NFL Christmas Wish List: AFC Edition

Joe Nicely explores what each AFC team should have on their Christmas lists this year.

Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! You hopefully had a few presents under the tree this year and, just like you, your favorite NFL team probably has some wants and needs on their Christmas wish list. Let’s check out what each NFL team should be asking for this year!

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have kinda already had their wishes come true, as Lamar Jackson has stepped into the starting QB role and has them on the cusp of winning the division as we head into Week 17. Baltimore’s Christmas wish would probably be for a time machine to stop themselves from giving Joe Flacco such a massive contract. Look for the Ravens to right that wrong this offseason and send Flacco and his huge paycheck packing.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I guess the wish that immediately comes to mind, is that the Steelers could’ve used Le’Veon Bell this season…but truth be told, Pittsburgh’s numbers from the RB position are perfectly fine. What the Steelers should ask for is the ability to closeout games, as they’ve recently blown second-half leads against the Raiders, Chargers, and Saints. Pittsburgh is also being haunted by the season-opener, a game in which they totally gifted the Cleveland Browns a tie.

Cleveland Browns: The lowly Browns have already received a huge gift in the form of rookie QB Baker Mayfield, who has lifted the Browns from winless in 2017 to a respectable 7-7-1 this season. Cleveland made a smart move by running Hue Jackson out-of-town early this season. What the Browns need from Santa Claus is a home run coaching hire this offseason. The Cleveland job is more desirable than it has ever been, as they have a nice young core of players on the roster. Now, they just need to get this hire right.

Cincinnati Bengals: Like the Browns, we expect the Bengals will also be hiring a new coach when the season is over, so they could definitely use some holiday magic during that process. While a new voice in the locker room might help Cincy, their true wish for the new year will be health. The Bengals are entering the final week of the season without Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd…and that’s just on offense. Cincy has some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, but was never really able to get them on the field together for much of the season.

 

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: The AFC South wish list is all about the quarterbacks and the Houston Texans should wish for the continued health of theirs. Drafting Deshaun Watson has proven to be a game changer for the Texans. After a sluggish start to the season with Watson returning from a major injury, the Texans ran off nine straight wins once the second-year QB knocked the rust off. Besides being the answer to Deandre Hopkins’ prayers, Watson offers Houston a chance to both win now and feel great about the future.

Indianapolis Colts:  The pair of Andrew Luck and Frank Reich might as well have big red bows on their heads. The hiring of Reich and return of Luck from a scary injury, have turned around the Colts’ fortunes in just one season. While the Colts should be thankful for what they have, it wouldn’t hurt for them to ask the big guy in red for another explosive player to pair with Luck and T.Y. Hilton on the offensive side of the ball. Maybe Santa will bring the Colts a very special Bell via the free agent market this summer.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans have to be thankful to be in a position to make the playoffs with a win in Week 17, but their wish list should have one thing at the top…clarity. Tennessee is in sort of a middle-of-the-road purgatory. They aren’t bad enough to tank, rebuild, and get a high draft pick, but they also aren’t good enough to realistically compete for a Super Bowl. This mediocrity is best exemplified in QB Marcus Mariota. Like the Titans franchise itself, Mariota looks amazing at times and pedestrian at others. This is when he’s able to actually stay on the field. With his rookie contract winding down, Tennessee will need to make a difficult decision regarding what to do with the injury-plagued Mariota.

Jacksonville Jaguars: What a difference a year makes. The Jags were a half of football away from playing in the Super Bowl last year, but have looked downright ugly in 2018. The Jaguars made their bed with QB Blake Bortles this past offseason and have spent the entirety of 2018 tossing and turning in it. The Christmas wish for the Jags is simple…please bring them a quarterback. With a talented RB in Leonard Fournette and a defense that could still be great, Jacksonville management can’t allow this possible window of success to close.

 

AFC EAST

New England Patriots: It would probably be greedy for the Patriots to ask for much this Christmas, but despite all the franchise’s success in the past, both the present and future are looking a little bleaker than usual. With Josh Gordon gone, Rob Gronkowski looking human, and Tom Brady on the downside of his career…the once explosive Patriot offense appears to be stalled out. If New England hasn’t already used all of it’s Christmas wishes, the Pats should cross their fingers for an injection of young talent. The New England dynasty is showing the ill-effects of years without a high draft pick that would infuse the roster with a young star.

Miami Dolphins: Like the Tennessee Titans, the Dolphins are mired in mediocrity. And like the Titans, Miami has been tied to an oft-injured QB. Ryan Tannehill has missed 25 regular and post-season games since injuring his knee in December of 2016 and is due to make a salary that would make him the sixth-most expensive quarterback in the league in 2019. This for a Dolphins organization that is already in ugly salary-cap shape. Miami needs a Christmas miracle in the form of a young and cheap QB.

Buffalo Bills: It’s kind of hard to believe that the Bills were in the playoffs last season. The Bills have continued to play hard for coach Sean McDermott during what amounts to a “soft reboot” this season. Buffalo drafted a very talented, but very raw quarterback in Josh Allen. The Bills also have an exciting, young defense led by budding star Tre’Davious White. You can’t put time in a bottle, but that’s what Buffalo needs this Christmas; time for this raw, but talented group to grow up and reach its potential.

New York Jets: Todd Bowles probably hasn’t gotten a fair shake as the head coach of the Jets. He took over Rex Ryan’s defensively geared roster in 2015 and finished 10-6, but hasn’t won more than five games in a season since. I say that Bowles hasn’t gotten a fair shake because the Jets offensive roster has been a dumpster fire for his entire tenure. With the draft pick of QB Sam Darnold, New York appears to have an offensive centerpiece to build around, but it’s fair to wonder if Bowles is the right coach to guide this ship into the future. Perhaps the Jets can find the next Sean McVay under their tree this Christmas.

 

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs’ cup overfloweth this year, so they are looking for more of a Christmas bonus, than a Christmas miracle. Kansas City probably wishes Santa could go back in time and make Kareem Hunt less of an idiot, but that’s probably a stretch, even for jolly old Saint Nick. The best gift for this talented Chiefs team would be a win in Week 17 that would clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. Playing at Arrowhead would give Kansas City a big advantage in the post-season.

