I’m on vacation, the kids and lovely Mrs. B. are on school vacation week, I’m drinking much beer, I’m in a meat coma from amazing barbecue and micro-brews--right now as I write it is the Woodstock (NH) Brewery Wassail Winter Seasonal Ale (7.9% alcohol in case this turns to gibberish later); Red Sox-Yankees; early Sox game and normal Boston Marathon on Monday; and am engrossed in playoff hockey: its a hell of a good week.
WHAT THE PUCK?:
The Bruins and Red Wings have a hugely entertaining start to the NHL Playoffs. The Bruins had the best record, but are a team that can forget how to score in the playoffs. The Red Wings are just way too good to be seeded where they are, as injuries and incorporating young players dropped them lower in the standings than their talent and skill should have them. I had hoped they would draw Pittsburgh as Detroit is a team that is not going to be afraid of any situation in the playoffs.
This is probably the toughest first round matchup of any NHL team, and especially as a top seed. It will not be easy for the Bruins, but I still am staying with my prediction of the B’s in six games. That said, kudos to Detroit because that team deserves a better draw in the first round.
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Not sure that I can count myself a fan of this NFL “Schedule Release” event. I was able to get a piece written about the New England Patriots for Musketfire (http://musketfire.com/2014/04/24/new-england-patriots-face-tough-match-ups-2014/) but do not see this as an event worthy of pushing the NFL Draft backa few weeks. These rookies need every opportunity to digest the playbook and get with the coaching staff to be able to make the team. Cutting a few weeks out of their preparation seems short-sighted. However, what Der Kommissar Roger Goodell wants, he gets, and he wants an “event” for every month of the off-season. So we have to wait out the draft and deal with a schedule release (where the teams who who the 16 match-ups are already, just not what week of the year and bye week and Monday/Sunday/Thursday night schedule) “event”.
I was reading about Minnesota at number eight in the draft at ProFootballTalk after B.O.B. already touched on it days earlier here at the Gab on Tuesday with his Tuesday Tantrum. The Vikings are loaded at skill positions on offense but lack a quarterback. They have Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder at quarterback and there are no playoffs in the future with those two. At PFT they were noting the Vikings are desperate for a quarterback, but like most teams are willing to wait until the second round then jump on a flawed prospect early. For the Vikings, if they do not learn from their mistake when drafting Ponder, they deserve to fail.
As the NFL Draft gets closer, the more it seems that Houston has to take Jadeveon Clowney wit the number one overall pick. No quarterback is separating himself as a must-draft prospect right now and Houston has no one other than Clowney jumping out as the best prospect in the draft. A Clowney/J.J.Watt duo going after opposing quarterbacks is a frightening prospect. With the number one overall pick, a team needs an impact player, and right now it looks like Clowney is the only one to separate himself from the pack.
Outside of who’s playing Monday/Sunday/Thursday night with the schedules, the only other news in and about signings is the fifth year rookie options being picked up before the May 3rd deadline. This week the Patriots locked up left tackle Nate Solder, which is no real surprise. Solder only costs them $7.5 million in 2015 which is cheap for a top left tackle. They still have right tackle Sebastian Vollmer locked up through 2015 as well, so they should be good with two mammoth pieces in place for keeping quarterback Tom Brady upright.
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OK, that’s all I have this week. Have a great weekend, all!
Odd case of Donovan McNabb’s mugshot released in Arizona without any reason given. It seems to be a case of the law enforcement agency just celebrating they caught a celebrity. Apparently, McNabb was nabbed in a “Criminal traffic situation” in December which appears to be a DUI. McNabb was somehow able to be arrested and arraigned and now spent a day in jail without it being plastered over the media until now. Very rare in sports, for sure.
The fifth year option for rookie first round contracts is a negotiated part of the collective bargaining agreement that meets its first test this year. The 2011 first round draft picks are now coming up on that option and teams will pay the players based on where they are drafted. Top ten picks get paid what would be the transition tender for the position. For picks 11-32, the players get the average between the 3rd and 25th highest salaries at their position.
