Sports Outside the Beltway

Drew Henson Highest Profile NFL Europe Player

Len Pasquarelli profiles Cowboys quarterback-of-the-future project Drew Henson, who has headed to NFL Europe to try to salvage his football career.

For a guy who played in the Big 10, and who started big games at the University of Michigan in front of crowds of 107,500 fans at the legendary Big House, this small-time venue might seem like a most incongruous place for Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Drew Henson to try to take the next big step in his stalled NFL career.

The well-manicured field at Skyway Park here, after all, is used more often by Pop Warner League teams than professional franchises. The roar of jumbo jets taking off from nearby Tampa International Airport provides a frequently ear-splitting distraction. Big rigs and minivans honk as they speed by on Memorial Highway, which is located just a good punt from one sideline. And the crowd for the Saturday morning scrimmage between the Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals of the NFL Europe League, a group comprised mostly of family members and friends with a few curiosity seekers sprinkled in, numbered exactly 103, as hand-counted by a visiting scribe seeking any sort of preoccupation during warm-ups.

Yet don’t try telling Henson, who departs for Europe in two weeks and is the projected starter for the Fire, that this represents the classic one-step-backwards-to-take-two-steps-forward career approach. “No, I just see it as a step, the next thing I have to do as part of the process of becoming an NFL quarterback,” said Henson, following the 90-minute scrimmage, a session in which his participation likely accounted for the presence of most of the non-relatives spread out in the aluminum bleachers. “I don’t see this as a comedown. Not at all. It’s football. It’s getting a chance to play and getting snaps. It’s something I feel like I have to do and that I definitely want to do.”

Indeed, the two-year veteran, who first abandoned his college football career to sign a deal with the New York Yankees, and then forfeited the final $12 million of his six-year, $17 million baseball contract to return to the gridiron in 2004, is here voluntarily. About halfway through the 2005 season, a campaign in which he was No. 3 on the depth chart and didn’t take a single snap, Henson walked into the office of Jerry Jones and apprised the Cowboys owner he was willing to go to Europe if it would accelerate a learning curve that is in arrears principally because of his idleness. The move immediately made Henson, who denied there were suggestions from Dallas officials the previous spring that he play in Europe, easily the highest-profile player among the 366 hopefuls still on NFLEL training camp rosters on Saturday morning.

From just a physical stature standpoint, Henson, who clearly looks the part of a quarterback, seems the most NFL-ready of anyone else in the six NFLEL camps. In terms of recognition factor, and scrutiny as well, no one else is even close.

But in terms of recognizing how far Henson has advanced, even though Rhein offensive coordinator Steve Logan used the term “stunning” to describe his latest protégé’s progress over the last two weeks, Saturday morning actually offered only a little insight.

The Fire still have four quarterbacks on the roster, and during the scrimmage, Logan and coach Jim Tomsula used the live workout to get a look at all of them.

As a result, Henson got only about a dozen snaps, and completed 3 of 5 passes for 33 yards. His best throw of the day, a deep out pattern to the right sideline on a third-and-long play, was dropped. His next best attempt, a slant to the left hash on which he drilled the ball into an incredibly tiny window, was batted away on a terrific defensive play by Amsterdam cornerback Art Thomas. Henson was sacked twice, on consecutive plays. Henson looked mechanical and a bit too programmed on some plays, the telling signs of a quarterback who hasn’t been on the field very much.

Which is exactly where Henson, who has one start and 18 attempts on an NFL resumé shy of regular-season entries, is at this point of his football career.

Still, at the end of the scrimmage — and this is significant to both the gregarious Tomsula and the pragmatic Logan, the men charged with nudging his apprenticeship forward — Henson was a happy camper.

There were times during the warm-up period and the seven-on-seven passing drills Saturday in which the ball seemed to come off the hand of No. 2 quarterback Timmy Chang, the former University of Hawaii star and the most prolific passer in NCAA history, a lot cleaner than it did for Henson. But if Henson’s release is undeniably tardy at times, his smile is a quick one, and the Saturday morning effort, as uneven as it was on occasion, elicited a wide grin.

