Steve Kerr’s Splash In Golden State

Remember before the season started how most basketball pundits thought Phil Jackson would be able to talk Steve Kerr into coaching the New York Knicks?  Remember how it would be the start to some tremendous rebuild in Madison Square Garden?  Of course you do, we all do.  We all remember those assumptions because it was nothing short of hilarious when the often pompous, Phil Jackson, did not get his way.   Steve Kerr realized his opportunities, weighed his options and apparently has made the right choice.  Instead of inheriting a headache in New York, he inherited a basketball team in Golden State.


The Golden State Warriors were already a playoff team when Kerr took the job, but nobody expected Kerr to lead them to what is now the NBA’s best record.   Last year, while coached by Mark Jackson, the Warriors were sixth in the Western Conference with a 51-31 record; Kerr has the team positioned to finish first and with well over 60 wins.

In December when asked about his coaching style, Kerr said :” I like humor, I like to keep things loose. . .the way I’m coaching is the totality of my experience under a lot of different people; you sort of take a little from each person. But what they told me is that you have to be yourself.”


It seems that Kerr has also let the excitable youth on his team be themselves as well.   The Warriors roster is led by the “Splash Brothers” – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  Thompson is averaging 21.7 points per game while Stephen Curry is an MVP candidate this year averaging 23.7 points and 7.9 assists a game.   This talented back court, which knocks down the three-point shot at a 43% rate is the back bone of a squad primed for a deep playoff run.   The health of center Andrew Bogut is always a cause for concern with the Warriors, but their front court is formidable with Harrison Barnes and the emerging play of Draymond Green.   Because of the team’s lead in the West, Kerr has been able to bench some of his starters for games and let his back ups earn some starts (very Popovichian of him).  Even then, when you bench guys to start ones named David Lee and Andre Iguodala – how far can the drop-off really be?

Back to Kerr though.


Keep in mind that Kerr is looking and doing great there in Golden State but how good would he have looked if he took the job in New York?   The truth is, Kerr inherited a squad most first year coaches don’t get the opportunity to coach.  Whatever Mark Jackson was doing there previously needed to be adjusted and Kerr did just that.  Another truth is, not just anybody can do the job that Kerr has done.  It takes a lot to coach a team up to the next level, especially if there wasn’t any previous ground work put in by the head coach.  Kerr made all the adjustments to help get this team to reach their potential.   Once again though – this roster is loaded.

Would we be singing the praises to Kerr if he was in New York?  Probably not.  Most likely not.  Definitely wouldn’t have.  The reason being – New York just isn’t that good.   Kerr would’ve been given the “he’s a first year coach” or “he’s awful” treatment that poor Derrick Fisher is getting in the Big Apple.

Before people start crowning Kerr as the “next great coach” in the NBA – let’s just call it what it is: A smart basketball mind who found a perfect fit.

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“Mr. Wonderful” Album Review

The phrase “larger than life” comes to mind when thinking of the personality and actual size of the rapper from Flushing, Queens – Action Bronson.   When listening to Bronson, the sound is very familiar.  His tone and delivery have been compared to GhostFace Killah on numerous occasions.  Even Bronson’s articulation seems to pay ode to the legendary Staten Island MC.   Nevertheless, Bronson brings his own brand of outlandishness and personality to the table on “Mr. Wonderful” which is his first major label release.


Bronson teamed up with a nice team of producers made up with the likes  of Party Supplies, Mark Ronson and The Alchemist.   The album uses a lot of funk and even blues sampling and instrumentation – but the ultimate feel is uptempo.   The album opens with the Mark Ronson produced “Brand New Car” where Bronson’s charisma shines with lines like: “Trust you me, Gotham’s safer now / But there’s always a new Joker in town / Ready to smoke you with the pound / But when he shoots it, the flag says ‘bang’ and everybody laughs / He must be up and off the molly tab.”  Action Bronson’s claim is to be something the rap game needs and wants but he won’t conform to any trends to help his cause.

On “Actin’ Crazy” Bronson makes a reference to kissing his mother on the cheek to reassure her that all of his crazy antics are how he’ll take care of things.  It’s not a “dear mama”  type of song though, it’s more about the “crazy.”  Bronson’s flow and cadence become pretty predictable throughout “Mr. Wonderful.”  So predictable in fact, that if he was a boxer, he wouldn’t land his jab after the second round. . .

“Falconry” sounds a little bit like “Liquid Swords” by the Gza but the problem with “Falconry” is that there is little genius behind it as Bronson proves with: “I was made like the beginning of Jurassic Park / When they took the f#ckin’ blood from the mosquito with a dope needle  then they shot it in a wild lion, 1983 / I popped out holdin’ an iron with a visor on.”  Okay. . .


