NFL Insider

Mark Maske
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Wednesday, October 15, 2008; 9:00 AM

Washington Post NFL columnist and NFL Insider blogger Mark Maske was online Thursday, Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments about week six results and all the latest news from around the league.

A transcript follows.


Oakland, Calif.: Who's your NFL MVP so far?

Mark Maske: Hey everyone, let's get right to it.

It's still very early for MVP thoughts. Before the game Monday night, I probably would have said Eli Manning. Now I don't really know. Jay Cutler will be in the race if the Broncos remain a contender. Drew Brees could be in the race. We just have to see how things go from here. I'm not sure we know yet which teams are the best in the league. How about Tom Brady? We're seeing just how valuable he really was. If the Broncos reach the Super Bowl, can I go with Ed Hochuli?


Harpers Ferry, W.V.: The Cowboys traded for Roy Williams yesterday. Is this a move they made to win this year, or did Jerry Jones sign Williams as T.O.'s eventual replacement, knowing that T.O. will be gone after this year? Thank you.

Mark Maske: I think it's both of those, although I don't think T.O. is gone after this season. The Cowboys had been looking to add a receiver ever since they got rid of Terry Glenn. They got a very good one, although many people in the league think they gave up too much. When T.O. does leave, they still should have a No. 1 receiver there.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. M: After last weekend, including the Browns over the Giants and the Rams over the Skins (yech!), I've come to the conclusion that, week by week, no prognosticator knows anything (you excepted, of course). Any "sure thing" upsets for this weekend? (And I wouldn't count the Browns over the Skins an upset.)

Mark Maske: Including me. It has been a difficult year in that regard. With the Patriots diminished without Tom Brady and the Chargers diminished without Shawne Merriman, there just aren't any great teams out there. I don't think the Titans qualify. I was beginning to think of the Giants as a dominant-type team until that performance they gave Monday night in Cleveland. There are good teams, but no one that is consistently excellent. When I looked at my rankings of my teams from last week, seven of the teams that I had in the top 10 lost last weekend and the other three had byes. It's a crazy, crazy season. I don't know if there are any upsets any more.


Southington, Conn.: Hi Mark. Is there anything the Pats can do about the quarterback situation? The whole team looks dreadful. How did they regress from 18-1 to the condition they are in, in one season? Has it been continuous poor drafting.

Mark Maske: Losing Tom Brady changed everything. That quickly, Randy Moss is not the same player because even if he gets open deep, the ball doesn't arrive on time and accurately. Wes Welker and the running game suffer because the opposing defense no longer is forced to worry so much about Moss and no longer is stretched to cover the whole field. The Patriots' defense is under more stress because the offense isn't scoring 40 points a game to offset any defensive mistakes. With Brady, this would still be a team much like last season's. Losing one guy, when it's that guy, can change everything.


New Orleans: Why do you think it took so long for Shaun Alexander to find a job?

Mark Maske: It's a funny thing about him. Even in his heyday as the MVP of the league, there were a lot of people who didn't like how he played and thought he was too soft as a runner. You get old very quickly at that position, too. But it does seem odd that he was so unwanted, doesn't it?


Clinton Portis: I can't believe you forgot my name on the short list of MVPs.

Mark Maske: There are five or six other guys that I could have thrown in there, including Portis. I just don't see a front-runner at the moment.


New Orleans: Do you think Brees can break Marino's single season passing record for most yards? He's on pace to surpass it, and most notably without his best receiver.

Mark Maske: I don't know if he'll break the record but he should have some huge numbers, especially after Marques Colton and Jeremy Shockey get fully healthy. I thought even before the season that the Saints should play offense this season the way the Patriots played offense last season -- come out and throw the ball about 30 times in the first half, completely forget about the running game, and then maybe run it a little bit in the second half after the defense is forced to play pass-only. This offense is built for that sort of approach, although Brees is probably a little more mistake-prone that Tom Brady was last season.


Sterling, Va.: Is Pacman Jones having a driver and security at the expense of the Dallas Cowboys a salary cap violation? It seems it is an additional benefit with value that is not counting against the salary cap?

Mark Maske: I do think there are some other teams that might wonder that. But I have not heard of the league investigating that, at least not at this point.


