Contract. Super Bowl. Star power. Stats.
When it comes to the Pro Bowl, they all mean something. And every year someone gets the blame for voting irregularities. Either it's too many tackles or guards who play on the same side of the line, too many good-but-not-great players from dominant teams or too many stars that are having down years but still coast to Hawaii based on reputation. And now that the vote is a split between coaches, players and fans – with each representing one-third of the final say – it's hard to know who's guilty of filing the uninformed ballot.
Look no further than Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen and New York Jets cornerback Ty Law. Both have been above-average players in 2005, but a far cry from their previous Pro Bowl form. Still, they somehow are headed to Honolulu.
This is no different than past seasons. There are always a handful of players slighted every year, either because there aren't enough roster spots or someone was simply robbed.
Among those leftovers who should be going to Hawaii in February:
Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
It's an absolute injustice that he got knocked off in the last few weeks by Miami's Chris Chambers. Apparently three huge weeks by Chambers means more than Wayne's season-long consistency. At times this year, Wayne has carried the Colts' receiving load when Marvin Harrison couldn't. His 12.8-yards-per-catch average and five touchdowns aren't dazzling, but that's been a function of the running game. Most impressive, Wayne has caught at least five balls in nine of 14 games this year.
Jake Plummer, QB, Denver Broncos
Just on sheer production, there is no way you can argue that he should have taken the place of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer. But for those who believe efficiency and smart play should count for something, then Plummer was a victim of big numbers. But he's been mistake-free almost all season, with really only two sub-par games. His 18 touchdowns through 14 games aren't staggering, but Plummer's play has made the Broncos what they are.
London Fletcher, MLB, Buffalo Bills
It's amazing Fletcher hasn't been given a Pro Bowl nod at some point. He's tough and does nothing but rack up tackles and make plays at the line of scrimmage. The knock has always been that he doesn't make enough big plays in the passing game. That might be true, but his nose for the ball – and his stats in 14 games in 2005 (140 tackles, four sacks, an interception and two passes defended) – should make him more respected than he is.
Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis Colts
Like Plummer's situation, there isn't a legitimate argument that Mathis should have beaten out the NFL's leader in sacks (Derrick Burgess), or two guys who face either double-teaming or scheming to stop them every game (Jason Taylor and Dwight Freeney). People will point to Mathis and say he's only a situational pass rusher and a liability against the run, but you can't argue with what he's been able to do on the other side of Freeney. He has notched at least a half sack in 11 of his 13 games – 11½ in all. Some people might say Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was the guy who got snubbed, but only one of his 12½ sacks have come against a winning team.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Considering he's missed two games, he's actually been just as productive – if not more productive – than Pro Bowl teammate Larry Ftizgerald. Boldin has averaged over 103 receiving yards per game and caught six touchdowns to go along with his 14.6 yards per catch. He also had big days against some very good defenses – 10 catches for 162 yards against Carolina, and 10 catches for 115 yards against Jacksonville.
Mark Brunell, QB, Washington Redskins
Putting Jake Delhomme ahead of Brunell was definitely a snub. Like Delhomme, Brunell has had really only one good receiver to work with, but he has still managed to throw for 20 touchdowns against eight interceptions in 13 starts (five of the picks came in two bad games). But people still look at Brunell and think of last season's below-average, injury-riddled player, rather than the one who has thrown for 15 touchdowns against Dallas (twice), Denver, Seattle, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Oh, and lest we forget, he's been good enough to keep his team in a playoff spot, unlike another guy who got a Pro Bowl nod … Michael Vick.
Joey Galloway, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He's been one of the most feared deep receivers in the league, even after Chris Simms stepped in at quarterback for the Bucs. Plus, Michael Clayton's slump has led to Galloway being the center of attention in the secondary. This is the first year Galloway has been truly healthy, and he has shown that by recalling the speed that has killed corner/safety combinations. He has big games against top-notch defenses, too – Chicago and Washington in November.
Adewale Ogunleye, DE, Chicago Bears
It's a head-scratcher that Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris got a Pro Bowl call and Ogunleye didn't. Or that Julius Peppers has underachieved this year and got a trip to Hawaii. Ogunleye had a slow start, but he has eight sacks in his last nine games, and his disruption has been a big plus for counterpart Alex Brown, who had back-to-back, two-sack games in November. What's more, Ogunleye has been huge in pivotal games down the stretch, notching six sacks in eye-opening wins over Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta.
