Under Further Review – April 25 Edition – Douglas Smith with contributing editor Bill Morphy. This week, the NFL draft offers a respite from weeks of self-isolation. The Seahawks work the draft board with an emphasis on defense. Two Canadians find new homes in Pittsburgh and Dallas.
NFL Draft – Well, we finally got to watch live sports on television this week with the annual NFL Draft, (aka meat draw), although it only made you yearn for the real thing.
As is the case every year, the top of the draft was focused on quarterbacks and once again, we will see if any of them actually pan out. The Cincinnati Bengals selected LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, an Ohio boy, number one overall. He will now have the weight of that sorry franchise on his back. Burrow lacks elite arm strength and if the Bengals have half a brain they will let him sit behind veteran Andy Dalton for a year. Burrow reminds me of Rams quarterback Jared Goff who also went first overall. Goff has not exactly set the world on fire and something tells me Burrow won’t either. The Bengals reportedly were offered three first round picks for the spot but turned it down. If that’s the case, they are crazy. When you have that many holes in your roster, take the picks and worry about acquiring a quarterback later.
Green Bay shocked a lot of people by trading up in the first round to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. It was an odd move when the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers under contract for three more years. Rodgers has a cap charge of $39.7 million in 2020 and $31.6 in 2021. Even parting ways in 2022 would cost $17.2 million against the cap. Why draft a quarterback who may not play until his fourth year?
The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs took LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round which gives Pat Mahomes an absolute embarrassment of offensive riches. All Andy Reid needs is another gadget on third down, something he has used effectively with running backs going all the way back to Brian Westbrook in Philly.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones made the Cowboys first round selection from his $250 million dollar luxury yacht parked in Biscayne Bay, Florida. The 357 foot yacht can accommodate 14 guests and 30 crew and has a full-sized gym, spa and two helipads. Nice way to ride out a global pandemic!
The two ascending Canadian prospects were both scooped up on Day Two of the draft. Abbotsford native and Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool went in the second round, 49th overall, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, a native of Ottawa, went in the third round, 82nd overall, to the Dallas Cowboys. Pretty good landing spots for both players.
If you were wondering why John Schneider and the Seahawks continually trade down in the first round of the NFL draft, here’s an excellent explanation why. Venerable football analyst John Clayton of ESPN Seattle has the breakdown on late first round picks and the results are not exactly impressive.
The Seahawks reportedly had a deal with Green Bay to move down in the first round again this year but it fell through at the last minute when the Pack moved one spot in front of Seattle to pick Jordan Love.
Case for the Defense – Seattle ended up holding onto their first round pick and their selection of Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks continues a trend of choosing ‘off the board’ picks in the first round, a group that includes Rashaad Penny, Germain Ifedi, L.J. Collier and Bruce Irvin. We will see if it works out. Brooks is a sideline to sideline tackling machine who will be groomed to eventually take over in the middle from Bobby Wagner.
We can wax enthusiastic all we want about the Seahawks Super Bowl aspirations next season. Fact of the matter is – their defense sucks and the numbers prove it out. We have chronicled their lack of pass rush ad nauseum. Seattle’s pass defense ranked 27th overall in the NFL last season. It started in week one when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton passed for 418 yards. The Seahawks had only 28 sacks which was 29th in the league.
But what people forget is the run defense didn’t fare much better. Seattle allowed 117.7 rushing yards per game, 11th most in the league. More concerning, however, was that the Seahawks allowed 4.9 yards per carry, the same amount they allowed in 2018. This is why I was maintaining they should be focusing on the inside of their defensive line in the draft not just on the outside pass rush. If they can become stouter in the middle and create more pressure from the inside, it should result in more sacks.
The Seahawks did address the pass rush with their selection of Tennessee defensive end Darrell Taylor in the second round. He should work into the defensive line rotation immediately. The Seahawks added LSU guard Damien Lewis with their third round pick. He’s a mauler in the run game which will suit the Seahawks offence. Lewis should put D.K. Fluker out of work in quick order.
