LOMBARDI’S WAY: Buyer Beware!

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Buyer Beware!

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Usually during an afternoon drive I will be tuned in to sports talk radio.  Given the redundancy of the topical conversation around the sports AM dial these days and the slant towards the Orioles and spring training, I opted instead for a homegrown CD compilation. 
 
I was in a bit of a groove when it dawned on me that the pacing of the music didn’t match that of the rush hour traffic which slowed to a crawl, so I reached for a mellower CD to help prevent an outbreak of road rage.
 
As I attempted the CD swap I was interrupted by a familiar voice on AM 1300 – that of Adalius Thomas.  I listened intently since only the day before, the Ravens had decided not to use the franchise tag on the versatile defender.
 
While navigating the gridlock of a road called I-95, AD took the high road as he explained his contract discussions (or lack thereof) with the Ravens.  It’s easy to understand the impasse in these negotiations and it appears that both sides understand the business of the NFL that will undoubtedly end AD’s seven year tenure with the club.
 
There really isn’t a scapegoat here. 
 
It’s simply the nature of an NFL beast called the salary cap.
 
AD and talk show host Anita Marks who was joined in studio by guest co-host Amber Theoharis, touched down on Thomas’ options as a recently anointed unrestricted free agent.  Marks made reference to a column in The Sun that focused upon AD.
 
Everyone is aware of Thomas’ versatility. He could play end, linebacker or safety. He was once the top gunner on punt teams in the league, a 270-pound missile who always drew double teams. But while the Ravens hyped Thomas during the season, they also knew that he benefited from the defensive system used in Baltimore. He’s too big to play full-time as an outside linebacker and not strong enough to be a full-time defensive end.
 
AD objected to that last statement and asked for the column’s author.
 
“Jamison Hensley”, replied Marks.
 
AD wasn’t pleased and chastised Hensley for never playing the game, not really understanding football and for being “a jerk.”
 
From my vantage point AD’s response was slightly out of character as he temporarily veered off the high road.
 
From Jamison Hensley’s vantage point, he must have been appalled.
 
You see, Marks incorrectly attributed the column to Hensley.  The opinion was actually that of The Sun’s controversial columnist Mike Preston.
 
Open mouth, insert foot…
 
Hensley called in to the show to defend himself.  Fortunately he was listening.  Had he not been, a dedicated beat writer who is never anything less than professional could have had his reputation irreparably damaged.  Credibility that takes years to build could have been demolished.
 
And that’s not to say what was written by Preston is wrong.  Preston is a columnist.  He offers opinions formulated by his own observations.  Hensley is more like Jack Webb – just the facts ma’am.
 
But is Preston wrong? 
 
Certainly Marks tossed out the opinion to AD with the hopes of getting a rise.  Naturally AD disagreed with Preston.  After all, what free agent wants to be known as a product of a system?  Like a bank account is to heaven, a system is to a player and you can’t take either with you when you go.
 
One of the teams reportedly interested in Thomas is the Green Bay Packers and word out of Wisconsin is that the Pack sees AD as a dedicated defensive end.
 
Could AD be a good DE?
 
Sure.
 
But in a way, that would be like making Kobe Bryant a point guard. 
 
AD doesn’t have the fluid moves to the quarterback like a Dwight Freeney.  He is cut high and really doesn’t bend well nor does he have the explosive hands and refined technique that the best pass rushers possess.
 
Why should a team pay AD for his accomplishments as a Raven and then lock him into a position or a system not designed to allow him to excel the way he has in Baltimore?
 
AD is perfect for Baltimore but at the same time Baltimore is even more perfect for AD. 
 
The Ravens defense isn’t built around AD. It isn’t a defense that has a defined base like a 3-4 or 4-3 or a tight Cover 2.  It is a defense built around the defensive talent available to Rex Ryan who in a masterful way, harnesses the individual strengths of the players to produce an athletic, dynamic and highly unpredictable and effective unit.  AD is a key piece of the defense but the bet here is that he needs that defense to duplicate his efforts more than the defense needs AD to be at or near the top of the league again.
 
Let’s face it, all of this talk about AD playing all eleven positions is a bit overblown, don’t you think?  Sure AD was lined up on Chad Johnson once and covered him decently and clearly that is a testament to AD’s unique skills.  Yet I’ll bet when that happened, the Ravens were caught up in the wrong coverage or someone missed an assignment and if Carson Palmer had the time to make the adjustment, they could have taken advantage of the mismatch.
 
Someone will pay AD big bucks and my money is on Mike Nolan and the 49ers.  And while he may do well in the city by the bay, I’ll bet that when it’s all said and done, 49er fans will say the team overpaid for AD. 
 
The Ravens will miss AD.  But they’d miss Rex Ryan even more.  Way more!
 
Any manager, whether it’s in business or in any sport has to understand his subordinates and it is incumbent upon him or her to place them in roles that will maximize their individual talents while contributing to the greater good of the team and providing the greatest return on the company’s investment.  Rex Ryan has that unique ability.
 
“[Rex] takes advantage of our skills and keeps everyone happy by calling plays to give us all a chance to be a hero”, said Trevor Pryce during the ’06 season. “It’s fun. Teams have to worry about all of our talent, where we’re going to attack you. That stuff wears on an offense. Not only the scheme, but the guys running the scheme – it’s a double whammy.”
 
The real double whammy for the Ravens would have been if they had lost both AD and Rex.  Fortunately that didn’t happen and if I had to choose which of the two potential losses I would rather keep, my pick is Rex.
 
Thanks to a bad hire by the Chargers, the Ravens got a one year lifeline with their defensive coordinator while one of their prized players prepares for the NFL’s version of “ Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
 
 
Photos by Sabina Moran

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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