Sports Outside the Beltway

Seahawks Might Lose Hutchinson UPDATED

In a strange free agency case, Seattle might lose Steve Hutchinson, one of their offensive linemen.

The Seahawks and the NFL lost their case against the NFL Players Association and the Minnesota Vikings today, and Seattle now has until 9 p.m. to decide if it will match the Vikings’ monstrous contract offer for left guard Steve Hutchinson.

The Seahawks moved to bring back Hutchinson today, when it was confirmed they had re-worked left tackle Walter Jones’ long-term contract to put him below Hutchinson as the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team, per average annual base salary.

The Seahawks presented the restructuring as part of their case against the NFLPA, their representatives hoping that by doing so, Hutchinson would then be the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team.

The NFLPA, on behalf of Hutchinson, argued that language in the Vikings’ contract called for immediate highest-paid status upon the signing of the offer sheet.

Basically, the Seahawks gambled with the transition tag and lost. BIG TIME. Hutchinson’s agent deserves a decent portion of that new contract. Either they pay Hutchinson a guaranteed $49 million over 7 years, or they let him get away to the Vikings. If they keep him, they eat a good portion of their cap that they weren’t planning to, and Walter Jones is unhappy because he gave up money for nothing. There is no way Seattle is going to give him his old contract with Hutchinson taking up so much cap space. They also end up with only $7 million left in cap space to get a big name free agent. Whoever had this idea to get another team to guarantee the full contract if Hutchinson isn’t the highest paid lineman on the team is a genius.

It will be interesting to see what the Seahawks do. They have only a matter of hours to decide.

UPDATE: Hutchinson has left for the Vikings. He won’t make a guararenteed $49 million there, but he should get a decent chunk of change just the same (under the terms of the contract the Vikings offered him, he’d be the highest paid offensive lineman in Minnesota, thus not triggering the “make the entire contract guaranteed” clause that Seattle was going to have to abide by; this was a great move to get either a great contract in Minnesota or an even better one in Seattle; they were bound to win either way, why not play with the house money to see what happened?). It should be interesting to see what Seattle does now with Jones, and if they pick up any other big free agents.


Stealing Strange Steelers Stuff

Now I love the Steelers as much as the next guy [ed. MORE than the next guy, don't kid yourself.], but come on, this is ridiculous.

A Steelers GOLF CART? Who would want such a thing? Even stranger, who would want a Steelers tombstone? Even more bizarre, who would want to STEAL one? Either a Browns fan who hates the Steelers so much he hates seeing the headstone, or a Steelers fan who saw it and said, “I HAVE to have that Steelers headstone!” I don’t think either one is better, frankly.

See, this is what happens when there’s no interesting Steelers news . . . Pittsburghers don’t know what to do, so they just start swiping strange stuff, and the papers, who also don’t know what to do, report on the strange pilferings.


Bradley and Pittsburgh

Which Hollywood star showed up at the NCAAs?

You have to go to my blog to find out. (Hey, I’m not serving up the picture twice – bandwidth isn’t free, ya know!)

I have to say, I was a bit disappointed that Pittsburgh failed to get anywhere near the Final Four . . . AGAIN. I’m more of a Penn State fan, but like it when Pitt does well – it reflects well on my area of the state. Thus, as the only Western Pennsylvania area team, I always pick Pitt to do well in my NCAA pools. And they always let me down with an first weekend exit. All the more reason for me to hate Pitt, I guess.


And if you think Randy Moss is screwed up . . .

. . . you should check out his agent.

An agent for Randy Moss was charged with possession of crack cocaine after police were called to a hotel to investigate a disturbance, authorities said Wednesday.

Dante DiTrapano and his wife, Teri, of Charleston, W.Va., were arrested Tuesday at a hotel in St. Petersburg, police said.

The hotel’s management called police to report a disturbance in couple’s room. When officers entered the room they found the drugs, police said.

“I’m sticking by my friend and I’ll support him and his family as he gets help battling his problem,” Moss said.

This is the type of statement you expect an agent to say about a player, not vice versa. Especially if that player is the self-admitted weed smoker Randy Moss.

However, this still doesn’t explain how someone who is seemingly clean as TO is can be such a problem.

Cross-posted at The Unusual Suspects.


