Icy Issues: Samuel will regret holdout

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 24, 2007



Sometimes we lie awake at night, ruffle our newspaper blanket, and contemplate the Big Issues of our time.
 
Do we like bourbon better than Scotch? Where's our beer, wench?! And do these pants make us look fat?
 
Of course, pressing pigskin issues often enter our thoughts, too. In fact, they may even become a regular feature this football season, a weekly compendium of Icy Issues facing Planet Pigskin – followed, of course, by our icier and utterly emotionless responses.
 
Sit back, soak in the knowledge, and remember the words of wisdom of our poor mom: these pants don't make us look fat. It's the disgusting rolls of flab that make us look fat.
 
Icy Issue: When will Matt Leinart stop whining about the 2006 draft?
Icier Response: Never, apparently.
 
Matt Leinart, the former USC quarterback, was everybody's All-American in 2004-05, after he won the Heisman Trophy as a junior and led the Trojans to the NCAA national title. There's little doubt he would have been the top pick by San Francisco in the 2005 draft – had he opted for the pro route.
 
But he didn't.

In a perfectly rational decision, Leinart decided to come back for his senior season in 2005, to add to his college football legend, pursue back-to-back Heismans and national titles, and continue banging college and Hollywood hotties. 
 
Well, at least he got the hotties.
 
He failed to win the Heisman or the national title, then failed to fulfill his destiny as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
 
Instead, he was taken by Arizona with the No. 10 pick in 2006. It would be the feather in the cap of most of the athletes who have ever walked this planet. But few players, apparently, feel so entitled as the Hollywod hotshot. He chooses instead to carry around the No. 10 like a Scarlet Letter, and is destined never to let us forget that he got – to use his own words – "shafted" in the draft.
 
Note the recent ESPN the Mag cover story, in which he posed as a reporter who questioned all the teams who passed over him before he was taken with the – poor bastard – 10th pick.
 
Sure, the article was good natured. But it's not the first time the issue has come up and – as evidenced by Leinart's own words – it still irks him that nine teams chose other players.
 
"It was difficult. I had so many questions about why, but I didn't think I've ever had the answers," writes Leinart in the ESPN piece, adding, "As a QB, I wouldn't dare ask why I got shafted. But as a reporter?"
 
Shafted? Leinart got shafted?
 
We don't think so. In fact, we know it's not so.
 
Leinart should be thankful he's in the position he is today. He's the No. 1 QB for a franchise that has devoted a lot of resources to offensive talent. He's in a prime position to flourish. He should also look back on the draft with an emotionless eye.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Fact of the matter is that he was the second best quarterback available in the 2006 draft and, accordingly, was the second quarterback taken in the 2006 draft.
 
The one quarterback taken ahead of him, Vince Young (by Tennessee with the No. 3 pick), was a better college quarterback by every physical, statistical and team measurement. That leaves eight other teams who passed him over. Almost all had good reason:
  • Houston, with the No. 1 pick, clearly needed defensive help and was still trying to salvage the David Carr Era.
  • The Saints (No. 2) picked up veteran QB Drew Brees in the off-season.
  • The Jets (No. 4) had a proven – if often injured – performer at QB.
  • The Packers (No. 5) were fully ravaged by Old Yeller Fever and had just taken the proverbial quarterback of the future, Aaron Rodgers, with their first pick in the 2005 draft.
  • The 49ers (No. 6) had taken a QB, Alex Smith, with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft.
  • The Raiders (No. 7) could have used Leinart but their management foibles are well chronicled here and elsewhere. He should be thankful he was passed over by Oakland.
  • The Bills (No. 8) are still trying to make the J.P. Losman project work.
  • The Lions (No. 9) chose the veteran QB route in free-agency and opted for desperately needed defensive help in the draft.
So, in the end, Leinart was taken about as high as an impartial observer could reasonably expect: the second quarterback, with the No. 10 overall pick.
 
He should be proud of his status as a potential NFL star of the future. Certainly, the world is filled with people thankful for much more humble lots in life.
 
And, though he had a nice season by rookie standards, he won just four of his 11 starts, and tossed a mere 11 TD passes. In other words, he has no rational reason to believe he should have been picked any higher. He's going to look awfully stupid if he's a bust - the bust who bitched and moaned about falling to the No. 10 pick. 
 