Which, an obviously passionate Tomsula insisted, is a meaningful part of the building process, too.

“A lot of guys, from the maturity standpoint, you can’t ever get them out of the backyard, you know?” Tomsula said. “With Drew, I want to get him into the backyard again. I mean, he had Michigan, then the Yankees. He had all the attention and the fame and the money. I’m not sure he ever had time to squeeze in being a kid. I don’t know the last time this was fun for him. We want him to have fun with this and just go out and play. And we’re starting to see some of that. The other day, he came out of a Porta-John, and I said to him, ‘Hey, Drew, honestly, when’s the last time you used a Porta-John, man?’ I mean, just think about it, Drew Henson and a Porta-John, huh? We both got a good laugh out of it. It’s good to see him laugh.”

Some skeptics, who have suggested Henson’s athletic career has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a relatively short period, might get a pretty good chuckle, too, out of the Porta-John image. Henson isn’t among those, though, who see the last few years as a series of wasted opportunities. If some shine has been rubbed off the onetime Wolverines golden boy, it’s not as if he’s been tarnished, but rather truant from real game action.

And certainly Henson — who suffered through three subpar seasons in the Yankees’ farm system, had problems hitting the curveball, struck out far too often, and fell shy of fulfilling his supposed destiny of becoming New York’s next great third baseman and a fixture at Yankee Stadium — doesn’t feel he is going to fail at his latest athletic endeavor.

Chosen by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, after he essentially bought his way out of his baseball contract, Henson was dealt to the Cowboys in 2004 for a third-round pick in the ’05 lottery. He signed an eight-year contract that guaranteed him $3.5 million and can be voided after only four seasons if Henson reaches certain predetermined performance or playing-time levels.

But Henson, who turned 26 earlier this month, has played in just two games at quarterback in two seasons. In his only start, the Thanksgiving Day 2004 game against the Chicago Bears, he was replaced at halftime by coach Bill Parcells. There are indications that some in the Dallas organization wanted to release Henson at the final wholesale roster cutdown before the start of the ’05 season.

Fortunately for him, Henson has some advocates in the Cowboys’ front office and on the coaching staff. Unfortunately, their support didn’t translate into playing time, and Henson spent the entire season behind not only starter Drew Bledsoe, but also third-year veteran Tony Romo, a onetime undrafted free agent.

What he will not spend, it seems, is much time reviewing what has transpired in his athletic career. Asked if he ever thinks about the $12 million he left behind when he quit baseball, Henson allowed: “Oh, yeah, every once in a while that figure pops into my head.” Beyond the eight-figure ramifications, however, it seems there is nothing Henson regrets about the circuitous path his career has followed.

He remains confident now that things are headed in the right direction. And that the direction of his head is right, too.

“I just think I’m better suited to be a quarterback than I was a third baseman,” Henson said. “I mean, I played baseball starting at age 5, and played in every summer for nearly 20 years. And while I loved the game, it tends to be a little too passive for me and my personality, really. I just think, with the way that I’m wired, this is what I’m meant to do.”

There are those, including one former Yankees scout spoke to, that feel Henson might be too over-wired for his own good. The scout postulated that, given his own expectations and the expectation level set by others, too, that Henson was wound too tightly to succeed in baseball. Indeed, part of Logan’s job, agreed the Fire offensive coordinator, is to create an environment in which Henson doesn’t stress so much over every mistake.

“To tell the truth, I want him to be a little more playful, to be more inventive. He still takes mistakes too hard, but he’s getting better in that area. He wants to be good, so you root for him, you know? Drew really has a great intellect. He is a very bright individual on many levels,” said Logan, who is regarded as a top-flight quarterback tutor and coached the NFLEL’s top passers in each of the last two years (Rohan Davey in 2004 and Dave Ragone in 2005).

Apparently, though, geography is not one of those levels.

In the self-deprecating manner his coaches and teammates have come to enjoy, Henson on Saturday related his experience of trying to locate the city of Rhein, Germany, when he found out that he had been allocated to the Fire. After several fruitless Google searches, he phoned Ragone, who broke the news to him: There is no such city. The team is named for the river and for a region. The club plays in Dusseldorf, a city that possesses a strong passion for the game, as evidenced by the fact there were two Fire fans among the small crowd in the bleacher’s for the scrimmage.

