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Curtis Martin, The Factory of Sadness, replacement refs and more NFL Quick-Hits

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter provides his quick-hits from the week that was in the NFL.

+ Curtis Martin’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame this weekend was fascinating. He admitted to not wanting to play football after former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells called him on draft day back in 1995 and also lamented on how he didn’t have a strong passion for football, specifically running the ball. How naturally gifted do you have to be to rank fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list despite not being passionate about the game? That’s incredible. I’ve always felt that Martin never really got his due. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest back but when only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are listed ahead of you on the all-time rushing list, you could play the game. And Curtis Martin could play the game, regardless of how passionate he was about the sport.

+ Roger Goodell made a great point recently about the situation with the replacement referees. Said Goodell, “You know, we had this experience in 2002, and the big impact we had in 2002 when we had the replacement officials was, you didn’t get a lot of the holding calls and some of the other calls.” First of all, who remembers that the NFL used replacement officials in 2002? It completely slipped my mind, which goes to show you that this situation isn’t as big a deal as some have made it. Yes, whether or not these replacement refs will be able to keep the peace is a major concern. Whether or not they’ll be abreast of all the rules is a key factor as well. But blown calls are going to happen whether there’s replacement refs or not. They’re part of the game. But as Goodell pointed out, the game might actually be more fast-paced because there will be fewer holding and pass interference calls, which are the two penalties that affect the game the most. Nobody wants to see a bunch of missed calls and rule-breaking but how many times have fans said, ‘Let the guys play!’ following a costly penalty? Well, those fans may get their wish thanks to these replacement officials.

+ The Cleveland Browns remain a fascinating story, although mostly for wrong reasons. Randy Lerner sold the team to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam for more than $1 billion this week and as someone put it so perfectly on Twitter, who knew that the entire city of Cleveland was worth $1 billion, let alone the Browns? Now Haslman has to decide whether to make tweaks to the front office or completely gut the thing and start over. Granted, Mike Holmgren has had a rocky two-plus seasons as team president but it’s not as if he took over a playoff contender or even a franchise that was trending upwards. It’s as if the Browns have been stuck in purgatory for the better part of a decade and while some men enter, no man gets out alive. The thought of the Browns starting over yet again must frustrate fans. It would be nice to see Holmgren have at least another year or two to finish what he started but it would appear as though he won’t receive that opportunity. Then again, when you spend $1 billion on a football team you can do whatever you want with it. Browns fans can only hope that Haslam has a clear vision for what he wants the team to accomplish in the next three to five years because if not, this franchise will continue to flirt with the very definition of insanity.

+ Speaking of The Factory of Sadness, the loss of Chris Gocong is huge. The weakside linebacker has been diagnosed with a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon and is done for the season. He was a 16-game starter each of the past two years for the Browns, whose front seven continues to take hit after hit this offseason. Hopefully Ahtyba Rubin won’t suffer any setbacks after having surgery to repair a slight pelvic tear in June, because if not Cleveland’s run defense will be even worse this year than it was a season ago.

+ Robert Gallery announced his retirement on Saturday. His eight-year NFL career ended with zero All-Pro nominations and zero Pro Bowls. He played for two different organizations including six seasons with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him with the second overall pick in 2004. Some would say Gallery shouldn’t be considered among the top 20 or 25busts of all time but how could he not? When the Raiders eventually kicked him inside to guard he had a serviceable career. But he was drafted to be a left tackle, one of the most vital positions in football. It wasn’t like Oakland took him in the middle rounds, moved him to guard after he struggled on the outside and were happy they at least got six serviceable years out of him. No, they thought he was going to anchor their O-line for years to come. There have been many draft busts throughout the years and you wouldn’t have to strain very hard to find 25 players that were bigger flubs than Gallery. But he at least deserves mention considering that back in 2004 he was viewed as a future Pro Bowler and a can’t-miss prospect (not that those exist).

+ I had an opportunity to attend the Rams’ “scrimmage” on Saturday. I put quotation marks around the word “scrimmage” because it was more of a practice. While walking out of the Edward Jones Dome the first thing that struck me was how under whelmed I was while watching the workout. Thanks to Jeff Fisher, there’s a lot of optimism building in St. Louis right now and there’s no doubt this is a much improved Rams team. That said, the first-team offensive line looked inconsistent, as did Sam Bradford, rookie running back Isaiah Pead and most of the receivers. Danny Amendola dropped at least three passes during the workout, and he’s normally as sure-handed as they come. But after thinking about it some more, what did I really expect? The Rams have only been practicing for about a week and Saturday was just the third padded practice that the team partook in. Half the roster is new, the head coach is new, the offensive coordinator is new, and the position coaches are all new. That was not going to be a well-oiled machine at the Dome, and it wasn’t. It’s going to take some time but Fisher will put his stamp on things because he’s a good coach and he’s surrounded himself with a great staff. The key is that the Rams are building some excitement around the team and eventually, the roster will be good enough to compete.

