Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tony Romo's Lasting Legacy Draws Debate As QB Retires; Hall of Fame Looms?

What if I told you an undrafted free agent QB went from 3rd string on the depth chart to being the biggest star on ‘America’s Team’ team for over a decade? That’s exactly what happened to Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys as he went from a relatively unknown prospect in 2003 to being a full time starter in 2006.

After playing 14 seasons, Romo announced yesterday that he is retiring to pursue a career in broadcasting. He cited his family and health as being the primary factors in deciding to walk away from the game. As first reported by The Sports Business Journal, he will replace Phil Simms as the ‘top analyst’ for CBS Sports' football coverage beginning next season.
photo image via Tony Romo (@tony.romo)/Instagram
The announcement comes as somewhat of a shock to some. While Romo recently went through perhaps his most difficult seasons as a pro, most experts presumed he would sign with another team poised to make a Super Bowl run who only needed a veteran QB as the missing piece to their respective puzzle. 

He was placed on injured reserve last season after a pre-season back injury and replaced by rookie QB Dak Prescott. Prescott seized that opportunity and never looked back. The Cowboys decided to stick with younger signal caller, who by all accounts surpassed all expectations in spectacular fashion and winning over legions of supporters in the Dallas fanbase, coaching staff, front office brass and eventually, legendary owner/GM Jerry Jones.

During his 14 year career he was a second team All-Pro in 2014, a 4 time Pro Bowler (2006, 2007, 2009, 2014), he holds the 4th highest passer rating in NFL history (97.1) and also has the highest 4th quarter QB rating of all time. Additionaly, he is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in passing yards (34,183) and touchdown passes (248).

Romo played his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys. They aren’t just any ‘run of the mill’ franchise. At an estimated value of $4 billion dollars, the Dallas Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports team and are generally expected to legitimately contend for and/or win the Super Bowl every year. With lofty goals like that, a lot of attention is given to the team’s quarterback, on and off the field.
 photo image by Karen Warren/ staff
Romo has been the subject of many heated debates among fans and professional commentators within the sports world. While his career numbers are stellar, his fragile injury prone body along with his sub .500 post-season record have drawn criticism; drawing some harsh critiques from even from the most loyal of Cowboy fans.
While injuries are a part of the game and no one can predict exactly when they’ll occur, it is worth noting that Romo has suffered his injuries at untimely points during his team’s seasons. When he did go down, it usually occurred during a stretch where his team was fighting for a playoff berth. As a result of him not being able to play those crucial games, the Cowboys usually missed out on the post-season. This would lead some to question his toughness or if he was even cut out to be a NFL QB.
 photo image by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Along with injuries, his lack of playoff success is also another knock on him. Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach are probably the two most known/successful QBs in Cowboys history. They are both known for winning multiple Super Bowl championships and are both Hall of Famers. The former was the general of a 1990s dynasty that won three Super Bowl titles and the latter brought back two in the 1970s; with Romo at the helm, Dallas only won 2 Wild Card games and never reached the NFC Championship game. While some of those loses can be attributed bad breaks, by and large the blame is placed on a QB for a team's post-season success or lack thereof. Rightfully or not, Romo had to shoulder the blame for all the failures of his Cowboys teams.
If one were asked to sum up Romo’s career with one play, they would probably choose the failed extra point attempt to tie a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks define his legacy.

For all of the negatives one can point out about Romo, there are just as many positives. As earlier stated, he enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2014 gaining a 2nd team All-Pro nod. Romo is also responsible for Dallas winning their first playoff game in 13 years and many would say had he not been on the field, they wouldn’t have been in a position to even make the playoffs in some of those years. He’s also engineered 28 4th quarter comeback victories, the most in Cowboys history. These numbers and accomplishments are nothing to simply ignore or downplay.

If you ask 10 different NFL fans their opinion of Romo’s career/legacy, you’re sure to get 10 unique responses. Some may say he’s the greatest QB in franchise history; some may say he was “ok” or “decent”; some will probably say he wasn’t that good of a QB and hindered Dallas from reaching its full potential during his playing years. If he will ever be voted into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible remains to be seen, but he certainly deserves some serious consideration at the very least.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Harry Giles ISN'T Ready For The NBA...Not Yet At Least

It’s that time of year again; the time where college basketball dominates the sports cycle.
During this time, many young talented players make life-changing decisions regarding their respective futures; whether to stay in college for at least another year or to declare for the annual NBA Draft.
Yesterday, Duke freshman forward Harry Giles made his decision when he officially declared for the 2017 NBA draft.

Some people will applaud him for making this decision. I am not one of those people. I’ll get into why I feel the way I do in a little bit, but first let me give a brief summary of Giles’ back story.

