Brace yourself for offseason madness

[Note: The Gameface will return on Friday, Feb. 20, from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.]

Two nights before a Super Bowl appearance virtually no one outside of his immediate family saw coming, Kurt Warner sat in a leather chair near the second-floor elevator bank at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, looking as serene and satisfied as I'd ever seen him.

Having just returned from dinner with friends, the Arizona Cardinals' 37-year-old quarterback was preparing to retreat to his room to spend some quiet time with his wife, Brenda – but first he was talking football and, specifically, the sport's ability to captivate a community.

"People just don't get it," Warner said, smiling broadly. "They're asking me if I think I'll make the Hall of Fame, but that's so not what it's about for me. I've been fortunate enough to have an opportunity to take two teams to the Super Bowl that had never been there before, and those experiences have been more fulfilling than any honor I could receive.

"To be able to touch people … that's what I'll take with me forever. If it turns out that's enough to get me to Canton, then great. But I'm already in an amazing place."

Now, after summoning a tremendous performance in the Cards' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Warner and his franchise are in NFL limbo. Soon to be an unrestricted free agent, the two-time MVP is unsure about whether he wants to return for a 12th NFL season. If he does, he'd strongly prefer to play for the Cardinals, though it's likely he could earn more by going elsewhere.

And with Thursday night's report by Fox's Jay Glazer that Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley has accepted a job as the head coach of the Chiefs, it's possible Warner will view Kansas City as a viable alternative.

I don't know what Warner will decide, and I don't think he does, either. We've talked extensively about his future over the past several months, from his admission in October that he contemplated walking away after teammate Anquan Boldin's scary injury against the Jets, to his characterization of the '08 season as an "emotional roller coaster" in early January to his acknowledgement after the NFC championship game that retirement "sounds pretty good right now" – and I'm sure he'll be thrilled to learn that there'll be more discussions to come.

If I had to guess, I'd say he and Brenda will take a hard look at the seven mouths they have to feed (one of whom, daughter Jesse, will be a college freshman in the fall), and Warner will come back for what he hopes will be another run at a championship.

If he doesn't, the Cardinals' dreams of defending their NFC title will probably dry up like my lips on a summer afternoon in the Valley of the Sun.

Stay tuned – Warner's decision will be one of the most compelling story lines of the 2009 offseason. Here are seven others as we go charging toward transaction junction:

1. These two shall pass? With 2007 MVP Tom Brady planning to return from the severe knee injury he suffered in the New England Patriots' '08 opener, conventional wisdom suggests that career backup Matt Cassel, who overcame a shaky start to emerge as a productive NFL passer, will be dealt to the highest bidder. The Pats franchised Cassel on Thursday, which would guarantee him a one-year salary of $14.65 million and tie up a significant portion of their cap – which, in theory, is merely a means of facilitating trade talks with a team like the Chiefs, Bears, Vikings, Lions or 49ers. Don't be shocked, however, if Cassel ends up spending the '09 season in New England. For one thing, there is still enough uncertainty about the pace of Brady's recovery that Cassel, even at that price, might be kept on as an insurance policy. Also, as far-fetched as it might sound, don't put it past owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick to come up with a multiyear package that might entice Cassel to stay on as Brady's eventual successor. Best guess: Cassel sticks around for another year, makes serious coin as Brady's backup and cashes in even more handsomely via trade or free agency at this time in 2010.

2. Home is where the scratch is: With three of the Ravens' standout defenders (Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs) staring at free agency, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome must have been thrilled when Suggs told Sirius NFL radio that the trio might accept a "home discount" in order to keep the band together. Then Lewis, the team's heart and soul for the past 13 seasons, took his turn at the mic, and all of the good vibes dissipated. On Wednesday, the 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker told the NFL Network he wouldn't give the Ravens a hometown discount, saying: "If you don't play less, you don't take less."

Lewis said he was intrigued by the possibility of playing for the Cowboys (who could desperately use his locker-room leadership) or the Jets (where former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was just hired as coach) and that he was "uncomfortable" about the fact that Baltimore had allowed him to reach the point at which he's on the verge of free agency. Translation for Ravens fans: Uh-oh. While Baltimore still could choose to franchise Lewis or offer him enough money to stay, we may be looking at the end of an era. How desperately do you think Marvin Lewis, another of Ray's former defensive coordinators, would want to get him to Cincinnati? My prediction: Given what Ray Lewis could mean to the Cowboys, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' penchant for aggressiveness, the sight of the linebacker with a star on his helmet is a very plausible one.