+ Mike Wallace’s holdout situation has been the focal point in Pittsburgh this offseason but one of the more captivating storylines is Todd Haley. The former Chiefs head coach takes over for Bruce Arians at offensive coordinator and the early reports have all been positive. Haley is going to allow the Pittsburgh receivers to improvise and react to what the defense is doing, which plays extremely well into Ben Roethlisberger’s freelancing ways. But Haley isn’t exactly a mild-mannered coach. He’s intense and it’s going to be interesting to see how the dynamics play out between him and Big Ben, who has never been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the way his offense is being ran. The marriage could work as long as the Steelers’ offense doesn’t suffer any hiccups and hey, for the first time in a long time the offensive line is trending up. But the situation could also be a train wreck if the combustible Haley doesn’t mesh with Roethlisberger.

+ There are many signs that point to Chris Johnson having a bounce back year in Tennessee, none bigger than him reporting to camp on time and in shape after he skipped offseason workouts last year due to a contract holdout. But there’s another reason that Johnson should rebound and his name is Steve Hutchinson. Tennessee’s offensive line struggled with run-blocking last year, particularly from the interior. Hutchinson is getting long in the tooth but he’s an upgrade over what the Titans had last year and he reportedly has already made a positive impact on his teammates. Johnson should enjoy running behind the future Hall of Famer this season.

+ Yesterday was a great day for former Saints and Chiefs offensive tackle Willie Roaf, so I hate to focus on the negative. But how in the name of Zeus did it take Roaf two tries to be elected into the Hall of Fame? He was an 11-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro Selection and one of the most dominant tackles to ever don a NFL uniform. He swallowed defensive linemen whole with his massive frame and perfect technique. It’s a sin that he wasn’t a first-ballot selection but it’s great to see Roaf get his due.

+ Chris Doleman was Michael Strahan before there was Michael Strahan. Not a ton of flash to his game ; he just got the quarterback and he did so on a consistent basis. And you know what, defensive ends will always be graded and measured by sacks but Doleman was truly an all-around player. Whether lined up as an outside linebacker or with his hand in the dirt, the guy played the run as well as he did the pass.

+ As the Saints get ready to take on the Cardinals in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame game, the focus will once again be back on the bounty scandal. But keeping it on the field, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see what kind of impact Steve Spagnuolo can make in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Saints. Spags wasn’t a very good head coach but the one thing the Rams did well during his time in St. Louis was rush the passer. Giants fans are also well aware that Spags brought the heat but does he have enough weapons in New Orleans? Will Smith is suspended for four games and unless Sedrick Ellis or Cam Jordan play over their heads New Orleans could have issues generating pressure. And considering the Falcons are installing more of a vertical offense, the Bucs’ offense will be more physical under new head coach Greg Schiano, and the Panthers bring an explosive dynamic to the field thanks to Cam Newton, the Saints’ defense could really struggle this season despite Spagnuolo’s previous success.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Chad Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace & more NFL Quick-Hits

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter provides his quick-hits from the week that was in the NFL.

Did this Mike Wallace situation escalate or what?
Last Wednesday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers had broken off contract talks with Wallace until he signs his one-year, $2.472 million tender and reports to the team. That same evening, Mike Tomlin held a press conference and said that the situation is “bigger than Wallace” and that he was going to go work with Emmaunel Sanders “because he’s here, and be exited about doing it.” Two days later, the Steelers hand $42.5 million to Wallace’s teammate Antonio Brown, which wasn’t a message to Wallace as much as it was a statement that the team wasn’t playing around. Reports have also surfaced that Wallace rejected a contract offer in the five-year, $50 million range and that he could be traded during camp. But a trade is going to be incredibly difficult because no team will want to surrender a first-round pick for Wallace this offseason and keep in mind that the Steelers only received a fifth-rounder for Santonio Holmes (who was a Super Bowl MVP, mind you). Thus, it appears as though Wallace has two choices: Play for just over $2 million this season or holdout, which really doesn’t help him achieve what he wants (that being a long-term deal). At this point, the Steelers are in complete control. If Wallace signs his tender, reports to camp and is motivated to stick it up Pittsburgh’s ass, then the Steelers win. If he doesn’t report, then the Steelers are already preparing for life after Mike Wallace.

Chad Johnson appears to be a tad delusional.
While speaking to the media earlier this week, Johnson predicted a “monster” season for himself this year in Miami and then essentially blamed his poor performance last season on the Patriots. Said the Twitter artist formerly known as Ochocinco: “My personality was controlled last year. You perform. It’s never been vindictive. I never got anybody in trouble.” He went on: “The didn’t hear me at all last year. Zero. Zilch. When my mouth is running, it forces me to stuff that I do well, I do extremely well. The Pats know what I do well. You put that player in position to make those same plays he’s been making his whole career. It’s not rocket science.”