- The Baltimore Ravens continue to ponder their looming decision at the running back position, with Chester Taylor struggling and Jamal Lewis showing signs of life with two 100-yard performances in his last three games. Lewis and head coach Brian Billick still aren't on speaking terms and have been using assistant coaches as intermediaries. But that apparently isn't going to affect the team's decision when it comes to Lewis.
One team source termed general manager Ozzie Newsome's mindset as "closed" when it comes to the prospect of letting Lewis go as a free agent. However, Newsome is "reluctant" when it comes to the matter of signing Lewis to a heavy-duty, long-term deal. What is clear: The Ravens aren't letting Lewis walk as a free agent, unless something catastrophic happens in the last two weeks of the season. Instead, they will most likely put the franchise tag on Lewis for 2006, in hopes of drawing some kind of compensation or trade interest if he immediately inks the one-year deal. But even if he doesn't draw any offers, Baltimore will have another year to consider future plans.
This does, however, complicate things for Taylor, who is making $2 million and will be a free agent at the end of this season. Running behind a struggling offensive line and without much help from Kyle Boller in the passing game, Taylor has been average in extended duty over the last four games, grinding out 3.5 yards per carry in 56 attempts. If Taylor draws any kind of lucrative deal, it's very likely the Ravens will let him go.
- The New York Giants are poised to begin negotiations on a new contract for defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who has 12½ sacks through 14 games and was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday. Umenyiora is making $380,000 and is slated to earn $460,000 in 2006 – the last year of his deal. The starting point for negotiations is expected to be around the five-year, $25 million deal Jacksonville gave to free agent defensive end Reggie Hayward. But Umenyiora's new contract is expected to exceed that deal, particularly if Jets free agent John Abraham strikes a richer pact this offseason.
- Don't be shocked if Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio ends up flirting with other jobs once again this offseason – or takes over USC if Pete Carroll leaves. Del Rio makes $1.3 million a year and is entering the fourth season of his five-year pact in 2006. That salary is at the bottom of the coaching wage scale, below the market value of the league's successful coaches and nowhere near the $5 million annual salaries of Joe Gibbs, Jeff Fisher, and Tony Dungy (not to mention the recently fired Steve Mariucci).
It became abundantly clear last offseason that Del Rio was looking for a raise when he locked into an awkward flirtation with LSU following Saban's departure. If and when he gets the Jaguars into the playoffs this season, Del Rio is going to be looking for his salary to be commensurate to the success.
- The belief in league circles is that the San Francisco 49ers are serious about shopping the No. 1 pick in the draft should they finish with it. While it may have looked like the typical posturing from vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan – who indicated the 49ers would like to turn a top pick into multiple players – other league executives aren't looking at it that way.
"They have a lot of work with that (roster), so nothing would surprise me," one NFC executive said. "Maybe they think the (trade) opportunities are going to be there. But it's not like this is Michael Vick or Peyton Manning. There isn't going to be that kind of consensus on anyone at that top spot like there was with those players. Not even (USC running back Reggie) Bush."
- A league source said this week that it is a virtual certainty that the salary cap will jump from $85.5 million to $95 million next year.
- Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich is walking without crutches, but the team isn't optimistic about him returning to practice before mid-January.
- Teams seeking next season's Derrick Burgess are expected to take a close look at Detroit Lions free agent defensive end Kalimba Edwards. While there is still a possibility the Lions will retain Edwards, he may choose to solicit other offers first, especially considering the thin free agent class at defensive end.
Beyond Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch and the Jets' John Abraham, Edwards and the New Orleans Saints' Darren Howard are the next most productive players available. Edwards – who turns 26 next week – had the most productive season of his career despite being a situational player. Some scouts believe he could see a production spike like Burgess has experienced, if used in the right way. Burgess, who signed a five-year, $17.5 million deal in the offseason, has 14 sacks in 14 games, despite not being a full-time player.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
There was definitely a little bit of irony in hearing Mike Tice criticize Minnesota Vikings fans who he believed may have scalped their tickets to last week's loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tice's nose was out of joint over what he estimated were 15,000 to 20,000 Steelers fans who showed up in the Metrodome.
"It confuses me, I guess," said Tice referring to Vikings fans. "Maybe they're not really diehard season-ticket holders or maybe they needed the money for Christmas presents. I don't know. One of the two."
Can you say hypocrite? Someone who gets busted making extra cash by rounding up and selling Super Bowl tickets to a broker should just steer clear of the word "scalping" for the remainder of his career.