As a highly touted freshman at Wesleyan Christian Academy, Giles' play was impressive and he turned heads natuonwide. He averaged 12.9 points per game playing on the varsity team. Prior to his sophomore year, he tore his left ACL and unfortunately missed the entire season. He bounced back in a big way as a junior with a spectacular campaign, averaging 23.9 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per contest. Going into his senior year, he decided to follow the path of many NBA players before him such as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Rajon Rondo, by attending Oak Hill Academy. Once again his season was cut short by tearing his right ACL during the team’s first scrimmage.

Despite these tremendous setbacks, he was still named the #1 rated high school player in the nation for the 2015-2016 school year. He received scholarship offers from Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Kentucky, Wake Forest, and the University of Kansas. We’re talking ‘blue bloods’ of college basketball. None of these schools pulled their offers after his SECOND serious injury while still in high school. That’s how good a player he was was at the time. Many called him the next coming of Kevin Garnett, which is a major compliment itself, considering 'KG' will be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for consideration in 2021.

Giles accepted a scholarship offer from Duke. Once he arrived on campus, things took a downward turn. After missing the first 8 games of the season while still recovering from his second ACL surgery, he finally took the court to play. By most accounts he didn’t live up to the lofty expectations set upon him. He averaged 3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds while playing 11.5 minutes per game. These are hardly numbers one would expect from a phenom like Giles. Most players whose stat line looked like this would WANT to stay in college to improve their averages and subsequently their draft stock.
Some people may ask “Who are you to tell someone when they’re ready to leave college? Are you an NBA scout?” I’ll be the first to tell you I'm certainly not one. However I do watch a good bit of basketball. Giles hasn't given himself enough time to develop a back-to the basket game or to hone his defensive skills. These are essential attributes to be a productive 'big' in the NBA. He could also put on a bit more muscle and add a few more lbs to his fragile, injury prone frame to be able to play 82+ games per season.

Quite simply, Giles just doesn't pass the eyeball test to me at this point. I'm not saying he won't ever be good a good player in the league but based on what I've seen up to this point, a team will be drafting him on pure potential and not actual production. Correct me if I'm wrong, but by most experts' standards production is the main quality that gets players to the NBA, especially freshman who decide to leave after only one year.

Additionally, he is the 14th best prospect in June's draft according to ESPN's Chad Ford and is currently slated to be a mid-1st round pick in what is an already weak draft class. That should scream to a player of his caliber to remain in school.

Some may point to the likes of Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Love and how easily they transitioned from one year of college to being bonafied NBA stars. You could even point out fellow former Duke players such as Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker & Brandon Ingram as ‘one & done’ phenoms that have come into the NBA and have had success. For all those guys, I would point to Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden, Jerryd Bayless, or even Michael Beasley, who (at best) has had a up & down career.
photo image by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Others may also point out the fact that the longer these players stay in college, the longer the NCAA get to profit off their hard work & name for almost nothing in return (besides a scholarship). I wholeheartedly agree with this point. There aren’t too many things in the world that upset me more than the current way college sports are set up (coaches, athletic directors, schools and the NCAA making millions of dollars while the players don’t get paid at all). But that’s another story for another day. Besides, that's not the point I'm trying to get at now. I'm talking strictly on-court performance.

As a lifelong Duke men’s basketball fan, there’s nothing I love to see more than a player from the team I cheer for so unapologetically decide to take his talents to the next level. It demonstrates the ability of the program to prepare players to compete at the highest level of basketball while making a very generous salary. It also makes the program more desirable to potential future recruits.

Selfishly, I must admit that a tiny part of me wants Giles to stay so that Duke can recruit another highly-rated class to add to his talent and dominate college basketball for at least the next 2-3 years. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind freshman from all over the country staying in school longer. College basketball as whole would be better overall product to watch again (a la the 80s, 90s, and early 00s). Additionally, players would also have MORE time to improve their games, and thus would be better prepared for the NBA, and the 'Association' would be a better product as well (not that is isn’t already awesome). 

Could you imagine if all the players from the Kentucky/Duke/UNC/Kansas/UCLA/Syracuse/Texas teams stayed together for 3-4 years? Geesh! And I'm only referring to the past 3-5 years of players. I’m smiling like a kid in a candy store just thinking about it (I know, I know. That was pretty cliche). But as I said earlier, I’m a bit conflicted on that because of the NCAA’s greed.
In closing, I don’t want to be the person that discourages anyone from pursuing their dreams. If you believe in something, go for it. But at the same time, you also have to know when it’s your time to make certain leaps.

For Giles, I simply don’t believe now is the time. The NBA has been around for 70 years. The league and all the money that comes with it isn’t going anywhere 'younin'. You can afford to wait at least another year (or two).

Here's hoping that Giles gets drafted, is properly developed with the right coaching, stays healthy and has a long, successful NBA career filled with championships and all-star game appearances. I'm rooting for you.