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Stafford is key to Lions defense

This NFL preseason we keep hearing about how the Detroit Lions defensive line has shown vast improvement from last season and will be depended on to carry the team’s questionable squad.

If you  watched either of the Lions’ first two preseason games, it’s clear this group is aggressive and will be wreaking havoc, collapsing pockets  and causing Percy Harvin-type migraines for their opponents.

Coach Jim Schwartz worked overtime to revamp the front four that includes newly-acquired veterans Kyle Vander Bosch and Corey Williams as well as No. 2 overall draft pick, Ndamukong Suh. This unit will be a force no doubt but the key player to keeping points off the opponent’s board this season is actually on the offensive side of the ball; his name is Matthew Stafford.

Stafford, who ranks near the top of the Top 50 Athletes salary list, has shined thus far in the preseason and has done well showing off Detroit’s new offensive weapons like wide receiver Nate Burleson, rookie running back Jahvid Best and tight end Tony Sheffler. With wideout Calvin Johnson thrown in the mix, Stafford has been showing great poise this preseason and opting for longer, structured drives as opposed to looking for the homerun ball to Johnson.

Yeah, it’s preseason and we know the Lions were 4-0 in preseason the same year they went on to their Matt Millen-infested 0-16 record but the good news is, Stafford is orchestrating 10, 11 and 14 play drives this preseason and that may be the key to this team’s success.

If Stafford can learn to utilize the new two tight end formation the Lions are implementing and  control the ball and clock, keeping the team’s sieve-style unit off the field, expect these 2010 Lions to compete.

The Lions’ defense is suffering some significant personnel losses including the season-ending injury to linebacker Jordan Dizon and the nagging groin injury that has severely limited second-year standout Louis Delmas. Not keeping veteran tackling machine Larry Foote who wanted to stay in Detroit may come back to haunt the Lions, especially after the Dizon injury

Over the past few years opposing quarterbacks have feasted on Detroit’s defense making career days out of what should have been ordinary Sundays.

I don’t expect to see embarrassing opening game plays like the 60+ yard bomb that Matt Ryan smoked the Lions’ defense on in his first play of his NFL career or the multi-career-days so many running backs have put up against the team’s former defenses, but regardless, there is still a lot of work to be done and that’s why Stafford is the key.

Stafford has brought hope to Detroit and their loyal fans and thus far is showing he can handle carrying the team on his shoulders. Question will be, can he maintain ball control and keep the team’s demise off the field.

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Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NFL 1st rounders all signed, here’s their salaries

With the signings of Russell Okung and C.J. Spiller on Friday the entire first round class of 2010 NFL Draft picks are now signed and expected to be in camp.

Although Dez Bryant was the first of the picks to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, the ball really got rolling when first overall pick Sam Bradford signed with the St. Louis Rams to a record $50 million guaranteed.  Since then, a rapid flurry of signings has taken place including that of Ndamukong Suh on Tuesday.  Suh was widely believed to be the best available and was often believed to the Rams first choice in many mock drafts. 

The signing of Russell Okung by the Seattle Seahawks represents the first of what could be many first round signed draft picks under new coach and former USC Trojans coach Pete Carroll. Okung, an Oklahoma State product, was named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year last season and will be expected to be a replacement to lineman Walter Jones who sat out the entire 2009 season due to injury. 

C.J. Spiller was believed to be the best available of running backs in the 2010 Draft and fell into top place during the draft when he was selected by the Buffalo Bills as the ninth overall pick.  Spiller represents the first pick of former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey. 

Buffalo has struggled mightily in the past few season on the offensive side of the ball.  The team often looked as if they needed a map, compass and a lot of luck to score.  The matter was further complicated when starting quarterback Trent Edwards was lost to injury. 

Spiller will be expected to take pressure off of the offense in Buffalo and will specifically be expected to provide variation to an offense that sometimes appeared one dimensional.  Before selecting Spiller, many believed Buffalo would opt for a quarterback and met several times with Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow. 

Listed below are the first round picks of the 2010 NFL Draft class along with the terms of the respective agreements.