Dallas Cowboys sign LB Rocky Boiman

Len Pasquarelli reports that the Dallas Cowboys have added another linebacker to the mix, signing former Titan Rocky Boiman.

Continuing to rebuild their linebacker corps, the Dallas Cowboys on Monday reached a contract accord with unrestricted free agent Rocky Boiman, a four-year veteran from the Tennessee Titans. The former Notre Dame standout becomes the second linebacker added by the Cowboys since the start of the free agent signing period. Dallas earlier signed former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Akin Ayodele to a five-year contract. Ayodele, who played outside linebacker in Jacksonville will move inside at Dallas.

The Cowboys lost two starters from 2005. Dat Nguyen retired because of a neck injury and Scott Fujita signed with New Orleans as a free agent. Because the Cowboys play a 3-4 defense, they need quantity as well as quality at the position.

Boiman, 26, will sign a three-year contract, the financial details of which were not yet available.

It is not yet certain where Boiman will play in the Dallas defense, but his versatility is a valuable asset, whether he wins a starting spot or is a top reserve. Boiman played both outside spots for the Titans and, given his size (6-feet-4, 236 pounds), he has the potential to play one of the inside positions in a 3-4 front. Several teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, demonstrated interest in Boiman as a free agent. Most of those teams viewed Boiman, who is also a special teams standout, as a potential starter. A fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft, Boiman has 113 tackles, 1½ sacks and two interceptions in 54 appearances, including 11 starts. His best season was in 2003, when he registered 55 tackles. Boiman has good enough range, most teams feel, to play as a nickel linebacker.

The Cowboys on Monday also re-signed two-year veteran cornerback Jacques Reeves, an “exclusive rights” player, who was a seventh-round choice in the 2004 draft.

Excellent news. Frankly, I had never heard of Boiman but I like the signing of a starting caliber linebacker who should be coming into his prime. Given that teams generally do not let young starting caliber guys get onto the market, however, I hope the Cowboys did not overpay.

Update: writer Nick Eatman reports that Boiman was signed to a very modest (by NFL standards) contract.

Photo Rocky Boiman set a Titans club record with 28 special teams stops in 2002. One week the Cowboys looked like mere bystanders as the free-agent world seemed to be moving right on past them. But now, after signing their fourth player on Monday in a three-day span, the Cowboys are becoming one of the more active teams since the start of the free-agent signing period. While Saturday was a monumental day for the Cowboys, not only signing wide receiver Terrell Owens to a three-year, $25 million deal, but they also inked offensive tackle Jason Fabini and tight end Ryan Hannam. And they continued this signing frenzy on Monday, acquiring Tennessee Titans unrestricted linebacker Rocky Boiman with a three-year deal that included a $1 million signing bonus. With playing incentives, Boiman’s deal can be as much as $5 million over the three years.

While Boiman has started only 11 games in his previous seasons with the Titans, he has been one of the team’s most consistent special teams players. Boiman recorded 15 tackles in the kicking game last year, along with 28 on defense. In 2003, Boiman had a career-high 55 tackles, along 1½ sacks and two interceptions. As a rookie in 2002, he set a Titans record with 28 special teams tackles.

Boiman is expected to play both inside and outside linebacker for the Cowboys, most likely as a backup. But upgrading special teams and adding depth at the linebacker position has been a top priority, considering the Cowboys placed five linebackers on injured reserve last season, including starters Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton in mid-season.

The Cowboys signed Akin Ayodele to a five-year, $15 million contract last week with the intention of moving the former Jacksonville linebacker from the outside to inside in their 3-4 scheme. Ayodele was highly productive with the Jags, and became the only player in franchise history to post four consecutive 100-tackle seasons. And Ayodele’s contract suggests he will likely take over the other starting inside spot next to Bradie James, who is coming off a 109-tackle season last year.

As for Boiman, he should give the club some added depth inside, where Scott Shanle is a restricted free agent and Ryan Fowler will be entering his third season. The Cowboys are counting on DeMarcus Ware to start at one outside position, with the likes of Singleton, Kevin Burnett and possibly even Kalen Thornton battling for the other spot. The Cowboys are hoping Boiman can help out on the outside as well.

Signing a versatile, young player that other teams were eyeing as a starter for duty as a special teams and backup role is quite encouraging. Not only does it seem to indicate that the Cowboys will be quite deep at a pivotal position–they run a 3-4 defense, which is linebacker dependant–but it may be a sign that free agents think the Cowboys have a good chance to win a championship.