Los Angeles Chargers: Christmas thoughts and prayers up for Philip Rivers’ wife, who is pregnant with the couples NINTH CHILD! We all know how expensive kids are, so maybe the Chargers should wish for Rivers and his beautiful bride to continue adding to the family. The more children that Rivers has, the longer he will have to play for the Chargers.

Denver Broncos: Ugghh…John Elway has earned the benefit of the doubt, but the Vance Joseph/Case Keenum experiment has been a bust. The Broncos still have unbelievable talent on defense and two exciting rookies on offense in Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton, so there’s no need to panic. Elway has engineered quick turnarounds before, he just needs to reach into his mile-high Christmas stocking and pull out a shiny new head coach/QB combo to get things back on track.

Oakland Raiders: We round out our holiday wish list with the team that needs a Santa’s sleigh packed full of goodies. The Raiders probably have a very long list of wishes this Christmas, but perhaps the most important one isn’t the most obvious… the Raiders need a home. After bouncing between Oakland and L.A., and now being Las Vegas bound, Gruden and his elves need a place to settle down for a nice winter’s nap. With their whereabouts unknown for next season, the Raiders will have to make do with their plethora of upcoming draft picks. Perhaps when they get settled into their new Vegas digs in 2020, the Silver & Black will be ready to head in the right direction.

 

 

Advertisements

Talented & Troubled: A Josh Gordon Timeline

With the news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football, Joe Nicely takes a look at the troubled star’s career timeline.

Today’s breaking news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football to focus on his mental health, might signify the end of his career. Gordon’s talent has made coaches and fans drool for years, but his troubled life off the field has kept him from ever reaching his full potential on it. At the time of this writing there are conflicting reports as to whether Gordon might potentially be facing a suspension for substance abuse from the NFL, but it’s fair to wonder what’s led to this drastic measure. The 27-year-old seemed to finally be in a good place both off and on the football field in New England, but bailing on a perennial Super Bowl contender just as the stretch run is coming up, will make it hard for Gordon to get another shot in the NFL. No one has had more “second chances” than Josh Gordon, but this might have been his last one. Let’s take a look at the talented, but troubled receiver’s career timeline.

Middle & High School

Born in Houston, Texas, Gordon’s troubles started as far back as we can document. In an interview with GQ, he admitted that he began using Xanax, marijuana, and codeine in middle school. He was expelled from two different middle schools for stealing. After receiving a basketball scholarship to a private Houston prep school, Gordon was kicked out for marijuana use in 10th grade. He eventually landed at Houston’s Lamar High School, where he starred in football, basketball, and track…all while increasing his drug and alcohol use. Gordon also began selling drugs in high school and was involved in numerous illegal activities, which led to a felony credit card theft charge when he was 17-years-old.

College

Gordon was recruited by several Division I programs, but his main reason for choosing Baylor University was an odd one…his probation for the credit card theft wouldn’t allow him to live outside the state of Texas.

After flying under the radar his freshman year, Gordon would soon find himself in trouble during the middle of his sophomore campaign. In October of 2010, police officers found Gordon and a Baylor teammate passed out in a car at a Taco Bell drive-thru with multiple bags of marijuana. The teammate, Willie Jefferson, was kicked off the team by then-coach Art Briles, while Gordon was only suspended. He went on to play 13 games in his sophomore season, flashing his speed and talent while recording 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns. At this time, Gordon was also selling drugs at Baylor. Not your run-of-the-mill dimebag operation either, as he admits he was bringing in around $10,000 a month from selling drugs while at Baylor.

Gordon was suspended indefinitely in July of 2011 before the start of his junior season. The suspension was due to multiple failed drug tests. In August of 2011, Gordon transferred to the University of Utah, where he tried cocaine for the first time and began using Adderall on a daily basis. He never played a down for the Utes and declared for the NFL’s supplemental draft in 2012.

NFL

Gordon was selected in the second round of the NFL’s 2012 supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns. He signed a four-year, $5.3 million contract with the team.

Gordon’s rookie season in 2012 would be the only time in his career that he played in all 16 games, racking up 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.

Prior to the start of his second season in 2013, Gordon got in trouble with the NFL for the first time, drawing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon came back from the suspension with a vengeance, leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in just 14 games. He earned All-Pro honors and made the Pro-Bowl. This is the season that put Josh Gordon on the map and had those in the football world salivating at his potential.

Problems came fast and furious after Gordon’s breakthrough season. He was arrested for DWI in the summer of 2014 and just over a month later he was suspended by the NFL for one year. That suspension was later reduced to 10 games by the league and Gordon appeared in only five games in 2014 before being suspended for the final game of the season by the Browns. This would kick-off a seemingly never ending string of suspensions from the NFL. Following the final game of the 2014 season, Gordon wouldn’t see action on the field until Week 13 of the 2017 season.

The gap between 2014 and 2017 included numerous trips to rehab and relapses. The Browns stood by Gordon during this time, including in 2016 when Gordon was set to return to action, but voluntarily checked himself into a rehab facility. He applied for reinstatement to the NFL in March of 2017, but was denied. The league eventually granted Gordon a conditional reinstatement. He then returned in Week 13 and finished out the 2017 season.

In March of this year the Browns signed Gordon to a one-year, $790,000 contract. With Gordon seemingly past his troubles, excitement was high for him to team up with number one draft pick Baker Mayfield. However, Gordon announced he would miss the start of training camp to focus on his recovery and personal well-being. He showed up to camp three weeks late and struggled with a hamstring injury. Gordon caught a touchdown pass in Week 1, but prior to the Browns Week 2 matchup with New Orleans he was ruled out after showing up late and injured from a non-team photo shoot. The Browns announced their intentions to part ways with Gordon on September 15, citing trust issues.

On September 17 the New England Patriots completed a trade for Gordon that had them sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the star. This seemed to be the perfect situation for Gordon. New England has a successful track record of dealing with troubled players and castaways. Gordon hit the ground running, starting 11 games for the Pats and logging 40 catches for 720 yards and three TDs.

There has been no indication of problems for Gordon in New England, which makes today’s announcement so shocking. One thing is without doubt, Josh Gordon is a very talented football player, but a very troubled person. We can debate the NFL’s marijuana policy until the cows come home (I think it’s ridiculous and outdated), but I think this goes much deeper than smoking weed. Gordon began getting into trouble as a child and has struggled at every stop throughout his life. He’s not been able to stay clean, even with the promise of millions of dollars if he does. We can call him an idiot, a drug addict, or a tragic figure and probably be correct on all three accounts, but the most accurate description for Josh Gordon also happens to be both the saddest and most frustrating…a waste of talent.

