MMQB Mail: Westbrook got what he deserved and more UFL thoughts
Too often, the guys who deserve the money are left to grovel and scratch for it, and more often than not, they don't get it anyway. That's why I didn't want the Brian Westbrook story to get too cold before throwing in my thoughts.
When the Eagles rewarded Westbrook over the weekend with a new contract -- added three years onto his current contract that had three years remaining, with $13 million in new guarantees, and a salary bump to $21 million over the next three years -- they did the right thing for the most valuable running back in football east of San Diego.
"Both sides won,'' Westbrook told me. "The Eagles rewarded a player who gives his team everything he has every time he steps on the field. I got the security blanket I've been looking for, and they get to be sure I'll be here for a long time. I had confidence the Eagles would do the right thing. It's not often a deal gets done when a player has three years left on his contract that the player is happy with.''
Westbrook led the NFL last year in yards from scrimmage with 2,104, and he set a franchise record for catches (90) and scrimmage yards. It's rare for a running back to have his most impactful season of a very good career at 28, but that's what Westbrook did. He had a career-best 368 touches (278 rushes, 90 receptions), continuing a superb five-year run that reinforced to the Eagles that he had to be paid like a top back. Since 2003, Westbrook has led all NFL running backs in yards per touch (5.9), receptions (338) and receiving yards (3,221).
That's a lot of numbers to digest. But conceptually, it shouldn't be tough to fathom his importance. Andy Reid has never had a back like Westbrook, either as an assistant in Green Bay or in his nine seasons as head man in Philly, and his appreciation has shown in Reid's and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's playcalling. In the last three seasons, Westbrook has increased his touches from scrimmage from 217 (in 12 games) to 317 to 368.
"The interesting thing is, when last season ended, I probably felt better than I have after any season in the league,'' he said. "There's no doubt in my mind I can continue to take this kind of workload. I've proven that the more touches I get, the more productive I'll be. We're getting more players on this team, like [backup running back] Lorenzo Booker, who ought to be able to take some of the load off me, and I don't anticipate I'll touch it as much this year. But I believe I can have three or four more years like last year if that's what they need from me.''
Before I get to your e-mails, I want to thank several of you, plus the NFL office, plus a St. Louis radio station, for offering free tickets to a Rams game for Mike McGuire while he's home on leave. I'm sure Mike's going to want to take advantage of that, but let me contact him and we'll sort out exactly how we'll do it. You people have good hearts. Thanks.
THE UFL IS ON OUR RADAR SCREEN. From Daniel Petrovich, of St. Louis. "Could a NFL team hold the rights to a player but still allow them to play in the UFL? That would allow a third-string QB play in a real environment without the possibility of another team swooping in to pick up said QB, making it very much like a farm league. What do you think?''
Interesting, Daniel, but I think the NFL is not going to look kindly on trying to help a rival league. I wouldn't be surprised if personnel directors would like the UFL more than the suits on Park Avenue, though. The personnel directors, however, are not going to be the ones making decisions like that one.
KUDOS TO MATT RYAN. From David, of Atlanta. "No love for Matty Ice? The third overall pick, Matt Ryan, played surprisingly well the other night, tossing that 25-yard TD pass to Roddy White against what was essentially a Jacksonville first-team D. If he keeps this up he may even win the starting job. Did you see the game? Thoughts?''
Sorry. I saw nothing, not even a highlight. Read about it, and the Falcons sounded encouraged. I'll try to catch them this weekend. I've thought all along that the job would be Chris Redman's for the first month of the season, then Ryan's, and we'll see if the next couple of weeks bears that out.
GOOD QUESTION, ANDREW. From Andrew, of Miami: "In the Week 1 game, Jets at Dolphins, do you think that having Chad Pennington gives the Fins a distinct advantage? The Jets can't overhaul their playbook in the middle of camp, and Pennington has been with the Jets eight years. Do you feel he may know the signs, the defensive calls, etc.? It's one thing for a position player to change, but a QB in the middle of camp has to be in the know, no?''
All good points, but remember a couple of things. The Jets won't be signaling in their defenses because of the new coach-to-defensive-player communication system. And the offense that Brian Schottenheimer will draw up for that game won't be the same Pennington would have run had he started the game. But you're right. He'll be able to share a few things with his new team, especially tendencies when he sees what personnel groups are on the field for the Jets.
THE POWER DIVISION. From Jason Archbell, of Virginia Beach, Va.: "There has been a lot of talk this year (and many other years) about how tough the NFC East is. Do you think a lot of this has to do with the talent level of the quarterbacks? Jason Campbell is probably the worst of the four (so far) and he is a pretty solid young quarterback. Compare that to every other division where the team with the best quarterback is probably the favorite to win the division the last few years.''
Hmmm. Not sure if the team with the best quarterback in the division is automatically favored. Carson Palmer's the best in the AFC North, and the Bengals are the third- or fourth-best team in that division. Drew Brees is the best in the NFC South, and are the Saints universally favored this year? Doubt it. But I do think it gives a team the biggest edge it could have at any position group, obviously. Re Campbell, you will be pleasantly surprised how good he plays this year.
NOT HAPPY WITH THE MOOSE MAN. From Bill Spilman, of Oneida, Ill.: "Next time you talk to Moose Muhammad, tell him that if he got even ONE STEP of separation from the defender, maybe the Bears QBs could have gotten him the ball more. Sheesh. So easy to run your mouth after you leave.''
I think he might have heard similar messages today, Bill.
THIS WOULDN'T BE A FANTASY QUESTION, ERIC, WOULD IT? From Eric Batchelor, of Acton, Mass.: "Who's your pick for leading rusher in the NFL this year?''
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, because his Michael Turner-security blanket is gone.
2. Marshawn Lynch.
3. Steven Jackson.
4. Joseph Addai.
5. Adrian Peterson.
I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE, BILL, BELIEVE ME. BUT THANKS. From Bill Stoneberg, of Austin, Texas: "How do you gain/keep the trust of the players? Why are you able to send and get text messages from players? What do you do different from others in the media?''
Texting is a pretty popular way of communication with players today, because they're just not inclined to pick up the phone. Like Braylon Edwards. He's not a big phone guy in terms of talking, but he loves texting.
Your first question is a tough one. I just try to be honest. I've lost relationships with some players over the years -- Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith come to mind -- because I pointed out some of their failings late in their careers and they didn't like it. The biggest thing I hear, occasionally, from players or their wives is, "I thought you were our friend.'' Well, I might do friendly things, because I'm a friendly, accommodating and positive guy. But at the end of the day, Player A is not paying me. Sports Illustrated and NBC are paying me (and lately, Sirius Radio).
My responsibility is to try to get as close to players as I can while reminding them my obligation is to my employers and the public. I'm not sure it's that much different that others in the media, but I have been covering the league for 25 years now. I should have some idea how to build relationships and nurture them.
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