Dime A Dozen – Has the value of NFL running backs ever been lower? The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette fourth overall in 2017 and now he’s on the trade market and there’s little interest. In 2018, the L.A. Rams signed Todd Gurley to a record four-year extension for $60 million with $45 million guaranteed, a record guarantee for running backs. He was released this off-season and recently signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
Why pay big bucks for a running back? Just look at who started at running back for last year’s two Super Bowls combatants – Damien Williams and Raheem Mostert. You don’t need to invest big money in running backs. End of story!
Stamps Landing – The Calgary Stampeders are the New England Patriots of the CFL. No other team in the CFL has had the same level of sustained success. One of the reasons for the Stamps run of success is they absolutely own the CFL draft. Every year they seem to have extra first round picks. The accumulation of extra draft picks has allowed the Stampeders to continually secure the best contingent of Canadian players. It’s the foundation of their success.
Guess who holds the first pick in this year’s CFL draft? Yes, it’s Calgary thanks to a deal with Ottawa that sent quarterback Nick Arbuckle to the RedBlacks. It’s a case of the rich getting richer. The Stamps always seem to have a solid offensive line made up of top Canadians along with a group of outstanding Canadian receivers. You would think other teams would pay more attention to how the Stamps keep the winning program working.
Reality Check – The NBA’s Adam Silver seems to be the only pro sports commissioner who “gets it” when it comes to the coronavirus crisis. Silver was clearly in control of his senses when he announced, “based on reports we have from varied outside public health officials, we are not in any position to make any decisions. And it’s unclear when we will be. It’s about data not the date”
Silver is a bright guy and he seems to have his head in the right place. He added “health care workers need to be taken care of before we begin talking about NBA players or sports.” Silver reiterated that all options remain open for resuming the season including potentially delaying the start of next season. But he maintains “the health and safety of players and everyone involved is paramount.” Good on him! Bottom line? Don’t expect the NBA to resume any time soon.
Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess what the NHL has in mind. You know Gary Bettman is desperate to salvage something financially. He may want to put a call into Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Remember, seven of the 31 NHL teams are located in Canada and 53% of the players are Canadian. Judging by the near anarchy in the States right now, we may not be so anxious to open up our borders. If you are a Canadian-born player playing in a Canadian market, do you really want to go anywhere near the U.S. right now?
According to published reports this week, the sports industry is set to lose billions in revenue this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. An analysis conducted by a sports marketing agency estimates the industry will generate $73.7 billion in revenue globally during 2020 – $61.6 billion less than originally projected. The global sports industry generated $129 billion in revenue during 2019 and was anticipated to grow by 4.9% year-over-year before the pandemic. Current projections show that only 53% of the major sporting events scheduled for 2020 are still likely to be held this year, along with the possibility that more are canceled. In March, only 1,870 of 5,584 scheduled events took place.
Salary Rollback – The Prime Minister of New Zealand and all her cabinet have agreed to a 20 percent pay cut due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. When are Gary Bettman and Adam Silver and Roger Goodell going to wake up and do the same?
Buffalo Wing-Nuts – Fans of the Vancouver Canucks can relate to long-suffering fans in Buffalo. But the Sabres may have taken bad ownership to a new low. Last week, Sabres’ owners Terry and Kim Pegula fired 21 employees and furloughed 104 others. It can only be termed one of the most gutless and insensitive moves in pro sports history. Among those terminated were longtime Vice President of Tickets & Service John Sinclair, as well as the VP Communications and the VP of Live Events.
Former minority owner Larry Quinn, who has remained silent since the sale of the team to the Pegulas nine years ago, finally broke his silence and said the firings were “unbearable, unfathomable and completely unacceptable. As you have noticed, I have not made a single comment about the Sabres since we left. But this is – I just don’t understand. It’s just wrong.”