Henson has been to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, but never to Europe, and emphasized how much he is looking forward to the three months abroad. He noted that the NFLEL season concludes just about the same time the Cowboys get into the most serious segment of their offseason program, and that he will not miss any meaningful time. Whether he returns a quarterback ready to challenge for the No. 2 spot on the Dallas depth chart, and subsequently for a starting spot at some point soon in his career, remains to be seen.

There is no denying that Henson possesses prototype size (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) and an arm that is plenty strong enough by anyone’s standards. But he is typical of a player who has been idle for a long stretch, and whose physical skills have been retooled too many times by people trying to tinker too much with it. The result of those double whammies: Henson looks at times as if he is playing the game too robotically, that he is attempting to relearn it by rote, which is essentially a football equivalent of painting by numbers.

During the scrimmage, there was some hesitancy, an occasional absence of natural rhythm. And there were times when one could almost envision the wheels turning in Henson’s head before he stepped up to throw. There is even some suspicion that Chang, who played in a June Jones-designed run-and-shoot offense at Hawaii, and who has experienced far more exposure to a sophisticated passing game than Henson, could steal away with the starting job.

Given the commitment of the Cowboys in dispatching Henson to Europe, and the fact he is expected to sacrifice his spring for much-needed playing time, that probably won’t happen. Logan allowed that while there is “a competition” for the starting spot, the job “is [Henson's] to lose.”

“One of the things I admire about Drew,” Logan said, “is that he sees this experience as a journey.”

And one, Henson insisted, that will have a beneficial end point.

The instantly likable and ever-candid Henson said this not some last-gasp effort to salvage his career or a desperation move undertaken as some last resort. It’s a chance for Henson to earn that most elusive commodity, playing time in live situations, and he has embraced the opportunity.

“The way I see it,” Henson said, “is that this is a beginning.”


NFL Owners, Players Near New Labor Deal

Len Pasquarelli reports that the NFL should reach an 11th hour deal to avert possible labor disaster in the 2007 season.

Amid indications that there has been some progress in talks aimed at extending the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, league owners are scheduled to meet Tuesday via conference call to discuss the status of negotiations. Two owners said Monday afternoon that they have delayed their departures from Indianapolis, site of the NFL scouting combine since Wednesday, to accommodate the 6 p.m. ET timing of the conference call.


The scheduling of the conference call might be the most concrete sign yet to substantiate whispers that the NFL and NFL Players’ Association, who have been discussing the proposed extension for more than a year, have finally made some headway in breaking the inertia that has marked negotiations. Without the add-on, the 2007 season would become a so-called uncapped year with no spending limit and no minimum, and players could potentially face a lockout in 2008.

Team officials and player agents have said that doing business without an extension — particularly with the free agent signing period set to begin Friday and the draft on April 29-30 — will prove virtually impossible. Because of the extreme circumstances that would exist with an uncapped year on the horizon, it would be difficult to meet the financial expectations of free agents and high-round draft choices.

Compounding the situation is that several franchises are in the throes of salary cap overages and will find it difficult, if not painful, to come into cap compliance for 2006 without an extension. If an extension is not struck before Friday, several cap managers acknowledged, there figures to be many veteran players purged from rosters in the next few days.

Among the owners who have expressed optimism that an 11th-hour deal will be hammered out is Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. “I think that we’ll likely have a deal,” Jones told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Monday. Other owners and team officials allowed there have been rumblings of progress and that they feel an extension will be in place before the end of the week. “If I were betting, I would bet there would be a deal by Wednesday,” Patriots vice chairman and president Jonathan Kraft said on Monday night on Fox Sports New England. “I’ve said sanity will ultimately prevail,” an owner of an AFC team said. “Hopefully, we’re getting to that point. This has always been a deadline league and the clock is ticking. Smart people from both sides know that we all need this. I mean, why kill the golden goose?”

