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Thoughts on Free Agency

Mar 04, 2015 -- 9:27am

A couple of things I was thinking about as NFL free agency approaches . . .

  • If Jaguars GM David Caldwell misses in free agency this offseason then it’s his own damn fault.

No general manager in the NFL has more money to spend, more needs to fill and more support from his owner than Caldwell. So it comes down to Caldwell’s ability to evaluate talent, judge character and close deals.

On one hand, Caldwell is in a great spot. On the other, the pressure on the young GM is greater than he’s ever felt.

So what should he do? He should identify the best player and go after him. Then the next best player . . .  then the next . . . and then, etc.

Let’s be honest: At what position couldn’t the Jaguars use an upgrade?

They’re 9-39 over the last three seasons for a reason. While they may have greater needs in some areas than others, they need better players to become a better team.

The question now is: Can Caldwell find them and sign them?

  • Let me let you in on a little secret to finding success in NFL free agency. Once a team has identified a player’s talent and determined a need for him, the next step should be to see how he handles his money.

What did he do with his rookie money, for example? Did he invest it? Did he spend it wisely and live within his means? Or did buy the most expensive cars he could find; drape his body in diamonds; overspend on an oceanfront condo, etc.?

Free agency is hitting the big lotto for many players. Can they handle the wealth?

For the successful free agents, their careers remain their top priority, not their lifestyle.

Knowing how a young man handled his first taste of financial freedom is an excellent gauge to knowing how he’ll handle financial independence and the rest of his playing career.    

Can UNF Make Noise in March?

Mar 02, 2015 -- 10:21am
For a variety of reasons, college basketball has become a one-month sport, and that month is March -- as in March Madness.
And this is March!
Normally in this part of the world this is the time when we learn the names of young men who play for Florida and Florida State. (Admit it; most avid UF and FSU fans pay so little attention to basketball until tournament time that they can’t name their team’s starting lineup.) Certainly Gator Coach Billy Donovan has turned March into an important month during his 20-year reign.
But both Florida and FSU are average at best this season and barring a miracle or two neither will make the NCAA tournament. They are struggling to make the NIT.
UNF, however, has come to the rescue for Northeast Florida. The Ospreys could, indeed, become this year’s national Cinderella team. There’s still a lot of work to do – UNF begins Atlantic-Sun Conference tournament play Tuesday by hosting Stetson -- but they have the ingredients to put together a nice run and beat some good teams.
There are no future NBA players on Coach Matthew Driscoll’s roster, but his top seven players give the Ospreys a good mix of size, athleticism, shooters and an outstanding point guard. And they play hard on the defensive end.
Dallas Moore could play point guard for almost any team in the country. Beau Beech (6-8) and Trent Mackey (6-3) are incredible shooters and Beech’s overall game has improved in nearly every area. Chris Davenport (6-8) and James Nesbitt (6-6) are athletes who play both ends. 
Bae Bae Daniels (6-6) is a nonstop machine off the bench who can play anywhere on the floor. Romelo Banks (6-11) is still learning the game but he is 6-11 and he can run and jump.
The key, as it is for most teams in tournament play, is the play of their point guards. Can they control the game? Can they make the 3-pointer when left open? Can they knock their free throws, particularly late in games? Can they handle the spotlight?
Moore can do all of those things, but he did have a bad stretch during the second half of the season. He can’t afford an off-night at tournament-time.
Ah, tournament time. I love March.
Go Ospreys!  