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 16 Edition

The Combine’s Joe Nicely discusses some winners & losers from the weekend in this edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt.

What’s up guys? Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! As I’m sure you all experience, the holidays throw everything off schedule, so this week’s edition is more of a “Tuesday Afternoon-ish Tilt”. Next Tuesday will be Christmas Day, so there won’t be a column up, but I will try to throw something together later in the week. Ok, enough scheduling talk, let’s look at some winners and losers from the weekend.

WINNERS

Chicago Bears – The Bears exorcised some demons Sunday, defeating the rival Green Bay Packers to clinch the NFC North Championship. This was another impressive accomplishment by rookie head coach Matt Nagy and his Bears team. I have to admit, I was one of the people that wondered what the hell Bears GM Ryan Pace was doing when he mortgaged Chicago’s future in order to trade up for QB Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 draft and to acquire Khalil Mack prior to the start of the season. I thought it was kind of weird for the Bears to be in “win now” mode when they had no chance of winning now, but after a home win against the Rams two weeks ago, the Bears have to be considered a legit Super Bowl contender.

Indianapolis Colts – The Colts stumbled into a great hire this past offseason. After New England’s resident prick offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left them standing at the altar, the Colts pivoted to then-Philly coordinator Frank Reich. It appears that Reich was an underrated part of Philly’s success last season and he is doing a great job in Indy. Obviously, the return of Andrew Luck has played a huge part in turning things around and Colts fans have to breathing a huge sigh of relief after things looked touch-and-go with Luck just a year ago. A shutout of the red-hot Dallas Cowboys Sunday draws some attention to this Colts team that has been quietly solid over the past two months. As batshit crazy as Colts owner Jim Irsay is, he made a terrific move by firing Ryan Grigson and bringing in Chris Ballard.

DeAndre Hopkins – DeAndre Hopkins is having another great season and Saturday he became the second-youngest receiver in NFL history to catch 500 passes, with only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald doing it at an earlier age. It’s really unbelievable that Hopkins has been able to accomplish this feat with the true and utter garbage QBs he’s had throwing the ball to him over his career.

Here’s the list:

Matt Schaub

Case Keenum

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Brian Hoyer

Ryan Mallett

T.J. Yates

Brandon Weeden

Brock Osweiler

Tom Savage

DeShaun Watson

Forget 500 receptions, I don’t know how Hopkins is still in the fuckin’ league! Congrats Nuk, keep doing what you do and hopefully DeShaun can stay healthy for you.

 

LOSERS

Dallas Cowboys – This season has been a roller coaster ride for Jerry and the ‘Boys. After a slow start, a horrible-then-great trade for Amari Cooper, and impressive wins over the Saints and Eagles…the Cowboys did what they do best Sunday against the Colts: completely shit the bed just when everybody is getting on the hype train. The 23-0 beatdown in Indy proved a couple of things; 1.) Dallas isn’t “there” yet & 2.) Dak Prescott isn’t an elite NFL quarterback. After punching a couple of teams in the mouth, the Cowboys got a dose of their own medicine Sunday. The Colts ran freely against Dallas, while stifling the Cowboys run game. We saw that Dak is unable to carry the offense when needed. Prescott is a serviceable quarterback when things are going well and the run game is clicking, but when he is forced to throw when trailing, the offense falls apart.

Carolina Panthers – Ugghhh. What’s happened in Carolina? Cam Newton doesn’t look like the same quarterback lately and the Panthers have now lost a hard-to-fathom six games in a row. Last night’s loss against the division-rival Saints might be the final nail in Ron Rivera’s coffin. After losing to Denver in the 2015 Super Bowl, Rivera is now 23-23 in games since and is going to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years. We all know that “Franchise QBs” are hard to come by and Cam Newton’s prime years are slipping away.

New England Patriots – The Patriots have been declared “dead” several times over the years, only to eventually win the Super Bowl.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again this year, but man…the Patriots look, for lack of a better word, old. I’m convinced that Gronk is held together with duct tape, popsicle sticks, and chicken wire under his uniform and while they’ve won Super Bowls without Gronk before, he plays a key role in keeping their offense humming. There were tons of un-Patriot like mistakes against the Steelers Sunday and it makes you wonder if the end is near. I mean this shit will end at some point right? Right?!?

New York Giants Fans – Congrats Giants fans, you’ve got a once-in-a-generation talent at running back, a top-10 wide receiver, and Eli Fucking Manning. The Giants organization’s loyalty to Manning is something we don’t see much anymore in the NFL and I’m starting to understand why. Football is an ever-changing animal and it really looks like the Giants are severely hindering their future by trying to hold on to the past. Yes, Eli won two Super Bowls for the Giants (though it’s debatable how much those can be attributed to Eli), but HE’S NOT WINNING ANYMORE SUPER BOWLS. I’m sorry Giants fans, I really am.

Fantasy Football Players – Perhaps the biggest “L” of the week went to those in fantasy football league playoffs. What a clusterfuck it was for all the “great” fantasy teams. You know what I have to say? Welcome to my world, motherfuckers! I’ve been living in my own personal fantasy football hell this season and it’s nice to have a little company from you Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon, OBJ owners. How does it feel? I’m hearing a lot of people complaining that after working on their fantasy teams all year, it sucks that it all comes down to one week. Hmmm, that sounds almost like…real football! Suck it up fantasy players. How do you think the team that loses the Super Bowl feels? This isn’t some new-age kid’s soccer league, there are winners and losers in fantasy football.

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Tough, Urban Meyer Gets Going

Urban Meyer has led two programs to national championships and left both due to “health issues”. Joe Nicely takes a look at his career and future

When the news broke last week that Urban Meyer would be retiring from his position as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes due to “health issues”, I wasn’t very surprised. As a lifelong fan of the University of Tennessee, I was familiar with Meyer from his time at the University of Florida. The arc of Meyer’s tenure and exit from Columbus, seemed eerily similar to his time at Florida and his first “retirement” from football seven years ago.