Houston wisely notified defensive end J.J. Watt he is coming back for his fifth year of his rookie deal this week. Teams have until May 3rd to notify their 2011 first round draft picks that they are invoking the extra season. The Cowboys notified left tackle Tyron Smith that he will be back in 2015 for just over $10 million as well. The Ravens exercised that option on cornerback Jimmy Smith this week too.
Of course, teams can work out deals to extend the contract as well, but the negotiated deal between the players and owners seems to be working well. Draft picks are not overpaid based on draft pick position for four years and there are no fights over the length of rookie deals. If a team wants to keep a player, they have the fifth year option and then the franchise tag the following year. All first round picks can be free agents after no more than six years this way.
For busts, they can get on the market and try to revitalize their career without hamstringing their prior team’s salary cap.
For San Francisco, they have a tough choice with defensive end Aldon Smith and his fifth year option. On the field, he is worth it. Off the field, he is a scary player to put a lot of money out for him. With a suspension and a torn ACL last year, the Broncos have a tough choice as well with linebacker Von Miller and his fifth year option.
Detroit has said that they will not pick up defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s option in order to motivate him to play for a contract. Top ten pick quarterbacks Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder would all be looking at big bucks (Locker and Gabbert over $13 million for 2015) so they all get to hit free agency early.
The clock is ticking for the teams with 2011 first round draft picks (New England and left tackle Nate Solder is another interesting situation) and the deadline is fast approaching. However, this is looking like the league and players both got what they wanted with this negotiated compromise. This is the rare compromise which leaves both sides happy with the deal as the players get to free agency before turning 30 no matter what and the owners control costs and have an out clause for busts.
A surprising release by Jacksonville of starting linebacker Russell Allen. Jacksonville is still under the salary cap and apparently decided to walk away from Allen. Allen had some concussion issues at the end of the season, but performed well when on the field for the Jaguars. Earning less than $2 million per season, Allen was the best coverage linebacker on the team last year and could be a solid pickup for any number of teams in need of linebacker depth. Stepping in as a starter in 2011 in week 12, Allen looked like a gem. He was a regular starter in 2012 and last year. It seems odd he would be let go now.
The New York Jets made waves this week with their acquisition of former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. Johnson has been a work horse for the Titans and comes to the Jets after his release. Not worth close to his cap number, his release was a foregone conclusion.
For a $3 million investment, it is not a terrible deal by New York. A two-year deal worth upwards to $9 million, odds are that Johnson will not see most of it. He should be motivated in 2014 after a lackluster 2013 season. That said, he does have a lot of wear and tear. He played last year with a torn meniscus in his knee and had surgery in January of this year.
Johnson is a speed running back. He should be back, but how he performs is a big question. The Jets brought in a trio of backs last year with the surprising Chris Ivory, the “meh” Bilal Powell, and the “waste of space” Mike Goodson. Considering Goodson still has his day in court next month on gun and drug charges, had a four game suspension last year to open the year, and then blew out his knee after seven carriers he is the likely training camp release.
The Jets added Johnson, Michael Vick, and Eric Decker in free agency but did little for their biggest area of concern: the offensive line. The Jets rode a strong defense to a surprising .500 record last year but this year let top cornerback Antonio Cromartie leave after trading Darrelle Revis the year before.
Michael Vick or Geno Smith at quarterback? Eric Decker as a number one receiver? Chris Johnson looking for health and redemption? No one blocking up front? Same old, same old in New York.
After the 1999 season, the New England Patriots lost linebacker Todd Collins (washed-up linebacker with a great mustache who quit on the team for a season in the mid-1990s), punter Tom Tupa (punter power!), defensive tackle Mark Wheeler (can truthfully say I have no idea who this guy is...and I played a ton of Madden 1998 as the Patriots way back when) and offensive lineman Dave Wohlabaugh (already superfluous due to first round pick and current ESPN NFL analyst Damien Woody) through free agency. As a result, they were awarded four compensatory picks: Nos. 127, 199, 201 and 239. Future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady was pick #199...so you could almost say the Patriots got Brady for Tom Tupa leaving as a free agent to the Jets. So thanks to the Jets signing away the Pats punter the Pats were awarded Tom Brady. Just....Wow.