Fredericksburg, Va.: Mark,

Your thoughts on coaches trying to "freeze" kickers by calling timeout right before the kick. Seems to work only part of the time, and, if anything, allows the kicker to compose himself and not get too excited.

Mark Maske: To me, Ken Whisenhunt really botched that last Sunday. You had that long delay already in the Dallas-Arizona game because the officials were reviewing the call about whether the Cardinals had too many men on the field when the Cowboys spiked the ball. Nick Folk already had been iced, and yet Whisenhunt called one of those last-second timeouts to re-ice him. It served him right that Folk missed the first kick, then made the re-try.

The Cardinals got Whisenhunt off the hook by winning in overtime, but I think it's a grandstanding move by coaches to use timeouts like that. They want to show how involved they are in the game, how they're controlling things. It's silly. Just let the kicker kick the ball. It's the coach trying to gain some control over something he can't control. It's great to see it backfire.


Woodbridge, Va.: Mark,

What's the overall consensus around the league on the Redskins loss on Sunday? Do most people feel it was a fluke considering the dominated total yards and time of possession?

Mark Maske: I think the Redskins are still viewed around the league as a very good team. I said before the game that the only way they'd lose was if they went out and gave away points by turning the ball over, and that's exactly what they did. Suddenly the Browns game looks like a very good test.


Guys Without Jobs: I still can't believe no one has shown even a whiff of interest in Daunte Culpepper.Why is that? I know he has officially retired, but surely if someone called...

Mark Maske: I was a little surprised when he didn't end up in New England. He doesn't know the system but he does know Randy Moss, and he could have sat and learned for a while with Matt Cassel playing and then been available to take over if Cassel wasn't getting it done. I'm with you in thinking that if a decent job comes along, that retirement will end in about the time it takes to pack a suitcase and hop on a plane.


New Orleans: What are your thoughts on the Roy Williams trade? Lions got a pretty good deal, huh? I think they knew they had a lot of leverage and could demand what they wanted.

Mark Maske: It was a very good deal for the Lions. Roy Williams is a good player but I don't know that he's worth first-, third- and sixth-round picks (minus the seventh-rounder that the Lions gave back to the Cowboys). Given the Lions' circumstances, they came out ahead in that one.


Greencastle, Ind.: I haven't memorized their schedule, but isn't there a likely scenario that the Colts can put on a run in the second half of the season? Assuming Peyton actually will recover and gets his RBs back?

Mark Maske: The problem is, it's so difficult to assume good health with the Colts any more. When the same guys get hurt year after year, does it really qualify as bad luck any more? That defense simply must have Bob Sanders on the field, but how can you count on that? You can't. If they're basically healthy, they should be able to be a factor in the AFC. But that's just such a big "if" with them. The one thing you would assume is that we will see the old Peyton Manning again as he gets healthier and further removed from those two knee surgeries -- or were there even more than they haven't told us about yet?


Reston, Va.: When do you think negotiations will begin on the next labor deal?

Mark Maske: Negotiations never really begin and end. They're usually pretty much ongoing. What's different now is the unsettled leadership situation with the NFL Players Association after Gene Upshaw's death. Richard Berthelsen is a very experienced and very capable replacement as the interim executive director, but he doesn't seem to be seeking the full-time job. Upshaw's successor should be hired in March, so we should see the owners and players' union get down to some serious work very soon after that. Everyone in the sport feels the clock ticking toward what could be a serious labor confrontation in 2011.


Lions trade: Yeah, for any other team that would be a really good deal, but what are the Lions going to do with those picks anyway?

Mark Maske: These are the "new" Lions, aren't they? Matt Millen isn't making the picks any more.


Reston, Va.: Do you think Minnesota has to make the playoffs for Brad Childress to keep his job?

Mark Maske: That's probably a pretty good guess. That's a team that has most of the parts in place but Childress just seemed to have picked the wrong quarterback in Tarvaris Jackson.


Woodbridge, Va.: I'm trying not to beat down on my Pats, but after the euphoric highs of last season (except the SB), this stumbling along with Matt Cassel has been painful.