Meyer’s ability is undeniable and he is without question one of the greatest college football coaches of his generation. He has won three national championships, two at Florida and one at Ohio St. His offensive concepts have helped to revolutionize the game and his tenacity on the recruiting trail is legendary. However, longevity has never been Meyer’s strong suit. While he is excellent at building programs and winning championships, Meyer’s drive to win has often caused problems that he doesn’t bother hanging around to deal with.

Bowling Green

After working his way up the college football ranks as an assistant, Meyer landed his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001. He was immediately successful. Meyer turned around a Bowling Green squad that had gone 2-9 in 2000, finishing his first season at 8-3. Bowling Green played well in Meyer’s second season, going 9-3 in 2002. It should be noted that Meyer had a walk-on player named Zach Smith at Bowling Green, the grandson of his mentor, former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce. This is also when the groundwork was laid for what would become Meyer’s offensive attack. His use of an athletic QB named Josh Harris was the precursor to how he would utilize QBs in the future. Which takes us to Meyer’s next stop…

Utah

After his successful, but brief, stay at Bowling Green, Meyer bolted for the University of Utah in 2003. It was here that Meyer would find the player to make his innovative offensive scheme take flight, Alex Smith. Smith’s unique blend of athleticism and traditional throwing ability made him the perfect fit for Meyer’s shotgun-based version of the West Coast offense colliding with the option. Meyer and Smith hit the ground running, leading Utah to a conference championship and a 10-2 record. Things really started humming in 2004, Meyer’s second season in Salt Lake City. Led by the play of Smith, Meyer’s Utes went a perfect 11-0 and earned a BCS bid into the Fiesta Bowl, where they defeated Pittsburgh to finish 12-0. This season was pivotal to Meyer’s career for a couple of reasons. Utah’s ability to breakthrough the BCS “glass ceiling” that had been in place against mid-major programs for years gained the team and Meyer national exposure. The success of Meyer’s offense with Smith at QB signaled a seismic shift in the way the college game was played. With Smith heading off to become the number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Meyer once again decided to leave for greener pastures after just a two-year stop at Utah. It would mark the last time he left a program on a high note.

Florida

Rather than face the upcoming season without Smith, Meyer decided to take his talents to Gainesville. This was the game changer. Meyer’s decision to accept Florida’s offer of $14 million for seven years in 2005, kick started the trend of mid-major coaches jumping to traditional powerhouse programs for huge money, a trend that still exists in today’s world of college football. This is also a good point to stop and appreciate just how meteoric Meyer’s rise was. He went from coaching wide receivers at Notre Dame in 2000 to accepting a $14 million head coaching offer from an SEC powerhouse in 2005, while never spending more than two years at the same school along the way. (Meyer was also offered the head coaching job at Notre Dame after Utah’s perfect season, but chose Florida). One noteworthy hire that Meyer made after accepting the Florida job in 2005, was a young graduate assistant by the name of Zach Smith, his former player from Bowling Green. Concerns about Meyer’s offense working in the SEC were quickly laid to rest, as the Gators went 9-3 in his first season.

Meyer’s second season with the Gators in 2006 was remarkable for two reasons; he won his first national championship with a 13-1 record and it was Tim Tebow’s freshman year at Florida. Though the Gators were primarily quarterbacked by Chris Leak throughout the season, Tebow became a national phenomenon. Just has he had upgraded from Josh Harris at Bowling Green to Alex Smith at Utah, Meyer found what would be the final step of the QB evolution in Tebow at Florida.

On the heels of his national championship win, Meyer was able to recruit at an elite level. He had access to athletes the caliber of which he had never seen at Bowling Green and Utah. Two such athletes that Meyer had doggedly recruited as part of the incoming 2007 freshman class were Cam Newton and Aaron Hernandez. Meyer believed he had found his next quarterback prodigy in Newton and his pursuit of Hernandez was fervent. After convincing Hernandez to abandon his hometown choice of the University of Connecticut, Meyer flew to Bristol to personally persuade Hernandez’s high school principal to let him graduate a semester early in order to enroll early at Florida. Both Newton and Hernandez will play key roles in Meyer’s successes and failures at Florida.

The Gators offense continued to roll in 2007, well enough for Tim Tebow to win the Heisman Trophy. However, Florida struggled on the defensive side of the ball and finished with a 9-4 record after a bowl game loss to Michigan.

Meyer’s fourth season with Florida in 2008 was a harbinger of what was to come in his career…excellence on the field, with chaos off it. With Tebow taking a physical pounding in 2007, Meyer announced prior to the upcoming season that sophomore Cam Newton would share time at QB in order to help lessen the toll on Tebow. The Gators 2008 season opener against Hawaii would serve as an interesting microcosm for the upcoming years ahead. Newton came into the game, only to quickly suffer an ankle injury that would sideline him indefinitely, while Hernandez (along with stars Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes) watched from the Florida bench as “secret punishment” for failed drug tests. As the Gators chomped-up opponents on Saturdays, they were dealt a major blow off the field when the injured Newton was arrested in November on felony charges for stealing a laptop from a fellow student. Meyer suspended the already-injured Newton and the charges were eventually dropped after Newton completed a pre-trial diversion program. Hernandez made his way back onto the field after the one-game suspension, starting 11 of 13 games and playing a key role in Florida’s run to a second national championship under Meyer. Days before they defeated Oklahoma for the national championship, Cam Newton announced that he would be transferring out of the program. News later surfaced that Newton faced expulsion from the University of Florida due to academic dishonesty, though there had been no form of discipline handed down by Meyer for any issues.

The 2009 season would mark the beginning of the end to Meyer’s career at Florida. With graduate assistant Zach Smith arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant woman in June of 2009 (which Meyer later admitted to knowing about), Hernandez repeatedly failing drug tests, and Tebow entering his senior season with his heir apparent Newton now gone…things were reaching a boiling point for Meyer’s program off the field. The team played well, going 12-0 in the regular season. However, the Gators were defeated by an up-and-coming Alabama program in the SEC Championship. The loss would prove to be a true changing of the guard in the conference. Just hours after the 32-13 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson Tide, Meyer was admitted into a Gainesville hospital due to chest pains and dehydration. Due to the health scare, Meyer announced his resignation from the University of Florida on December 26, 2010. However, in a preview of the public flip-flops that would happen later in his career, Meyer reversed his position just a day later and announced that he would take an indefinite leave of absence rather than resigning. He would coach the team to a Sugar Bowl victory before taking some time off.