Chad Johnson nee OchoCinco somehow found his way back in the news this week as he signed with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. Like fellow diva receiver Terrell Owens, Johnson seems unable to separate him from their NFL success in the past with a media-driven world that lets him keep himself front and center of any and all cameras and recording devices.
After a decade in Cincinnati, Johnson chose not to go quietly into retirement and instead flamed out in New England, marring his career accomplishments by embarrassing himself and not learning the offense and getting on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady in 2011. After signing with Miami, he was released after an arrest following his altercation with his wife.
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OK, everyone have a great weekend, a happy Easter, and for the New England folk a fantastic Patriots Day!
Another week gone bye and it started off with a bang as the UConn Huskies won both the men’s and women’s NCAA (or NAACP if you saw the Fox News faux pas) Division One Basketball Championship. Baseball is back and the season is rolling along inspiring excitement (Milwaukee) or panic (Boston...yes, after an early season three game sweep by Milwaukee there was panic on the airwaves...yeesh!).
The NBA season is closing out and likely another Miami Heat romp through the playoffs is nigh. Meanwhile, the NHL is closing out the year and teams are locking down spots in the playoff picture. With the NHL regular season ending it kicks off the best playoffs in any sports: the NHL Playoffs. No team is safe. Seven game series that go back and forth. Upsets every year. Incredible intensity night after night. It is just fantastic.
The big news in the NFL is once again superstars running afoul of the law in that CBA-negotiated time that keeps players away from their teams. First, let me say that the NFL is a full-time job. This is not 1950 with professional sports players working a regular job in the off-season and then using training camp to get back into shape. Players work-out all off-season long: coaches are at the facility researching, prepping, planning and preparing. Let the off-season camps run all spring and summer long. The more the players are under team control the less bull**** off-season trouble goes on.
This week had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick looking at his first off-field black eye as news broke about his being investigated by police for an alleged sexual assault. Of course, with many journalists needing to “break stories” TMZ--who broke the news--may have taken out of context in the report. At this time there is the potential of a crime having been committed with Kaepernick a possible--but not charged or arrested--suspect.
This “suspicious incident” included 49ers and Seahawks wide receivers Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette as well. Personally, I hope the players did not do anything wrong as I am tired of “sports stars behaving badly” stories. I think the 49ers/Seahawks Kaepernick/Russell Wilson rivalry is the best in the NFL and could be for at least another 5 or more seasons if there are no idiotic episodes to derail it.
Speaking of San Francisco, reports are that the 49ers are desperate enough to call former San Francisco, Washington Redskin, New England Patriot, St. Louis Ram, Denver Bronco, and Chicago Bear wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd had probably the least productive 900 yard receiving season in NFL history in 2012 for New England and was out of the league last year when the wide receiver needy Patriots let him walk. The fact that he burned bridges badly in so many cities is a huge flashing neon sign to stay away.
The 49ers have tons of draft picks (just like they did last year) and are in position to draft a wide receiver early and trade for a veteran to shore up their biggest weakness on offense. A player that would fit in San Francisco is Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson. He is talented and obviously sick of all the losing up North. The Bills have invested heavily in the draft at wide receiver and could move the mercurial Johnson for more draft picks.
The Bills are in the news again as with the passing of owner Ralph Wilson last week comes news that his will is stipulating that his surviving family sell the team. This immediately sets off theories of who will buy and where the team will play. There are already reports of rocker Jon Bon Jovi being the face of a group willing to buy the Bills and move them to Toronto. Expect whispers of moving the team to Los Angeles with the lack of a long-term stadium deal.
New England Patriots had some fun this week with new Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes. Spikes left New England in a huff after being dumped into injured reserve during the playoffs for being late to practice in a snowstorm. Spikes is a great run-stuffing middle linebacker--a two-down backer in today’s NFL.
