Inside this column
- What happens depending on who wins Sunday
- A Super Bowl with historic implications
- What’s up with Kyler Murray
- Fear and loathing in Las Vegas
This is a Super Bowl with grand implications no matter who wins.
And while some of you will respond rhetorically, “Isn’t that always the case?” This is a bit different. What’s at stake has implications beyond the usual issues of holding the trophy. Which team wins could impact the future of other teams and, by association, other players.
Let’s play out the scenarios.
The Super Bowl’s Massive Implications
If the Los Angeles Rams win
It would be the first title for the team in Los Angeles since 1951. That’s not a typo. The Rams didn’t just precede the Lakers and the Dodgers in moving to Los Angeles (the Rams got to LA in 1946). They also set the standard for greatness by winning that title.
That team featured Hall of Famers such as Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. It should have set the stage for the Rams to become the top pro team in the city.
It did nothing. The Rams are, at best, a distant third to the Lakers and Dodgers in terms of fan interest in Los Angeles. They are probably well behind UCLA basketball and USC football, even though neither of those teams has been great for at least a decade. Worse, the Rams never embraced the minority community when they were good, leading to a fan base that right now that’s primarily made up of over-50 white guys who grew up in the suburbs of L.A., like the San Fernando Valley.
A big problem for the Rams is that they didn’t just move once to St. Louis in 1995. They actually moved twice. The first time is to Anaheim, which is to Los Angeles, what San Jose is to San Francisco. Or what Newark is to New York City.
I know this because I grew up a Rams fan in Los Angeles in the 1970s. It wasn’t enough that the Rams broke my heart with ugly playoff losses to Dallas and Minnesota or even a tough loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. The monotonous style of play from conservative coach Chuck Knox combined with a parade of flawed quarterbacks who had no natural appeal. I loved to watch James Harris throw deep to Harold Jackson, but Harris got ripped apart (mainly because he’s Black). Then the Rams followed with Pat Haden, John Hadl and Vince Ferragamo.
And to add insult to injury, they moved to Orange County. Just slap me in the face, will ya.
Thus, the Rams have a chance to finally capture a place in the hearts of the city. They have an innovative coach, a star quarterback and other stud players. In other words, the Rams can:
- Build a new fan base among a younger generation.
- Justify Stan Kroenke’s colossal investment in SoFi Stadium and the redevelopment of the surrounding area.
- Put a considerable amount of pressure on the Los Angeles Chargers to keep pace (and there’s nothing wrong with competition).
- Force Kroenke to keep the team together for a while by spending money on free agents because the team doesn’t have draft picks.
- Put pressure on San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle to keep pace by resolving the issues each one has, mostly with their quarterbacks.
If Cincinnati Wins
This is a little simpler because you start with the fact that the Bengals have never won a Super Bowl since being founded in 1968. The team that was created by the legendary Paul Brown, who once led the Cleveland Browns to seven titles in 10 years, is more infamous for its inability to win in the modern age of the game.
But there are other issues in play. Specifically, this becomes a huge talking point in the NFL regarding the endless belief that running quarterbacks are the answer in the game. Yes, the ability to scramble is essential. Joe Burrow helped get the Bengals to this point with a couple of important escapes against Kansas City.
At the same time, playing from the pocket remains paramount. Burrow plays in the same division with Lamar Jackson, a guy that was supposed to transform the NFL. The same was said about Kyler Murray and Michael Vick before any of them. Patrick Mahomes is still arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. Still, as necessary, even he has become less of a runner and more of a scrambler.
Thus, a Bengals win would:
- Put incredible pressure on AFC North Division-rival Baltimore and Jackson to fix the problems that ail the Ravens offense, generally, and Jackson, specifically. The Ravens need better weapons on the outside. Jackson has to become a more consistent passer in the pocket, or the Ravens will have to move on.