Let’s keep in mind that Bill Belichick and the Patriots coveted Johnson. It’s not like they grabbed him off the scrap heap and paid him the veteran minimum – they gave up a fifth and a sixth round pick because they thought he could still play. What they quickly found out is that they acquired damaged goods. According to a report by the Bengals’ official website back in June, T.J. Houshmandzadeh used to tell Johnson where to line up on offense when the two were in Cincinnati. And around that same time, multiple sources told the Boston Globe that Johnson just didn’t have the “football I.Q.” to succeed with the Patriots, who used to tell him to run a route a certain way and he would do the opposite. New England also gave him the benefit of the doubt by keeping him on their roster until this spring when it was clear that he still hadn’t fully grasped the offseason. So it’s a little arrogant on Johnson’s part to blame his poor 2011 on the Patriots because they didn’t let him be him. Belichick’s rigid ways may have had some negative impact on Johnson’s play but his declining skills are mostly to blame for his one-year stop in New England.

What exactly is Dwayne Bowe’s game plan here?
He took exception to the Chiefs slapping him with their franchise tag earlier this year, so he skipped OTAs and minicamp in efforts to voice his displeasure with the situation. But now that he’s no longer eligible for a long-term deal, why skip training camp? Why not sign the one-year tender and play for $9.5 million guaranteed? I get it – if you’re Bowe, why bust your butt in training camp if you can show up for Week 1 and make the same amount of money. But he’s not endearing himself to the Chiefs or other teams by skipping training camp. Look, there are no guarantees in life. Bowe could get hurt in training camp or on the first snap of the regular season. He could also go on to have a great season without taking one practice rep, assuming pf course that he even shows up for the regular season. But if the ultimate goal is to receive a long-term contract, then why drive another stake between yourself and the people who can accomplish that objective? If you want your bosses to give you a raise, or if you want to make yourself more attractive to the competition, you don’t stop driving into the office.

Here’s an idea to end the stalemate between Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars.
It would appear as though the only way the situation will be resolved is if the two sides come to some sort of compromise. He is the Jacksonville offense but the Jaguars hold all the leverage right now. He’s under contract for the next two years and the team doesn’t want to set a precedent for paying players with more than one year remaining on their deals (which makes sense). I don’t write contracts for a living but one would think that if the Jaguars would be willing to make at least some of his current deal guaranteed, MJD would report to camp with a slight raise. If not, then the Jaguars might as well keep fining him until he shows up because with or without him, they’re not going to challenge for a postseason berth this season. Besides, in 2009 the Jaguars and MJD agreed to a fair contract. The team expected him to be this good, which is why they invested so much money in him then. For him to turn around and now try to hold the team hostage for more money is slightly ridiculous. Thus, if the two sides can come to some sort of compromise that makes all parties happy and gets MJD to camp, that would appear to be the best solution.

It would be a mistake if soon-to-be Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III let Mike Holmgren go.
Poor ownership, failed player evaluation and scouting, and bad hiring decisions have all contributed to the lack of success that Cleveland has had over the years. But a lack of vision, continuity, and cohesion has been the biggest reason the Browns have suffered through a decade of losing. Holmgren’s first two years in Cleveland haven’t been very successful but there’s excitement building thanks to the first-round selections of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Holmgren knows how to build a winner, as he did so he Green Bay and Seattle before Cleveland hired him as its team president back in 2010. It’s understandable if Haslam wants to bring in his own people but to fire Holmgren and start over isn’t a move that brings the Browns closer to competing. This is a team that has lacked vision and while Holmgren hasn’t done enough to earn his new boss’s trust, Haslam owes it to the fan base in Cleveland to keep the train on the tracks.

Mike Wallace holdout begins

Both sides seem to be digging in:

Mike Wallace’s speed is his biggest asset. His slowness in reporting to training camp — at least in the Steelers’ minds — is suddenly his biggest liability.

The Steelers did a not-so-slow burn Wednesday when the super-fast Wallace, ignoring the Steelers’ history of refusing to negotiate when a player is not in camp, declined to sign his $2.472 million tender offer and did not show up at St. Vincent College.

Wallace and the Steelers have been working on a multi-year contract for some time — teammate Emmanuel Sanders suggested the two sides were close — but the Steelers always shut down such talks when a player isn’t in camp. This won’t be an exception.

Let’s see how this plays out. The Steelers are taking a hard line on their policy of no negotiations for players holding out, but this might just spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin got a much-deserved contract extension. Shockingly, one idiot on ESPN actually criticized extending a coach that has been to two Super Bowls with one title. It’s another example of too many talking heads debating both sides of every conceivable issue.

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