching the playoffs from home, wondering what could have been.

With Brewers season coming to a close, Wisconsin is transitioning to full-fledged Green Bay Packers mode. The Packers can learn something from the Brewers’ epic collapse, with the same aforementioned mantra: It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

Unlike the Brewers, the Packers have gotten off to a lackluster start this season and haven’t resembled the Super Bowl favorite many expected them to be. They were embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks in the season-opener, 36-16, and struggled mightily on offense last week against the Detroit Lions, scoring just a single touchdown in a 19-7 loss.

They’re a few Jets mistakes away from being winless through three games.

However, at 1-2, the Packers aren’t panicking. They’ve been in this position before – the past two seasons, as a matter of fact. Both times, they went on to win the NFC North.

History tends to repeat itself, but it’s never guaranteed.

The Packers must play better, plain and simple. They’re held to a much higher standard than the Brewers due to their exceptional run during the past 20 years in which they’ve been a perennial contender. In the past five years alone, the Packers have made the playoffs each season and won Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season. That has resulted in lofty expectations.

When the Packers don’t fulfill their potential, it causes an understandable sense of urgency among the fans, who have perhaps become a bit spoiled by recent success.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers only needed one word to address the fans. He was even courteous enough to spell it out.

“R-E-L-A-X.”

That may be the best advice of all.

Packers fans must attempt to achieve perspective and realize just how good they have it. Not since Vince Lombardi’s glory days in the 1960s have the Packers sustained this much success.

Championships aren’t won during the first month of the season. The Brewers found that out firsthand, and now the Packers have an opportunity to do what the Brewers couldn’t: overcome adversity, improve and make a championship run.

It starts Sunday when the Packers travel to Chicago to face the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ simple message for the fans after 1-2 start.
Credit: geeksandcleats.com

Packers are team to beat in NFC North

31 Jul
Packers defeat Bears

Aaron Rodgers’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, with 46 seconds left on 4th-and-8, gave the Packers their third straight NFC North title. They defeated the Bears, 33-28, at Soldier Field.
Credit: martynneil.files.wordpress.com

It was 4th-and-8 at Soldier Field. The Packers’ playoff hopes were dwindling. They trailed the Bears on the road, 28-27, in the 2013 regular season finale. The next 46 seconds would determine the winner of the NFC North.

We all remember the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the snap. He faced an immediate rush from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Fullback John Kuhn arrived in a knick of time, blocking Peppers just enough to prevent him from reaching Rodgers. The former MVP rolled out to his left and heaved a dime to Randall Cobb, who bolted past a flatfooted Chris Conte to haul in a 48-yard game-winning touchdown, propelling the Packers into the playoffs.

The Bears were stunned – an all-too-familiar feeling against their archrival. The Packers went on to win the division for the third straight season, but their playoff campaign was short-lived, as they were bounced from the postseason by the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round.

During the offseason, the gap continued to close in the NFC North.

The Bears improved their defensive line with free agent acquisitions Lamarr Houston (Raiders) and Jared Allen (Vikings). They also boast the best wide receiver duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. There’s hardly a debate about that. The Bears’ offense could be one of the most explosive units in the NFL this season, but it may come down to the play of quarterback Jay Cutler, who Marshall recently declared will be the 2014 NFL MVP. If the league is looking to further investigate substance abuse among its players, Marshall could be their next target after such a ludicrous statement. Confidence clearly isn’t lacking in Chicago, but there’s quite a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Considering the hype in Chi-town, you’d think the Bears were the team with three straight division titles. That’s not the case. However, they remain the Packers’ most prominent threat in the division.

The Lions were perhaps in the best shape to seize their opportunity to win the division last season, but their discipline issues proved costly, as they were their own worst enemy down the stretch. New head coach Jim Caldwell – with his level-headed demeanor – will be a much-needed breath of fresh air for Detroit. Caldwell is more respected than former head coach Jim Schwartz. But let’s be honest, that’s not saying much. On the plus side, you most likely won’t see Caldwell trying to start a fight with an opposing coach after the postgame handshake, which can only be good news for Lions fans. The Lions added tight end Eric Ebron in the draft and former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in free agency to complement Calvin Johnson in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if the Lions turn things around this season and make a run at the division title.