The album thrives off of it’s  production.  Party Supplies have gained traction recently, but this is a production team that needs to gain more exposure.  They supply the backdrop masterfully on the tracks “A Light In the Addict” and “Only In America.”  “A Light in the Addict” is one of the few times Bronson is trying to address an introspective issue and even then he can’t wrap his one verse on the song in cohesive fashion.  He starts out saying “Starin’ out the window, with the mind of a schizo, thinking if I jump, will I feel it when I hit the ground” and somehow transitions into “Dog, what the f*ck is with your mother / She got one leg longer than the other / one eye through the shutter, made the transition from weed to butter like spring to summer.”   “Only In America” features Party Supplies on the hook, but the track is produced by Oh No.  The beat has an old rock feel but Bronson’s verses are filled with more “filler” than anything else : “Barry Bonds, barracuda, Chattanooga / Back alley shooter, black balley booter / catch me jumpin’ out the plane like a black puma.”  

Even the best song on the album is tainted with nonsense, but not to the fault of Bronson at least. . . “Baby Blue” is produced by Mark Ronson, who supplies a very soulful piano melody and Bronson does his best GhostFace imitation here talking about a relationship gone wrong.  In this ballad of a man who is just sick of the girl he’s with and leaves her, even Bronson’s rough singing vocal, works well with the track.   The track goes completely in the wrong direction as soon as an appearance is  made by Chance the Rapper who dishes out gems like these on his verse: “I hope you never get off Fridays / And you work at a Friday’s that’s always busy on Fridays.”  Damnit Chance, you ruined it.


The jazzy bass line on “Galactic” works well, but the song itself lacks a hook and Bronson seems to just quit on the third verse.  One can see the appeal of Bronson in his reckless “I can care less about what you think of me” attitude, but when does it come to a point where lyrics and artistry come into play?  At times it’s all just too simplistic : “Black magic woman put a spell on me / F*ck around and win a spelling bee / I could walk under ladders, still won the lotto / Ten minutes flat, built a boat in a bottle.” 

Jay -Z once accused lesser rappers of putting “words together, just to match,” and that’s what Bronson has seemingly made a career of.  The style gets repetitive and boring while his “shock” value has very little entertainment value.  In all honesty, the album would’ve been better suited as a collection of instrumentals.

Rating 4 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Why Durant to the Knicks Makes Sense

The New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder are two teams in two very different predicaments.  The New York Knicks are now part of a complete over-haul.  They are in Year One of the Phil Jackson era, and not much has gone right.  The Zen-Master’s office wizardry has left little to be desired and Carmelo Anthony, the team’s one true “superstar/max-player” has been sidelined for the rest of this season due to injury.  Not that having Anthony on the roster would change much, considering the Knicks are constantly in (what seems to be a battle for) last place in the NBA.


The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t in the shape the Knickerbockers are in, but this season has been a disappointment.  Injuries have shaken this roster so much, that it’s been a rare occurrence to see Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the court at the same time.   Now, while the Thunder fight to be an eight seed in the Western Conference Playoff picture, it appears they are without Serge Ibaka for some time and there is a good chance Durant is done for the rest of the season.

No matter the outcome to this season, the Thunder know they can re-up with a healthy squad next season and have a good chance of coming out of the West, while the Knicks know they are years away from thinking about challenging for their division and even less, the Eastern Conference.

A funny thing has happened in Oklahoma City, though.

In Kevin Durant’s absence, Russell Westbrook has shone like he never has before.  Everyone was well aware that Westbrook was a top 5 player in the league and the debate gained steam last season of “who’s better?” between him and Durant.   Westbrook has been leading the Thunder and keeping them in the playoff conversation and has done so in MVP fashion.  Westbrook is one of the league’s fiercest competitors and his stat sheet as of late averages a triple double.  Westbrook’s play has opened the flood gates to rumor mills and has many people thinking – maybe Durant is expendable.  

If that is the case, there is no better suitor than the New York Knicks.


The Knicks have been trying to pair up Carmelo Anthony with someone for as long as they’ve had him.  The problem is (and the secret is apparently out) nobody really wants to play with Melo.  Melo is a different kind of star, in the sense that there are always questions of his work ethic and leadership, but still there is no denying – when healthy – he’s one of the leagues toughest to defend.  For Durant, he comes to New York where his star will continue to shine and where he will pretty much own the city that never sleeps.   Sure, Anthony is a step down from the all around player Westbrook is, but at least he’s still playing alongside an All Star, in what is a very weak Eastern Conference.

Of course, the price for Durant won’t come cheap.  The New York Knicks are destined for a prime first round selection in what has been talked up to be a very promising draft class.  Obviously, the Knicks don’t need to trade for Durant – they can just draft one of these hot shots and start the rebuilding process – but considering the heat Phil Jackson has been under in his first year as team president of the Knicks – he might want to make a bigger splash and acquiring one of the NBA’s best players would do just that.

