The big story this week was the retirement of LaDanian Tomlinson, who signed a one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers so he could retire a Charger. I look at it as a sort of balancing off after the tragic death of Junior Seau not so long ago - and certainly LT was the player who stepped into Seau's shoes as San Diego's top player. So it wasn't surprising that @Carlsonsports got a lot of questions about LT, of which this one was the most comprehensive.
Top 10 of all time? Top 5? In the last ten years I'd say he's been the best.
I think you're right on that last point, PS: he was probably the outstanding running back of the past decade. Overall, he's very comparable to Marshall Faulk, and to Thurman Thomas, though I doubt LT's less then sterling playoff record will count against him the way Thomas and the missing helmet always seems to outweigh his MVP performance against the Giants. There's an interesting footnote to Thomas in that game, however: a big part of Bill Belichick's gameplan was to let the Bills run the ball, but take away their passing game, just as he later gameplanned another Super Bowl win by hitting Faulk as often as possible to mess up the Rams' offense.
I put LT borderline top 10. My top three are easy: Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and OJ Simpson. Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Gale Sayers are probably my next three, and then there's a sort of logjam with Faulk, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, and Joe Perry. Tomlinson's in that group, probably around 8. I find it hard to figure where to put Marion Motley, Bronko Nagurski, Lenny Moore, Ollie Matson, or Hugh McIlhenny in that mix- but LT is very much in a continuum with Moore.
Oddly, injuries seemed to define Tomlinson's last few seasons, but my favourite memory of him -apart from what a great interview he was when he and Reggie Bush came to town to promote the Wembley game - was his touchdown in that game. He caught a pass, stopped dead, and reverse-cut to go into the end zone. It was not only a magnificent play, it was exactly the sort of play his injured ankle wasn't supposed to allow him to make!
Do rookies ever bemoan the prospect of going to a bad team or are they happy just to play?
Well, Matt, if they do bemoan it, the smart ones keep their mouths shut. And for most guys, the dream is to play in the league, period. Occasionally someone, like John Elway or Eli Manning, will simply refuse to report to a specific team, not necessarily because they're bad, but because they see a better opportunity with another team, coach, or city. But those tend to be high-profile players. I'd imagine lots of players have places they'd prefer playing, whether it's because they're smart enough to recognise where they'd be a good fit, or whether they like the city, team, coaches or whatever. But I also think players are smart enough to realise that when they go to a bad team it may improve their chances of making the roster, and for the guys who battle for places that can be important. Of course if you see a franchise that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, you may dread it, but the solution will be to play your best, and go to a better team in free agency. Although that's slightly less easy under the new CBA than it was. Which brings us to another rookie question...
Roughly how many of the yearly drafted players make an NFL roster? And what happens to their contract if they don't make the 53? –
Player contracts don't actually begin until the season does; everyone gets paid the league minimum during training camp. So if you don't make the team, you're owed nothing (injury settlements are possible too). Once the season starts, the minimum salary for rookies is $295,000 and the new CBA rules include a rookie cap and more restrictions on a player's first contract which gives the team more control over them. If they don't make the team, they keep their bonuses, and if they get placed on a practice squad they get a minimum salary of $5,700 per week ($91,200 for the season in the unlikely event they stay on the squad for 16 weeks). Teams can pay practice squadders more than the minimum in order to encourage them not to accept any offers from other teams, because technically they are free agents eligible to be signed by any team. In last year's draft, according to Ourlads.com, only five players wound up on the street. Fifteen wound up with other teams (including four of the Rams' draftees). I don't have a breakdown of how many of the rest were on rosters and how many on practice squads.
Who do you think will be the most improved team of 2012 and why?
Well, Matt, that depends on what you mean by improved. For example, I have no doubt the Bengals will be much improved over last season; I thought they had the best top to bottom draft in the league. But in that division, it might not show up in a huge improvement in record; they went 9-7 last year; they could be a much better team this year and still finish 10-6. In fairness, I haven't gone through the schedules in any great detail to see who's got an easier ride this year, but that sort of general comment applies.
In general, I think the NFC East is going to be a much improved division: the Giants might be just as good and find 9-7 doesn't take them to a Super Bowl. The Cowboys may have just treaded water, except at corner, but remember they were one pass away from eliminating the Giants from the playoffs. Both the Eagles (if they can replace Jason Peters) and the Skins should be significantly better teams. The Texans, with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson healthy for the season, are a balanced team, like the 49ers, and like San Francisco might be able to dominate a relatively weak division. And that leads us to a related question.
How do you think the reigning Super Bowl champion Giants will get on in the toughest division in football?
Well, I said it was an improving division, and it may well be the toughest in football. The NFC North and AFC North can both make strong claims as well. The Giants have shown an uncanny ability, twice in the past five seasons, to come good at just the right time, and play their best football in the playoffs. They also seem to match up very well with the Patriots, or maybe it's just Tom Coughlin matching up well with Bill Belichick (The Jake Ballard business aside - and realistically, Ballard is not a huge loss in the Giants' scheme of things).
Jerry Reese does a great job of keeping the team competitive. I love the pickup of Sean Locklear: if William Beatty struggles at left tackle, they can always shift Dave Diehl back and Locklear can play the right. I thought they got great value with the last pick of each of the first three rounds; David Wilson needs some coaching, but is an upgrade on Brandon Jacobs, while Reuben Randle ought to be able to replace Mario Manningham, at least until they need that one big catch in the Super Bowl. Their first of two picks in round four, Adrien Robinson may prove a replacement for Ballard. If it isn't the strongest division (Minnesota and Cleveland do drag down the other two) this season, it will certainly be one of the most interesting.