3. LT vs. A.J.: Having already scored some points in the public-relations battle – and provoking what had to be a painful public apology from his autocratic general manager – Chargers halfback LaDainian Tomlinson soon will have to decide how many dollars he's willing to lose. With an '09 cap figure of $8.8 million, Tomlinson likely will be asked to take a pay cut by GM A.J. Smith (with team president Dean Spanos' blessing). If the Chargers' proposal is packaged as a contract restructuring with incentive clauses that soften the potential economic hit, LT may decide that staying in San Diego is the best option. If, however, the reworked deal is significantly devalued and he's put off by the team's stance, Tomlinson might decide to pass and force the Chargers to release him – reasoning that he could find a more favorable situation elsewhere. Remember when Tomlinson, after the team's '06 playoff defeat to the Patriots, called Belichick "classless"? Don't laugh, but the notion of Tomlinson getting released and ending up in Foxborough isn't all that far-fetched. My sense is there's a better than 50-50 chance he'll leave San Diego.

4. Albert's haul: Reluctant to commit huge long-term dollars to a frequently dominant defensive tackle whose career had been marked by inconsistency, the Titans cut a deal with Albert Haynesworth a year ago which bought them another All-Pro season. It earned Haynesworth his freedom, as he hit incentives that ensured Tennessee couldn't franchise him again. Now the big man is preparing to reap some serious financial rewards, whether in Nashville or elsewhere. This is a tough call for the Titans: As important as Haynesworth has been to the team's success over the past two seasons, they have plenty of other defensive standouts and, for what it's worth, managed to defeat the Steelers without him in December. Besides, they have other issues, including the impending free agency of starting quarterback Kerry Collins. Most of all, they're still not convinced that Haynesworth will stay as motivated once he gets paid – this sometimes happens to big men who get beat on for a living – and they might decide to let another team assume the risk. I think Tennessee will come up with a legitimate offer before Feb. 27, which is the official start of free agency, and that Haynesworth, having come this far, will reject it and test the market. Once that happens, watch out for the AFC South-rival Colts to make a play for his services.

5. Philadelphia freedom? On the surface, all is well between Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. After head coach Andy Reid benched his longtime quarterback for the second half of a defeat to the Ravens in November, McNabb came back strong, led Philly into the playoffs and was within a late Warner-engineered NFC championship-game drive of getting the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has indicated he wants McNabb, who is still under contract, to return in '09. However, McNabb told me in January he planned to address some lingering issues with Reid after the season, and one of those talking points likely will be his desire for a contract upgrade.

It's also possible that McNabb is still so wounded by the way his benching went down (Reid had then-quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur give him the news) and frustrated with Philly in general that he simply wants out. I have my suspicions, based on the comments he made in a recent interview with Philadelphia radio station WIP in which seemed to criticize the Eagles' defensive performance against the Cardinals. "We were up 25-24," McNabb said. "[The Cardinals] drove down 72 yards by running the ball – probably, what, eight times? And it reminded me so much of [the '01 NFC championship game] in St. Louis where, coming back in that second half, they ran the ball nine times with Marshall Faulk to keep our offense off the field – because they were terrified of us going back out and scoring more points." Two of McNabb's former defensive teammates, Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter, ripped him for those comments, and I'm convinced the quarterback knew exactly what he was doing. McNabb, in my opinion, is too smart to blurt out something like that in a callous manner. I think he's angry at the organization and is sending a message that, if his concerns aren't addressed, things could get very uncomfortable. So how will it all play out? I think he and Reid ultimately will hug it out and gear up for at least one more year together. Keep an eye on this one, however – things could degenerate in a hurry.

6. Salty Peppers: In the wake of his team's upset loss to the Cardinals in the divisional playoffs, the Panthers' star pass rusher, Julius Peppers, said he wanted out of Carolina. The departures of defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive-line coach Sal Sunseri created some hope among fans that Peppers, who apparently wants to play in a 3-4 defense, might be persuaded to stick around. Don't be fooled. Be it by trade (if the Panthers choose to franchise him for $16.683 million over one year) or unrestricted free agency, Peppers almost certainly will be suiting up elsewhere in '09. Just as the Vikings viewed Kansas City's Jared Allen as a potential game-changer last April, trading a first-round pick and a pair of third-rounders before signing him to a huge long-term deal, someone will step up and do what it takes to get Peppers. Don't rule out the Browns, who might be looking to make a splash in Year One of the Eric Mangini Regime.