Lamm's List of Lists

Feb 23, 2015 -- 10:33am
While I’m off enjoying the good life, I offer you one of my favorite lists.
First, my favorite sports venues:
Wrigley Field, Chicago – My love of baseball is epitomized by the Cubs’ beautiful park. The fact the surrounding Wrigleyville community is loaded with great bars is a bonus.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta – Every hole is a postcard. The entire course and clubhouse is a gorgeous trip back to a simpler time.
Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C. – The football played here hasn’t been very good over the years, but the tall Carolina pines looking down on the sunken stadium screams college football at its finest.
Fenway Park, Boston – If Wrigley Field had never been built, this would be baseball’s Camelot.
Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C. – They continue to build basketball arenas bigger and bigger but none is finer than Duke’s home.
Next, my favorite sports days of the year.
Masters Sunday – The back nine of Augusta National is great because a Masters golfer can shoot 30 or 40.  The margin of error is so incredibly small and the drama so intense.
Florida-Georgia football game – Regardless of what label you put on the game, it involves two outstanding programs with large and passionate fan bases who treat this game for what it is, something special.
Game 7 of the World Series – I love the entire Series, but when it comes down to a Game 7 every pitch becomes a thrill for me.
Final Four semi-finals – I put “Semi-finals Saturday” ahead of the college basketball championship game because . . . well, I get two games instead of one.
Sunday at The Players – My love of golf is showing. The Players has the best three finishing holes in all of golf and they usually deliver.
Next, my must-see athletes:
Tiger Woods, golfer – Even now when he can’t break par I still can’t stop watching him. Does he still have greatness in him? Will he chunk his next chip?
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers pitcher – He’s the best pitcher of this century and he’s fun to watch. His delivery makes it seem he has twice as many joints as the rest of us.
LeBron James, Cavaliers – He’s bigger than Michael Jordan. He’s quicker and faster than Wilt. He may be the greatest basketball player ever. And he hustles.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB – The NFL star is the most creative quarterback in football. And he may be the best, too.
Mike Trout, Angels outfielder – He’s baseball’s best all-around player who’s fun to watch batting, running the bases and playing the outfield. 
Next, my favorite active coaches/managers:
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina football – His was simply the first name that popped into my head so I’m listing him No. 1.  No big-time coach is more unpredictable than the ol’ ball coach.
Tom Coughlin, NY Giants – I don’t know if a coach could be more different than Spurrier, but TC is a guy I admire on the field and respect off the field.
Joe Madden, Cubs manager – I’ve never believed MLB managers have much of an impact on the game, but Madden is the exception. What he did in Tampa Bay was incredible. Can he work a miracle in Chicago?
Billy Donovan, UF basketball – If I was starting a program today, Donovan would be my pick as coach.
Matthew Driscoll, UNF basketball – He can coach and promote. A rare combo.
 Finally, my most overrated people in sports:
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner – The NFL is so popular it can’t be screwed up, but Goodell keeps stubbing his toe. And he’ paid $35-40 million a year!
Derek Jeter, Yankee shortstop – The new season hasn’t started yet so I’m including Jeter. He was a very, very god player who was considered great because he played for the Yankees. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If he’d played for San Diego, he might eventually get in.
Dwight Howard, Houston center – He’s got talent, but wherever he plays he’s inconsistent, moody, lazy and a locker room virus.
Eli Manning, NY Giants QB – Like Jeter, he benefits from playing in New York. He’d have been run out of most cities after throwing a bunch of interceptions.
NFL running backs – NFL games are won by passing the ball and stopping the pass, not by running. 

Where Would I Draft Jameis Winston?

Feb 19, 2015 -- 12:49pm
Spinning around the radio dial . . .
I’d take Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick. 
I’d take him with the No. 2 pick.
And if I had the No. 3 pick, like the Jaguars, I still take the FSU quarterback.
Oh, I hear Jaguars fans screaming I’ve lost my mind.
Let me point out a few things.
First, really, what NFL team ever has too many “good” quarterbacks? And, yes, I think Winston is going to be outstanding.
Second, I think it’s dangerous for Jaguars fans to assume Blake Bortles is a franchise QB. Maybe he is, but he has a ways to go to prove it.
Third, if both QBs are that good, that’s great trade leverage for acquiring several highly-rated players.
Sure, it would be a strange move, but wouldn’t the Jaguars feel dumb if Winston becomes an All-Pro and Bortles becomes just another solid QB?  
The NFL Scouting Combine was started more than 30 years ago for convenience and to save money. Why have GMs, coaches and scouts travel all around the country looking at players when you could bring all of the players to one location?
But since that first Combine in Tampa in 1982, the NFL has changed. Now money isn’t an issue and the GMs, coaches and scouts are going to personally visit most players anyway. So why still have the Combine, which is under way in Indianapolis, its home since ’87?
Today’s Combine is more of a convention for team execs, coaches, team doctors and NFL media. And, of course, there’s the TV angle. Isn’t it amazing how many people like to watch these young men run and jump in their underwear?
The No. 1 reason the Combine still exists is because it allows teams to give so many of the players physical and mental exams in one location. Sure, occasionally a player significantly raises or lowers his stock, but not that often.
Mostly, the Combine is about swapping war stories over cocktails.
Here’s hoping we’ve heard the last of the Chicago Little League story.
Threats of filing a lawsuit based on racial discrimination should be insulting to everyone. We’ve had more than our share of real racial discrimination in this country, but this story – taking the title away from the all-black Chicago team -- isn’t one of them.
Certainly I feel badly for the youngsters who won the Little League World Series on the field, but they’ll always have their memories. This story is about adults who knowingly broke the rules, falsifying records of where some of the players lived. No one denies breaking the rules.
Sure, it was a wonderful story that the Chicago team was the first all-black team to win the title. It was a shot in the arm to Major League Baseball, which is seeking ways to get American black kids interested in baseball.
But the adults cheated. They lied. The color of the players’ skin had nothing to do with it.

