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 Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Dave Kittle, Lindsay Lent, Bill Myles and Joe Rogers.  Major sports prepare for a return to action, the CFL cries poor, plus a complete review of the NFL draft and few other scraps from the cutting room floor. 

COVID-19 Update – Major sport leagues continue to monitor the situation and remain committed to finishing or starting their respective seasons. We can talk all we want about a return to action but it still comes down to one thing – testing. Leagues can plan and plot all they want but why would NHL and NBA players on non-playoff teams want to go through a 3 or 4 week training camp for the luxury of playing a handful of meaningless regular season games? If I am a member of the L.A. Kings, I would want nothing to do with it since they’ve probably already licked into ‘summer mode’.  Just devise some type of 16-team playoff format and get on with it.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowsk reported that the NBA was going to re-open its facilities on May 1. That was later pushed back a week. The NHL is clearly going to do everything in its power to save the season. On Wednesday, the NHL sent out a memo indicating it hopes to open team training facilities to small group activities “at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May.”  Speculation is the NHL will use most of June as a training camp and resume play in July if possible. It’s also being widely reported that the NHL and the NBA are preparing for the likelihood of starting the 2020-2021 season in December. However, there is no way leagues will return to action until testing is widely available nationwide.

Money for Nothing – As Sports Illustrated noted this week, who in the L.A. Lakers front office thought it was a good idea to apply for (and accept) a loan as part of the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The Lakers were justifiably ripped for accepting a $4.6 million dollar loan which the team promptly announced it had repaid. The idea of a team valued by Forbes at $4.4 billion seeking a loan designed to help small businesses is absolutely atrocious. The Lakers were reportedly not the only team to consider filing for one of these loans. However, according to SI, they were the only one foolish enough to do it.

Cry Me A River – We should not be surprised the CFL is crying poor. The COVID crisis has brought the gate-driven league to its knees and they were quick to get in line at the federal trough. Hey, all they want is $150 million, $30 million immediately and another $120 million if the season is cancelled. Unlike the NFL, the CFL cannot make a go of it playing in front of empty stadiums.

Do you really think the average Canadian stiff would support Ottawa bailing out the CFL? The league claims they would repay the loan through marketing and promotional benefits.  What does that mean?  Could we get a CFL player to bartend for a birthday party? In their plea to the government, the CFL played the heritage card and reminded us the Grey Cup is a national institution. Many of the franchises have been operating on borrowed time. How can you justify a bail-out when a high percentage of the players are American? I wonder if there might not be serious blow-back from fans if the government handed them $150 million. Some fans might be so turned off they wouldn’t attend another game – ever!

The CFL should be using this time-out to reevaluate their business plan. First off, they should have a closer relationship with the NFL. With the demise of the XFL (again), the CFL would provide a natural developmental league. Each NFL team could be sending a half dozen players to every CFL team. Why wouldn’t the B.C. Lions have some kind of formal arrangement with the Seattle Seahawks?  Seattle fans could take a road trip to Vancouver and watch Seahawk players in a Lions uniform. Each CFL team could have several NFL affiliates. And while you are at it, go to four downs and get rid of the stupid CFL rules like the rouge and the five-yard rule on punts. In what world do you get compensated for failure like awarding a single point for a missed field goal or a punt sent through the back of the end zone? Simon Fraser University plays against U.S. teams in the NAIA and they play four down football. Get your collective heads out of the clouds! Adjust and move on.

The CFL’s whole method of operating is wrong. How can you justify paying quarterbacks half a million bucks a year? It’s ludicrous. Sorry, Mike Reilly, but you are grossly overpaid in a league crying poor. The CFL needs to operate as if it is Triple ‘A’ baseball using tight salary limits with reasonable ticket prices. The CFL has done a poor job of reaching a new generation of fans. Their marketing plan, if they have one, is something out of the dark ages. If it wasn’t for TSN, the CFL would be out of touch with fans completely.

