Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

Tom_Brady
Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

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Chill on Dak Prescott

Everyone just relax. No seriously, take a deep breath and stop calling him the second coming of Tom Brady. The NFL world has exploded over the past month as Dak Prescott tortured NFL defenses during the preseason. His emergence in his first three preseason games was impressive, but not indicative of anything.

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Prescott is a fourth round pick from Mississippi State. (Wikimedia Commons)

To start with, it was three preseason games where he played about half of each one. None of these games count for anything. Prescott also played most of the second game against Miami’s backups on defense. Defenses aren’t sending full blitz packages, coverage schemes are still being implemented and top defensive stars likely aren’t even playing. So yes, while the performance was impressive, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Looking past that, Prescott was never going to touch the field in the regular season unless Tony Romo got injured. This was not a quarterback competition. Romo is in no danger of losing his starting job once he is fully healthy. One day we might see Prescott as the preferred starter under center, but it won’t be until Romo retires or leaves Dallas.

And even when we do see him play, we don’t have any guarantee that he will put up the same video game-like numbers we saw during the preseason. Odds are, he will be outplayed by his New York counterpart Eli Manning. Prescott’s sample size is tiny and that should be a red flag to anyone proclaiming him as the next great quarterback. This article I found today from CBS Sports is already calling Prescott a future Super Bowl-winning passer. He hasn’t played a snap of a regular season game yet!

And what even more people seem to forget is that this is Tony Romo we are talking about. The same guy who was an MVP candidate in 2014 and lead Dallas to the divisional round of the playoffs. You know, Romo, who has over 34,000 career passing yards and 247 career touchdown passes, both franchise records. This is the same team that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach played for I will remind you. Tony Romo is right on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer. His numbers are better than those of Staubach and Aikman who are both in Canton. You don’t just kick your Pro Bowl quarterback to the curb because a rookie has a couple of impressive preseason games.

Tony_Romo
Romo is out several week with a broken bone in his back. (Wikimedia Commons)

This article is not just so I can hate on Dak Prescott. In fact, with the pieces that are around him, I do think Prescott has a bright future. He has shown flashes of brilliance, shows that he has most of the physical tools to play the position at a high level and he is on a team with a recipe for him to be successful. Between that stellar offensive line and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has some nice pieces to grow with and compliment him. Hopefully, by the time he takes over as the starter, (if we reach that point) the Cowboys will have found another receiver to either aid or replace Dez Bryant.

Prescott will be under center Sunday for Dallas as they take on the Giants. New York had the worst statistical defense in the league a year ago, so this might be the perfect way to east him into regular season football. But even if does have a great game against the Giants, let’s hold off on anointing him a Hall of Famer until maybe he finishes his first season in the pros.

NBA balance of power has flipped

Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside leads the NBA with 4 blocks per game.

We are nearing the halfway point in the NBA season and certain things are abundantly clear. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA. The 76ers are still terrible. Oh and don’t try shooting near Hassan Whiteside. Those were pretty much expected coming into the season, but we have seen an interesting flip between the Eastern and Western conferences.

In years past, the East has been top heavy while the West has been a gauntlet. You could say with almost certainty which teams from the East would be in the conference final while the West was a toss up. This year has been a bit backwards. The teams in the Eastern Conference are all clumped together while the West is very spread out. Every team in a playoff spot for the East has a winning record, but the seventh and eighth seeds in the West are below .500.

The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are currently tied for the final spot in the Eastern conference playoffs. They sit just 5.5 games behind the Cavaliers, who are on top of the conference. The Utah Jazz have a losing record but hold the last spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. They sit 16.5 games behind the first place Warriors.

To further the point, the Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs last season with a record of 45-37. That record would have made them the sixth seed in the East. The seventh-seeded Mavericks in the West had the same record as the third-seeded Bulls in the East. The Spurs were the sixth seed in the West but would’ve been second in the East. It was clear that the West was the much stronger of the conferences.

Sure it isn’t realistic to compare finishing spots across conferences, but they didn’t have inflated records because the bottom of the West was just that bad. The bottom of the East was actually worse.

The question now is why was there a switch. There weren’t too many big name free agents who left the West. The biggest ones were probably Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Monta Ellis. None of them are future Hall of Famers or even All-Stars for that matter.

New York Knicks
Lopez (8) and Porzingis (6) have been a part of a largely improved Knicks team from a season ago.

The draft has seemed to produce a couple of talented players. Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks, Jahlil Okafor for the 76ers and Karl-Anthony Towns for the Timberwolves. None of those teams are even in the playoff picture though, so that doesn’t seem to explain it either.

Could it be that some trade deadline movements are finally starting to make an impact? Gorgan Dragic moved from Phoenix to Miami. Reggie Jackson also joined the Pistons from the Thunder. Thaddeus Young left Minnesota for Brooklyn. Boston landed Isiah Thomas in a deal with Phoenix. Thomas, Dragic and Jackson have all become very valuable pieces on their new teams.