If a deal is struck before Friday, it is likely the start of free agency would be delayed at least a week in order to allow teams to recalculate their cap status. NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw insisted last week he will not delay the free agency timetable. That stance aside, Upshaw might reconsider if an accord that extends the CBA also means a significantly higher spending limit for 2006.

Still to be resolved as well is the issue of revenue sharing among the league’s 32 franchises. Given the increasing disparity between the high revenue teams and those at the bottom of the earning chart, the issue is a significant one and the subject of considerable debate. But there are signs that some owners are ready to reach a deal with the NFLPA before proceeding to a battle over revenue-sharing models.

The NFL has a good thing going for both the owners and players; an NHL style showdown would have been asinine. Figuring out how to distribute non-television and ticket revenue is going to be sticky, but history has shown that the owners and players alike will avoid doing something stupid.


Hudson Braves 6th Opening Day Starter in 6 Years

Hudson, not Smoltz, to start Opening Day for Braves

Tim Hudson will start Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves. The change in the rotation comes with the blessing of 2005 Opening Day starter John Smoltz, who says it’s time to pass the honor to Hudson. “Huddy is Opening Day starter for the future here,” Smoltz said. “As long as Huddy’s here, he’s going to start Opening Day. Huddy’s the guy.” Added Smoltz: “I’m just tickled to death being healthy.”

Hudson is scheduled to start the April 3 opener at the Los Angeles Dodgers. “If everything works right, Hudson will open,” manager Bobby Cox said. “It’s Hudson’s turn this year.”

Smoltz will turn 39 on May 15. In his return to a starter’s role last season, he was the workhorse of the staff with a 14-7 record, 3.06 ERA and team-high totals of 33 games started and 229 2/3 innings pitched. “I want to lessen his workload this year, whether it’s pitch Opening Day or work after him, so he doesn’t have to do what he did last year,” Hudson said. “That’s the main goal.” Smoltz finished last season with a sore shoulder. After the season he said he probably wouldn’t have been able to pitch in the National League Championship Series if the Braves had advanced past Houston in the division series. Smoltz says he feels fine following an offseason of rest, but concern about opening the season healthy led him to pull out of consideration for the United States’ World Baseball Classic team.

Hudson was 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA for the Braves last season, which he now says was “a bit of a blur for me.” “I had a new team, new teammates, a new baby,” Hudson said. “It seems a lot more settled right now. The dust has settled. It feels a lot more like it’s supposed to right now.”

Smoltz said he wanted to take pressure off Hudson by assuming the No. 1 starter’s role last season. “Last year was different,” Smoltz said. “He had just gotten here. From a pressure standpoint for Huddy, it was easier if he didn’t.” Smoltz said he is “far removed” from worrying about making the Opening Day start. “I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “Just get me to the playoffs healthy. My goal is to be healthy and strong at the end of the season.”

Hudson will be the Braves’ sixth different Opening Day starter in the last six years. In the previous 11 years only three pitchers — Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine — made Opening Day starts.

The right move, methinks. Smoltz is just too injury prone right now to waste him early in the season. By backing off his work, including skipping the occasional start, the chances of him being there in September and October increase. For a team fighting for its 15th straight division title–and second World Series championship–that’s what’s important.


Jerry Jones Wants to Win Now

Clarence Hill of the FWST has an interesting interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Sitting on the Cowboys’ bus outside the RCA Dome on Sunday, Jerry Jones paused to reflect on his 17 years as owner of the Cowboys. He has gone from a maverick outsider to one of the most powerful owners in the NFL.

That Jones has changed the league more than the league has changed him is the ironic part of the current stalemate between the NFL and the NFL Players Association over a new labor agreement. The infighting over revenue sharing and the NFLPA’s quest to gain a share of the locally generated money have Jones’ name all over it. “The dynamics of what we’re dealing with in the NFL, we’ve gotten to be a part of a lot of changes in 17 years,” Jones said. “People talk about high revenues, new stadiums, unshared dollars, just from that standpoint, there wasn’t anybody really working that problem in those areas. Now it’s become an issue in a labor agreement. This was not an issue 17 years ago.”