Sorry CFL! I hear the playing of “Last Post.” As a colleague said this week – “Bankruptcy, then reboot.” Our recommendation? Open up a lemonade stand and vend for yourself!

Post Draft Analysis – With so much idle time, I don’t think I have ever prepared more for an NFL draft than this year.  Checked out all the mock drafts and all the pre-draft publications. My big takeaway was all the so-called experts know jack when it comes to real Intel about draft eligible players.

Here’s a few thoughts to illustrate my point. As usual, when the Seahawks picked Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round, all the sites called it a ‘reach’ and gave Seattle a C or C minus grade. Meantime, when Baltimore tabbed LSU linebacker Patrick Queen with the next pick, they gave the Ravens an A+ grade for their selection. Queen is 6’2” but weighs only 230. The experts looked at Brooks’ height, (he’s 6’) and figure he is under-sized. They also downgraded Brooks’ coverage skills.

At the NFL Combine, Brooks was timed in the 40 at 4.56 seconds, which is excellent for a 240+ pound linebacker. As it turns out, when the Seahawks timed Brooks privately, his 40 time was 4.46, which is outstanding. When you combine his speed with his sideline to sideline range and tackling ability, character and desire, you can see why the Seahawks had him rated as the best player still available with the 27th selection. NFL analysts love to nitpick and jump on teams if the selection doesn’t match their rankings. Many claimed that Brooks was rated between 62 and 82 on the various publication rankings. Big deal! There’s so much more that does into these selections than just the measureables. Character counts more than you might think.  Drive and desire and how a player will fit into the culture of your locker room is incredibly important.

As it turns out, word leaked the next day that if the Seahawks had not selected Brooks with their pick, the Ravens would have taken him instead of Queen.  It’s a good lesson and clearly tells a different story.  When it came to overall post-draft rankings for each team, one site ranked Seattle 29th and New England 30th for their overall selections this year. When the paint dries and we look back at the 2020 NFL draft, do you really think that the Seahawks and Patriots, two of the best organizations in football, will have had the worst drafts?  Something tells me that won’t be the case.

Bottom line?  NFL teams are well-prepared.  Draft pundits can return to their mother’s basement until next year. To further illustrate my point, Sports Illustrated looked at the 2012 draft and documented how Seattle was widely panned for their selections back then. Reality proved different.

When you are grading any Seahawks draft you have to keep in mind they are usually not drafting for this year but two years out. The Seahawks prefer to draft for the future and let players learn from the veterans in their rookie year.  They also feel that they can ‘coach players up’ and get them ready to make a more solid contribution in their second year. It makes sense especially when you consider that players usually make their biggest leap from year one to year two.

It’s why NFL analysts are always undervaluing Seahawk drafts.  You have to look at their draft as a whole and not just at the immediate impact of their top picks. John Schneider and Pete Carroll get it right more often than not and they are particularly adept at finding ‘diamonds in the rough’ in the later rounds.

So let’s look at this year’s Seahawk draft picks and figure out how they fit into the overall scheme of things. When a deal with Green Bay to trade down fell through at the last minute, the Seahawks ended up holding onto their first round pick and made Brooks their top choice. According to Schneider, he was the top-rated player left on their board. Yes, it was a mild surprise because they had a greater need along the defensive line. But if you look deeper, it makes sense because K.J. Wright has only one year left on his contract and Bobby Wagner will be 30 in July.

The Seahawks moved up in the second round to grab defensive end Darrell Taylor of Tennessee who should contribute early as a rotational pass rusher. He has great speed off the edge and has similarities to Frank Clark. Taylor has the closing speed to get around the edge and attack the quarterback. Seattle was the only NFL team who had Taylor in for a visit at their facility before the lockdown took place so they had the benefit of conducting a full medical. This proved important because Taylor played all of last season with a stress fracture in his leg and had surgery in January.

The Seahawks also added Syracuse end Alton Robinson in the 5th round. He could be another disruptor off the edge. All of a sudden the need to resign Jadeveon Clowney has diminished. The Seahawks have now added Taylor and Robinson plus Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa to the D-line rotation for this year. The door to signing Clowney may not have closed but it’s almost shut.