It seems to me Bill Belichick has taken a page from the Joe Gibbs book -- play someone even though he isn't getting the job done (a la Mark Brunell).

I think I'd rather have a fresh-from-college kid in there -- at least he would've played recently! Maybe Todd Collins can come home and save the day.

Mark Maske: I would give Cassel a little more time. It hasn't been all bad. There are going to be ups and downs with a guy who simply hasn't played, not even in college. He really just needs to be able to get one deep pass a game to Randy Moss. If the other team has to respect Moss down the field, then the Patriots can use Wes Welker underneath. They can run the ball and throw it to Kevin Faulk. I'm not saying it will be anything resembling last season's offense, but the parts are still there for a pretty good team if Cassel is simply slightly below average.


Somerville, Mass.: Are the Falcons for real or is their 4-2 start just a combo of easy opponents and fluky wins? Can Matt Ryan and company make a run in the NFC South?

Mark Maske: Up until now, I probably would have said no, you can't have a rookie head coach and a rookie starting quarterback and expect to turn things from so dreadful to good this quickly. I'm still skeptical, but you can't help but start to wonder if the Falcons are for real.


Washington, D.C.: Given that the current Redskin squad is the greatest ever in the history of professional football, what is the source of their curse? The Redskins have shown a great deal of poor luck since their last Super Bowl win. Who killed the goat?

Mark Maske: The biggest source of their "curse" has been an inability to get the right coach in place. They might have the right coach now. Circumstances forced them to not hire a big-name coach because there simply weren't any available last offseason. Rather than do something like bring back Joe Gibbs, they had to find a guy who might be the next Joe Gibbs. That isn't easy to do, obviously. But they do seem to have found a guy, in Jim Zorn, who has the potential to be quite good.


Baltimore: Is Shaun Alexander going to be a fumbling machine? I'm not so sure about this move, why would he be unemployed 6 games into the season if he were any good?

The fact that Zorn is bringing over ex-Seattle guys worries me as it gives me memories of Spurrier bringing over his ex-QBs from Florida. We all know how that turned out. Please convince me wrong.

Mark Maske: I don't know that I can convince you that he's going to be that good at this point. I'm skeptical of it. But if it doesn't work out, it could be only a short-term arrangement as a backup so there shouldn't be any real harm done.


Washington, D.C.: You had an article about the financial recession/depression effecting pro sports teams. If you had to pick 2-3 NFL teams that could be affected by that, who would you look at? Pro Leagues Brace for Economy's Aftershocks (Post, Oct. 14)

Mark Maske: I would say every team needs to have some level of concern. But NFL franchises will be significantly affected only if the same economic conditions exist in a few years when the next round of national TV contracts are negotiated. That's the real key. The TV deals are worth about $3.7 billion a year to the NFL and the teams share that money equally, so it would be tough for an NFL team to have really severe problems as long as that money is coming in at that level.


St. Louis: Do you believe Jim Haslett can light a fire under the Rams for the rest of the season? What are your thoughts about Chip Rosenbloom going after a big name, like Bill Cowher, to straighten out the mess in St. Louis? thanks.

Mark Maske: I think Jim Haslett will win back over the players after Scott Linehan seemed to have lost the locker room. We've already seen evidence of that with the win over the Redskins, and how the Rams didn't just fold when the Redskins came back and took the lead late in the game. These reports that Haslett's contract stipulates that he gets to keep the job or gets a rather large payment if he wins six games this season are very interesting. If that's true, he's only five away so maybe Chip Rosenbloom won't even be in the market for a coach this offseason.


Tampa, Fla.: Thanks for taking my question.

What a revelation in Jeff Pearlman's book about the Cowboys of the 1990, as Leonard Shapiro wrote about this week.

Any chance that there would be any kind of censure or admonishment of JJ by the commissioner or possibly put him on some kind of probation? Whether owners are apart of the NFL upper crust/management or not there is no room for such a maverick owner!

Your thoughts?

The Sorry Behavior of Another Jones in Dallas (Post, Oct. 15)

Mark Maske: I wouldn't think there would be any sort of action taken by the league against an owner for allegations of events that took place so long ago, no.


Mark Maske: I'm going to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and see you here next Tuesday.


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