Friday, March 10, 2017

Which Team Will The Sheepdog Choose In Free Agency?

Yesterday, NFL Free Agency began, and as I wrote last week (here), I'm looking for a new team myself - a new favorite team, as a fan.  I actually begin "scouting" (for lack of a better term) teams after the AFC Championship game. I started with 8 potential candidates, but now, for various reasons, I'm down to 6.

The criteria I'm using to evaluate teams, in no particular order of priority, are:
  1. history / legacy,
  2. proximity to Middle Tennessee,
  3. drama or lack thereof (includes political involvement),
  4. future potential, and 
  5. located in a warm weather climate or has domed stadium.
English: American football with clock to repre...
English: American football with clock to represent a "current sports or American football event" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The 2 teams I've eliminated from consideration are the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers. Both were removed due to political drama. First, Jaguars owner, Shahid Khan (here), and Panthers' Head Coach, Ron Rivera (here), voiced their opposition to President Trump's immigration plan.

Before someone says, "Oh, that's racist of you." No, that has nothing to do with it, as I have voiced my opposition to mixing football and politics multiple times before - here and here and here. I've been consistent on this. I truly don't care where you're from nor what the color of your skin is if you own or coach an NFL team. It doesn't matter to me if you're pink, purple, or polka dotted, or if you're from Mars. Just don't mix politics with football like these 2 guys did. Myself and millions of others follow sports as a way of escaping politics. It's all about the game. Don't ruin it for us.

There's one other problem I have with the Jaguars. NFL teams are involved with various charities, including children's organizations and military groups. They do some good work. However, according to the Jaguars website (here), on their "Foundation Page", under their "Give N Go" program, it says several types of non-profit groups are ineligible to participate in this fundraising program. One of them is "church groups". Why? What do the Jaguars have against churches? These 2 big strikes against the Jags kinda suck, too, because they had one BIG plus - their cool uniforms.

So, "Who are the 6 teams left?", you ask. In reverse order from least favorite to the front runner, here they are.

6. Detroit Lions - The Lions meet some of my criteria - they play in a dome at Ford Field, have a long history as an NFL franchise, and you don't hear much drama from them. Even with playing indoors, there's some downside to the Lions for me - the 10 hour drive from Middle Tennessee for a home game and the potential for nasty weather during the 2nd half of the NFL season. However, I do like their colors of blue and silver, and it would be nice to be part of the fan base if the franchise ever wins that first Super Bowl trophy. Realistically, though, the Lions are a distant long-shot to be my team.

5. Atlanta Falcons - I like what I see with this franchise. Dan Quinn has made vast improvements to this team since being named head coach, just as I expected he would. The young team is built to be in the Super Bowl hunt for at least the next 3 to 4 years. Although, I think they may taken a step back this year, since offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to take the head coaching position in San Francisco.

Atlanta Falcons logo
Atlanta Falcons logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Atlanta begins play this year in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium, and it's only a 4-hour drive to Atlanta for me. I've heard of little to no drama involving this team, and Coach Quinn's team is one of the most active in the league in supporting the military, as evidenced by the team dedicating one game this last season to honoring America's fallen (here). Coach Quinn even won the NFL's 2016 Salute to Service Award. The downside - the Atlanta traffic on gameday, and any other day for that matter.

Besides the traffic, there's another strike against the Falcons. They have chosen to do the same thing as the Jaguars in relation to their community outreach and charity work. On Atlanta's website, on the "Community" page, under "Donation Policy" (here), it clearly states, ""We do not provide donated items to churches, synagogues, or other places of worship."

Religious groups do a lot of work with kids, so why not support them in that work? What do the Jaguars and the Falcons have against these organizations? I don't get it. Of the 8 teams I've considered during this process, ONLY the Jaguars and the Falcons have this stipulation. I had the Falcons ranked at #2 on my list until finding this.  

4. Arizona Cardinals - one word for this franchise - potential. The defense is solid and they have multiple playmakers on offense. In my opinion, David Johnson is currently the best running back in the NFL, and it's group of young wide receivers are fun to watch. If his health will hold up, I think Head Coach Bruce Arians has a legitimate shot at winning this franchise it's first Super Bowl trophy in the near future.

Arizona is a little distance from Tennessee, but a game in the Cardinals' new domed stadium might prove to be a nice weekend getaway when it turns cold here late in the year. Plus, once again, I haven't heard of much drama out of this team.

3. Indianapolis Colts - The team's history goes waaaaaaaayyyyyyy back to the championship winning Baltimore Colts of yesteryear. The Colts play in a domed stadium less than a 5-hour drive from me, and since they are in the same division with the Tennessee Titans, I could conceivably get in at least one game every year when they make their annual trip to Nashville. I think they are a little ways off from being a Super Bowl contender again, as they need a lot of help on defense. Plus, the offensive line needs to be beefed up, or Andrew Luck will continue to get beat up and injured. They could really use a top tier running back, too.