Meyer resumed full-time coaching duties in March of 2010 in preparation for what would be his final season in Gainesville. With the public (the handling of the Newton issue and his resignation/leave of absence) and private (Zach Smith’s arrest and Hernandez’s behavior and drug problems) issues of the previous year still looming around the program, the Gators struggled. Tebow’s graduation and Hernandez’s forced departure to the NFL draft left huge holes for the team. Florida’s talent level seemed sub-par and it’s offensive scheme looked stale. The Gators finished the season 7-5, Meyer’s worst record as a head coach. With the program seemingly headed downhill, Meyer again resigned his position in December of 2010, this time for real, and again cited health issues. Meyer’s stint at Florida was undoubtedly successful on the field and troubling off it. He won two national championships, but had 31 of his players arrested during his time at Florida. Meyer’s disciplinary style during his time at Florida could be described as “kinder and gentler” toward star players. His handling, or lack thereof, of both Hernandez’s and Smith’s off the field behavior issues are disturbing and would impact several lives down the road.

Ohio State

Less than a year after his resignation from the University of Florida, Meyer was suddenly cured of any health issues when he accepted the head coaching position and a contract worth over $25 million at Ohio State University in November 2011. While the roster he left behind at Florida was full of undisciplined players with mediocre talent (Florida failed to have an All-SEC player in its first season after Meyer left), the Buckeyes’ cupboard was fully stocked, thanks to former coach Jim Tressel. Though Meyer inherited a postseason ban in his first year, the Ohio State program was full of NFL-caliber players and, perhaps most importantly, played in a conference that didn’t have an Alabama juggernaut to contend with. Despite having a clean slate in Columbus, one of Meyer’s decisions upon receiving the job, was to bring in his old player and GA Zach Smith to coach wide receivers. Meyer knew about Smith’s arrest for assaulting his then-pregnant wife in 2009, why he would bring aboard Smith and all of his baggage is anyone’s guess, but it would prove to be a mistake of epic proportions. You also have to wonder who at Ohio State was vetting Meyer and his staff. It didn’t take a licensed private eye to find out some of the things that had been going on at Florida on Meyer’s watch and Smith’s history alone should have thrown up a red flag. It shows that, despite coming off an embarrassing scandal under coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State was focused solely on winning football games. As is often the case, it takes two to tango.

Just has he had at every stop of his career, Meyer hit the ground running. Coaching Jim Tressel’s players, Meyer led the Buckeys to a 12-0 record in 2012. While the program was still on a postseason ban, one thing was clear: Urban Meyer was back.

After going 12-2 in 2013, Meyer would win his third national championship in the 2014 season. Powered by future NFL stars like Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes defeated Oregon in the national championship game to finish at 14-1. It solidified Meyer’s greatness in the college game and earned him “living legend” status.

Following the 2014 championship season, Meyer and the Buckeyes would continue to dominate the Big Ten conference and arch-rival Michigan. Meyer had seemed to learn at least one lesson from his time at Florida and managed to keep his players out of trouble in Columbus, but 2015 would bring up some familiar issues from one of his assistant coaches. In late October of 2015, wide receivers coach Zach Smith was involved in domestic violence and felonious assault charges with his wife Courtney. Less than a month later in November of 2015, Courtney Smith filed charges of stalking against Zach with police. In both instances, no charges were filed and Smith faced no disciplinary action from neither Meyer nor Ohio State for the incidents.

With Meyer continuing to win big and Smith still on the staff, everything seemed hunky-dory in Columbus. The Buckeyes captured another Big Ten championship in 2017 and were primed to be a national championship contender in the upcoming 2018 season. Then, Big Ten media days happened…

In an attempt to cut off a pending news story that Zach Smith had been arrested for domestic violence-related charges in 2009 and 2015 at the pass, Meyer fired Smith on July 23 2018, one day before appearing at the Big Ten media days in Chicago on July 24. News of the firing broke before Meyer’s press conference and it only raised more difficult questions for the coach to address. Things did not go well. Meyer admitted to having knowledge of the 2009 incident involving Smith while they were at Florida, but denied any knowledge of the 2015 incident. This is where things went off the rails for the coach who had perfected the art of turning a blind eye to problems within his program.

Brett McMurphy led the charge on this story and his reporting throughout this period was absolutely top-notch. Shortly after Meyer denied knowing of the 2015 incident at his press conference, McMurphy reported that the actual 2015 police report had been altered by the Powell Police Department and that both Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had knowledge of the 2015 Smith incident. How did McMurphy know this? He had “the receipts”, in the form of a series of text messages between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer. Not to mention, Zach Smith himself admitting that AD Smith had pulled him off a 2015 recruiting trip after learning of the matter.

Ohio State placed Meyer on paid administrative leave on August 1 in order to “investigate” the matter. The ensuing investigation and its findings proved to be a joke of epic proportions, with Meyer using the old faithful “health issues” as an excuse for all his errors big and small. The powers that be at Ohio State, either due to blatant ignorance or in a poorly disguised attempt to protect their beloved football program (Hint: It’s the latter), decided to issue a three-game suspension to Meyer and a slap on the wrist to AD Smith on August 22 of 2018.

After going 3-0 under interim coach Ryan Day, Ohio State welcomed Meyer back and went on to a 12-1 season. Following a victory in the Big Ten championship game, but after being denied a bid into the College Football Playoff, the 54-year-old Meyer announced his retirement from coaching on December 4, citing, you guessed it, his old pal health issues as the reason and essentially bailing on a university that risked its credibility to keep him as their football coach.

Looking Back & Moving Forward

Urban Meyer is a talented football coach, I’m not here to argue that point, but he his definitely a coach with flaws. You can’t blame Meyer for quickly climbing the career ladder. Leaving Bowling Green and Utah for bigger, higher-paying jobs isn’t something to find fault in, but it is interesting that Meyer never really had to deal with the long-term complications of running a program during his two-year stays at each school. His ability to do that would be tested at the University of Florida and it was a test that he failed miserably. Meyer’s “look the other way” attitude when it came to Florida’s star players created core problems and inhibited his ability to sustain long-term success for the program, not to mention the impact it had on the lives of his players and staff. When Meyer saw the Gators’ ship going down, both on and off the field, he quickly jumped off and left the university to clean up the mess.

