MMQB Mail: How loss of Rice affects Vikes; Cardinals should call Warner
Vikings will rely more on Visanthe Shiancoe in Sidney Rice's absence
With Matt Leinart struggling, Cardinals should at least call Kurt Warner
Mailbag questions on Hall of Fame voters, RB sabbaticals and more
Scattershooting around the NFL today, starting with an injury that's going to have a major impact on the NFC North race:
No Sidney Rice after hip surgery, maybe for half the season. Maybe no Percy Harvin in any particular week because of his migraines. You're Brad Childress game-planning for the season, knowing Brett Favre's two favorite targets are major health questions. You're Favre, knowing the same thing. And you're nervous. I would be, if I were them.
Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune told us on Sirius NFL Radio this morning that Rice, Favre's favorite receiver, has had hip surgery in Colorado. Zulgad said his information is Rice will miss the first half of the season. Now, Favre and Rice bonded in a short period last fall as well and as quickly as I've seen a quarterback and receiver bond. I'll never forget their 45-second embrace in the locker room after the loss to New Orleans in the NFC title game. It was clear how close they had gotten in just five months, and there's no doubt in my mind that losing Rice will have a major impact on Favre's season, and the Vikings' ability to do multiple things in the passing game.
Look for far more reliance on Visanthe Shiancoe -- and the hope that a miracle drug can be found for migraines. Because Minnesota needs Harvin to have a clear head for at least the first half of the season. One other thing: Check out the Vikings' schedule for the first two months of the season: at New Orleans, Miami, Detroit, bye, at the Jets, Dallas, at Green Bay, at New England. You tell me how big a loss Sidney Rice is, staring down the gun at the toughest first two months of any team in football.
I know Kurt Warner has said he's retired, and he's never given one iota of a hint that he'd reconsider. But if I'm Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, and I've just watched the horror show at quarterback that I watched last night, I've got to at least call Warner today and ask if there's any way he'd reconsider his decision.
Leinart looked uneasy against Tennessee in his three series with the first unit; he showed little confidence. His backup, Derek Anderson, threw two awful passes into the end zone in the red zone, and anyone who has watched Anderson in recent years has to question his accuracy.
Warner twice last night tried to throw cold water via Twitter on any chance he'd play again. "OK, y'all... I am watching game... I am not coming back... and I would still appreciate your help! LOL, sorry guys, u know def of 'retire'?'' Meaning, "Do you guys know the definition of 'retire?' '' I'd still make the call if I were Whisenhunt.
Ross Tucker and I had former Redskins Executive VP Vinny Cerrato, who signed Albert Haynesworth, on Sirius NFL Radio this morning. I asked him if he still thought the Haynesworth signing was a good idea, with all the hubbub between the unhappy defensive tackle and coach Mike Shanahan now. "At the time, we did it, yes,'' said Cerrato, who was dismissed by Dan Snyder last December and replaced by Bruce Allen. "We had been struggling on defense, and getting the most dominant player [in free-agency] at the time to upgrade the defense, yes, it was a wise move.''
But now? Would Cerrato do it again? "Would I do it again, with all this stuff? That's a different story. That's Monday morning quarterbacking.'' It is, but it's still interesting that the Redskins paid an unreliable guy $35 million in the first 17 months of his contract, and he's been, well, unreliable. "Albert is being an individual and being selfish,'' Cerrato said. Uh, really?
I had the chance to view a review copy of ESPN's "Gruden's Champ Camp,'' Jon Gruden's film session/interview experience with New Orleans coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees (ESPN, 7-8 p.m. Eastern, tonight) ... and then to talk with Gruden about it. Gruden picked out plays from the 2009 season and dissected them with Payton and Brees. A great idea, especially because many of the plays weren't the highlight-reel plays, but plays that showed how good and smart a team the Saints had. And, Gruden pointed out, how selfless.
He showed a play in which speedy wideout Robert Meachem ran a deep route and took not only a corner but also a safety with him -- because, even though it was clear that he wasn't the primary receiver, the fact that he ran it full-speed forced the defense to respect him and took a cover guy away from the intermediate part of the field. It's something most of us, watching the play, wouldn't have seen. But it jumped out to Gruden, having been a coach and dissected his share of tape over the years.