- Put even more pressure on Cleveland and owner Jimmy Haslam because Browns fans expected they would be the ones vacationing in Los Angeles this year, not their in-state rivals from down south. The Bengals so drastically jumping the Browns this year is an indictment of everything the Browns are doing, from the coaching of Kevin Stefanski to the play of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
- Put Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin under the gun to find and develop a new quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. Last week, the word around the Senior Bowl is that Tomlin was totally enamored with Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. This is a bad year to be drafting quarterbacks, but Willis (like Roethlisberger long ago) could be a smaller-college diamond that the Steelers desperately need before their defense ages out.
What Does Kyler Murray Want?
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is now the latest NFL player to act like a teenager and unfollow someone on social media because he’s in a hissy fit.
Does Murray want more money? Is he upset with the direction of the team? Does he want to be traded? His agent, Erik Burkhart, isn’t commenting right now. However, those are really about the only three things that it can be. With that in mind, let’s dissect the options.
Money: This is the most obvious possible reason and is making the rounds. Murray wants to get paid like other quarterbacks, such as Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. His price is likely well over $40 million a year. From a pure performance perspective, Murray deserves an extension.
His play on the field has improved each year, particularly in one of the most essential stats in football: Yards per pass attempt. In three seasons, Murray has gone from averaging a paltry 6.4 yards per attempt to an excellent 7.9 yards per attempt last season. Teams can win championships when their starting quarterback averages 7.9 yards per attempt.
Murray has also gone from a 64.4 completion percentage as a rookie to 69.2 this year. While completion percentage can be manipulated by the style of the offense, Murray is playing in the same attack he played as a rookie. He has just gotten better at it, which is a huge net positive.
That said, there are downsides to Murray that everybody knows. Specifically, he’s tiny and has gotten hurt. He is also running less than he did earlier in his career, but that was predictable and should be what the Cardinals want. Again, football is still a game where the offense is run best from the pocket. Running is a luxury, not a prerequisite.
With Murray, the Cardinals need to make sure they construct a system that looks a lot like what New Orleans had with Drew Brees. The solid interior line keeps the pocket clean, and big receivers on the outside help the quarterback. Murray is small, but he can sling it, and finding guys who can sling it is hard.
Power: If this is somehow about Murray wanting more say over the offense or the organization and how it’s run, well, that’s just absurd. Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, already has an offense built for him, a head coach hired explicitly with him in mind. The team made a massive trade for a wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) to cater to his needs. Sure, Murray may want more changes, but that will be dictated by the cap at this point, not the team’s attitude toward him.
Murray is just wrong if this is the basis for the hissy fit.
Trade: Considering the power issue, this seems unlikely. At the same time, given the actions and thoughts of players such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson over the past couple of years, this is the era of the Wandering Eye Quarterback.
If Murray wants out, it’s doubtful to happen. Moreover, it’s not happening just because he unfollowed the team on social media. If Rodgers couldn’t get out of Green Bay the last offseason when he didn’t show up, and Wilson couldn’t get Seattle to deal him, Murray isn’t getting out of Arizona either. It’s just not happening.
The ONLY way that players get out of a team in a situation like this is by blowing up the group’s chemistry. You have to publicly call out ownership, say that you can’t play for the organization, or make another stink to put so much pressure on management that it can’t have you around anymore. Even then, it’s hard to get out, as Ben Simmons is proving in the NBA.
Frankly, most players don’t have the stomach to do this type of heresy because it inevitably splatters back on them. The fans don’t like it and express their feelings, and athletes hate being disliked.
And, ironically, most of that happens on social media.
So, if Murray wants out of Arizona, just unfollowing the team is not enough. In fact, it’s immature, amateur stuff.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
With a nod to the great Hunter S. Thompson and his seminal work, the NFL is not exactly happy with how things are going in Sin City. The Alvin Kamara case is the latest hot potato for the league, and “hot” is a grotesque understatement.
Searing molten lava, nuclear meltdown hot is more like it. Kamara turned the otherwise boring Pro Bowl into a news event by getting arrested afterward for his alleged involvement in the beating of a man at a club. If it’s true — and the Las Vegas Police Department says the video backs up the claim — this is the latest in a series of ugly incidents in America’s biggest party town.