He went on a Twitter madcap adventure talking about beating New England twice and then sparring with trolls, umm, I mean...fans. He started unfollowing and blocking Patriots fans from his Twitter...pretty funny stuff. Then, his worst tweet followed, which was “Four years a slave” referring to being paid millions of dollars in New England. What an idiot. Enjoy the snow and the 6-10 seasons, Brandon.
The Cleveland Browns--with gallons and gallons of salary cap space--did not franchise their talented center Alex Mack allowed an opponent to sign him to an offer sheet that if the Browns did not match would cost them nothing but money. The Jacksonville Jaguars--another team with scads and scads of cap space--wisely put in an offer to Mack which is reported to be for five years and $42 million.
The Browns are idiots not to match it and keep him.
The Browns had an offensive line that was 40% fantastic and 60% crap last year: Mack accounted for 20% of the fantastic. The Browns front office--whoever the hell is running it this week--would be idiotic to let him go and further weaken an Achilles heel last year. For Jacksonville, it would be a coup to add Mack to former Broncos guard Zane Beadles on the interior offensive line. To lose Mack and young Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward in the same off-season is a kick to the groin of Cleveland supporters.
March is finally in the rear view mirror and with it I can finally put away the snow shovels and be free of winter for another few months. With that, there is Major League baseball on the television, the Final Four teams are left in the NCAA Tournament with March Madness winding down, the NFL is about done with major free agent signings and turns towards the NFL Draft, and the NBA and NHL wind down the regular season and ready for the playoffs.
I had a great Wednesday night of sitting on the couch watching TV and working the remote with the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics all on the same night locally. Had some half-price pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers at the local watering hole with my buddy and the kiddos (no beer for them!) before that. The only downer being the lovely Mrs. B. was stuck working that afternoon and missed all the fun.
A quick shout-out to O.H. whose blog yesterday got the wheels turning in my head--which is the reason we blog, right? He touched on the return of Milwaukee Brewers outfield Ryan Braun from his 65 game suspension for P.E.D.’s. Braun in Milwaukee, like Barry Bonds in San Francisco, received a powerful ovation from the home crowd and will soon be coming to the friendly confines of Fenway Park in Boston.
I had commented that I would not be among those booing Braun if I were at Fenway that night. Part of that reason is I am a big fan of Braun--a large part of that from him carrying various fantasy baseball teams of mine over the years. Another reason is he is a player who really seems to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to play baseball for a living. But another part of me has another reason not to boo him.
I was at Fenway for Roger Clemens’ first game back to Fenway as a Blue Jay where he dominated Boston’s lineup and famously pointed to General Manager Dan Duquette’s box as he left the mound. I was booing my lungs out at the Texas Con Man that day. Loudly and lustily. Not only because he was pitching so well for the opposition after having a few rough years allegedly out of shape here, but mostly due to rejection. He rejected the Red Sox. My team!
Fans boo for various reasons. Some is due to simply not liking the player/coach, etc for some reason or the other. Sometimes it is just the opposing team itself. Sometimes it is the player who scorned the team/franchise/city, etc. It may be respect for the player doing well against your team. Or it could be due to something the player did or did not do. There are countless reasons for booing.
But for Ryan Braun, he cheated the system and was caught and paid the price, but that is not the real reason for booing. He was so outspoken in his own defense prior to this suspension that it had a bit of a Lance Armstrong effect. Personally, I would think the fans of Milwaukee would be more likely to boo him: he hurt their home team last year with the stupid suspension.
Ryan Braun never did anything to me personally. In addition, he never hit a home run to knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs (Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone); he never wasted my hard-earned money by taking the field overweight and out-of-shape (Roger Clemens); he never left the team in a messy divorce that came out before the biggest game in franchise history at the time (Bill Parcells); he never beat the home team with a game winning baby hook in the NBA Championship (Magic Johnson); and he never opened his big mouth and bad-mouthed the franchise I root for either (Rex Ryan).
Ryan Braun is an idiot. But I cannot boo him for using P.E.D.’s. In a way, it makes him a tragic figure. He was tempted and he gave into the temptation. As such it is very hard to fault him. If I were approached and told that taking something would allow me the opportunity to potentially secure my family financially for life and allow me to excel at the game I love for the price of some health issues many years down the road, it would be a difficult thing to say “no” to.