The firing of Sinclair hit Quinn the hardest. Sinclair had been the head of tickets since 1988, making him one of the only employees who had worked for all four Sabres ownership groups. “The way they’ve been treated, you don’t take a 32-year employee and say goodbye and give him two weeks of health insurance – not in the middle of a pandemic.” Quinn said. “You just don’t do that.”
Of course, the moves will prove to be incredibly short-sighted. Sinclair personally knew nearly every Sabres season ticket holder. Try getting them all back to watch a team than hasn’t made the playoffs since the Pegulas took over nine years ago. The Pegulas purchased the Sabres in 2011. They outbid Donald Trump and a consortium that included Jon Bon Jovi and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in their purchase of the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion, all in cash.
If you are looking to point the finger, look at Kim Pegula. With her husband now into his 70’s, she’s the face of both franchises as President & CEO of Pegula Sports & Entertainment. A Wikipedia background check shows she was born in Seoul, South Korea with no recollection of her birth name, no record of her biological parents nor any account of her life in South Korea. All that is available is her date of birth, a secondhand account of being abandoned in the streets of Seoul at the age of five, and a DNA test that showed one of her parents was likely Japanese. She was adopted and brought to the United States by Ralph and Marilyn Kerr on December 30, 1974. She grew up with her adopted family in Fairport, New York.
You have to wonder where she is getting her advice. The optics of millionaire owners letting people go during these uncertain times is clearly not good. The Pegulas had earlier cut the entire hospitality department and announced they would not be paying game-night workers during the stoppage in play, ignoring what other teams around the NHL have been doing. The insensitive pair spend more than half the year in Florida in order to save money on taxes. It obviously leaves them out of touch with the realities of doing business in an economically challenged city like Buffalo.
Trouble began to arise last January after a presentation from Kim Pegula that included a slide in which she made it clear that she expected the sports franchises to perform well enough financially to keep supporting the Pegula family’s lifestyle, something that was confirmed via a slide from that presentation that was spread around the office. Needless to say employee morale dropped considerably following that presentation.
“People were walking out of those meetings like they’d been punched in the gut,” a Bills management source told The Athletic. “We just made the playoffs in the NFL, where it’s impossible to lose money. We’re firing on all cylinders. Now we have to pinch pennies? “The morale after those meetings was lower than the day Ralph Wilson died.”
To make matters worse some of the organization’s vice presidents took some of the slides from that presentation and shared them with different departments, all the while stating that one of Kim’s primary organizational goals was to fund her and her family’s lifestyle.
“What that told me,” said one current PSE employee, “is I’m getting laid off before they cancel that family trip to Tahiti.”
Considering the combined record of the Bills and the Sabres under the Pegulas watch, it’s clear their inept management will keep both franchises floundering as long as they are involved.
Big Buff – Dustin Byfuglien walked away from $14 million when he agreed to a termination of the final two years of his contract in Winnipeg. You have to think there will be a ton of interest in Big Buff in the off-season. He would be a hell of an addition to several playoff-caliber teams. You may even be able to get him to sign a short-term deal for a pretty decent cap number.
Trivia time – How about a little trivia? A player selected in this week’s NFL draft and Major League Baseball player share the same name. Both their first and last names are U.S. state capitals? What is the name?
The Kid Has Cred – You may have never heard of Graham Bensinger but you need to know his story. He burst onto the sports scene in 8th grade when he launched his career with an internet-based sports radio station. He would somehow contact major sports personalities and conduct interviews from his basement.
His list of interviews range from broadcasting icons Mike Wallace and John Madden to legends Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose, Jim Brown, Dan Marino, and Pete Sampras. He also somehow tracked down newsmakers including Barry Bonds, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Venus & Serena Williams, Commissioner David Stern, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mark Wahlberg, Adam Sandler, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Fast forward to today where Bensinger is now a highly popular television sports reporter with an eponymous show, In Depth with Graham Bensinger, which is carried on sports networks across the United States and via Yahoo! If you get a chance, check out his work. He’s a rising start in the sports broadcasting industry.