Over the past 14 months, Raiders players have been charged with at least three DUIs, including one that resulted in the fiery death and her dog. Nate Hobbs, charged with one of those DUIs, was also charged with reckless driving in a separate incident where he was clocked going more than 100 mph. Damon Arnette was cut from the team after a wild video of him making threats and brandishing a semi-automatic weapon (and other behavioral issues were going on before that).
Now, you get Kamara, the biggest star impacted so far, who was in Vegas to celebrate the league’s all-star game, and who is inevitably going to be suspended, will lose millions of dollars in salary and probably a significant settlement if the video shows what the cops say it shows. Yeah, that’s a run-on sentence, but the implications of the Kamara incident are far-reaching.
And, for a moment, ignore the fact that the NFL allowed Kamara to play in the Pro Bowl. Whether he got arrested before or after the game, this would look bad. It only seems a little more absurd that it happened after the game and that both the NFL and the LVPD thought it was a good idea for him to play. That decision was just bizarre.
Then again, it’s Vegas. Chargers owner Dean Spanos even predicted some of these problems years ago. In the mid-2000s, Spanos was approached by then-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman about moving the Chargers there.
“I thought about it a little, but we were really focused on trying to stay in San Diego at the time,” Spanos said years ago. “But I also thought, you’re going to have a heck of a time keeping players away from that kind of life. It’s just too tempting.”
It’s now way past temptation. It has gotten to the point that another team owner aside from Spanos is now concerned. That owner is questioning whether it was worth moving to Vegas.
“This is not acceptable,” the owner said. “We have to get this under control. I don’t know if (Raiders owner) Mark (Davis) needs help or if the league needs to step in, but it has to change … maybe (new head coach Josh) McDaniels can get it under control, but we can’t go on like this at all.”
And if that sounds remotely ominous for Davis, it should. His partners aren’t happy.
This and That
- So, the Houston Texans spent all that money and time after firing David Culley to promote defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to head coach? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this wasn’t the plan for the Texans. Ever. The problem is that the Texans didn’t have the guts to hire retired quarterback Josh McCown. Or perhaps McCown listened to the numerous friends, coaches, and/or colleagues who told him that jumping into the NFL as a head coach without any high-level experience was a considerable risk. Yes, McCown is an exceptionally bright man with leadership instincts. He is not, by any stretch, ready to become a head coach right now and was told as much. In addition, he was given specific warnings to be concerned about working for Houston owner Cal McNair. The latter is not highly regarded among former Texans players and coaches.
- What is the biggest problem in hiring coaches in the NFL, and why aren’t more minority coaches considered? It’s a loaded question, but one of the biggest problems is that most owners don’t know what a coach is supposed to look or sound like because they don’t study great coaches. As with Stephen Ross, he’s a man who made billions evaluating and developing property. He doesn’t understand how to develop people, particularly people who play football for a living. Coaching is about teaching and relationships with a healthy dose of confidence and authority. Plenty of people have those qualities.
- It’s very early in the draft process, and that process is constantly loaded with rumors and innuendo. However, it’s fascinating to see that Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is falling significantly in the eyes of a lot of analysts. Thibodeaux was once regarded as a potential No. 1 pick. He has dropped to No. 8 on at least one mock draft. That’s stunning, reminiscent of how former first-round pick Daryl Gardener dropped from the possible No. 6 pick to No. 20 in 1996. Gardener was an intelligent guy, had a body built by Adonis, but came with many concerns about his love for the game and his personality. Many of those concerns came to fruition during his erratic career.
- Having mentioned the Raiders already, one of the concerning rumors around the NFL is that the Raiders are not meeting standard banking covenants to insure the loans on Allegiant Stadium. Many of the problems have to do with tax shortfalls in Las Vegas because of the pandemic. Suffice to say, it appears the Raiders are making the payments. But they’re not on the most solid ground.
- I’m not exactly sure what it is. Still, Mayim Bialik seems to cause an excessive reaction among some Jeopardy! fans even though she is, by far, the best host they have come up with since the death of legend Alex Trebek. She’s funny, energetic and has quickly learned to not inject herself too much into the program while still showing personality. While Ken Jennings is an OK host, Bialik is much better, especially if the show hopes to attract any type of younger audience.