(It's late April in New York and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is striding to the podium in the early stages of the NFL Draft):
Write it down. It's going to happen.
Vick's meaning to the NFC South: As the controversy surrounding Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's possible involvement in dog fighting deepens, the controversy has the potential to envelop Vick and destroy the Falcons' season before it even starts.
I just finished reading the current Sports Illustrated article and it made me sick how these dogs are bred and treated. If Vick is proven to be involved in any way, not only should be prosecuted, but Goodell should consider a severe punishment for Vick. I would not be opposed to a lifetime ban from the league. The public relations disaster that could visit the Falcons, Vick and the NFL — should his involvement be proved — would be enormous.
That said, the article made it clear that it could be hard to prove a case against Vick, because the only information they have to link Vick to dog fighting is circumstantial and from paid informants who are already deep into the dog fighting game. Plus, ESPN's interview of the "confidential government source" linking Vick to dog fighting sounded way too rehearsed for my taste.
Goodell is smart to wait and see how this will all shake out, even though there are already calls for a suspension for Vick. But once we know the truth, Goodell should act swiftly. If you thought Pac-Man Jones was a test of Goodell's will in terms of player conduct, just wait until the dust settles on this one.
How does all this translate on the football field? Well, it's a major distraction, for one. It's all any reporter around the Falcons will be asking every player on the team for the next six months. Any time the Falcons lose, reporters will ask if Vick's off-the-field issues are a distraction. Bobby Petrino's first season as Falcons coach could turn out to be a supreme mess. I think the Falcons are on their way to a 5-11 season.
Obviously, that could mean good news for the Bucs, who naturally would love to sweep the Falcons and improve their chances of getting back above .500 this season. Imagine the Bucs playing a Vick-less Falcons. Joey Harrington is Vick's backup, and he's not necessarily suited for Petrino's spread offense.
Vick is the fulcrum of that team. Without him, they're nothing more than an ordinary team that can run the football well.
How much do you miss Matt Schaub now, Atlanta? That could go down as the worst trade in franchise history.
It would not stun me a bit if the Falcons released Vick before next March 1 and started over.
Tempering expectations: Pro Football Weekly's 2007 preview magazine is on newsstands and just four Buccaneers made it into their Top 20 position player rankings — RB Cadillac Williams (No. 18), LT Luke Petitgout (No. 19), OLB Derrick Brooks (No. 15) and CB Ronde Barber (No. 8). DE Simeon Rice found himself listed under "Best of the rest" at defensive end. None of the Bucs were ranked in the Top 50 overall.
It should probably worry Bucs fans that as well-respected a magazine as PFW would rank just one of the Bucs' young studs — Williams — in their Top 20 rankings. Even worse, none of the players earned unqualified praise.
It will be interesting to see if those rankings remain consistent as the build-up to the regular season progresses.
Summer project: One of my summer projects will be an analysis of the Bucs' fantasy football fortunes the past 10 years and how fantasy statistics might provide a clue as to how well or how poorly the team may fare in 2007. Yes, the summer is a slow time for sports writers — why do you ask?
Let's form a committee: The backfield-by-committee is getting plenty of publicity entering this season, considering all four conference championship game participants used the package in some way.
It should be noted that of the Top 10 rushing combinations in the NFL a year ago, nine of them had a 1,000-yard rusher (Seattle's Shaun Alexander was the exception, and his injuries limited him to 896 yards). The other part of the tandem rushed for anywhere from 941 yards (Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew) to 523 yards (Washington's Clinton Portis, who missed half the season due to injury).
There was some talk before the draft of the Bucs selecting newly-minted Viking Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma in the first round to form a possible tandem with Williams. But the Bucs would be better off giving some extra time to Michael Pittman this season.
While Pittman has never rushed for 1,000 yards in a single season, he's rushed for at least 700 yards five different times. Plus, when Williams had his breakout rookie season in 2005, Pittman added 436 yards to that total.
Pittman is capable of handling 100 carries and producing at least 500 yards (his career average is 4.0 yards per carry). He has the physical build to wear down blockers and keep from wearing himself down (he's survived the entire season five times in his nine-year career and never missed more than three games in a season). Increasing Pittman's workload would protect Williams and make him more likely to return to his 2005 form. Assertions that the Bucs should consider releasing Pittman and give the full load to Williams are just foolish.
Catching a Tuna? Should the Buccaneers have another lackluster season, and the Glazer family chooses to clean house and fire head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, expect Bill Parcells' name to come up a lot as a choice for general manager. There are published reports in at least two preview magazines that Parcells may be hunting for a plum front office job after this season (he's working with ESPN this fall). Obviously, Parcells was thisclose to becoming the Bucs' head coach before Jon Gruden. Any possible conversations between the Glazers and Parcells would probably come down to how soured the family is on the Tuna after what happened in 2002.
No moves: The Bucs made no player moves in anticipation of the June 1 roster date, when most roster bonuses are paid out. Nor do I expect them to release any of their big-name players.
Upcoming practices: The Buccaneers have voluntary workouts this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I will be there at least two of those days. Check BucsBlitz.com for everything that's going on at One Buc Place.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and for the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Charlotte Harbor, Fla.