Meyer’s move to Ohio State after being out of coaching for less than a year, confirmed that his “health issues” were bogus. His decision to bring Zach Smith into the fold in Columbus was both in-character for Meyer and reckless for Ohio State. While he seemed to learn from some of his mistakes at Florida, and kept his Buckeye players out of trouble for the most part, Meyer’s drive to win and his ego proved to be his ultimate downfall. When enough folks refer to you as a living legend, you start believing it and Meyer began to feel that he could do whatever he wanted with “his guys”, like Zach Smith. The sad part of the story, is that Meyer was actually right…he could do whatever he wanted, as Ohio State’s sham of an investigation and decision to only suspend him proved.

So why leave now? With his suspension already served, why did Meyer bail on an Ohio State program that risked its very credibility to keep him? The answer is as complicated as Urban Meyer’s personality, but it boils down to his inability to deal with the consequences of his actions. Will he coach again? I have no doubt that he will. Brian Kelly better continue to win…and sleep with one eye open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 15 Edition

How Jerry Jones and defense won the week!

What’s up guys? Welcome to the Week 15 edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt, where we catch up on things from the week behind us. Some interesting things happened in the NFL over the weekend, let’s dive in!

You Were Right Jerry

Never doubt a billionaire with a plan. We all pointed and laughed at Jerry Jones when he gave up a first-round pick in the Amari Cooper trade, but ol’ Jerry is the one laughing now. Cooper is straight-out balling for the Cowboys. His latest single-handed beatdown of the Eagles was just another example of what a game-changer he has been. After starting out an ugly 3-4 before the Cooper trade, the ‘Boys are now 5-1 with the former Raider in the lineup.

There is bad news and good news if you are a Cowboys fan. The bad news is that Jason Garrett now has at least 20 more years of job security, which might not sound bad at the moment, but trust me…it is. The good news is that this will hopefully embolden Jerry to  do some more crazy shit! I guarantee you Jerry is talking some shit in the Cowboys offices right this moment and I bet he’s probably trying to sign Kareem Hunt as I type this. I don’t know the ins and outs of the Cowboys organization, but I do know that Jerry Jones does not give a fuck to pull the trigger on any player he thinks will help his team win.

Defense Isn’t Dead

Writers and TV personalities have been talking about how defense is dead in the NFL for years, so it’s nothing new. But this year it has started to look like they might actually be right this time. Then came Week 14. We saw some fight out of a couple of the league’s old-school defenses this weekend, as Chicago defeated the high-octane Rams, Baltimore took the Chiefs to overtime, and Monday Night Football was an ugly defensive battle.

Maybe now all the “football guys” can calm the fuck down. Some of these guys take it personal when a team scores 45 points. I bet Rex Ryan was jerking off while watching the Seahawks and Vikings last night, even though I didn’t notice any foot shots on the broadcast. Give me a break with this bullshit. I get so tired of being told what’s “real football” and what’s not by these assholes on TV. I’ll tell you what would make the game better and it ain’t bringing back the ’85 Bears defense…STOP THROWING SO MANY FUCKING FLAGS AND TAKING SO MANY COMMERCIAL BREAKS. There you go NFL, problem solved. We’re getting to the point that they are gonna run an additional commercial during the commercial break, come back to the ref’s throwing a flag, before cutting to another commercial. Just show us the damn game.

You’re Next Tomlin

I’ve talked extensively in this column about why Mike McCarthy needed to be fired. Well, since that asshole has been sent packing, I’m on to my next victim and who it is might surprise you. Does any coach in the NFL skate by easier than Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin? He’s like the AFC version of McCarthy. He always has a stacked offense and always underachieves.

Maybe I just miss things, but why does no one ever call him out? The Steelers just lost to the fucking Raiders for crying out loud and not a word from the media! It’s not like Tomlin is great in the locker room either, as the Steelers have had TONS of problems over the last few years. The Le’Veon Bell situation has been a nightmare, Tomlin has sparred with Antonio Brown this season, and does anyone remember his handling of the Alejandro Villanueva anthem mess? Enough is enough. With Big Ben currently being held together with duct tape and popsicle sticks, it won’t be long until Tomlin is truly exposed. I know that he looks like an awesome coach when the cameras show him patrolling the sidelines, but I’m on your ass from here on out Tomlin, you aren’t fooling me!

Sark Must Go

A couple of months ago I got shouted down in a group text for saying Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was horrible. I can see how a casual observer might have disagreed with me at the time. It was easy to look at Atlanta’s offensive stats and say that Sark isn’t the problem, but as someone who actually watches the Falcons on a regular basis, it has been fairly easy to see that this bastard may or may not still be dipping into the Vicodin. Nothing ever flows with the Falcons offense and things always seem to be just a little off. Sarkisian has been exposed as the season has wore on, as Atlanta has failed to top 20 points in five consecutive games. Let me say that again: THE ATLANTA FALCONS, WITH MATT RYAN, JULIO JONES, CALVIN RIDLEY, AND TEVIN COLEMAN HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SCORE 21 POINTS IN FIVE STRAIGHT GAMES. You’re right guys, “Sark” is fuckin’ awesome!

Bryce Harper Owns The World

I’m not a huge baseball guy, but we have some great baseball minds on staff here at The Combine. I’ve gotta talk to them about this Bryce Harper thing, because my mind is blown. I’m pretty sure I read something the other day that said Harper turned down a 10-YEAR $300 MILLION OFFER from the Washington Nationals! What the actual fuck?!? Doesn’t Harper stay on the disabled list like half the time? I know he’s a great player, but damn, turned down $300 million stone-cold. The disparity between NFL contracts and MLB contracts continues to fry my brain. Football players really are getting paid peanuts in comparison to baseball players (and basketball players, for that matter) and have much shorter careers. More proof that NFL owners have the sweetest gig in professional sports! If any of you have kids that want to play sports, don’t even let them touch a football!

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 14 Edition

Green Bay finally decided to move on from Mike McCarthy and Browns fans should be very nervous!