1. St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma – Signed (6-years, $78M/$86M max; $50M guaranteed)
2. Detroit Lions – Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska – Agreed to Terms (5-years, $68M max; $40M guaranteed)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma – Signed (5-years, $63M max; $35M guaranteed)
4. Washington Redskins – Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma – Signed (6-years, $60M max; $36.75M guaranteed)
5. Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Berry, S, Tennessee – Signed (6-years, $60M; $34M guaranteed)
6. Seattle Seahawks – Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State – Agreed to Terms (6-years, $48.5/$58M max; ~$30M guaranteed)
7. Cleveland Browns – Joe Haden, CB, Florida – Signed (5-years, $50M max; $26M guaranteed)
8. Oakland Raiders – Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama – Signed (5-years, $30M/$40M max; $23M guaranteed)
9. Buffalo Bills – C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson – Signed (5-years, $25M/$37M max; $20.8M guaranteed)
10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Tyson Alualu, DT, Cal – Agreed to Terms (5-years, $28M; $17.5M guaranteed)
11. San Francisco 49ers– Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers – Signed (5-years, $26.5M; $15.954M guaranteed)
12. San Diego Chargers – Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State – Signed (5-years, $25.65M max; $15.083M guaranteed)
13. Philadelphia Eagles – Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan – Signed (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)
14. Seattle Seahawks – Earl Thomas, S, Texas – Signed (5-years, $21.1M; $12.32M guaranteed)
15. New York Giants – Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida – Signed (5-years, $20.05M; $11.629M guaranteed)
16. Tennessee Titans – Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech – Signed (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)
17. San Francisco 49ers – Mike Iupati, G/T, Idaho – Signed (5-years, $18.25M max; $10.8M guaranteed)
18. Pittsburgh Steelers – Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida – Signed (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)
19. Atlanta Falcons – Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri – Signed (5-years, $17.54M max; $10.4M guaranteed)
20. Houston Texans – Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama – Signed (5-years, $13.1M; $10.35M guaranteed)
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma – Agreed to Terms (5-years, $15.85M/$18.5M max/$9.66M guaranteed)
22. Denver Broncos – Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech – Signed (5-years, $12.155M/$15.5M max)
23. Green Bay Packers – Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa – Signed (5-years, $14.75M max; $8.76M guaranteed)
24. Dallas Cowboys – Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State – Signed (5-years, $11.8M; $8.375M guaranteed)
25. Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow, QB, Florida – Signed (5-years, $11.25M/$33M max; $8.7M guaranteed)
26. Arizona Cardinals – Dan Williams, NT, Tennessee – Agreed to Terms (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)
27. New England Patriots – Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers – Signed (5-years, $10M/$13.2 max; $7.825M guaranteed)
28. Miami Dolphins – Jared Odrick, DE, Penn State – Signed (5-years, $13.07M max; $7.133M guaranteed)
29. New York Jets – Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State – Signed (5-years, $12.99M max; $7.12M guaranteed)
30. Detroit Lions – Jahvid Best, RB, Cal – Signed (5-years, $9.8M)
31. Indianapolis Colts – Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU – Agreed to Terms (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)
32. New Orleans Saints – Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State – Signed (5-years, financial terms undisclosed)

Used with permission of the author.

Cade Caldwell is an Atlanta-based sportswriter and contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

Posted in Features, NFL, Recent BuzzComments (0)

NFL quarterbacks shattering records

Throughout the history of the National Football League the quarterback position has been one of great importance and in the minds of many NFL fans and the media the quarterback is usually the one to blame when things go awry.

While the game has traditionally focused on an even balanced attack consisting of passing, running and strong defense, recent statistics suggest this trend has shifted.

The passing game has exploded. 

During the 2009 season a total of ten quarterbacks passed for over 4,000 yards.  Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans compiled the most at 4,770 yards and nearly propelled his team into the NFL playoffs for the first time had it not been for several missed kicking opportunities earlier in the season. 

Also included in that elite list was Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings.  Though Favre had struggled with his decision on retirement earlier in the year, he led the Vikings to within one game of a Super Bowl appearance – a large part of which hinged on his arm. 

Among the other starters that exceeded 4,000 yards in 2009 are both Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.  Not surprisingly, the Saints and Colts collided in the Super Bowl with Brees’ performance earning him the Super Bowl MVP. 

Interestingly enough, the leading rusher for the Super Bowl Champion Saints last season was running back Pierre Thomas with a total of only 793 yards.  A year earlier the Pittsburgh Steelers became Super Bowl Champ with another leading rusher with less than 1,000 yards in Willie Parker with only 791. 

The trend of recent NFL drafts supports this change in style of offense on the field.  In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions drafted Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall with their first pick of the draft.  Placing the bank on the arm of their new quarterback, the Lions signed Stafford to $78 million, $41.7 million of that guaranteed, an NFL record. 

