The race for the best defensive free agent since Deion Sanders.
I make the case lower in this column that the Houston Texans have to go after free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha when the shopping season opens. And I think the Lions should make a hard run at him too. But I don't get the sense either team will. My three favorites whenever teams can hit the market:
1. Philadelphia. Rumors (and they seem to be more than that) are flying that the Eagles are going to strike quickly and spend big money in free agency. Imagine pairing Asomugha with very good cover man Asante Samuel. It'd be money well-spent, even at a Bradyish $18 million a year.
2. Dallas. Go back in history. Remember when Jerry Jones, against the wishes of son Steven, gave Deion Sanders a $13 million signing bonus in 1995 to come to Dallas? (Jerry thought his son was going to punch him over it.) Jones has the ability to fit Asomugha under his cap. With Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware the only huge-money players on the roster, the Joneses can find a way to shoehorn an Asomugha contract into the fold.
3. Baltimore. Everything says no -- the Ravens need to sign Haloti Ngata long-term, and how many megabuck defensive players can you have in a cap era? But Ozzie Newsome knows the only thing his defense lacks is a shutdown corner.
I could see the Jets being interested if they figure Antonio Cromartie is too big of a risk to sign long-term, but how can your starting corners, collectively, be 30 percent of your cap? That's what would happen if Asomugha and Darrelle Revis became teammates. And I could see Seattle kicking the tires. The Seahawks don't have a $10-million-a-year player, and Paul Allen's got the dough. We'll see, but my guess is Asomugha ends up in the NFC East.
By the way, I had every intention in this space of running down the top 20 free agents, but I looked at the list and it felt a little fruitless. We don't know what the rules are, and whether four- and five-year unsigned vets will be free. So I'll wait until we have more information.
Burt Grossman's a teacher, and apparently a darned good one.
Two decades ago, San Diego defensive lineman Burt Grossman was on the cover of Sports Illustrated for his mouth. "BIG MOUTH'' the cover shouted. Inside was one story after another explaining that Grossman did, indeed, have a big mouth, and used it regularly.
Now he's back in the news, sort of, as the NFL's 2011 Teacher of the Year. The award is given annually to a former NFL player who teaches in a distinguished way. It's amazing that Grossman's the man cited. He came across as bright but not the kind of unselfish type you need to be as an inner-city teacher.
What a strange trip to this award. Grossman told me the other day he never really liked football when he played for the Chargers and Eagles; his love of the game ended in college at Pitt.
When Grossman retired, he was a stay-at-home dad for about eight years before starting to try to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. Social work, maybe. Or teaching. Finally he got his teaching certificate -- he's so into it now he's going for a Master's in Education and Public Policy -- and got a dual job with the toughest of the tough. In the mornings, he works with kids coming off probation, juvenile detention or jail, mostly helping them get a high school diploma. In the second half of his day, he works at a melting pot school in San Diego, Hove High.
"We're the Ellis Island of education,'' said assistant principal Andreas Trakas. "We've got 2,200 kids here, and 35 different languages being spoken. At the same time, we've had about a third of our teachers cut in this state in recent years, most of them the young, passionate teachers we cannot afford to lose. So the no-child-left-behind kids are being left behind.''
Grossman's job is not to teach. Rather, it's to take the 40 to 60 most troubled students and try to save them as a sort of guidance counselor and social worker, teaching problem-solving and critical-thinking. Typical student for Grossman: a girl who's always tired in school because her mother's a prostitute and makes the girl stay home at night to take care of the family while she works the streets. True story. "We don't find candy wrappers on campus,'' he said over the weekend. "We find condom wrappers.''
Trakas said Grossman has gotten some of his charges so enthused about taking school seriously that they've volunteered to go to summer school this year. "For Burt,'' said Trakas, "it's about changing lives and being one of the first adults many of these kids can trust.''
Grossman worked hard to get one of the kids to go out for football. Dame Ndiaye, from Senegal, played his first season of football in 2010 for Hoover High, and was so impressive that Arizona offered his a football scholarship.
Yet Grossman's not beholden to football. And he finds fault with both sides for the labor mess they're in now. "I found it asinine what Ray Lewis said about crime going up if there's no football,'' he said. "How small is the fishbowl you live in when you think that way? Just seems to me everyone in the NFL is so disconnected from the world. Everything is money, and they've all got so much of it.''