The Vikings can’t really be considered a serious contender in the division until they figure out their quarterback situation first. They have three quarterbacks competing for first-team reps in training camp, including their 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Teddy Bridgewater. The other potential suitors for the position include Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder, whose days as the Vikings’ starter appear to be all but over. If history is any indication, quarterback controversies don’t typically end well. It’s a shame, too. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is waiting for an opportunity to breakout. He’s one of the most explosive playmakers in the league, and he showed flashes of brilliance last season. The Vikings just need to find a way to get the ball in his hands. Of course, Adrian Peterson is always a threat in the Vikings’ backfield, but at 29 years old, he appears to be losing ground on his quest for a Super Bowl ring. Unless the Vikings turn it around, Peterson will be remembered as one of the best players to never win a championship.

Now, the good stuff.

The Packers are the class of the NFC North. That trend will continue until another team steps up and decides it’s had enough. Despite remaining in familiar territory atop the division the past three seasons, the Packers certainly can’t be satisfied with one-and-dones in the playoffs. They’re not far off from another Super Bowl, though.  Here are the four reasons why the Packers will win the NFC North in 2014.

Lack of experience within the division: Entering his ninth season, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is the longest-tenured head coach in the division by far. Bears head coach Marc Trestman is heading into his second season, and the aforementioned Caldwell – who has three years of previous experience as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts – and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer are entering their first season with their respective teams. Don’t underestimate the importance of having the same coaching staff year-in and year-out. It typically takes time for players to adjust to a new coaching style and system.

Additionally, we saw the Lions and Bears unravel with an opportunity to take control of the division at the end of last season while the Packers were ailing. Let’s face it; neither team had much experience with a division lead during the past few seasons, and that won’t change until they start winning meaningful games in November and December. The Packers have proven to be the team with the most resilience in the NFC North, and McCarthy’s experience is primarily responsible for their stranglehold on the division.

Julius Peppers and an improved defense: The Packers don’t have the reputation of being an aggressive team in free agency. That altered a bit in March when they scooped up Peppers, who spent the last four seasons with the rival Bears. Those in Chicago hold a firm belief that Peppers has lost a step. They accuse him of taking plays off. Regardless of their beef with Peppers, they most likely aren’t happy about seeing him end up in Green Bay, especially opposite Clay Matthews. Peppers and Matthews have never had the benefit of being paired with another player of their caliber.

They do now.

The Bears misused Peppers as an every-down player, which may have resulted in his declining performance. He’s no spring chicken anymore. The Packers plan to use Peppers in a variety of positions, formations and situations, maximizing his effort when he is on the field. He also has been reunited with Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who coached Peppers for several seasons in Carolina. The comfort and familiarity will allow Peppers to excel in the Packers’ defensive system. Even at 34 years old and in the twilight of his career, the aging Peppers is a physical specimen and has the ability to make a difference. He has almost everything – size, speed, versatility, athleticism, and now, added motivation from his doubters. If he can put it all together this season, he might end up with the one thing he doesn’t have: a Super Bowl ring. If nothing else, the Packers have acquired a seasoned veteran who will be a mentor to their young crop of defensive players.

The team selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick in the draft, and he may not even start due to Micah Hyde’s transition from cornerback to safety. Even so, the Packers have a lot of depth at the position. Paired with Morgan Burnett, either player will be an upgrade over Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings, who started for the Packers in 2013. Also in the secondary, cornerback Casey Hayward is fully healthy, after missing a majority of games with hamstring issues last season.