It is a deal with the devil, but everyday there are thousands of people give up so much more for so much less each and every day.
I guess I think of it now, and its not that I’m angry at Braun, or even feel upset that he succumbed to the P.E.D. pressure, but more sad for him that he gave in to the demon and was not strong enough to say “no”.
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The free agent signings are finally slowing down in the NFL, but as always there is plenty of NFL news each and every week.
The New England Patriots made an interesting move in bringing back safety Patrick Chung on Thursday after he signed in Philadelphia last year. Chung did not burn bridges on his way out of Foxboro, MA (cough-cough Brandon Spikes cough-cough) and after one injury plagued season miscast as a free safety playing deep centerfield on defense, Chung is back as a back-up and special teamer.
Per ProFootballFocus.com, Chung missed 13 tackles and allowed five touchdowns in only twelve games (ten starts). Opposing quarterbacks had a 129.8 quarterback rating throwing at Chung, who was paid $3 million last year in the first year of a back-loaded deal.
Chung lost his job in New England in 2012 as he fell hard after the team benched him in the playoffs. Primarily a strong safety for the Patriots, the 2009 second round pick had an up-and-down career in his first run in New England. He was likely cheap (no contract details released) but he knows the defense, has some perspective after a year away, and will be competing for a job.
Speaking of the Eagles, Philadelphia finally had enough and released their mercurial and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was raked across the coals with a report of gang ties in an NJ.com story right before his release which does not help out much in free agency. Either way, he found a home in the NFC East in a hurry with Washington. For the Redskins, they are able to get two motivated games from Jackson at least (visiting Philly and Philly at Washington DC), but even more importantly he upgrades a wide receiver group in need of another playmaker for franchise quarterback RGIII. Will he behave? Will he produce? That is the big question. Three years for $24 million and $16 million guaranteed means presumably the ‘skins get a year of Jackson before he starts moaning about wanting a new contract.
For Jackson, the best landing spot would have been San Francisco with the 49ers top defensive unit and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. San Francisco with Jackson and Seattle with Percy Harvin and their defense would have made the best match-ups in the NFL into absolute must-see prime-time games. What a pity.
For the Redskins, having new head coach Jay Gruden get a new toy is a big deal. Pierre Garcon gets a little less attention and fellow new receiver Andre Roberts gets more single coverage as these three wide receivers should give running back Alfred Morris a few less defenders in the box as well. I understand where Philadelphia is coming from with all the issues off-the-field with Jackson despite his excellent on-field talent.
The New York Giants continued a busy off-season of moves in free agency as they grabbed offensive tackle Charles Brown and defensive end Robert Ayers and cornerback Zack Bowman to shore up the defense at value prices. Earlier in free agency, the Giants made a splash signing underrated cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and took a flyer on former Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond. Adding further to the secondary they brought in safety Quintin Demps from the Chiefs. They also brought back wide receiver Mario Manningham on offense and signed Dolphins guard John Jerry and Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz. The Giants even brought in return specialist Trinidad Holliday from the Broncos.
For all the talk of teams like New England, Denver, and Seattle loading up in free agency the G-men have flown under the radar this offseason. They have a number of solid veterans to step in and the team back into the playoff picture. Their offensive line and secondary were their Achilles heel last season, and they are reloading there with a vengeance.
OK, that’s all I have for this week. Have a great weekend, all!
Big football news in New England today as the Patriots freed up a chunk of salary cap money and ended another round of contentious negotiations with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. All the bad-mouthing and locker cleaning out turned out to be all posturing by Wilfork. He had no leverage and with Green Bay defensive tackle B.J. Raji getting shafted in free agency, his agent knew his only hope was to try to rile up the fan base to get public support to get his way.
The team ends up reducing his cap number like they wanted, protect themselves if he bounces back by extending him, and then they can unload him easily if he washes out and cannot come back from injury. The deal ends up working out just like it would have had it been done before free agency. There was little market for a 32 year-old defensive tackle who missed almost an entire season due to an Achilles injury. If his agent wants to babble that he had “other offers” to save face, so be it. The real deal is he to rework his contract to have any hope of earning what he wanted and saving face in public.