Top 100 Mania
Below, I'm unveiling numbers 21 through 30 on NFL Network's top 100 versus my 21 through 30. Since this is my last column for four weeks, you'll have to wait until late July to see my final 20. I'm sure you'll be counting down the days. (To catch up on 31-100, click here.)
Tidbits from this listing:
I have Pittsburgh linebackers 23, 28 and 31 (LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, respectively)
Surprised at me having Kyle Williams 27 while the players, apparently, don't have him in the top 100? Watch some video of him. He consistently occupies two blockers. Always moving forward. A machine. I remember talking to Chan Gailey about him last year. This is a man who coached Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin -- and I do believe I have never heard him rave about any player the way he raved to me about Williams
For me, Ndamukong Suh over Haloti Ngata was very tough. The final straw was Suh being three years younger, though I could certainly understand if someone had them flipped on a list ... As with Ben Roethlisberger at 41, I believe Philip Rivers is exceedingly low for the players at 26. (For more on this, see No. 2 in 10 Things I Think I Think.)
Vancouver must be addressed.
We all saw the ridiculous display in Vancouver on Wednesday night after the hometown Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. A scarier view into the future I haven't seen in some time. The callousness of hundreds of people (it wasn't 10 or 20 or 60; we're talking hundreds of people taking the law into their hands and ransacking portions of a city) cannot be dismissed by saying, "Oh, it's just a bunch of drunks who got carried away after a game.''
What possesses people to BURN police cars? To slash firehoses so fires can't be put out? To pose, smiling and laughing, in front of burning cars and smashed plate-glass windows? That's what I found the most stunning Wednesday night. Video of the so-called normal people, 25ish fans, men/women, running to pose in front of a burning BMW, putting up thumbs-up signs, or victory signs, and smiling. Normal people think it's cool. Average people, maybe out on a date night or whatever they were doing out on the street, probably with normal jobs and lives, running to pose in front of a burning car ... What were they thinking? "Let me have a cool memory of the riots of 2011!''
It's encouraging that scores of volunteers showed up all day Thursday to clean up the mess. That's a hopeful sign. But those Wednesday night scenes left me as scared about our future as anything I've seen in a long time.
Gone, but impossible to be forgotten.
Clarence Clemons was an offensive lineman in college and once hoped to play in the NFL; a car accident after his senior year at then-Maryland State College foiled those dreams. So instead he became one of the great sax players of all time, a man I had the pleasure of hearing on the biggest stages of the mega-concert scene at least 15 times between 1976 and 2009. He died Saturday of a massive stroke suffered a week earlier.
The first time was the most memorable ... April Fools Day, 1976, in my freshman year at Ohio University. In those days, Springsteen and the E Street Band (the highlight of which was Clemons' wailing sax) was a touring machine. In this particular month, the band played 21 dates in some real metropolises -- Athens, Ohio; Boone, N.C.; Meadville, Pa.; Hamilton, N.Y.; Wallingford, Conn.; Johnson City, Tenn. -- before crowds in the hundreds. Imagine the travel.
The show in Athens was at our multi-purpose venue for plays and concerts, Memorial Auditorium; I'd guess about 1,700 people showed up. But we were raucous. It was a general admission show, and we started lining up about 3 in the afternoon to get the best seats closest to the stage when the doors opened. I think they let the pushing and shoving mass of people in the place around 7, and the force of the wave of 800 or so people ripped one of the doors off the hinges. How crazy GA seating was.
I ended up in the third row, on the left aisle (which was convenient, because we stood for the entire show). Maybe 15 feet, max, from Clemons' sax. I'm guessing it was about six songs in when the bad played "Jungleland,'' which the crowd pretty much knew by heart. Clemons starred, of course, with his long sax solo, and about all I remember is the crowd got fairly quiet when he played that solo, then gave a huge ovation when he finished -- and Springsteen bowed to him.
He was the co-star to Bruce's star. He understood, we all understood, that he was number two. But like so many number twos in entertainment, he was vital to the overall success of the group. Clemons to Springsteen was Kramer to Seinfeld. A Springsteen show just wasn't the same without him (I know; I saw some), and now no Springsteen show will ever be the same, forever.
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