The 'sitzkrieg' of the NFL non-offseason; Now what?

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The 'sitzkrieg' of the NFL non-offseason; Now what?

Monday, March 14, 2011
Posted: 11:00 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
The NFL non-offseason enters the now what? phase.

I strongly dislike using war in any descriptions of sports situations; nobody ever said to a buddy in a combat foxhole, Man, this is just like football! But the best analogy this history major can come up with is sitzkrieg, the lull in the early months of WWII between the German blitz of Poland and the roll through France:

There was fighting; there will be more fighting. Right now, the whole thing is slouching toward the courts, although more than one source has suggested that the league wants to keep talking, you know the players do as well, and this may not wind up being decided by a judge. Well see.

The NFL and the-union-formerly-known-as-NFLPA did a lot of heavy lifting over the past month. They and mediator George Cohen werent able to close the deal. But it was very clear, if you could read through the sudden unseemly surge of Twitter spitting and claimscounterclaims as the two sides separated, that very real progress had been achieved in a lot of areas, other than that one big bag of cash that is still to be divvied up.

Check out Andrew Brandts excellent Q&A on Courtroom football on the National Football Post. Andrew was in management with the Green Bay Packers and runs through a lot of the questions swirling around all this.

And Sports Illustrateds Peter King goes into great depth with his latest Monday Morning Quarterback, with an overall note of optimism which is worth noting, coming from one of the most insightful pro football observers.

Not taking sides

The obvious question I get is: What do you think? Whos the problem?

Some are going to blast the greedy owners and others are going to trash the players and DeMaurice Smith. Im going to do neither, partly because I dont have a bias for against either side; because as a beat writer, I dont want to take sides and readers should believe that youre at least trying always to provide un-angled reporting; and because it doesnt matter.

But Ill offer two perspectives. One is that pointing fingers at the players and noting that they would have a hard time making comparable money on the outside were it not for football and the owners borders on insulting. Too many players dont walk away from the game; they limp away and on a first-name basis with their orthopedic surgeon.

The other is that for a lot longer than most of us can remember, the league has had the dominant financial high ground. As recently as the 1987 strike, the league was pretty much acknowledged as winning in their taffy pulls with the players. The owners may not have truly loved the 2006 deal that they opted out of but its difficult to see that as a bad deal; it just wasnt as good as they wouldve liked.

George Halas and that first group sitting around a Canton Hupmobile dealership, that was risk. If an owner doesnt make it with the business structure in place now, with virtually fixed guaranteed profit margin based on revenue stream and labor costs, they shouldn't be in the business anyway (see: Modell, Art).

Locally, in a good place

As far as the immediate impact on the Bears from the weekends goings on: not much. Offseason strength and conditioning programs for most teams dont usually start until about this time of March anyway, and the Bears give their players a longer time off than most; they would be starting toward the end of March.

I liked what I heard from Ted Phillips late last week. The Bears president, who has an elite-level sense of finance, sees a deal getting done. He wasnt tossing a cup of gasoline on the fire; he understands financial issues; and he runs one of those NFL franchises that may not have the small-market challenges but is one whose primary and only business is football. And Phillips and the Bears are not trimming staff or salaries. And theyll give refunds for tickets to any canceled games.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.