In recent years, the defense has been the Packers’ weakness. It finished 24th overall last season. With the addition of Peppers, as well as returning players, there’s no reason to believe the defense won’t be average, at the very least. It is poised to become a top-10 unit this season. Defensive end Mike Daniels already has expressed his desire for the defense to have a more physical mentality and match the offense’s production. If the offense and defense are clicking at the same time, the Packers will be even more of a threat, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Eddie Lacy: Roll tide, right? The reigning offensive rookie of the year, Eddie Lacy, put the Packers on his back last season when Rodgers was out for seven games with a broken collarbone. He often faced stacked boxes due to the Packers’ lack of reliable quarterback play, but his punishing running style allowed him to grind out 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers plan to increase Lacy’s role in the offense and involve him more in the passing game. His 35 receptions last season are nothing to scoff at, but you can expect that total to increase this season. There are so few three-down running backs in the NFL, but Lacy is a true workhorse in the Packers’ backfield.

With Rodgers’ return, Lacy will undoubtedly face more favorable defensive looks in 2014. It’s no wonder Lacy is always smiling. He knows what lies ahead. Now that the Packers have a formidable rushing attack with Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, the possibilities are endless for the Packers offense.

Aaron Rodgers: It’s enviable that Brandon Marshall thinks Jay Cutler will be the MVP in 2014, but for that to happen, Cutler would need to be the best quarterback, and player, in the league. He’s not even the best quarterback in the NFC North. Injuries happen to every team during the course of the season, but the Packers had the worst injury bug in the NFL last season. They lost Rodgers for seven games, and that alone is enough to make the argument.

When Rodgers is playing, the Packers are as dangerous as any team in the NFL. He’s that good. Not only that, he has a mutually beneficial relationship with Lacy. In total, Rodgers and Lacy only played in six games together last season, but the pair will make each other better. If teams stack the box to defend against Lacy, Rodgers will beat them through the air. If teams play deep in the secondary to defend against Rodgers, Lacy will run wild. And the last thing opposing defenders want is to face Lacy head on. Ultimately, defenses will have no choice but to respect the running game, leading to a plethora of opportunities for Rodgers. On paper, it would seem the Packers offense will be unstoppable in 2014. The end result will be one of the best seasons of Rodgers’ career.

The pieces are in place for the Packers, but the Bears and Lions won’t back down, either. The NFC North will be one of the most interesting division battles to follow in 2014, but when all is said and done, the Packers will be on top.

Who do you think will win the NFC North?

Jordy Nelson is different from past Packers receivers

28 Jul
Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson signed a 4-year, $39 million contract extension on the first day of Training Camp.  Credit: standingosports.com

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson signed a 4-year, $39 million contract extension on the first day of Training Camp.
Credit: standingosports.com

Jordy Nelson is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, but not one of the most undervalued – at least not anymore. On the first day of Training Camp, the Packers’ star receiver signed a 4-year, $39 million contract extension. The deal also includes an $11.5 million signing bonus and $14.2 million in guaranteed money.

In 2013, Nelson had the best season of his career, posting 85 receptions for 1,314 yards (both career highs) and eight touchdowns.  While Nelson’s stats are impressive, perhaps what’s more impressive is that he managed to put together an elite season without the services of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed seven games after breaking his collarbone.

During that span, Nelson relied on Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn to throw him the football.

Those are hardly Rodgers-caliber quarterbacks.

Nelson’s numbers understandably dropped off without Rodgers under center, but he never completely slowed down. Despite the Packers’ quarterback carousel, Nelson stepped up in Rodgers’ absence and played a crucial role in the team’s push to make the playoffs.

He should have made the Pro Bowl, but considering how much of joke that game is anyway, I’ll refrain from further comment.

Just days before inking his new extension, Nelson announced he was seeking a contract that would pay him at least $10 million per year. That was dangerous territory for a 29-year-old receiver playing for a team with a history of letting receivers walk when they’re pushing 30.

Former Packers receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones both were 29 when they tested the free-agent market. Jennings – whose ego was too big to return to Green Bay – eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2013. Jones signed with the Oakland Raiders this offseason. He was nothing more than a No. 3 receiver in the Packers’ offense, although he led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions in 2012.