Lions “Move On” from QB Joey Harrington

The Detroit Lions have officially decided that their drafting of Joey Harrington 3rd overall in 2002 was a bust.

The Detroit Lions are parting ways with Joey Harrington after four turbulent seasons in which the former third overall draft pick went from franchise savior to fans’ scourge. Although he declined to say whether Harrington had been released, coach Rod Marinelli told reporters Monday: “We’ve made a decision to move on.” “At this moment, he’s not with us,” Marinelli said. “That’s been my decision.”

A message left with David Dunn, Harrington’s agent, was not immediately returned.

Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft, was 18-37 as a starter with the Lions under three coaches: Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci and Dick Jauron, who took over when he Mariucci was fired during the 2005 season. He started 55 games, throwing for 10,242 yards with 60 touchdowns and 62 interceptions and a mediocre 68.1 passer rating.

Harrington will be replaced by either Jon Kitna or Josh McCown, both former starters signed who agreed to terms in the last week.

Frankly, I’m not sure Peyton Manning would have fared all that much better. The Lions front office has been a joke and they have shifted coaches and offensive schemes several times in Harrington’s short tenure.

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NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Announces Retirement

As Steven Taylor noted earlier, Paul Tagliabue, who has been the NFL’s commissioner since 1989, announced today that he will retire in July before the new season kicks off.

Paul Tagliabue is retiring as NFL commissioner in July after more than 16 years on the job. The 65-year-old commissioner has led the league since 1989, when he succeeded Pete Rozelle, and agreed last March to stay to complete the television and labor deals. He finally got that done 12 days ago, finishing the most arduous labor negotiations since the league and union agreed on a free agency-salary cap deal in 1992. “I believe that now is a positive time to make the transition to a new commissioner,” Tagliabue said in a statement.

Roger Goodell, the NFL’s chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay are the two leading candidates to succeed Tagliabue. Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass is considered a dark horse. Tagliabue has said he wants to avoid the kind of seven-month deadlock that occurred between him and the late Jim Finks after Rozelle stepped down in March 1989.

“We have a collective bargaining extension in place, long-term television contracts, and have undertaken many other strong elements in league and club operations,” Tagliabue said. “I am honored to have been commissioner since late 1989 and to have been heavily involved with the league, its owners, clubs, coaches, players, fans and media since 1969.”

Tagliabue’s term will be remembered most for labor peace following strikes in 1982 and 1987. His close relationship with Gene Upshaw, the union’s executive director, finally led to a long-term agreement after five years without a contract. But the bargaining was hard this time, with three straight deadline extensions needed. The agreement avoided the prospect of entering free agency this year with the possibility of an uncapped year in 2007. He also oversaw a massive stadium building program. More than two-thirds of the NFL’s 32 teams are either playing in or building stadiums that didn’t exist when he took over as commissioner in 1989.

Before becoming commissioner, Tagliabue was a league lawyer who spent much of that time as the NFL’s representative and unofficial lobbyist in Washington.

For a substantial number of fans, Tags has always been the face of the NFL. I’m old enough to remember Pete Rozell. While he has not overseen the type of explosion his predecessor did, he has provided excellent stewardship and helped continue the evolution of the League to the unquestioned premier sports empire in the United States.


Tags to Retire

As had been speculated a few weeks now, Paul Tagliabue is set to retire.

He will leave in July.


Candace Parker First Woman to Dunk in NCAA Tourney

AP reports on some history being made Sunday in the NCAA women’s tournament.

Candace Parker is a redshirt freshman for Tennessee who can play every position and distribute the ball as easily as she scores. Oh yeah, she dunks, too.

The 6-foot-4 Parker became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game Sunday, jamming one-handed on a breakaway just 6:12 into the second-seeded Lady Vols’ 102-54 victory against an Army team that was making its NCAA Tournament debut. Then, for good measure, Parker ensured her place in basketball lore by becoming the first to do it twice in a college game with another one-hander on the baseline. She finished with 26 points in 26 minutes, and added five rebounds, a career-high seven assists, four blocks, two steals — and the feeling of an obstacle cleared.

