Processing the NFL’s crazy 24 hours

Everyone new that the start of the new league year was sure to bring some fireworks. I don’t think anyone saw that coming though. We are only a little over 24 hours into the 2015 NFL league year and the chaos is only now beginning to subside. We saw the Seahawks land the highest paid tight end in history. Darrelle Revis rejoined his old team for a small fortune. The Eagles continued to wheel and deal under Chip Kelly. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick changed teams (wait that happens pretty much every offseason). Time to take a second look at some of the teams involved in the fray after the dust has started to settle.

Winners:
This does not mean these teams won free agency, which, according to Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report, may not really matter. Either way, these are the teams who are in the best shape following the first day of signings.

Seattle Seahawks: No matter what you give up, getting arguably the best tight end in the NFL is a good deal. The Seahawks did give up All-Pro center Max Unger and their first round pick, but centers tend to be easier to replace than tight ends and with an historically week tight end class scheduled to hit the NFL next year, this was a good move. The Seahawks really need to work to rebuild that offensive line as both Unger and Carpenter are in new homes heading into next year. Still, for the defending NFC champions, this makes Russell Wilson even more deadly. Bringing in Cary Williams as a nickel corner doesn’t hurt either.

New York Jets: It is hard to look at the Jets and not think that this team looks infinitely better than it did on Sunday. The Jets have shelled out a lot of picks and money to do so but New York has made major strides in its rebuilding process. The secondary immediately becomes one of the best in the league signing Revis and Buster Skrine. The offense looks a lot better with the addition of Brandon Marshall. James Carpenter could prove to be an asset as well. The Jets were also smart to release Percy Harvin rather than give him the $10.5 million he was due. Bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Geno Smith, especially under Chan Gailey. There is still more work to be done but the change is drastic.

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and his mega contract is gone. In return, the Rams now have Nick Foles suiting up. Both of these players are coming off of injuries but you would have to imagine that Foles is in much better shape. Bradford tore his ACL for the second straight season while Foles broke his collarbone. The Rams also managed to avoid giving up anything more than a fourth round pick this year. They might potentially lose a second rounder next year if Foles meets certain criteria but as a Rams fan, I am much happier having Foles as my prospective starter.

Losers

Philadelphia Eagles: On one hand, I look at the Eagles defense and I am impressed with how much better it looks now. Signing Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and trading for Kiko Alonso will do that for you. However, I flip to the offensive side of the ball and I cringe. The Eagles are now without their starting quarterback, running back or leading receiver from a season ago. Pair that with Todd Herremanns leaving for Indianapolis and the Eagles have a lot of holes to fill. Signing Ryan Matthews could be the answer at running back but he is very injury prone, as is new quarterback Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly has taken the couple of questions surrounding Philadelphia and multiplied them ten-fold.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos did not make any splash signings and no one really expected them too. But the players they let walk away really hurt. Denver lost starting tackle Orlando Franklin to the division rival Chargers. Terrance Knighton also informed the Broncos that he would not be returning next year. Couple those two departures with Julius Thomas signing with Jacksonville and suddenly the Broncos are down three starters from 2014. With Nate Irving and Rahim Moore still unsigned, the Broncos could lose a few more starters before free agency is all said and done.

Indianapolis Colts: Indy has spent a combine total of $64.2 million on four players. The average age of those four players is roughly 32. These players all have big names but none of them are likely to make the impact the Colts are paying for. Andre Johnson is not going to return to Pro Bowl form any time soon. Neither is Frank Gore. Kendall Langford is a nice addition to the defensive line but pairing Trent Cole across from Rasheed Mathis give the Colts one of the oldest starting outside linebacker duos. With better players available, the Colts could have found a way to spend this money a little more wisely.

Free agency is far from over but after the first day or so of player signings, mixed with all of the crazy trades, this how the league appears to be trending. Some other things to note would if Oakland lands DeMarco Murray, the free agent class suddenly looks much better. New England will once again sit out on over spending for free agents, but don’t be surprised to see a trade involving the Patriots to surface. Lastly, the Saints have actually set themselves up fairly well for the coming future but their moves in the coming days will dictate whether or not this can continue to be a successful offseason. I will definitely be back with more in the coming days as more agents begin to sign.

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Counting down the most successful sports city

So following the Super Bowl and now starting the long four-month lull until another championship game is played, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city makes the list.

The cities just missing the cut are Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Houston has two titles, both coming from their MLS club the Dynamo. The Astros made a World Series run in 2005 but got swept. The Texans haven’t helped. Philly has four appearances in the big game but only one victory. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 but then lost the next year. The Eagles lost in 2005 as did the Flyers in 2010. Baltimore has two titles but both came from the Ravens. The Orioles did not do enough to really pad Baltimore’s resume.

#10 Kansas City 2 total titles in 4 total appearances
Not exactly a massive market but Kansas City has been a pretty solid sports city since 2000 when it comes to success. The forgotten team here will be the MLS club. The Kansas City Wizards, who is now Sporting KC, won the MLS Cup in 2000 and later made it to the 2004 final. 13 years later, Sporting KC left its mark with a MLS Cup victory. Then just this past year, the Royals made a shocking run to the World Series, eventually losing to San Francisco. The Kansas City NFL team, the Chiefs, could have boosted this city up the list some but they have had very little playoff success since 2000, not coming anywhere near the Super Bowl.