Where Have All the Pepe’s Gone? – Back in the early days of the Montreal Expos, the team seemed to corner the market on players named Pepe. They had Pepe Mangual and later Pepe Frias. We are sorry to say there haven’t been many Pepe’s in baseball since then. Lots of Pedro’s but not too many Pepe’s.
The Shortstop Factory – The Dominican Republic has always churned out great baseball players. The town of San Pedro de Macoris built a reputation for producing top shortstops. The list is long. Tony Fernandez, Alfredo Griffin, Jose Offerman, Manny Lee, Julio Franco, Rafael Ramirez and Mariano Duncan among others. Every kid in San Pedro grew up wanting to be a major league shortstop.
San Pedro is a city of just under 200 thousand and yet it has produced 99 MLB players. The Dominican capital of Santo Domingo is more than ten times larger than San Pedro. It has produced 106 MLB players.
You could put a whole all-star team together of players from San Pedro. It would include George Bell, Juan Samuel, Rico Carty, Pedro Guerrero and Joaquin Andujar plus current stars like Fernando Tatis Jr., Johnny Cueto, Starlin Castro and Robinson Cano. Pretty amazing!
The Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – Back when pitcher Randy Johnson was still a Montreal Expo, he was with the team in Atlanta on the day the Braves were honouring Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king. Johnson was in the dugout and asked a teammate what was happening with the long pre-game ceremony. His teammate said “It’s Hank Aaron Day.” Johnson’s response? “Who’s Hank Aaron?” Johnson was never accused of being too bright.
Music Video of the Week – One of my favorite Canadian artists is Ray Bonneville. He’s not widely known so let’s tell his story. Ray was born in Hull, Quebec in 1948, the second oldest of nine siblings. The family spoke only French in the household. They relocated to Quebec City when Ray was 12. Soon after, the family moved to Boston where his father found work as a mechanical engineer. Ray was put into the Boston public school system without speaking a bit of English. He fell behind in school but a friend showed him how to play guitar. Bonneville had a contentious relationship with his father and often ran away from home. To keep his son home, his father bought him a guitar and let him smoke cigarettes in the house.
In his late teens, having been expelled from school, Ray signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps just in time for the Vietnam War. After the war ended, he returned to Boston and drove cab to pay the bills. He learned to play harmonica in between fares. Getting more into the music scene, Bonneville started playing with blues bands in the Boston area. In the 70’s, he began travelling around the U.S. as a solo artist and opened for the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Doctor John. He’s most often compared to J.J. Cale.
In Colorado, Ray learned how to fly a plane and supplemented his income working as a flight instructor in New Orleans and Boston. He even did aerial-advertising banner-pulling over Cape Cod. In 1988, Bonneville returned to Quebec to work as a bush pilot. From May through October he would transport hunters, fishermen, and surveyors into and out of remote areas of Quebec in a de Havilland float plane.
Ray’s music may be rooted in the blues but it is heavily influenced by his time spent in New Orleans. His song “I Am the Big Easy” won the 2009 Folk Alliance International Song of the Year. It is an ode to the resiliency of New Orleans post-Katrina.
Several years ago, I had a chance to book Ray for a concert series I was producing on the waterfront in New Westminster. Over dinner prior to the show, he talked about his days as a bush pilot in Quebec. One particular night, he got caught in a bad storm and was barely able to land the plane safely. He said he was scared to death and vowed to give it up and get back into playing music. We can be glad he did. Bonneville now makes his home in Austin, Texas.
Here are three tracks that we found of Ray performing live. It’s a good sampling of his talents as a singer-songwriter.
Here’s a one-hour live performance from the Dennison Lodge in Wyoming, produced for PBS.
Answer to this week’s Trivia Question: Austin Jackson