Jones said the league has changed for the better. It is more profitable than it ever was, and he is proud of the role he has played in its growth — even though the recent losing on the field has brought him down a notch from early championship years. The Cowboys have missed the playoffs in five of the past six years and have not won a playoff game since their last Super Bowl title after the 1995 season. “I thought I had my hands around it,” Jones said. “I thought this is pretty simple. And we started off the way we thought we could do it and had success, but it’s been a little harder getting my arms around the last few years.”

But what Jones is most passionate about and what hasn’t changed is his quest to make the Cowboys winners again … and as soon as possible. That was at the root of his decision to give coach Bill Parcells a new contract and a raise in January. Parcells, who led the team to a 25-23 record the past three years, was slated to make $4 million in 2006, the final year of the four-year deal he signed in 2003. He now has a new two-year deal worth $11 million.

While Parcells said he never really considered walking away after last season’s disappointing 9-7 campaign, Jones said it was imperative that he do whatever it took to keep Parcells in the fold. “The alternative to that was not even close,” Jones said. “He gives us the chance to win and win big in the immediate future. I have placed a big emphasis on winning big in the immediate future.” Jones said he has no concerns about talk of Parcells’ future coming up again next season. He said that is par for the course with a coach Parcells’ age. “Could another year of disappointment make a difference here?” Jones asked. “Yes. It takes so much out of him to not be successful.” But right now Jones believes Parcells is as committed as he was when he signed on three years ago. Moreover, Jones said Parcells is excited about the Cowboys and their hopes for next year. Because of that and because the NFL of today allows teams to become big winners overnight, Jones said he can live with Parcells being here on a year-to-year basis. “I am about winning,” Jones said. “Bill Parcells is about winning.”

Getting a new labor agreement would go a long way toward helping the Cowboys become big winners in 2006. Jones would have a lot of flexibility under the salary cap to shore up problem areas if they get a new deal.

Topping the list of priorities is addressing the offensive line. He said the return of left tackle Flozell Adams will help. But Jones also said the Cowboys must address right tackle in the draft or free agency. Rookie Rob Petitti struggled at the position last year and has not proven to be more than a quality backup. Jones said the Cowboys will not sign a big-money tackle in free agency, paving the way for them to possibly draft an offensive lineman in the first round. The Cowboys haven’t taken an offensive player in the first round since drafting tight end David LaFleur in 1997. They haven’t taken an offensive lineman in the first round since Howard Richards in 1981. Jones said the Cowboys are still doing their homework, but he would lean toward taking an offensive player in the first round. And with right tackle as one of “our acute needs” he “wouldn’t hesitate to take an offensive tackle” in the first round if one fell to them at No. 18.

Jones said concerns at right tackle are behind his recent about-face on Jacob Rogers, the second pick from 2004 who has yet to play an offensive snap for the Cowboys. After not getting on the field as a rookie, Rogers was the favorite to win the right tackle job in training camp last year. But that was before he was dogged by shoulder and knee injuries, raising questions about his toughness.

The Cowboys were expected to cut ties with Rogers in August after he went against the club’s advice and underwent microfracture surgery to repair a right knee injury. Jones even called him one of the most disappointing draft picks of his tenure. Rogers was put on injured reserve but spent the year in Arizona rehabbing rather than in Dallas. It was supposedly only a matter of time before he was released. Jones is now looking at Rogers as a possible answer at right tackle, although Jones said doesn’t know if Rogers will be ready to practice before training camp in August. “Need,” Jones said when asked why Rogers is back with the Cowboys. “I want to give us every shot. We’ve got a lot invested in him. I want to give us every shot to get that value, and in that case, it gives him that kind of shot, too.”

In addition to needing help at safety, linebacker and kicker, Jones said the Cowboys would like to improve at receiver. He said those plans don’t include controversial receiver Terrell Owens, who will be released by the Eagles next week. “There are so many issues there that I can’t put that into the equation,” Jones said.

Regarding a kicker, Jones said the Cowboys will depart from their history and pursue a veteran in free agency because playing for Parcells might not be the best place for a rookie kicker. Jones, however, said pursuing top free agents such as Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt is unlikely because of their big-money demands.