Jaguars Blessed with Good Ownership

Feb 17, 2015 -- 3:33pm

The Jaguars have had more misses than hits in their NFL franchise history except when it comes to ownership. They couldn’t have had two better owners than Wayne Weaver and Shan Khan.

There would be no Jaguars without Weaver. He not only was the deep-pocketed guy needed to put Jacksonville’s bid for a franchise over the top in ‘93, he was the right fit with the other team owners. He was immediately accepted into the group and had clout from day one. Weaver the man, in fact, was chosen by the owners more than the city.

He also knew when it was time to turn the team over to someone else and he knew who that man was. In Khan, Weaver found the man who had the money, the vision and the get-up-and-go to assure that the franchise would remain in Jacksonville.

It was clear to everyone, including Weaver, that it was time for Weaver to step aside after 17 years. The league finances had gotten out of control to Weaver’s way of thinking. His family wasn’t interested in keeping the franchise. His last great act as Jaguars owner was to find someone who was dedicated to keeping the franchise in Jacksonville, not simply the highest bidder.

The tall Southern conservative couldn’t have found anyone more different from himself than Khan, a small, self-made billionaire from Pakistan with the flair of a showman.

Khan looked at Jacksonville and saw the great potential for growth, not one of the smallest markets in the NFL. In just three years he has made a big impact on Jacksonville and . . . well, we haven’t seen anything yet. Everyone needs to check out his vision for the vacated shipyards that he unveiled Tuesday.

Weaver and Khan have little in common other than being the perfect owners for an NFL franchise in Jacksonville.

Gordon Deserves Fond Daytona Farewell

Feb 16, 2015 -- 12:13pm

As Jeff Gordon prepares for this week’s Daytona 500 in his final year as a fulltime driver on the NASCAR circuit I hope he gets the kind reception on his farewell tour that he deserves.

Although the fans have been nicer to him in recent years, Gordon has been viewed as a villain much of his career. He entered NASCAR seen by many as a wimpy little Yankee boy with the high-pitched voice who had the audacity to not only challenge Dale Earnhardt but beat him on a regular basic.

While he didn’t look and sound like the typical stock car racer, on the track he has been every bit the bulldog Earnhardt was; just as cunning as Tony Stewart; and about as skilled behind the wheel as anyone who ever crawled in a race car.

Where he ranks with his 92 victories and four championships is subjective, but wherever you rank him it has to be very close to the top.

How fitting would it be for Gordon to win what may be his final Daytona 500? It would put him in even more rarified air to win his fourth Daytona 500. Only Richard Petty (7) and Cale Yarbrough (4) have won NASCAR’s signature race more often.

Gordon’s farewell tour already has gotten off to a good start with him winning the pole for Sunday’s race. It sure is amazing how often things work out so well for NASCAR, isn’t it?

Based on NASCAR’s track record – you know, Petty winning his 200th race on July the 4th in front of President Reagan, Dale Junior winning the first race at Daytona after his dad’s death, etc. -- I’m picking Gordon to win this year’s race. 

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