7. Bye-Bye Brett, the sequel: That's right, sports fans – the dominant story of the '08 offseason is back for an encore presentation. Will Brett Favre retire once more, and if so, will he really mean it this time? Will he change his mind about having surgery on his torn right biceps tendon, which according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King is what doctors suggest is necessary if Favre wants to play next season? Will Favre ask the Jets to release him in an effort, once again, to get to Minnesota? Would the Jets be amenable to such a request – and, if not, would Favre go through the motions of remaining active in order to tie up the team's cap and force management's hand? There's so much potential drama, and when it finally plays out, there still will be no way of knowing for sure that it's over. How will it end up? As we head into what should be a highly entertaining offseason, this is one question I can't answer.


The first words Larry Johnson hears from new Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli will be, "Come to my office – and bring your playbook." … Since I know you're all on the edge of your seats: Warner and Larry Fitzgerald will hook up for an early Pro Bowl touchdown – but, in the end, MVP Jay Cutler and the AFC will prevail. … If alleged swindler Bernard Madoff ever decides to attend a Dodgers Fantasy Camp, 73-year-old Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax will rediscover his fastball – but with substantially less control.


1. Upon withdrawing his nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle signed a deal to drive in the Indy 500 for Helio Castroneves Racing.

2. After unearthing a document detailing Bob Hayes' chance meeting with a Utah service station owner, the late Cowboys receiver's feuding heirs will agree to ask Melvin Dummar to give his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Canton this summer.

3. In an effort to disprove cheating allegations by Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, Florida coach Urban Meyer placed a call to Raiders owner Al Davis and asked, “Can I borrow your overhead projector?”


So the early Super Bowl XLIV odds are out – my man Jimmy in Seattle was kind enough to send me these from – and the Patriots are the early favorites to win it all at 8-1. I suppose I can understand that, given the franchise's success during the Bill Belichick era, the Pats' impressive '08 regular season and, hopefully, the healthy return of Tom Brady. But then, right behind them at 9-1, I see the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm instantly wondering how many bettors have been engaging in Michael Phelps-style hypoxic exercises. The Cowboys? Really? The team that missed the '08 playoffs after losing its last game by 38 points? The one which seems rife with dysfunction in the locker room and devoid of leadership from its coaches – and which has yet to address those problems in any significant fashion? (I'll have more on this in the altered-song lyric section below.) Hey, I'm not saying the 'Boys can't get it together by next fall, but right now wouldn't you rather have your money on the Giants (10-1), Ravens (14-1), Titans (16-1) Eagles (18-1), Falcons (25-1) or Cardinals (30-1), among others?


Ozzy the Rottweiler, who'll compete next week at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden – and, hopefully, impress fictional announcer Buck Laughlin even more than the Shih Tzus while competing for Best In Show. I don't know if Ozzy, who recently captured Best of Breed in the American Kennel Club national championship competition, is a fan of high-end tequila, but I'm certain that his owners (Mike Fleiss and Alex Vorbeck) and the Black Sabbath front man for whom he is named would heartily approve of the pour. And while we're talking canine, I'm pouring out liquor for Monte, the Golden Retriever who brought joy to the hearts of my friends Nancy Gay and Michael Martinez.


Joanne Boyle's third-ranked women's basketball team (18-2, 9-0 Pac-10) goes for its 11th consecutive victory Friday night at Washington amid a very encouraging development: Senior center Devanei Hampton, plagued for much of the season by knee soreness, is getting back to her dominant self, joining fellow senior Ashley Walker in giving the Bears outrageous inside muscle. Hampton's offensive rebound and put-back with 2.2 seconds left at Haas Pavilion last Saturday gave Cal its seventh consecutive victory over USC in a game in which she recorded her second consecutive double-double. The Bears, who are 10-0 since Hampton returned to the starting lineup, are gunning for their first Pac-10 championship. And on Thursday the Cal men's team defeated No. 22 Washington 86-71 to complete a season sweep of the 22nd-ranked Huskies and improve to 6-4 in the conference.


"Best Super Bowl ever? I won't say that you are on crack, but it is definitely a crack-ish thing to suggest. That glass pipe seems to have burned out your long-term memory cells. TV sets across America clicked off in the third quarter of this game. A rousing final eight minutes does not make a relatively boring and flawed game the best ever. Better Super Bowls (that I have witnessed) include:

• Jan. 27, 1991 – Giants 20, Bills 19. The Giants surprise everyone with a masterful game plan. Tension-filled final moment as Scott Norwood misses wide-right. Can anyone even say 'wide-right' without thinking of this game? There is even a Wikipedia page for the idiom!