White Sox GM: Frank Thomas an Idiot

Angry and disgusted with the latest comments from former slugger Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams fired back Sunday, calling the two-time MVP “an idiot.” “He’s an idiot. He’s selfish. That’s why we don’t miss him,” Williams said, responding to a Thomas interview that appeared in The Daily Southtown, a newspaper in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Ill.

Since signing with the Oakland A’s last month, Thomas has made it clear that he didn’t appreciate the way his 16-year run with the White Sox ended, saying that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t call him to tell him he wasn’t coming back. The greatest hitter in White Sox history reiterated that point in his latest interview, touching on several subjects and adding that he and Williams didn’t see eye-to-eye after Williams became GM following the 2000 season. At the time, Thomas was unhappy that his next-to-last deal with the White Sox contained a “diminished skills” clause. He said the White Sox should have traded him after the playoffs that season.

He also repeated that had he known last fall the team wasn’t going to bring him back — they later gave him a $3.5 million buyout — he wouldn’t have participated in a couple of ceremonial functions during the postseason. Unable to play because of an injury, he threw out a first pitch during the playoffs. Later he was given the opportunity to address the crowd at the end of the White Sox’s victory parade.

Williams said he was most irate over Thomas’ comments about Reinsdorf. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Jerry Reinsdorf, I do. But I really thought, the relationship we had over the last 16 years, he would have picked up the phone to say, `Big guy, we’re moving forward. We’re going somewhere different. We don’t know your situation or what’s going to happen.’ I can live with that, I really can,” Thomas said. “But treating me like some passing-by-player. I’ve got no respect for that.” Thomas said he wasn’t bitter or angry and had joined the A’s with an open mind.

But Williams was fed up that Thomas was still making remarks about his former team and the way he was treated. “Jerry has done everything over the course of 16 years to protect that man, to make accommodations for him, concessions for him. He loaned him money, at times, when he needed money,” Williams said.

“If he was any kind of a man, he would quit talking about things in the paper and return a phone call or come knock on someone’s door. If I had the kind of problems evidently he had with me, I would go knock on his door.”

That’s clear enough, I guess.


Bill Parcells on the Cowboys’ 2006 Season

Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Archer interviewed Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on his thoughts on the coming season and the current business season.

Some highlights:

On the Cowboys’ 2005 performance:

“I think the team was pretty good for a while there and improving. We started to have some problems. Basically with the offensive line, where most of it started to occur. We had [Flozell] Adams out after that. That kind of exposed us a little bit.”

Does the offensive line need fixing?

“We have to improve the performance overall of the offensive line. The offensive line, if you can stay healthy there, look at the Super Bowl teams. Look at Carolina. Carolina didn’t have one injury on the offensive line. Not one game missed. Pittsburgh. Seattle, hardly any games missed. And that’s a position where you aren’t used to losing a lot of guys.”

On getting another receiver with older veterans Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn on the roster?

“You know our receivers were pretty productive – the starters. I think we have a couple of young guys that could be in the three-, four-, five-receiver category. Now can they elevate themselves into the one, two category? I can’t tell you that right now. I was thinking [Patrick] Crayton could do that earlier in the year, but I’m still not sure.”

Will the team go after a top wide receiver?

“I think that would be something we’d consider. That’s not on the horizon now. You’re just asking me questions, and I’m trying to respond. I’m not saying, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this or we’re doing that.’ ”

On Terrell Owens:

“Well, this guy isn’t even free yet, so I wouldn’t know.”

On defensive end Greg Ellis’ future:

“He’s coming back. I would think so. He’s under contract, and we don’t have any plans to trade him. When you’ve got a young team changing defenses with rookies, these vets don’t always understand the pace you’ve got to go.

“I know we’re going to try to do a couple of different things that involve Greg this year.”

On La’Roi Glover’s future:

“Well, this is where I think I don’t have much for you because there’s tremendous uncertainty going on [because of the collective bargaining agreement].”

On potentially going after a free-agent kicker, like Adam :

“If he’s smart, he will [stay in New England]. Because he’d be Bobby Orr and Carl Yasztremski and John Havlicek. That guy’s done a lot. … I’d say we might be in the kicking market.”