2. Oakland Raiders - DA RAAAYDAAAS!! I know, I know, this one doesn't make sense for 2 reasons:
  1. Per my criteria above, I'm wanting to avoid drama, and the Raiders are often the "Drama Kings" of the NFL . They have a longgggggg history of being the bad boys of the NFL. 
  2. The Raiders and Steelers are longtime rivals. I really don't care about, as far as this decision goes.
The Raiders probably meet the "history / legacy" criteria more than any of the other 6 candidates. Their history goes back to 1960 with 3 Super Bowl victories. They're also young with great future potential. I felt like they were a legit Super Bowl contender last year before the season even started. Unfortunately, their hopes were eliminated when Derek Carr went down with a broken leg in week 16. That was hard to watch.

As far as proximity to Tennessee, they're all the way over on the West Coast .... for now. What if their proposed moved to Las Vegas comes to fruition? They'd be a little closer, but not significantly. Vegas is only a 4-hour flight, though, and "Las Vegas Raiders" has a nice ring to it. The Raiders and Vegas seem like a perfect match - Sin City and the bad boys of the NFL. I like it. Plus, as far as the drama, they'll be no surprises. It's the Raiders - you expect it.

Oakland Raiders logo
Oakland Raiders logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One suggestion I'd like to make to the Raiders organization - if you do move to Las Vegas, consider a uniform upgrade. Vegas is all about the flash and the show, and those uniforms are .... well, bland. Don't scrap 'em, just upgrade them a little. For instance, on the black home jerseys, add some silver in a few places to give that black jersey a little flash. On the white away jerseys, add some black and even some silver there, also. Some sort of highlights, stripes, or something. Heck, bring in a silver alternative jersey, too, with black lettering and numbers. Now, that would be cool.

Also, I think changing the font of the letters and numbers on the jerseys would be good. Maybe something like Tampa Bay has or even like the Oregon Ducks. If you go to Vegas, those uniforms need some flash. Afterall, "It's Vegas, Baby!" 

Another reason I have the Raiders ranked #2 is because of something owner Mark Davis said in November 2015 during an interview (read about it here). As most know, several NFL players have been in the news over the last few years due to domestic violence. Davis, said in regards to domestic violence, "It's just something we can't tolerate. I don't know how to fix it in society, but we can't have it on our team." Bravo Mr. Davis!! This is a stance The Sheepdog can get behind. It's an interesting one, too, considering the Raiders reputation for being "dirty" and other things. So, the question becomes, if the Raiders can take this stance, why can't other teams, and the NFL as a whole, do the same thing?

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - I reaaaally like what I see in this team. They're young on both sides of the ball and have got some playmakers. I think they are just a few players away from making serious playoff runs. They need some elite players on defense. The addition of Desean Jackson yesterday via free agency adds the threat of another "stud wide receiver" opposite Mike Evans. Jackson will draw pass coverage away from Evans. If they can improve the offensive line in order to keep Jameis Winston from having to run for his life repeatedly, and add an elite running back, this offense could be a nightmare for any defense and be really fun to watch.

My wife and I visited Tampa a few years ago and loved the city. It's so beautiful I could live there. The climate is perfect, too. Even though it's about an 11-hour drive from Nashville, it would be a nice weekend getaway for a game when the cold fronts come billowing through Tennessee in November and December. I could even catch a Bucs game in Atlanta once a year, since they are division rivals.

The other thing I like about the Bucs is an aspect of their community involvement. According to the Bucs' website (here), back in December, the Glazer family partnered with Tampa Bay's Metropolitan Ministries in a cereal drive to help ensure area children have breakfast. At the bottom of the Bucs' website page where information about the project is disclosed is an "About Metropolitan Ministries" section. It states:
Metropolitan Ministries faithfully reaches out to poor, hungry and homeless men, women and children in their time of need - providing life-changing answers. Metropolitan Ministries' mission is to care for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in our community through services that alleviate suffering, promote dignity, and instill self-sufficiency ... as an expression of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ. 
In the age where the name of Jesus is taboo most of the time, I commend the Bucs' for having the mission of Metropolitan Ministries containing the name of Jesus Christ on the team's website. It's the exact opposite of what the Jaguars and Falcons have chosen to do. None of the other teams I'm considering have language remotely similar on their website.


The Bucs' and Raiders are running a close race. Then, there's a little gap back to a tight heat between Indy and Arizona. It's then further back still to Atlanta, and then as I said, the Lions are even further back and a real longshot. I'm gonna make a decision sometime after the 2017 NFL Draft in April.

These rankings could change a little or even drastically over the next few months. If one of my 6 contenders selects Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in the draft, their stock will go up, possibly drastically. I really enjoyed watching that kid play college football. Likewise, if one signs either Johnny Manziel or Colin Kaepernick in free agency, their stock will go down, way down. I've seen enough of "Johnny Football", and I'm still wondering why Kaepernick is still in the NFL after disrespecting the American flag, the country, and our military and law enforcement. It should not have been tolerated. The 49ers should have cut him immediately. The NFL should have nipped it in the bud, too, when other players across the league joined in.

Lastly, if you're on staff, or somehow associated, with one of the 6 contenders above, and would like to make a case as to why your team should be my team, please feel free to contact me. I would welcome all the information I can get as I continue my deliberations. Just contact me via e-mail. Likewise, if you're a fan of 1 of the 6, feel free to give your input, too, in the comment section of this article. Just make sure you follow my "Comments Policy".

I know it's only March, but I'm really looking forward to football this fall.

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