#9 St. Louis: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
The St. Louis Rams were actually the first team to win a sports championship in the new millennium, taking home the 2000 Lombardi Trophy (which I ranked as my most exciting Super Bowl game of all time). The baseball team in St. Louis has done most of the heavy lifting though as the Cardinals have been among baseball’s best in the past 15 years. The Cards have two World Series titles from the 2006 and 2011 campaigns. This MLB team also came up just short in both 2004 and 2013, at the hands of the Boston Red Sox on each occasion. A little help from the Blues in the NHL could’ve pushed St. Louis above the next few cities on this list.

#8 San Francisco: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
The San Francisco Giants have been baseball royalty over the past five years. In that time span, they have nailed down three World Series titles. San Francisco also made a trip to the Series in 2002, eventually losing in Game 7 to the Anaheim Angeles. The football team in San Francisco is pretty good as well. The 49ers came close for years to making it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. They finally accomplished that goal in 2013, but came up short against the Baltimore Ravens. Close, but no cigar. That Super Bowl victory could have vaulted San Francisco past the number seven city on the list.

#7 Pittsburgh: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
If this were an all-time list, Pittsburgh would have to be higher up on it. As it is only since the year of 2000, the city takes a drop. This has still been a successful city though when it comes to sports titles. The Steelers have earned two of them, in 2006 and 2009. They also came up a touchdown short in 2011 of winning another one against the Packers. On the ice, the Penguins have been one of the top teams in the NHL for some time now. They are perennial contenders and managed to make a Stanley Cup run in 2008, losing to the Detroit Red Wings, before returning the following year to beat those same Red Wings. Unfortunately, the Pirates haven’t been much help to the Pittsburgh cause in a while. Pittsburgh has been good, just not as good as…

#6 San Antonio: 4 total titles in 5 appearances
Amazing that a city with only one professional sports team can make the list. Well that’s what happens when the San Antonio Spurs are that one team. After a win in the NBA Finals in 1999, the Spurs watched as the Lakers won three consecutive titles to open the 21st century. The Spurs retaliated by winning three out of the next five. After an eight-year finals drought, San Antonio got another shot at a ring in 2013, eventually losing in Game 7 to the Heat. The rematch the following year though fell the other way giving the Spurs their fourth title since 2000.

That is the bottom half of the list. Check back in tomorrow for the top half of the countdown.

Athletes recognizing social issues

Athletes have always been among the most polarizing people on Earth. They have the mostly unwavering attention of the media. Many of them are known in all corners of the world. These past few days, those same athletes, mainly of the NBA and NFL have been testing how influential they can be when stepping outside of the world of sports.

One week ago, a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer for the strangulation of a unarmed black man by the name of Eric Garner. The outrage following the decision has been seen nationwide already before a handful of players took it to the next level. A handful of players from both the NFL and the NBA wore shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe” emblazoned on them as a response. It started with Derrick Rose this past Saturday night in Chicago, then continued with Reggie Bush Sunday in Detroit even made it to the West Coast with Kobe Bryant and his Lakers teammates donning shirts on Tuesday. The most notable gesture came Monday night in Brooklyn, not far where Garner’s murder took place, when the world’s most polarizing athlete LeBron James walked onto the court sporting an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt. ESPN had a field day with the story (as they do with just about anything James does). LeBron handled every question asked with a level head that displayed his social awareness and his desire to support Garner’s family in this difficult time.

This comes on the heels of a much more controversial sports protest against a major social issue. On November 30, five members came out of the tunnel before a home game with their hands held up in surrender, clearly in reference to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The act sparked controversy with the St. Louis Police Department and they immediately demanded an apology. To the credit of both the league and the Rams organization, they refused to issue an apology or punish the players in any way. I tend to be very critical of the NFL but I am genuinely proud of the league’s decision to let these players speak their mind without any repercussions.

These also are not just uninformed athletes deciding to get involved. Rose pointed out that some of these athletes can relate to these issues. In an article from Bleacher Report, the Bulls’ guard stated, “I grew up and I saw it every day,” Rose said. “Not killing or anything like that, but I saw the violence every day. Just seeing what can happen. If anything, I’m just trying to change the kids’ minds across the nation and it starts here.”  I am glad that these athletes are taking the time to speak their minds and open up about the world around them. It is rare that we see this side of them because of how genuinely obsessed our nation is with their performance on the court or field.

It may not be much, but it is a start. It presents an uncommon source of spreading social awareness. You do not have to agree with all the statements these athletes are making to recognize the importance of what they are doing. This affects everyone. LeBron said it himself in an interview with ESPN, “It’s not a [Cavaliers] thing; it’s a worldly thing…. As a society we have to do better, we have to be better for one another, no matter what race you are.” That speaks volumes to me about what this means to athletes. Hopefully, we will continue to see more athletes speaking their mind about pressing social issues. Too often, they are relegated to an observer in these cases because of the role they play in representing an organization. I still have hope that this could lead to a positive change as well, but only time with tell.