By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Scholar and Gentleman
We're less than 48 hours into the newly unlocked season, and there's already been more to digest than the contents of the average post-Chinese buffet stomach.
Mmmm. Crab rangoons.
Things are going at the speed of light, but here are 10 Things We Learned from the first few moments of our brave new world.
1. The Robert Kraft-Jeff Saturday hug reminded everyone why we love football.
There was plenty of phoniness going on over the four-and-a-half months of labor b.s. Angry millionaires, angry billionaires, smug lawyers, 24-page PDFs ... it was a mess. But the sight – and sounds – of enormous Colts center Jeff Saturday embracing a grieving Robert Kraft and delivering a heartfelt speech about the Patriots owner, was an honest representation of what NFL guys are.
They're big-hearted, emotional, sometimes thick-headed but always worth paying attention to. For every guy who ends up on the news for a DUI, there are three more establishing charitable foundations and signing any autograph they're asked to sign. There's a reason it's the most popular sport in America by leaps and bounds, and it's not all about the product on the field.
2. Yes, the Roy Williams trade was one of the worst in recent memory.
According to the NFL Draft Value chart, the Cowboys gave up the equivalent of a No. 15 overall pick to get Williams (reportedly to be released the moment it's legal). What did they get? An average of 2.4 catches and 33.1 yards a game, roughly half of what he produced in Detroit (4.4 and 64.7). Was it a killer? Williams wasn't the reason Dallas couldn't play defense in 2010 – but guys like Brian Orakpo, Malcolm Jenkins and Brian Cushing, all drafted around the No. 15 spot in 2009, would have helped.
3. Pete Carroll is doing it his way.
The easy thing would have been to bring back Matt Hasselbeck for another season, but it looks like we're going to see an old-fashioned three-way quarterback battle in Seattle for 2011. Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson and (probably) Matt Leinart aren't Baugh, Staubach and Montana, but they're guys that have at least glimpses of something fresh. Leinart's rookie passer rating was 74.0, well above expectations for any first-year pro.
Jackson had an efficient and effective 2008, with just two interceptions in 149 attempts, and has a career 76.6 rating that's not horrible. As for Whitehurst ... well, he was pretty bad last year in limited action, and is a 29-year-old with 99 career passes. Still, there's at least potential for growth, something that Ol' No. 8 couldn't promise. Hasselbeck is a better fit in Tennessee, where he's an upgrade over Kerry Collins on the field and off.
4. Tuesday marked the end of the annoying "Best of" summer.
We were guilty of it ourselves, and we apologize. Facing a long, dry summer without news, we too resorted at times to top-10 lists and best-ofs. If there was anything more annoying than labor squabbles, it was the increasing ridiculousness of these fabricated lists. We were only a couple weeks away from NFL Network devoting two hours to "The Top 10 Greatest Mascots Of All Time." Welcome back, sanity. (Oh, and by the way, No. 1 is the Viking dude who rides the motorcycle.)
5. The Panthers should not only keep Steve Smith but add Steve Smith.
Wikipedia lists no fewer than 50 different notable variations of "Steve Smiths," from anthropologists to pool hustlers to Journey drummers. So why not two of them playing for the same football team? Carolina already ponied up huge money for pass rusher Charles Johnson, who keyed a pretty good defense for a 2-14 team a year ago. They have invested in Cam Newton. Now they need someone for him to throw to. Incumbent Steve Smith reportedly wants out, but he's also always been a mercurial guy.
Seems like he's likely to change his tune after a week of camp – the Panthers are going to need to get a sweetheart deal to let him go. Assuming Smith does stay, the Giants' Steve Smith would be a pretty nice fit on the other side. If he can come back strong from a knee injury, he's a guy that was on pace for back-to-back 100-catch seasons before getting hurt. And how cool would it be to see them line up next to each other in a bunch formation, STEVE SMITH across their backs?
6. Washington is making the right moves on defense.
The Redskins had struggles all over the field last year, but they've now added at least four really nice building blocks. They made one of the few big pre-lockout deals, getting St. Louis standout O.J. Atogwe, and reportedly will add Barry Cofield this week. Cofield has quietly been one of the most consistent DTs in the league over the past five years with the Giants, and with the drafting of DE Ryan Kerrigan and DT Jarvis Jenkins in the first two rounds, the problems with the No. 26 Defensive Hogs from a year ago could be a thing of the p
ast. Remaking a 4-3 into a 3-4 had obvious growing pains (including the ultimate pain, Albert Haynesworth), but Jim Haslett has his guys now.
7. Nnamdi Asomugha will take his time.
If you have stock in Nnamdi Asomugha, get ready for some nice dividends. With top teams like the Jets and Ravens reportedly clearing room for a run at him, plus cap-rich squads like Tampa, St. Louis, Arizona and Carolina able to pay whatever needs to be paid, he's going to be in the drivers' seat. Let the other top cornerbacks make their deals, and then prey on the desperation of the rest. He proved he's happy to play hardball for money in Oakland, and he's absolutely holding all the cards right now.
8. Buffalo is never going to be successful unless someone good – anyone – decides to stay there past four or five years.
The league is littered with talented ex-Bills. Without even opening up the reference materials, Antoine Winfield, Jason Peters, Nate Clements and Willis McGahee all famously fled Buffalo or forced their way out as soon as humanly possible. And now, add Paul Pozluzny to the mix – he signed with Jacksonville at the first opportunity, and for good reason. Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, and their No. 1 draft picks from 2006-2010 are about as bad a group of building blocks as you'll find (C.J. Spiller, Aaron Maybin, Leodis McKelvin, Marshawn Lynch, Donte Whitner and John McCargo).
9. Baltimore's moves were classic Ozzie Newsome.
The Ravens don't have a problem keeping veterans around. Under Newsome's leadership, they've always had a good crew of older guys. But when it's time to go, it's time to go. And so, they said goodbye to a 29-year-old running back (McGahee), a 37-year-old wideout (Derrick Mason), a 31-year-old tight end (Todd Heap) and a 34-year-old nose tackle (Kelly Gregg).
Mason in particular is one of the most underrated players of the past decade, the No. 1 receiver for great ball-control teams that won, but in the end it's about staying good now and setting up for the future. It was more important that the Ravens keep a guy like OL Marshall Yanda and avoid watching their so-so Offensive Hogs (22nd in 2010) become a bonafide weakness.
10. Detroit quietly said goodbye to maybe the most unproductive receiver of our time.
Bryant Johnson's career is quite possibly over after an eight-year run with three teams; he'll reportedly be cut loose by Detroit later this week when such things are official. Somehow, he managed to start at least four games in all eight seasons and a total of 74 of them despite a shocking lack of production. The Penn State product played big snaps every week for eight seasons, and wound up with a total of 15 touchdowns. Assuming he averaged about 40 snaps a game for 123 career games, that's a TD every 328 times he was on the field. Pretty amazing stuff. Oh, and his teams never had better than a .500 record.