"This is the most unselfish team I have ever seen,'' Gruden told me. "Sometimes a highlight tape doesn't do a season justice. But I saw so many plays over the course of the season that showed how important that aspect of the team was.'' You'll learn a lot about football watching this show, but there's good color in it too.
One omission from my Monday column: I forgot Julia Payne's name on the list of all the Redskins' PR czars in the past decade. That brings the number to eight, while the other three teams in the division have all had one over the decade. Payne had a five-month cup of coffee with the men of Snyder in 2003. My mistake.
Now for your e-mails:
GOOD QUESTION ABOUT THE HALL. "Given the interest in HOF votes, let's look at it from a different standpoint. Who selects the voters? How long do writers generally have to have been covering football to be selected to be voters? How long were you a football writer before you were invited to become a voter? Does being primarily a beat writer hurt selection chances because expertise might be perceived as more limited or objectivity compromised? What is the average length of writing/reporting experience for HOF voters right now?''
--Adam Leonard, Austin
I was asked in my fourth year as a national writer at SI, after a total of nine years covering the NFL as a beat and national writer. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selects the voters, sometimes with input from team executives and PR people. I am one of the at-large voters. There are 12 of those. And there are 32 voters, one from each of the NFL cities (two from New York, of course), so each city gets its proper representation. As for the average length of NFL coverage by the voters, I'd say it's between 15 and 20 years.
ROETHLISBERGER REDUX. "Peter, as always enjoy your columns. I was wondering, after last week's read on Tuesday, I hear a lot that Big Ben has changed, signing autographs, working with teammates more, etc. But I also get the feeling some things haven't changed, and I felt that in your article. Are we seeing the "right" things in the early stages as sincere, or did you get the feeling it was more of an "act"? Just wondering as a die hard, life long Steeler fan, not really excited about Ben the human as a representative of the Steelers without a real change in character.''
--Matt Fugina, Frisco, Texas
Everybody wants to know, "Has Roethlisberger changed?'' So do I. I tried to portray what I saw and heard at Steeler camp -- out of him, out of teammates, out of coaches, out of Mike Tomlin, out of Art Rooney II. I wrote that, and I tried to leave open-ended the question about whether he has changed. Because we really don't know. We can't know yet. The true test will come in the next, say, two years. How does he handle adversity? How does he handle being out in Pittsburgh on Sunday nights after games? How does he handle the off-time in March and April and May, when he's had problems in his recent past? We can't know. Everyone wants to jump to conclusions about Roethlisberger, but how can you do that when he has to stand the test of time before any real judgments can be made?
THE RUNNING-BACK SHELF LIFE. "Your discussion of the short shelf life of RBs brought to mind a question I meant to ask Dr. Z: Do you think a one-year sabbatical would help extend the career of a running back? Say after a player's first contract is up, the RB takes a year off to heal. I know it may seem impractical, but would one year off add two or three more productive years on the back end?''
--Bill, South Windsor, Conn.
I suppose it might. I don't know. It's never happened before, at least on purpose, or when it hasn't been caused by injury. I think it would obviously help the back heal, but it would also present a difficult problem for planning your roster. Let's say you're a GM, and you draft a back with the plan to have him play every other year, and sit out/train/rehab in the alternate years. First, it's going to create a problem in the locker room, because players at other physically punishing positions will ask: "Hey, what about me? Why's the running back position such a prima donna position?'' And the other problem, I would think, would be if a back came out of his rookie season with just a bump or bruise, and by March 1 is healthy as a horse. Why keep him out of the lineup?
GOOD QUESTION. "Do you think the actions by Brett Favre over the last two years (holding out of training camp, on purpose) will result in any new rules set forth by the owners that a player under contract must attend all organized team activities or be fined accordingly? It just seems that Favre is setting a precedent, where other players will follow, that will anger management and the fans alike by putting themselves above the team."
--Paul Haering, Woodbury, Minn.
You raise a great point. And in the future, I think the Vikings might pay for putting one player so far above the team. We'll see.
Coming soon to SI.com. Another season of the Peter King football challenge.
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