Welcome back to Tuesday Morning Tilt here at The Combine! There’s no new Dwight Howard developments, so I guess we’ll have to make due with what we’ve got. As we head into Week 14 of the NFL season, some coaches seats are getting hot and one cat that was long overdue got stone-cold ejected after a brutal loss. No point in beating around the bush…away we go!

Mike McCarthy Fired in Green Bay

Congratulations Packers fans, you are minus one huge asshole on the Frozen Tundra this week! I lost my cool about Mike McCarthy in this column a few weeks ago and now here we are. After losing to the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Fucking Field, Green Bay decided enough was enough and sent McCarthy packing. The fans have known this guy was an idiot for years and management finally woke up after losing at home to the Josh Rosen-led juggernaut that is the Cardinals offense.

How do you have a losing record with Aaron Rodgers at QB?!? Serious question…when was the last time you watched a Packers game and came away saying, “Boy, that Rodgers really sucked today. He blew that one for the Pack!” The answer is…almost never, because Rodgers is awesome. Another question… when was the last time you watched a Packers game and came away saying, “Jesus, McCarthy is fucking terrible! Aaron Jones gained 70 yards on five damn carries, why the hell are they playing Jamal Williams?” The answer is…almost every week for the last two seasons.

I don’t give a damn what coach Green Bay hires, they will win 10 games next year if Rodgers is healthy. Ok…maybe not with Jeff Fisher, but any other coach they could possibly hire wins 10 games. Ok…maybe not John Fox, he fucking sucks too. Ok…any coach other than Jeff Fisher or John Fox will auto-win 10 games with Green Bay next year. Since Fisher and Fox probably won’t get the job (although more idiotic things have happened in the NFL), let’s take a look at the five guys that would be the most awesome choices:

#1. Jon Gruden: How amazing would it be for Gruden to just totally troll the Raiders in this spot? Oakland gave him a 10-year, $100 million contract with almost total control of the organization less than a year ago and Gruden has spent his every waking hour since taking the job blowing up the Raiders roster by trading every decent player Oakland had. He has put once-promising QB Derek Carr through psychological torture that would break the most hardened CIA operative and has been in full-blown tank mode since Week 4. What if he left Oakland with this huge dumpster fire that he created, in order to go coach Aaron Rodgers in his old Green Bay stomping grounds? Raiders owner Mark Davis might commit suicide if this happened.

#2. Kliff Kingbury: The recently fired Texas Tech coach is an offensive genius. He’s also perhaps the best looking football coach in history. I need this to happen just to see how many chicks Kingsbury and Rodgers could nail in the great state of Wisconsin. These two bros would be snapping necks and cashing checks in the NFC North, until Kingsbury gets caught banging Danica Patrick and the whole operation goes off the rails.

#3. Bruce Arians: I always mention Bruce Arians for every head coaching job, just because I think he’s an awesome dude.

#4. Jim Harbaugh: This is the only potential candidate on this list that could legitimately get the job. Things haven’t worked out for the Michigan man at his alma matter and Harbaugh might be better suited to the NFL game. It seems like an eternity ago, but he did take the lowly Niners to three conference championship games in four years. Would there ever be a better opportunity to come back to the NFL than the Green Bay Packers with Rodgers at QB? I would love to see what kind of crazy shit this milk-drinking bastard would come up with in the cheese capital of the world.

#5. Matt Nagy: What better way to give the ultimate middle finger to your oldest rival than to steal the best coach they’ve had in decades? The Bears are a storied franchise that has had some terrible head coaches over the last several years. I think it was pretty much universally agreed upon by Bears fans that even though Lovie Smith took them to a Super Bowl, he still sucked. The guy that was coaching in the CFL before getting the job? John Fox? Give me a break! It seems like Chicago has finally found a keeper in first-year coach Matt Nagy, who has made great strides with the Bears QB of the future Mitch Trubisky. The Packers could rip the heart out of an entire city by luring Nagy to Lambeau.

I’m not sure who will end up coaching the Green Bay Packers next year, but it sure as hell won’t be Mike McCarthy…and for that Packer fans can be thankful this holiday season. Unfortunately, Cleveland Browns fans should start getting really, really, nervous. I’m afraid that if McCarthy comes to town, you will have years of Baker Mayfield being completely wasted. Here’s my advice to the Browns organization: DON’T HIRE THIS FUCKING IDIOT! There you go Cleveland, I tried to help. In my opinion, the perfect job for McCarthy would be the L.A. Chargers. The Chargers are so used to underachieving with a great quarterback that McCarthy could get in a nice five or six years on the job before anybody even noticed that he was there.

Top Five Surprises of the Young NBA Season

Joe Nicely takes a look at the five biggest surprises of the young NBA season.

The NBA season is underway and with most teams having around 20 games under their belts, we can kinda, sorta see some things taking shape through the first quarter of the season. The huge offseason news was LeBron James joining the Lakers and after all the hype we’ve heard about it, it’s honestly been…kinda boring. Though LeBron in L.A. has been a snoozefest, we’ve seen some other things happen around the league that have been very interesting. In the words of my friend and Combine colleague Spencer Aguiar, “Dwight Howard should’ve had a 99 rating in ball handling on NBA 2K this whole time!” Let’s take a look at the five biggest other surprises of the NBA season…so far.

#5. Kawhi Leonard’s Impact

We all thought that Kawhi Leonard was capable of being a true superstar, but damn!  Leonard has announced his presence with authority in Toronto. After all the drama that went down in San Antonio last year, NBA fans were left with a lot of questions about Leonard, who seemed at best mercurical and at worst a legit head case, after feuding with legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich last season (the feud has spilled over into this season, through the media). While we don’t yet have a definitive answer to some of the off-the-court questions, Leonard’s play on the court is speaking for itself.

Leonard and the revamped Raptors have come out of the gate firing with a league-best 20-4 record. The combination of Leonard’s arrival and Nick Nurse’s promotion have been a shot in the arm for an organization that has continuously banged its head into the Eastern Conference playoff glass ceiling. We knew that LeBron’s departure would create a power vacuum in the East, but most of us assumed the Boston Celtics would take control of the conference in short order. Instead, the new-look Raptors have leaped to the top of the heap. It’s extremely early and Toronto has a long way to go. We’ve seen them dominate in the regular season, only to falter in the playoffs before. They need to keep Leonard healthy (he’s missed six games for precautionary reasons) and secure home court advantage.