There is no definite answer right now. The East has suddenly just turned itself around and become the more competitive of the two conferences. My best guess is that some combination of trades, draft picks and free agent signings combined have had some impact on the change. I really don’t think that explains it all.

It is still early enough that we could see the tables turn and the West could have a strong second half. To this point though, the East seems to be reigning supreme.

Dos Santos rumors show us what the “core player” can mean to growing MLS

Another stepping stone in the continued growth of MLS.

ProSoccerTalk

Major League Soccer’s limiting of three Designated Players per team is a tool to allow marquee players to join the league without crushing competitive balance too much, but will the new “core player” be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to parity?

If the first expected use of the “core player” tag is any indication, it’s a distinct possibility.

[ MLS: Power Rankings | Player, Team of the Week ]

If you missed it, Mexican star Giovani dos Santos could be headed to the dynasty that is the Los Angeles Galaxy. Winners of three titles in four years, Bruce Arena is about to add Dos Santos to a lineup that includes Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and newcomer Steven Gerrard as DPs.

L.A. was already sixth in our power rankings with neither Gerrard nor Dos Santos, and the idea of an attack that could use…

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Stuart Scott’s legacy

I have written a bunch of tribute pieces on athletes this past year who are finishing their career in various sports. This one is a little different though. It is not for an athlete and no one is retiring. This is a tribute piece for a man who lost his life battling cancer. Stuart Scott spent the better part of the last 7 years fighting his cancer. Twice it went into remission, but both times, it came back worse than before. Yet, Scott never let it affect his life. He continued to work through the disease, refusing to let it take over his life. This is his story.

Stu and Alan
Scott passed away on January 4, 2015. He was 49.

Stuart Orlando Scott was born on July 19, 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. That was not where he called home though as his family moved to North Carolina, where Scott spent most of his childhood. He grew up with a brother Stephen and two sisters Synthia and Susan. Scott graduated from Richard J. Reynolds High School where he was not the only famous graduate. Former U.S. Senator Richard Burr, Hall of Fame sports writer Mary Garber and musician Ben Folds all spent their time at the Winston-Salem school. Scott then went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a communications undergraduate student. This is where Scott honed his craft initially. Scott joined the student-run radio station WXYC and became an on-air talent.

After graduation, Scott started working for an ABC affiliate television station, WPDE in South Carolina. He only stayed rough a year before he jumped to a Raleigh station named WRAL in 1988. WRAL posted an article yesterday after the news of Stuart’s passing broke. Sports anchor Jeff Gravely said in the article that Scott had “a natural bond” with the sports department. Scott made his mark at WRAL and is still fondly remembered there today. Scott spent three years working in Raleigh before he made the move to Orlando, Florida and began working for an NBC affiliate WESH. It was at WESH where Scott made his connection to ESPN in producer Gus Ramsey.

By 1993, Scott had made a bit of a name for himself. Not a bad thing to do at the age of 28. He joined ESPN to help launch ESPN2 and Scott’s recognition shot up from there. He became a staple on the later editions of “Sportscenter” and introduced the rest of the world to his unique phrases, like “Booyah!” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow.” Scott is quoted talking about his start at ESPN in Those Guys Have All The Fun, a book written by James Miller and Tom Shales about the network’s rise to prominence. Scott said, “ESPN was my first full-time sports job. I don’t think any of it ever came easy, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fun back then. Something can be difficult and fun.” Scott embraced the change and set to work on becoming a facet of ESPN broadcasting.

Scott became one of the best-known faces in sport journalism. He also experienced some previously unheard of practices in journalism. In 2004, Scott joined a team of anchors and took Sportscenter on the road. The first stop they made was to Kuwait. To Scott, it was like nothing he had ever experienced in his professional career. He said in the same book, “The applause we got from the troops was thunderous.” He added, “I remember thinking, ‘This should be reversed. It should be me cheering for them.’” While this was his job, his career, his life work, Scott knew how to put it all in perspective.

Scott, in total, spent 21 years working for ESPN. He managed to be a part of an explosion in the sports world for delivering sports news. He found a way to touch so many different people in his time with the network. It all culminated at the 2014 ESPYs, where Scott received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and gave an incredible speech reminiscent of former ESPN mainstay Jim Valvano years before. The link is here and the fact that Scott made the trip is simply unbelievable. He brought the audience to tears as he finished his speech and embraced his daughter Sydni on stage. Just Scott showing the world that yes Stuart Scott is just a human as the rest of us.

Forget race, gender or anything else you want to categorize Stuart Scott by. Scott was one of the greatest sport journalists I have ever had the honor to watch at work. He has been a great component in broadening the boundaries of what is acceptable for professional behavior on the air. He was genuine and dedicated and he will be sorely missed. Thank you Stuart for all of the hard work you put into your career. It has been an inspiration to me and I am sure several others to continue pursuing one of the greatest jobs in the world. But more than that, you did your job with integrity. And all I can say to that is thank you. Rest in peace.