• Jan. 30, 2000 – Rams 23, Titans 16. Kevin Dyson catch, run, and oh-so-close stretch for a touchdown. The Rams came out of nowhere in 1999 to become Super Bowl champions. One of the most exciting finishes in Super Bowl history.

• Feb. 1, 2004 – Patriots 32, Panthers 29. Alternating quarters of defense and offense, leading to one of the highest-scoring and tightest finishes in Super Bowl history.

• Jan. 21, 1979 – Steelers 35, Cowboys 31. Better game than this year's against two of the premier dynastic teams in the NFL, at the height of their powers. If a Steeler fan starts to mouth off that this game was the best SB EVER, here is a game to shut them up.

Others also qualify, including the surprising Feb. 3, 2002, Patriots vs. Rams Super Bowl (adding the now often repeated phrase 'Shock the World' to the sports lexicon) and both the Jan. 22, 1989, and Jan. 24, 1982, 49ers vs. Bengals. There is no denying Joe Cool in his prime. All were better games than this year's. I understand it is your job to describe everything in superlatives, but glorifying a penalty- and mistake-laden game that was a snooze-fest for 3½ quarters does nothing for your credibility as a sports journalist."

Wally Shedd
Portsmouth, N.H.

Two things: 1) Wikipedia? Really? That's funny, because while I was posting this I went onto the site and changed it to "wide left." Sorry about that. 2) I am right and you are wrong. This was the best Super Bowl ever. Eventually I'll write yet another column explaining why. Thank you.

"Michael: First, just want to start off saying that I'm a huge football fan. It's difficult for me to find people to talk to who know the game as well as I do. With that said, I don't have a question, just a comment really. I've been a huge fan of you for about two years now. Every Monday I look forward to reading your Morning Rush and then your 32 Questions. It's sad that another football season has ended. I really just want to say thanks for a great year of writing. This last Morning Rush was great. I completely agreed on both the absurdness of penalties on the Cardinals and the fact that the refs didn't review that final play. I was going crazy watching the game. I've started writing short articles myself, and the one I did for the Super Bowl was on the Arizona penalties and the no-review. Just a coincidence since you also mentioned both of those in your article. Anyway, just wanted to write to you for the first time. And again, Thanks for a great season. I'm already looking forward to next year."

Steve Mulhern
Tampa, Fla.

Thanks. Morning Rush will miss you, too – though the author might not miss those all-nighters. In the meantime, I hope the Gameface and Trippin' Tuesday will be enough to hold you over until September.

"Thanks for mentioning DT No. 58 in your column. We miss Derrick Thomas very much here in Kansas City and will always wonder how our beloved Chiefs would have done if we did not lose him when we did. I was unable to watch the HOF announcement Saturday for the fear of heartache once again if his name was not called. Thankfully it was!"

Scott Etzenhouser
Kansas City, Mo.

I have a feeling we'll both be getting choked up as we watch his induction this summer.

"Morning Rush: Game for the ages. Thank you, Mr. Silver, for your diatribe. Granted, I did not watch hours and hours of postgame analysis, but I haven't seen anybody else in the national media question why Warner's 'fumble' was not reviewed. Everybody I watched the game with all just assumed that the review call would come down from the booth. And we were all in utter disbelief that the Steelers were able to take a knee and end the game right away. But nobody on the NBC telecast even mentioned why the booth didn't review that play. I understand that even if the play had been reviewed, it may not have been overturned. And that even if it was overturned, the chances of the Cardinals scoring a game-winning touchdown on the last play of the game were remote. But wasn't that play important enough to make sure the right call was made? It basically ended the game. The ball didn't go backwards out of Warner's hand. It didn't go straight down or to the side of Warner's hand. It went forward. The officiating crew had already been challenged and overturned twice by the Cardinals, so it's not like those guys were perfect. But the Cardinals couldn't challenge, as it was in the last two minutes of the game. That call had to come from the booth, but it never did. Why wouldn't they even look at it? It was one of the most baffling, anticlimactic endings to one of the greatest games ever played."

Matt Lau

Imagine if they had reviewed and overturned it, and we got to see this ending: Warner dropping back and lofting a spiral into the end zone, where Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu soared above a crowd to fight for the ball. Oh well – it's over. And the Steelers should be congratulated for pulling off one of the most clutch late-game drives in NFL history.