The elephant in the room for Toronto is what happens with Leonard after this season when he becomes a free agent. Though the Raptors currently appear to be a better team with Leonard, they did take a huge risk when they traded for him. Toronto gave up an excellent player in DeMar DeRozan to acquire Leonard. The Raptors have no guarantee that Leonard will stay north of the border past this season. It will be interesting to see what Toronto can pull off in what amounts to a “do or die” season.

 

#4. The Sacramento Kings

There isn’t going to be a championship parade in Cow Town anytime soon, but the Kings actually look…talented. DeMarcus Cousins ain’t walking through that door, but that might not be a bad thing. For the first time, it looks as though the Kings side of the Cousins trade might not be completely horrible.

Buddy Hield, the much-maligned player at the center of the Cousins deal, has come out firing this season. Hield is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes in 2018 and is starting to resemble the electrifying player we saw at Oklahoma. De’Aaron Fox, whom the Kings selected behind Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, has looked superior to both so far. Fox is averaging over 17 points and seven assists per game, and is an absolute blur with the ball in his hands. The Kings selected Marvin Bagley with the number two overall pick in this year’s draft. While passing on Luca Doncic seems to be a big mistake at the moment, Bagley has played very well when he’s seen the court and should be a key part of the Kings core moving forward. Sacremento’s other big man, Willie Cauley-Stein, is another King that’s posting career-best stats this season.

A .500 record won’t get you anywhere in the Western Conference, but it’s refreshing to see an organization at least attempt to build a young core through the draft in this era of “super teams” that are stocked with free-agent mercenaries that are trying to check “winning a championship ring” off their to-do lists.

 

#3. Boston Stumbles Out of the Gate, While The Clippers Start Hot

When I talked above about the Toronto Raptors strong start, I mentioned that the Boston Celtics were the team everyone assumed would grab the top spot in the East. That may very well end up being the case, but the Celts have gotten off to a very rocky .500 start. You can read an amazing in-depth breakdown about Boston’s struggles here, but the Cliffs Notes version is that Brad Stevens, a coach that has made a career out of exceeding expectations with limited talent, is struggling with the most talented roster he’s ever had.

The Celtics have a lot of talented parts that haven’t added up to a great whole…yet. Stevens is one of the sharpest coaches in basketball and will get things figured out by the time the playoffs roll around, but the emergence of teams like the Raptors, Bucks, and Sixers are going to make a Boston coronation, that once seemed like a foregone conclusion, much more difficult than anticipated just a couple of months ago.

Even after all these years, Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics still seem to be linked. After his amazing run with the Celtics, Doc headed west to coach a talented Clippers roster. Now in his sixth season with the Clippers, Rivers has seen stars like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan leave town.

In sort of an inverse situation as Boston’s Stevens, Rivers has the least talented roster of his Clippers tenure. Doc has surprisingly led this group to a 15-7 start, good for second in the Western Conference. Talented players like Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, and Montrezl Harrell that have bounced around the league, have found a home in L.A. Rivers has veterans Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly, along with human meme Boban Marjanovic, anchoring a surprisingly effective second unit. It’s not likely that this collection of misfits can keep pace in the high-octane West, but it will be fun to watch Rivers and this group of NBA castaways try to keep up with the big boys.

 

#2. Golden State Might Be Human

You know the part in Rocky IV when Rocky finally connects with a punch and cuts Drago? When he comes back to the corner Duke says, “You see? He’s not a machine, he’s a man!”

I kind of feel like the Warriors are Ivan Drago. They’ve been destroying people for years, but they’ve been cut above the eye in this young season. Injuries and in-fighting have been the biggest culprit of Golden State’s lackluster month and like Drago, the Warriors are still awesome, but I think the other teams in the NBA are seeing they are at least human.

It’s probably not fair to even suggest that the Warriors are anything other than phenomenal. Five of their seven losses have come with Steph Curry out of the lineup, while Draymond Green has been in street clothes for four of the Warriors losses.

Chances are, the Warriors will be just fine and win yet another championship this season, but it is interesting to see a chink in their armor. It feels like this might be the last season that we see this team as it’s currently constructed, with Kevin Durant almost certain to sign a long-term deal elsewhere. This team has been historically good and it will be fun to see them make one last run in the postseason.

 

#1. Jimmy Buckets To Philly

After a much-heralded reunion with Tom Thibodeou, his former coach in Chicago, things imploded in Minnesota over the summer. Butler held up his end of the bargain last season, taking the Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The four-time All-Star led Minnesota in scoring and attempted to light a competitive fire under the talented duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Despite the talented nucleus that Minnesota possessed, the ultra-competitive Butler began to feel that neither Towns nor Wiggins had what it would take to win a championship. Butler’s unhappiness became public in mid-September when it was publicized that he had requested a trade. This was punctuated by the now-legendary practice in October, when Butler showed up to the Wolves facility and went scorched earth on everyone in attendance.

While Butler is a highly desirable player, his contract situation made dealing him difficult. A player option to become a free-agent after this season spooked possible trade suitors. The two teams that we kept hearing about as likely destinations for Butler were Houston and Miami. The one team that we never heard about, until the trade was complete, was the Philadelphia 76ers.

Sometimes the most obvious solutions to problems don’t dawn on us until after the problem is solved. This was the case with the Butler-to-Philly deal. The young, up-and-coming Sixers were reportedly looking to add another star to their dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but no one had connected the dots to Butler. Philly thought they added this third piece through the draft with their selection of Markelle Fultz with the number one pick in 2017, but Fultz’s stay in Philly has been a bizarre disaster.

With LeBron James’ departure from the East, the Sixers front office is looking to seize control of the conference now. Their willingness to gamble on Butler signals their belief that they can compete for the Eastern Conference title this year. It’s also a sign that Philly believes in the mental makeup of both Embiid and Simmons, and their ability to withstand Butler’s Jordan-esque competitiveness and demanding personality.

I’m not sure if it has yet dawned on Butler that this might be his last chance to play the part of savior for a team. If he can’t make things work both off and on the court with this talented young Sixers roster, then we might start believing that he’s the real problem. Both Embiid and Simmons are legitimate MVP-caliber talents, the question now is whether they will wilt under Butler’s pressure or be driven to championship heights by it.