In round three, the Seahawks selected LSU guard Damien Lewis. With Mike Iupati and D.J. Fluker both on one-year contracts, Lewis fills a need. He’s not quite as big but he’s a human boulder in the run game and can obliterate linebackers on the second level. Lewis has some shortcomings in pass protection but what else is new when it comes to the Seattle O-line?  At one point earlier this week, the Seahawks had 19 offensive linemen under contract. Try feeding that many hogs!  It would have been a tougher battle in the buffet line at training camp than on the field.

The Seahawks had two picks in the fourth round and added Stanford tight end Colby Parkinson and Miami running back DeeJay Dallas. You can’t go wrong picking a Stanford tight end. Parkinson is 6’7” and will team with Will Dissly to give the Seahawks two talented young developmental tight ends. Recently signed Greg Olsen is on a one-year deal so Parkinson will be needed in 2021. If I were Canadian Luke Willson, I wouldn’t be taking out a lease on a Seattle condo because I doubt he will be around once the season opens.

In the 6th round, the Seahawks picked Florida wide receiver Freddie Swain who’s best chance of making the roster is as a kick returner. The Seahawks traded a pick next year to grab another big tight end, Stephen Sullivan, in the 7th round, yet another product of the national champion LSU Tigers. Following the draft, the Seahawks inked a plethora of undrafted college free agents headlined by Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon. He set a Pac 12 record with over 5,500 yard passing this season with 48 touchdowns and a completion record of over 71%. He has a chance to backup Russell Wilson this season although I think the Hawks will still likely bring back Geno Smith.

Overall, I would give the Seahawks a B or B+ grade for this year’s draft class. I was very surprised they didn’t manoeuver more to add extra picks. I would have liked to have seen them add an impact defensive tackle and a higher rated wide receiver in a draft that was extremely deep at both positions. It would also have helped to add a cornerback that could compete with Ugo Amadi as a nickle corner.

Seahawk watchers are well aware the team needs to shore up on defense if it is going to stay close to the 49’ers in a very tough NFC West. One thing that needs to happen this year if Seattle wants to improve on defense is they must start to integrate more young players into the lineup. Last year’s rookie class on defense has to be more involved this year – namely safety Marquise Blair, defensive end L.J. Collier and linebacker Cody Barton. Third year pro Raheem Green needs to take hold of a starting job. If you add in this draft class, the free agent signings and the acquisition of cornerback Quinton Dunbar, the defense has a chance to be much improved. It will also help to have safety Quandry Diggs for the entire season.

Goodell’s Basement – We should not be surprised to learn that this year’s NFL draft was the most-watched ever. The TV numbers were off the charts with more than 55 million total viewers over the three-day draft. The NFL Draft-a-Thon helped raise $6.6 million dollars contributing to the more than $100 million raised by the NFL Family in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.

Rocky and Bullwinkle – It’s inconceivable that the Chicago Black Hawks would fire club President John McDonough. Apparently the ghost of Bill Wirtz is alive and well!  The Hawks were a tire fire before McDonough left the Cubs and joined the team in 2007. All he did was rebuild the brand, win three Stanley Cups and help the Hawks become the third most valuable franchise in the NHL. And oh yeah, they sold out over 500 home games in a row. The three Cups exceeded their total from the previous 80 years.

Owner Rocky Wirtz announced that his son Daniel will take over as interim team president. We’ve seen this kind of nepotism before in many sports franchises and the movie usually doesn’t end well. Sonny Boy will probably want to make a statement so Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton may be next.

Doogie Howson M.D. – It never ceases to amaze me how NHL executives continue to be recycled like old pop cans. American Hockey League President Dave Andrews is retiring after 25+ years as commissioner and who do they select as a replacement – former Columbus GM and long-time Edmonton Oiler hanger-on Scott Howson.