On who will call plays this year:

“No, we haven’t talked about that. We’re just trying to integrate the new guys in there.”

Parcells hit on the biggest questionmark: What the financial picture will look like with the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap in flux. Look for the Cowboys to spend like crazy–on short term contracts–if there’s no cap.

I could see signing Terrell Owens to a very team-friendly deal. Since there appears to be a number of teams vying for his services, though, someone is going to have to pony up big money and a longer term deal. The Cowboys should not be that team. Owens is simply too high a risk and to the extent that wide receiver is team need, it is because the best players are all in their 30s. Owens does not solve that problem.

After the disaster last year with the kicking game, the Cowboys should overpay if necessary to land one of the top three kickers, preferably Vinatieri or the Colts’ Mike Vandejagt. With most games coming down to a field goal, reliable kickers are going to start getting more money than they do now. The Cowboys might as well get ahead of that curve.

The lines are the key to a championship team. The Cowboys have a good crop of veteran and young players on the defensive side but several questionmarks on the offensive side. If they can get a proven free agent center and/or tackle, they should be in excellent shape for 2006. The ability to move mediocre starters to backup roles or butterfingered centers to the outside would radically improve the team.


Cowboys Could be Interested in Jets Cap Casualties

Nick Eatman thinks a couple of recently-cut New York Jets could find themselves reunited with their old coach.

Any time a proven veteran becomes available, either after being released or simply as a free agent, it’s only natural to wonder how that could help or hurt your own team. But for Cowboys fans, watching the New York Jets unload several veteran players on Tuesday should do more than just pique their interest, considering how many former Jets have wound up in Dallas over the last three years.

Since head coach Bill Parcells took over in 2003, he has made it clear he will reunite with players he trusts. In three years, he has brought back former Jets Keyshawn Johnson, Richie Anderson, Vinny Testaverde, Dedric Ward, Jason Ferguson, Aaron Glenn and Ryan Young. He’s also reunited with former Patriots Terry Glenn, Drew Bledsoe and Chad Eaton.

So with the Jets dumping seven former players for salary-cap reasons, Cowboys fans everywhere should pay attention. Because you can bet Parcells has. Four of those vets played for Parcells, who left the team in 1999 after spending three years as head coach.

While Ty Law, who was drafted by Parcells in New England in 1996, tops the list of the Jets’ recent cuts, the Cowboys will probably be more interested in offensive tackle Jason Fabini, who had played in every game with the Jets since 1998 before a chest injury forced him to injured reserve this past season. A fourth-round draft pick by Parcells in 1998, Fabini has started 114 games at offensive tackle, mostly on the left side. But Fabini did spend his first two seasons playing right tackle. The Cowboys obviously have a need at the position, with rookie Rob Petitti starting all 16 games last season. While the sixth-round pick showed some signs of improvement, the Cowboys will likely look for more stability.

Another cap-casualty for the Jets was fullback Jerald Sowell, a player Parcells has raved about more than once since joining the Cowboys. A nine-year vet who has played in all 137 games of his career, Sowell is the Jets’ all-time leading tackler on special teams with 147. Sowell posted 37 special teams tackles in 2003 alone. But the veteran fullback has also developed into a solid pass-catcher, recording 147 career receptions, including 111 in the last three years. The Cowboys could stand for an improvement at fullback, with Lousaka Polite as the only current player at the position. There were two games last season in which the Cowboys deactivated Polite and played without a fullback, using tight ends Jason Witten and Dan Campbell in more of a blocking role.

The Cowboys have benefitted greatly from Parcells reunited with “his guys.” The problem, though, is that it has been six years since Parcells coached the Jets, which means these guys are getting long in the tooth. And the Cowboys really don’t need to get older.

Still, Fabini might be a good addition if a cap-friendly deal can be reached. The Cowboys desperately need help on the offensive line and that’s one position where good players seem to last a long time.


Tiger Woods Wins Match in Record Time

Tiger in a record runaway, but deja vu in Els’ return (AP)

Arms crossed, staring into the soul of his opponent, Tiger Woods looked as though he was wrapped up in one of those nerve-racking moments that define the Match Play Championship.