"I think your column this week says what a lot of people need to hear. Professional sports these days have a little bit too much of an 'us versus them' mentality, and this article could serve as a wakeup call to many. Unfortunately, those most in need of your wisdom are the same people who refuse to read your material because you occasionally pick against their team, so this may be falling on deaf ears. And it's nice to see an American sportswriter who is aware of the Canadian Football League. Keep up the great work!"

Stewart Bury-Jones
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Hey, anything for my friends north of the border …

"I can't believe sports fans like you. Enjoy the game and appreciate the players. Why don't you write a thoughtful, sincere story. Your story has alternate goal. I'll most likely wipe my (expletive) with your story and flush it down the toilet."

Jesse Spina
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

… Well, at least, MOST of Canada.

"Hi Mike. My friend and I just finished 'abstaining' from sports for a year (from the end of last year's Super Bowl through this year's). It was an interesting journey and now that I'm at the end of it, I'd like to ask you one question: Historically, what was the most important thing that happened in the sports world since the Giants upset the Pats in Super Bowl XLII?"

Jake Frank
Laurel, Mont.

I'm tempted to talk about Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals in Beijing. But the real answer is, the Oregon State basketball coach's brother-in-law just moved into the White House.

"You [expletive] rock man! Whatever they pay you, they should increase it. You're funny and you get to the point. Two things I want in a news report about anything and you nail it every time. Go ask for a raise."

David Wilson
Alexandria, Va.

On it – just as soon as I get my voice back. Thanks for a great season, everyone. I'm going to spend a couple of weeks bumping into walls, and then we'll reconvene.



Reading and Queens Park Rangers played to their second 0-0 draw of the Football League Championship season in a tightly contested clash at Loftus Road in West London last Saturday, leaving the second-place Royals five points shy of Wolverhampton (which has played one more game) and two ahead of Birmingham in the table. Reading's best chances against Rangers were provided by Kalifa Cisse, whose left-footed hook was batted around the post by keeper Lee Camp, and Kevin Doyle, whose shot off a far-post scramble hit the chest of defender Matthew Connolly, who then cleared it off the goal line. The Royals have three consecutive games at Madejski Stadium in February, beginning with Saturday's showdown with sixth-place Preston.


How 'bout them Cowboys? The latest tremor at Valley Ranch occurred Wednesday, when a deal to bring former Broncos, Giants and Falcons coach Dan Reeves aboard in some undetermined administrative/coaching role collapsed during contract negotiations. Meanwhile, former Dallas wideout Terry Glenn was arrested at an Irving hotel last week on charges of public intoxication and marijuana possession – reportedly after roaming the hallways naked. Given the circus-like atmosphere in his locker room, it's no wonder Dallas coach Wade Phillips feels similarly exposed. In fact, as we've learned through this secret audiotape, it was Phillips who ultimately talked his old friend Reeves out of returning – to the tune of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn."

I thought I had a team with some fight
It was strong
And full of talent and commercialized
I showed 'em what it was to try
Well how could I be that man they ignored?
They don't seem to know
Or seem to care what they're playing for
Well I don't know them anymore
They've tuned me out, I don't know why
Their motivation has run dry
That's what's going on
Nothing's fine I'm torn

Just like Terry Glenn
That is how I feel
I'm stoned and I am lost
Running naked through the hall
Confusion always reigns
It's part of the deal
I'm overwhelmed
And I can't take
It when I feel this small
You're a little late
I'm already torn

So I guess the cynics all were right
I should have been a ballbuster
And not some Parcells Lite
But I catered to T.O.
And now I don't care
I have no luck
Why'd our offense start to suck?
It's Jason Garrett's fault
The locker room is torn

Just like Terry Glenn
That is how I feel
I'm stoned and I am lost
Running naked through the hall
Confusion always reigns
It's part of the deal
I'm overwhelmed
And I can't take
It when I feel this small
You're a little late
I'm already torn

Hooooooooooooo hooooooooo ooooooooo

There's nothing left to do but sigh
Roy Williams doesn't even try
That's what's going on
Nothing's right I'm torn

Just like Terry Glenn
That is how I feel
I'm stoned and I am lost
Running naked through the hall
Implosion's on the way
Let's just keep it real
I'm a lame duck
Who's S.O.L.
And headed for a fall

Don't you bother, Dan
This is a train wreck
I'm picking up my check
And then soon I'll be retired
You're a little late
I'm already fired

(Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh)