NFL Lockout; Jeff Tedford; Barry Zito; Brian Wilson; Brandon Belt/Buster Posey; Larry Baer; Edgar Renteria
THE NFL LOCKOUT, still almost certain to happen when the current contract expires at 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday, may be much shorter-lived after an important decision by Federal Judge David Doty yesterday.
As I wrote in my Examiner column yesterday, the fact that the NFL owners had an estimated $4 billion scheduled to be paid in advance by television networks would be used to pay their expenses during a lockout. The players, meanwhile, would not be receiving any money and their medical benefits would be suspended.
The NFL Players Association had filed an objection with Special Master Stephen Burbank earlier, but Burbank ruled in favor of the owners.
The NFLPA then took the issue to court, and Judge Doty yesterday ruled in favor of the players, saying that Burbank had erred on three parts of his ruling. The judge also said he would schedule a hearing on the players claim for damages at an unspecified date. My guess is that he’s waiting for an actual lockout to be called.
Yesterday, the Giants John Mara became the first NFL owner to join the negotiations, and the other nine on the owners committee were supposed to be there today. The owners have a league meeting nearby in Virginia this week, but I think Judge Doty’s decision was more important to their decision than geography.
As long as owners had a “slush fund” to pay their expenses during a lockout, they had tremendous leverage in negotiations. Even without that, they have more leverage, but it is closer to an even battle now, which raises hope that a new agreement can be reached before training camp, at the latest.
CAL FOOTBALL: It has been an offseason of change for the Bears with a shuffling of the coaching staff but because two of the coaches, Jim Michalzik and Eric Kiesau, had been on Jeff Tedford’s staff before, it’s more like a return to better times.
“Usually, when you bring in new coaches, it takes some time to get them familiar with our way of doing things,” said Tedford yesterday when we had our usual pre-spring training meeting in his office, “but this time, our meetings are just like a club.”
Chief of the changes is the return of Jim Michalzik, the offensive line coach in 2008 who had been with the Raiders last fall, remarkably turning a weak group into a real team strength.
Michalzik was hired as the offensive line coach. When Andy Ludwig left, no doubt with the encouragement of Tedford, he was also given the title of offensive coordinator and Kiesau, who had been on the Colorado staff, was hired as the passing game coordinator, with special emphasis on coaching the quarterbacks.Tedford also made another eeded change, installing Ashley Anrose as defensive backs coach, replacing Al Sweeney
Michalzik’s job means that he’ll be working on game plans when Tedford is involved in administrative duties. As for the playcalling, “We’re going to work that out,” said Tedford. “We’ll be wearing head phones during spring practice and see how the communication works.”
Michalzik’s return is probably the best news because he will no doubt improve the offensive line with both run blocking and pass protection. But the addition of Kiesau, who has an excellent reputation for working with quarterbacks, is also very important.
“There’s no question we’ve got to get better production from our quarterback,” said Tedford. “We averaged 37 points when Kevin Riley was our quarterback and only 13 after that. Granted, we played some tough teams in that stretch – Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State at home – but we had a real falloff.”
Tedford will have six quarterbacks in spring practice but only Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney have ever taken a snap in a collegiate game. Sweeney, for whom Tedford has had high hopes, started last season as No. 2 but lost his position to Mansion, who then became the starter when Riley suffered a career-ending knee injury early in the Oregon State game. “Sweeney just got off stride physically, making bad throws in practice,” said Tedford. “Brock moved up because he looked good in practice.”
Mansion didn’t carry that over to the games, though. The offense was simplified to help him but even that wasn’t enough. He never seemed comfortable and didn’t play up to his physical ability at any time.
The quarterback position is much more difficult than it seems when you’re watching, whether from the stands, on TV or from the press box. I’ve seen videos taken from behind the quarterback in games and it’s amazing how much the quarterback has to deal with, and how many decisions he has to make - and usually, in fewer than four seconds.
The inexperience of his quarterbacks will force a change in Cal’s spring practice.
“Usually, we like to put in the whole offense in the spring,” said Tedford, “so during the season, we can go to anything and they’ll have some familiarity with it. But we can’t do that with these young quarterbacks. We’re going to really simplify the offense the first couple of weeks, to let the physical ability of the young quarterbacks come out.”
Tedford has another offensive hole to fill, with the loss of Shane Vareen, who opted for the NFL though he had a year of eligibility left because he redshirted as a freshman.
“I tried to tell him that he was probably costing himself money because, if he played another year, he could probably move up to be a high second round pick, maybe even low first round, and get a much better contract. But he had already graduated, so he was ready to move on.”
Vareen has looked very good at the NFL Combine, so he may move up in the draft, anyway. He’s a very good receiver as well as running back, and I think he’ll have a good NFL career.
BARRY ZITO: There was a very interesting article about Zito in this morning’s Chronicle, in which Bruce Jenkins said flatly that the Giants are hoping to trade Zito before the season starts and, if they don’t, might just swallow his contract.
This is not just a rumor. Jenkins bleeds orange-and-black, and he’s very close to Brian Sabean, having defended him against all criticism, often with the “the devil made me do it” claim, the devil in this case being former managing general partner Peter Magowan. In Jenkins’ book, Magowan was responsible for the bad decisions Sabean made, especially on Zito. You can be sure he was fed this story by Sabean or somebody in the PR department to prepare the team’s fans for a move with Zito.
Of course, not many of them have to be prepared because anybody with any sense gave up on Zito long ago. Briefly, in April last year, he seemed to be coming around, with the best stretch he’d had since his Cy Young year, 2002. But he soon reverted to form and he was simply awful in September, when the Gians needed every win.
He was left off the postseason roster because the Giants had four starters who were much better. Manager Bruce Bochy named him the No. 4 starter this year, but who’s kidding? Madison Bumgarner is leagues ahead of him.
The likeliest trade partner for the Giants would be the Yankees, who are desperate for starting pitching and have unlimited money at their disposal. They might be willing to pick up part of Zito’s contract and take a chance on him.
If that doesn’t happen, the Giants should bite the bullet and buy out his contract. It’s time to admit that his signing was a horrible mistake from the get-go – as some of us wrote at the time – and move on.
GIANTS PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO EXPLODE BECAUSE HE’S TOO FULL OF HIMSELF: That’s an easy one. Brian Wilson.
It started last year with the beard-dying and the “Fear the Beard” nonsense. This spring, he’s been flown to Charlie Sheen’s house to talk baseball, which is a big interest of Sheen’s, after prostitutes and any drug known to man. Wilson shouldn’t have come closer to Sheen than a thousand miles but the visit gave him the publicity he obviously craves.
On a Comcast show recently, we debated who was “cool” and who wasn’t. Barry Tompkins made an excellent point: There are athletes who try very hard to be cool but simply are not. He could have been describing Brian Wilson.
BRANDON BELT: I’ve never seen the Giants’ latest hot prospect but the reports on him out of spring training make it seem that he’s the real thing.
Spring training statistics are largely meaningless but baseball people and even writers can spot the real hitters. When I first watch Will Clark in batting practice, I realized he was going to be a great hitte for the Giants. I didn’t see Buster Posey in spring training but the first time I saw him in a regular season game, I knew he was going to be a very good major league hitter. He knew already that he should take the outside pitch to right field, something most young hitters take at least a couple of seasons to learn.
Belt sounds like the same kind of hitter. A lefthanded hitter, he’s shown power to left field, nearly hitting a ball out Monday.
Posey should have made the club out of spring training. There were all kinds of reasons given for sending him down to Fresno, but I can’t believe that baseball people couldn’t have seen the same thing I saw later. They should also have seen the same thing I saw of Bengie Molina during the early season: Molina had lost bat speed and was no longer an effective hitter. But Sabean had re-signed Molina for the year and couldn’t give up on him until he finally unloaded him to Texas in July. Once he was in the lineup, Posey looked like he’d been there for 10 years.
I hope the Giants don’t make the same mistake with Belt. If he’s ready, bring him up. He is reportedly a superior defensive first baseman and Aubrey Huff has already proved he can play an adequate left field.That might require some shuffling in the outfield because Cody Ross has to play and Pat Burrell hit some big home runs down the stretch last year, but a team can never have too many good players.
TO: In an Examiner column last week, among other things, I wrote that Terrell Owens would not be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An Examiner reader challenged that, citing Owens’ career statistics, but he doesn’t know how the voting goes.
Owens’ problem is that his temperamental outbursts have caused him to be moved often; he’s played for four teams. That works against him in two ways:
1) Voters look not only at statistics but what a player has meant to a team. In TO’s case, it’s hard to overlook the problems he’s often caused for his team, which is why no team has kept him around for very long.
2) He has no logical supporter. Generally, a representative of a city is the one who proposes and campaigns for a player, but who would stand up for Owens in such a circumstance?
So, it would be a shock to me if he ever makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
LARRY BAER, the Giants president, was interviewed on KCBS last week and said flatly that the Giants would not give up their territorial rights in Santa Clara County and that commissioner Bud Selig had never said anything to them about doing so
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The only comment Selig has made is an affirmation of territorial rights, which is the issue here.
Yet, there are constant rumors in San Jose that owners will vote out the Giants’ territorial rights. One rumor late last season was that they were good for only 10 years. If that were true, of course, Lew Wolff would have started construction by now.
A San Jose columnist who has had several versions of the A’s to San Jose theme, went on KNBR last September to predict the owners would vote to eliminate the Giants’ rights in a meeting right after the conclusion of the season. He repeated that claim (citing sources which I suspect are in the San Jose mayor’s office) in his column. That meeting has yet to be held.
It isn’t San Jose which is at issue here but the area known as Silicon Valley. The Giants tapped that area for direct funding and “charter seat” buyers for their privately-financed ball park. Wolff’s plans, envisioned a 32,000-seat park. That’s not a park, it’s a boutique. Clearly, Wolff figured that he’d tap into the Silicon Valley people to buy luxury boxes (more than at AT&T) and very high-priced regular seats.
I doubt that his plan would have worked, but it certainly would be a very damaging blow to the Giants.
And, that’s why it will never happen.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Discussing the real age of Edgar Renteria, “Baseball Prospectus” said, “He looked like the oldest 33 in baseball, probably because his real age was somewhere between 35 and 40. We’ll never know until they cut him open and count the rings.”
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