Leinart may yet prove to be a HOF quarterback. He's hardly the first QB to take time to adjust to the NFL. But until that day of superstardom comes, he should get over the notion that he was anything better than the 10th best player taken in the 2006 draft and be thankful for the money, and the opportunity, that have come with his selection.
 
Icy Issue: Who will miss the other more: New England or Asante Samuel?
Icier Response: Samuel will rue the day he ever chose to hold out.
 
No doubt Samuel, the budding superstar New England cornerback, has played above his pay grade throughout his entire four-year career. The former fourth-round pick made an immediate impact as a rookie, was a starter on two Super Bowl teams, has morphed into a great cover corner and has always had an uncanny ability to deliver a devastating hit. Just ask Indy's Reggie Wayne. So Samuel wants his big payday, and has gone to extreme lengths to get it: he's going to hold out this year.
 
It will prove to be the worst decision of his life.
 
Holdouts rarely work well in the NFL, let alone on a team being run by Bill Belichick, who will – publicly anyway – forget the name "Asante Samuel" if a guy with that name is not on the field come training camp.
 
One of the major reasons holdouts rarely work is that the peak of the pigskin performance parabola for most players is very short: a premier NFL player, if he's lucky and barring injury, might have three or four years when he's at the top of his game. It doesn't take our beer-bottle-cap abacus to realize that one season represents a sizable percentage of a player's prime. To throw it away sitting on the couch, waiting for the phone to ring, is, in two words, career suicide.
 
In Samuel's case, it's even worse than suicide. It makes little financial sense. He may in fact be forgoing the biggest payday of his life for the chance to maybe get an even bigger one. As a franchise player this year, he'll make a reported $7.79 million guaranteed – more than he's made in his entire career.
 
He's guaranteed nearly $8 million this year ... and it's not good enough for him or (more likely) for the horrible agent giving him horrible advice.
 
If Samuel takes the nearly $8 million and performs at an elite level again in 2007, he'll get that big payday the following year. Sure, he wants a long-term deal now, but he should also know that those long-term deals are virtually useless in the NFL. An $8-million deal for one year is, for all practical intents and purposes, as good as a four-year, $32-million deal in a league where veteran players with big contracts are often veteran players who end up on the training camp chopping block. In fact, for an elite player confident in his abilities to continue performing, the one-year deal is the deal you want.
 
If Samuel holds out, there's a slim chance of him seeing the field at all when he comes back after 10 games. And in a league that chews up and spits out talent the way we do Buffalo wing bones, he'll be pigskin persona non grata when it comes time to find a 2008 payday.
 
Asante who?
 
That may be the question his agent hears when he picks up the phone after the 2007 season, a season in which Samuel is about to pass on the biggest payday of his life.
 
Icy Issue: Will the Bengals finally fulfill their promise under Marvin Lewis?
Icier Response: No.
 
"Pundits" have anticipated the rise of the Bengals since the arrival of Marvin Lewis in 2003.
 
His affable personality earned him "good coach" kudos long before he accomplished anything on the NFL sidelines, and, well, we're still waiting.
 
Sure, Lewis led Cincy to its first winning season (11-5 in 2005) since Sam Wyche went 9-7 in 1990. But his three other seasons have been a neatly stacked 8-8, and that spells M-E-D-I-O-C-R-E in our book.
 
Even worse, of course, have been the off-the-field incidents: at least 10 arrests over the last year.
 
Some have tried to blame the local constabulary, saying that the Cincy police have it out for the team's high-profile players. But don't forget, recent arrestee Quincy Wilson was busted last week in West Virginia. A.J. Nicholson was arrested not in Cincinnati, but across the river in Kentucky. Chris Henry has been arrested four times, including once in Florida.
 
The transgressions of the Bengals know no political borders.
 
On the field, meanwhile, is a team loaded with plenty of high-priced offensive talent in the passing game, but little in the way of defensive gamebreakers. Cincy struggled to run the ball effectively last year (26th in rushing offense, 25th in Offensive Hog Index), and struggled to stop people (30th in total defense; 31st in pass defense).
 
When a team founders on the field and off the field, there's usually one place to lay the blame: on the guy steering the ship. 

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