But Nelson is different.

Rodgers said Nelson has the best instincts of any receiver he’s played with during his career. That’s high praise from one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.

The Packers have a great deal of youth at the position, so they simply couldn’t afford to let Nelson reach free agency. He is the most reliable asset in the Packers’ receiving corps and has a connection with Rodgers that ranks among the NFL’s best.

With so much conversation throughout the league regarding the best quarterback-receiver duo, most would list Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas, Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, Andy Dalton to A.J. Green, or Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall.

Rodgers and Nelson are often excluded from the conversation and rarely garner much media attention, but they have quietly put together an impressive résumé that certainly merits consideration.

Since 2011, Rodgers has thrown to Nelson 224 times, completing 158 passes (70.5 completion percentage) for 2,683 yards, 26 touchdowns and a mere three interceptions. Those stats result in a ridiculous 143.9 passer rating. To put it into perspective, the next-closest passer rating is 123.0, by Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas.

Now I ask you, who is the best quarterback-receiver tandem in the league? The numbers speak for themselves.

Packers fans can rejoice, knowing the 12-to-87 combination will be around for several more years, giving the team a consistent threat in the passing game. Opposing defenses can continue to underestimate Nelson. He’ll continue to make plays.

Next on the Packers’ agenda is Randall Cobb, whose rookie contract will expire at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Cobb doesn’t believe he’s earned an extension yet, but you can be certain he’ll make the most of his opportunities this season to prove his value, the same way Nelson has throughout his career. The end result might be a similar contract extension.

One down, one to go.

What $12 million asking price means for Kane and Toews, Blackhawks

28 Jun
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have announced an initial asking price of $12 million per year for their contract extensions.
Credit: blogs.suntimes.com

Most professional sports franchises have a “face,” a single player who defines what the organization stands for and represents the team’s skill and character. In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks, they have two faces: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Both Blackhawks will become free agents at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 NHL campaign, but General Manager Stan Bowman has no intentions of letting his superstars reach the market. Bowman has often expressed his desire to sign Kane and Toews to contract extensions by July 1, or shortly thereafter.

Now, he has a starting point to work with.

Kane and Toews – both represented by the same agent, Pat Brisson – have announced they are each seeking an initial asking price of $12 million per year.

Their statistics may not necessarily indicate the type of production worthy of such contracts – Kane and Toews peaked at 88 and 76 points, respectively, in a single season – but there is something more to these two players that supports their argument to become the highest-paid players in NHL history.

Toews is arguably the best leader in professional hockey, and if you want to take it a step further, he might even be the best leader in all of sports.

Kane is one of the most dazzling playmakers in the game. With his mesmerizing stick-handling skills, he often catches opposing defenders flatfooted while admiring his brilliance with the puck.

They are superstars in their own way and provide a one-two punch that many teams across the league are desperate to have.

That being said, perhaps their greatest contribution has nothing to do with what they are capable of on the ice.

After signing identical five-year deals worth $31.5 million in 2009, the duo has led the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup titles in five years and re-energized a fan base that dealt with mediocrity for several seasons before the Kane and Toews era.

They have meant more to the city of Chicago than simply being professional hockey players, and, for that reason, their value is higher.

What might this mean for other members on the team?

Brandon Bollig found out the hard way. On the second day of this year’s NHL Draft, he was traded to the Calgary Flames for a third-round draft pick, with which the Blackhawks selected forward Matheson Iacopelli at No. 83 overall.

Let’s face it, Bollig couldn’t skate or shoot, at least not well enough to justify paying him more than $1 million a year to be a fourth-liner and often a healthy scratch. He also lacked the physical presence the Blackhawks were looking for.

The organization is in a position where it must cut all possible dead weight to clear enough cap space for the eventual blockbuster deals for Kane and Toews.

Additionally, there are multiple core players on the Blackhawks’ roster who currently carry a cap number exceeding $4 million per year, including Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford.