You can make the argument that Howson is a good ‘hockey guy’ (whatever that means) but what qualifications does he have to manage a league? No university education. Nothing in his background to get you excited.  What does Howson know about business operations, marketing, sponsorships and revenue generation? There has to be someone out there with a more dynamic CV. Someone with a background in sports administration and fresh, new ideas. It’s just one more example of ‘same old, same old’ when it comes to how hockey is managed.

Howson served as Assistant GM in Edmonton under Kevin Lowe from 2002-to-2007. During that time, Oiler first round picks included Jesse Niinimaki, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Robbie Scremp, Sam Gagner, Riley Nash and Alex Plante. A veritable plethora of useless dung. This was apparently enough to get him hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets where he served as GM from 2007 to 2013. Howson’s first round selections during his stint in Columbus included Nikita Filatov, John Moore, Alex Wennberg, Kerby Rychal and Marko Dano.  At least as AHL commish, Howson won’t have to draft anyone.

Whoever handled the job search for the new AHL President and CEO should be shown the door immediately. You can be sure some NHL executive came to bat for Howson and helped him land the job. Other leagues would never allow this to happen to an important feeder league.

By the Numbers – Here are some amazing baseball stats uncovered by intrepid co-editor Bill Morphy.

  • Rogers Hornsby was undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He had 2,930 hits and 301 home runs in his career but what makes him stand out is his .358 career batting average, second in MLB history to Ty Cobb at .367.
  • Hornsby won three Triple Crowns and batted over. 400 three times during his career. He is the only player in history to bat .400 and hit over 40 home runs in the same year (1922). His batting average in 1924 was .424, a mark no player has matched since.
  • Hack Wilson has the major league record for RBI’s in a season with 191. He wore a size 5 and a half shoe. Was he a hobbit?
  • Ty Cobb went five for five in his career 14 times. Pete Rose did it ten times.
  • In the 2000 season, the American League hit an average of .167 against Pedro Martinez. This is the lowest league batting average ever allowed by a pitcher.

The Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – From the immortal Casey Stengel, “The secret of managing is to keep the five guys that hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”

Music Video of the Week – This week, we feature Stephen Stills, the great singer-songwriter and guitarist who played a major role in two iconic bands, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills Nash.  Over his career, he had combined record sales of over 35 million albums.

When Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash first sang together in Joni Mitchell’s living room in the summer of 1968, I don’t think any of them realized at the time just how seismic an event that would be, setting off a series of highs and lows that would resonate through the world of rock and roll for decades to come. Their debut album, which came out early the following year, not only captured the mood of a generation but was also a huge seller. However, things started to go south very quickly and after Neil Young was added to the mix, their next LP was plagued with all kinds of problems. An even bigger success, “Déjà Vu” took, in Stills’ estimation, more than 800 hours of studio time to complete with all four members working individually on their own tracks and generally not getting along. By the time the North American tour to promote the LP was over, bassist Greg Reeves and drummer Dallas Taylor had both been fired and tensions between the rest of the group were off the charts (Stills, in fact, was actually fired at one point by the other three after a show in Chicago in July 1970 but was reinstated shortly afterwards).

Opting to take a well-deserved hiatus from one another, all four decided to concentrate on their own careers and each released a high profile solo album between September of that year and May 1971, with Still’s self-titled debut effort, arguably the best of the bunch. (The others were Young’s “After the Gold Rush”, Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” and Nash’s “Song’s for Beginners”) Stills’ solo album was also the most commercially successful, reaching #3 on the Billboard charts. It featured a number of well-known guest musicians including Ringo Starr, Booker T. Jones, John Sebastian, “Mama” Cass Elliott, his estranged band mates Crosby, Nash and Taylor, as well as both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, the only time these two guitar virtuoso’s appeared together on the same album, although not on the same track.

Here’s Steve Stills with Graham Nash and David Crosby from a 1989 concert performing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

One of my favorite Steve Stills songs is “Treetop Flyer.” Here’s a great version we found on YouTube.

Stills was a very underrated guitar player.  His talents were on display during this television appearance in 1983 performing “Crossroads/You Can’t Catch Me.”