“It’s a relief to finally do it and get it over with and be done with it,” said Parker, who’s been peppered with questions from fans and even her teammates about when she would finally throw one down in a game.

Parker also made history two years ago as the first woman to win the McDonald’s Slam Dunk contest.

Photo: Candace Parker wins McDonald's Slam Dunk contest There are moments, stunning indelible moments, that transcend sport, crumble barriers and create icons. There’s Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in 1973. Brandi Chastain clinching the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Annika Sorenstam teeing off at the Colonial last May.

On Monday night, in a cozy high school gymnasium southeast of Oklahoma City, a 17-year-old high school senior named Candace Parker turned in the latest moment. Parker beat out five male competitors to win the Slam Dunk contest of the McDonald’s High School All-American Game. She won with aplomb, too, darting down the left side of the lane, covering her eyes with her left arm and flushing home a right-handed dunk. At 9:06 p.m. CT, Parker sparked a raucous ovation, chest bumps from her teammates and officially launched herself as the female answer to LeBron James.

Parker, who will play for Tennessee next season, stands just a shade under 6-feet-4 and can play all five positions on the floor. The first two-time winner of the Naismith National Player of the Year award, Parker already was billed as the most ballyhooed women’s high school athlete ever. That’s before she joined James, Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter on the list of McDonald’s Dunk Contest winners. “I’m not surprised, she really plays at the rim,” Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt said Tuesday afternoon after learning of Parker’s winning performance. “Obviously, Candace is a very special player. She’s going to be good for the women’s game. She’s the kind of individual who has a lot of charisma and personality.”

Yes, Parker’s performance suggests she could usher women’s college basketball further into the mainstream with the sport’s sexiest play — the dunk. Only five dunks have been recorded during a women’s college game, three by Tennessee’s Michelle Snow. There has been only one in the WNBA, a Lisa Leslie flush in 2002. “That would be my dream,” Parker said. “For 10 years from now for three or four girls entering the dunk contest and it’s not a big deal.”

We might get there. Whether we’ll get to the point where the woman won’t have a huge edge just because of the novelty factor is another question.


Gap Between Cinderellas and Top Seeds Closing

Pete Thamel reflects on the ever increasing number of upsets in the NCAA tournament in a piece entitled, “Cinderella Now Lingers Longer at the N.C.A.A.’s March Dance.”

When George Mason defeated the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels on Sunday, the upset capped four of the most harried days in the history of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament. Ten teams knocked off competitors seeded at least five spots higher, tying a record set in 1986 and matched in 1990 and 2002. Although underdogs have long been part of tournament lore, many who follow college basketball agree that the balance of power is shifting.

Cinderella, once an occasional guest at this ball, has a standing invitation now. And she is no longer checking her watch. That is partly because smaller programs have more talent than before and are capable, in some cases, of holding it together longer than elite teams whose players leave early for the pros.

Bradley and Wichita State hail from the Missouri Valley Conference, which competes in the shadow of the sweeping Big Ten and Big 12 conferences and is sending two teams to the Round of 16 for the first time. George Mason, in Fairfax, Va., is the first Colonial Athletic Association team to go this far since Richmond in 1988. Over all, 5 of the 16 teams playing in the next round are from outside college basketball’s six so-called power conferences.

“There’s very little difference in talent,” said Doug Elgin, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. “It’s about access. A lot of teams didn’t make the cut in this field that could have been exactly where Bradley and Wichita State are.”

The little guy’s success has helped make the tournament the spectacle that it is, from Coach Don Haskins leading his Texas Western squad over Kentucky in the 1966 championship to Larry Bird leading Indiana State to the 1979 title game. But officials from smaller conferences and coaches from power conferences all say the gap is rapidly closing. For the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, three teams with No. 15 seedings lost their first-round matchups against No. 2 teams by single-digit margins.

In 2000, the average margin of victory for a No. 1-seeded team over a No. 16 was 25 points. This year, that margin dwindled to 14.5. No. 16 Albany almost toppled No. 1 Connecticut, which many experts consider to be the most talented team in the field. Teams seeded 16th are 0-88 against No. 1′s.

“A No. 16 seed is going to beat a No. 1,” UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said. “The gap is closing.”

It certainly wreaked havok with my brackets this year. I had Kansas in the Elite 8 and North Carolina losing in the finals. Both got knocked out early.


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