Sharp has been rumored to be expendable in the Blackhawks’ pursuit for a No. 2 center, but Bowman assured Sharp’s agent that he will not be shopped. Sharp led the Hawks in scoring last season with 78 points (34 goals, 44 assists), but his streakiness and lack of production in the playoffs are a bit concerning. With a number of young, hungry wingers in the system, parting ways with Sharp and his $5.9 million annual salary wouldn’t be a bad option.

Kane and Toews are incredibly talented and deserving of lucrative contracts, but they aren’t stupid. They realize an annual salary of $12 million per year could possibly jeopardize the team’s ability to add more talent around them to make more Stanley Cup runs in the coming years.

Bowman almost certainly understands that, as well. He has done a tremendous job assembling a championship-caliber team each year, and I would expect that to continue, even with Kane and Toews on the roster and their pricey contracts on the books.

Before anyone starts calling Kane and Toews greedy or criticizes their misinterpreted disregard for the rest of the roster, just remember the $12 million figure is simply a conversation starter, and it’s highly unlikely they will receive that amount of money.

I believe Kane and Toews will each settle for somewhere in the $10 million range, which would still make them the NHL’s highest-paid duo, and, in all honesty, they deserve it.

Let the front office worry about making the necessary transactions. Instead, go out and buy yourself a Kane or Toews sweater, and rest assured knowing the faces of the franchise will be around for many years to come.

 

Colin Kaepernick’s big-money deal is good news for Packers

5 Jun
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates with his signature bicep kiss.
Credit: csmonitor.com

Most Packers fans recognize Colin Kaepernick as the guy who ended the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes the past two seasons. Kaepernick tore up a feeble Packers defense, running his way to berths in the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game, and ultimately a lucrative contract extension. Now, he’s the sixth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL, and he’s just getting started.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers signed their impressive young quarterback to a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million, with $61 million guaranteed. That is the most guaranteed money for a player in NFL history. The deal features a signing bonus of $12 million, and averages around $19 million per year but could reach $21 million with playoff and Super Bowl incentives.

While the $61 million in guarantees are on a year-to-year basis, the 49ers must be careful when spending money moving forward. Their situation is similar to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, who signed cornerback Richard Sherman to a four-year extension worth $57.4 million, including $40 million guaranteed. This was shortly after they signed safety Earl Thomas to a four-year extension of his own, worth $40 million with $27.75 million guaranteed.

Two of the Packers’ primary contenders aren’t being shy about spending their money, and, until this point, the 49ers and Seahawks have benefited from several of their star players participating under their rookie contracts, resulting in continued success. But what happens when these players realize their value and their rookie contracts expire?

They want to get paid.

After next season, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also will ink a new contract, which is expected to exceed $20 million per year, similar to Kaepernick’s extension.

There may not be any initial consequences following the 49ers’ and Seahawks’ big-money transactions, but these deals may eventually force the two teams to part ways with core players. This is necessary to clear enough cap space to accommodate the contracts of their top-tier talent in the coming years.

Let’s not forget, the NFL is a business.

Where do the Packers fit into all this contract talk? The Packers do indeed have an advantage over the 49ers and Seahawks, considering their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a majority of integral players on the roster are signed for the long term. Those who aren’t will most likely be retained.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson stands by his players with his draft-and-develop philosophy, which is a primary reason why the Packers are a competitive franchise year-in and year-out.

The Packers’ two premier receivers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, are set to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign. They are both due for a healthy paycheck. With an estimated $14 million in cap space, signing the star wide outs shouldn’t be a problem for Thompson and the Packers front office. The organization already has acknowledged Nelson’s contract is a “priority.”

With a core of veterans under contract, complemented by a deep group of cheap, young talent and a substantial amount of cap space, I expect the Packers to be a contender yet again in 2014 and beyond.

We’ll find out in Week One, when the Packers face off against the Seahawks to open the 2014 NFL season.