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Despite fighting it, I ended up spending Thursday night watching college basketball between flipping to watch the Boston Bruins defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch. Chicago is still one of the best teams in the NHL...just so much speed on offense. Boston got a great game out of goalie Tuukka Rask and was able to play with a lead. Their young defensemen may not have the experience teams want in the playoffs, but their speed and athleticism was evident tonight and a great sign for the upcoming playoffs for Boston.
Oh yeah, NCAA March Madness basketball. Wisconsin in a yawner, but the Dayton-Stanford game was fantastic. It is simply addictive rooting for the underdogs. I do not have a “favorite” as I attended a Division III college. Was loving seeing San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen as well and an exciting team to root for against Arizona. Hoping I stay awake for the second half!
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* Hated to see free agent defensive end Shaun Phillips sign with Tennessee...he would have been a great fit in New England. The Patriots need a defensive end as both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones played over 1,000 snaps each last season and were visibly worn down at the end of the season. A veteran free agent and early round draft pick seems like the right move.
* There was a horrible nine-alarm fire in the Back Bay of Boston Wednesday that saw two Boston firefighters lose their life in the line of duty. I heard Tom Brady on the radio talking about it as he was just a few building down from the brownstone on fire. It was weird to see on the news as it was around the corner from where I worked for almost a decade. Of course, that is also around the corner from the Boston Marathon finish line where the terrorist attack took place last April.
I was impressed by Brady on the radio expressing his condolences for the families of the firefighters and talking about the first responders as the true heroes. It is on one hand an easy public relations call, but so many athletes and celebrities continually put their foot in their mouth.
He sounded (and looked in the pictures that came out) seriously concerned about his neighbors. It should not be news when an athlete actually does the right thing and says the right thing. But I guess that is kind of a state of the world in 2014. But kudos for Brady for at least saying the right thing.
* Speaking of quarterbacks, reports out of Philadelphia indicate former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will likely sign with the Eagles. I saw Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (formerly of the Boston Herald) tweeted it as did Jason La Canfora of CBS. Of course, Philadelphia backup quarterback Michael Vick signed with the Jets last week. Both teams got rid of an overpriced veteran who had no role on the team to come back to. Is that a win-win or a lose-lose?
* The Miami Dolphins got a great bargain in free agency grabbing Denver’s Knowshon Moreno. A 1,000 yard rusher for $3 million for one year is a heck of a deal. Bad news for Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, and LeGarrette Blount. NFL teams are just not going to spend for a running back not named Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, or Adrian Peterson anymore.
Denver is going with second-year back Montee Ball who they drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft last year. Even the running backs already signed got low money as neither Donald Brown or Toby Gerhart broke the bank in free agency. Ben Tate got some money from Cleveland, but nothing excessive. Also, Darren McFadden took a huge paycut to stay in Oakland.
Too many teams are passing teams these days and the ability to plug in young running backs gets easier and easier as more running backs come from pro-style offenses and run out of pistol and spread formations in college.
* Baltimore running back Ray Rice was indicted today for his assault on his fiancee last month in Atlantic City. Another off-field violence issue by a former athlete barely raises an eyebrow these days. Is that an indictment on society or sports? Or both? Allegedly police have surveillance video of Rice knocking her out. If that is the case, he could be in a world of trouble. Nothing pisses me off like professional athletes (heck any guy) hitting a woman. No place for that BS, Ray Rice!
* The Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. passed away week. Wilson worked hard to compete in a small market and keep his team in Buffalo, NY. The move to branch out to Toronto and tap that market was a wise move, but questions remain if the team will stays or moves in the next few years. Personally, I hate the idea of the NFL losing an original AFL franchise and such a storied franchise. Smaller markets like Buffalo and Green Bay give the league character it desperately needs.
OK, that’s all for today! Thanks as always for stopping by. (And a belated Happy Birthday to Sully!)