Later in the same draft, the New York Jets moved up with a trade and selected Mark Sanchez No. 5 overall.  Sanchez later signed a deal worth $50 million.  As the largest contract the Jets had offered in the history of the organization, the deal included $28 million in guarantees.  Sanchez became only the fourth rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first playoff game. 

In the 2010 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams passed up the opportunity to take college defensive star Ndamukong Suh in favor of selecting Sam Bradford.  Although Bradford has yet to agree to a deal it is expected that the Rams will offer a deal that will likely surpass the record received by Stafford a year earlier.

Although teams are more likely than ever to place a premium on a young quarterback during the draft, it doesn’t always work as expected.  In 2007, the Oakland Raiders selected JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick of the draft after Russell had displayed a substantial amount of talent throughout his days at LSU and was highly coveted following the NFL Combine. 

After a long holdout, Russell and the Raiders agreed to a contract worth $61 million with $32 million guaranteed.  As a starter for the Raiders, Russell would finish a dismal 7-18 before being released in May 2010.     

What does this mean in terms of the growing popularity of the sport?  The NFL leads the way among all professional sports organizations in television ratings and will receive a combined total of $20.4 billion from FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN.  The current terms of the deal are until 2011 for FOX, CBS and NBC with ESPN maintaining rights through 2013.  Between the four, the contract of ESPN is the most valuable at $8.8 billion.  For the first time ever, the 2010 Draft was aired in prime-time and reported a 30 percent hike in ratings.

In 2003, the league launched the NFL Network.  Many argue that the network is among the most successful of the networks devoted to the four major professional sports.  In 2010, the network began airing Canadian Football League games and will air the Grey Cup.  Some criticize that the league is airing CFL games in order to stir further interest in a full-time team in Canada. 

Despite whatever motive may exist, the league has shown an interest in international exposure evidenced by playing a regular season game annually in both Toronto and London.  Closer to home, the league often makes its presence felt in San Antonio. 

While the success of all four sports leagues is apparent, only the NFL could move forward in operations without a marketing department.  When such a successful product explodes on the field boosting television ratings to levels previously not imagined the surge in viewers and in the cash flow destined to come from networks can only be expected to inflate further. 

 As long as the pigskin is being tossed for a record number of yards the NFL can continue to expect the popularity to follow.  And in this economy, it is nice to have advertisers that are looking for you!

 Used with permission of the author.

Cade Caldwell is an Atlanta-based sportswriter and contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

Posted in Features, NFL, Recent BuzzComments (0)

NFC North Gap Narrowed After Bears and Lions Free Agency Moves

While NFC North rivals the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers were forced to sit idle during the free agencyKyle Vanden Bosch bidding wars, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions were the most aggressive teams on day one.

Lovie Smith and Da’ Bears snatched the biggest prize of the day when they signed defensive end Julius Peppers to a six-year contract worth a maximum $91.5 million. The five-time Pro Bowl player will receive a record $42 million guaranteed.

In addition to Peppers, Da’ Bears also snatched running back Chester Taylor from the Vikings signing the rusher to a four-year deal worth $12.5 million with $7 million guaranteed.

Knowing the importance of granting quarterback Jay Cutler more time to throw, they also added blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna from the San Diego Chargers.

Not to be outdone, the Detroit Lions made a few quick moves of their own, signing three sure starters when they inked deals with two defensive linemen and a No. 2 wide receiver.

Wanting to shore up a defense that was last in the NFL in points allowed and total yards, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz personally visited Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch at 12:01 AM on day one of free agency and convinced the Pro Bowler to sign with the team.

While Vanden Bosch and his agent were working out the details of a four-year, $26 million deal, the Lions also inked a $25 million contract with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson.

Burleson played in 13 games for the Seahawks last year, catching 63 for 812 yards and three touchdowns and is expected to free up Calvin Johnson from the double and triple coverage he sees on a weekly basis.

Joining Vanden Bosch on the Lions’ defensive line will be Cleveland Browns Corey Williams, another proven starter who was obtained by a trade.

With the Lions adding these proven veteran linemen to their defense and with the team expected to use their No. 2 overall selection in the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft to select defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, you can throw last year’s dismal defensive stats out the window.

These aggressive moves by the Bears and Lions are certain to make the NFC North more competitive.

Minnesota lost a huge piece of their offense when Taylor left and while Brett Favre sits on the fence in Minnesota still contemplating a return, The Green Bay Packers lost Pro Bowl defensive lineman Aaron Kampman to free agency as well.

© 2010 – Sports ClimaxTM

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