Far, far from it.

Ruthless to the end until his name was in the record books, Woods won the first nine holes — seven of them with birdies — and closed out Stephen Ames as early as mathematically possible, 9 and 8.

“It’s been a while since I played one like that,” Woods said with a smile.

He didn’t have to look far for motivation.

Ames was on the practice range Monday afternoon when he was asked if he would take a carefree attitude into his match against the No. 1 player in the world because not many expected him to win. Ames shook his head.

“Anything can happen,” Ames said, breaking into a big smile. “Especially where he’s hitting the ball.”

Woods apparently took his comments seriously. As he climbed into a van behind the 10th green after halving the hole with pars, he was asked he had seen what Ames said.


Did it motivate him?


Asked if he cared to elaborate, Woods smiled.


As Jim Croce counseled, Don’t tug on Superman’s cape.


Blank Breaks off Braves Talks

Blank breaks off Braves talks (AJC)

Unable to agree on a price for the Atlanta Braves, Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Wednesday broke off negotiations to buy the Atlanta baseball team. Blank and his representatives had met regularly with Time Warner about a possible Braves purchase since the team and the Turner South regional cable network were put up for sale in December.

Time Warner wants a premium price of $400 million-plus for the team, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Blank values it at substantially less and meetings in the past week failed to narrow the gap.

Blank’s AMB Group said in a statement Wednesday that “at this juncture” it has “suspended” discussions with Time Warner and its Turner Broadcasting division about the Braves. An AMB Group executive said the development doesn’t necessarily preclude a resumption of talks at a later date. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s totally terminated,” said Kim Shreckengost, executive vice president of the AMB Group. “If they want to discuss it with us again, we’d be open to doing so.” Asked if the obstacle proved to be price, Shreckengost said: “Correct.” She added: “Obviously we were looking at this from an investment standpoint, so we had to be able to justify a return on the investment.” Blank declined to be interviewed Wednesday. Shreckengost said that was largely because he is operating under a non-disclosure agreement signed upon entering negotiations with Time Warner.

Blank had gotten a jump on other potential bidders for the Braves by becoming the first to express interest and gain Major League Baseball approval to enter substantive negotiations. That gave him an opportunity to strike a deal before Time Warner got around to serious talks with other buyers. “Over the last two months, representatives of Time Warner, Turner and AMB Group have worked diligently and in good faith to reach a preliminary agreement on the sale of the Atlanta Braves to AMB Group,” Blank’s Wednesday statement said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to get closer together on terms during this time to achieve that goal.”


After focusing on the talks with Blank, Time Warner now is expected to turn its attention to other potential Braves bidders. The company has said that “a lot” of candidates have expressed interest, some of whom have submitted applications for MLB approval to enter substantive negotiations. “To maintain the integrity of the process and the confidentiality of interested parties, we are not commenting on individual discussions we have had concerning the Atlanta Braves,” Shirley Powell, Turner Broadcasting’s senior vice president of corporate communications, said Wednesday. “We will say that our initial assumption that the franchise has significant marketplace value and that there is widespread interest in it as a possible acquisition has been confirmed. We continue to have meaningful discussions with outside parties about a possible sale of the Braves.”

Things are valued at whatever price someone is willing to pay. If Blanks thinks $400 million is way off, I suspect that Time Warner will have to come down.


Finland Eliminates Americans in Hockey

Finland Eliminates Americans in Hockey (AP – YahooNews)

Shot after shot slid through Rick DiPietro’s pads, caromed in off his body and bounced the U.S. men’s hockey team out of the Olympics. Olli Jokinen scored two power-play goals in the second period for Finland, which recovered after blowing an early two-goal lead and beat the United States 4-3 Wednesday night in an Olympic quarterfinal game.

The U.S. team never got going in Turin: They struggled to score when the goaltending was good, and played poor defense when the goals finally came.

The Finns will play in the semifinals on Friday against the winner of the Canada-Russia game, while the Americans (1-4-1) will try to figure out why they managed only one win after capturing the silver medal four years ago in Salt Lake City.


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