The Thunder meanwhile, would inherit this draft pick (and most likely the following years pick as well) and build around Westbrook.  Without Durant, Westbrook would still have Serge Ibaka and the likes of Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters and Jeremy Lamb on the team as well as a draft pick which can end up being: Jahlil Okafor of Duke, or one of Kentucky’s big men, Karl Anthony-Towns or Willie Cauley-Stein.   Also keep in mind, this move would give the Thunder more flexibility with money.


For the Thunder, this move secures at least one of their two stars moving forward, with the ability to build a team while still being a contender in the Western Conference.   For the Knicks, this gives them a chance to be relevant again.  This isn’t the Knicks over-paying for a star passed his prime again either.  Here, they would be acquiring a 26 year old player who is always in the MVP discussion.  Of course if the Knicks did acquire Durant, the topic would be that neither he or Carmelo Anthony are known for their defensive prowess, but still, this is basketball and you have to score more points than the other team ultimately – and having two players who can hit shots from anywhere on the floor while being defended is hard to come by.   Although if history is to repeat itself in the form of bad luck which seems to plague the Knicks, Durant would probably only have two healthy seasons out of five – and this trade will be a bust for the Knicks.  Then years later, the New York media would kill Phil Jackson for trading away picks for a broken down Durant.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, in the city that never sleeps.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“To Pimp A Butterfly” Album Review

Compton  is one of hip hop’s legendary cities and it has added another name to its list of accomplished MC’s in the form of Kendrick Lamar.  Since he was a teenager, his flow and his musical approach made him the one many “kept their eye on.”  When the time came for his debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” he didn’t disappoint his fans or the music industry as the album was nominated for four Grammy awards, including Album of The Year.


With his newest release, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Kendrick’s goal is to separate himself from the rest of his peers in terms of lyrical content and musical stylings.  “To Pimp A Butterfly” is a collection of jazz, hip hop, spoken word, slam poetry, funk and self awareness – all trying to mesh well together at the same time.   The production on the album sets it apart from most works out today as it is based mostly around live instrumentation and multiple breaks in tempo and  altogether melody.   The album opens with “Wesley’s Theory” where Kendrick goes in on how the entertainment industry will love the artist as quickly as it will turn it’s back on the artist, using actor Wesley Snipes’  tax-fraud case as the muse for this song.

“King Kunta” is one of the few tracks on the album that possesses the fundamentals for what is considered to be a “real” rap record.  The track is driven by a steady bass drum supplied in production by Terrance Martin.  Kunta is a play on the main character by the same name in the movie “Roots” and in it, Kendrick cleverly combines his path to success as a coming of age and in turn stakes claim to his position on top of the rap game : “I can dig rapping, but a rapper with a ghost writer? / What the f*ck happened? Oh, I swore I wouldn’t tell / But Most of ya’ll share bars, like you got the bottom bunk in a two man cell.” 

The concept behind “Institutionalized” is well played as Kendrick’s message is that no matter the class of citizen, we as people find ourselves locked into a mode of things as they are or how they have to be but never looking beyond that.  Lyrically the pictures he describes are on point: “You know the obvious / Me, scholarship?  No, streets put me through colleges / Be all you can be, true, but the problem is / A dream’s only a dream if work don’t follow it.”  What takes away from the song is the chaotic (albeit creative) use of different personalities/voices used by Kendrick during the song.  He does this at other points in the album, most notably on the track “u.” On “u” Kendrick seems to be having trouble loving himself or even his success.   After the first verse, the song goes into an abrupt break and Kendrick delivers another one of his personalities, which includes a cracking voice, that sounds drunk and whiny.  Although the personality is reminiscent to that of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard – the character is so extreme and the beat is so simple that the whining just gets annoying and his self-loathing anthem takes a turn for the weird.

There are very few “catchy” hooks but “These Walls” might be the catchiest of all of them. The song details a story of a man and woman’s sexual relationship and detailing the pleasure of her vaginal walls and when the time comes she is having their child while he is now trapped within prison walls.


There is an Andre 3000 kind of feel throughout the whole album, but Andre had a better grasp on song structure.  Kendrick’s concepts are mostly on-point but it seems the flows and melodies he uses are forced at times just to satisfy this “live band” feel.  Sometimes he’s not meshing well with the music and other times it seems like the instruments behind him are drunk and he’s trying to stand them up while rapping.   On “Momma” Kendrick kind of just rambles on with another grim outlook on society, but gets really lazy with the song-writing : “I know everything, I know everything, I know myself / I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health / I know fatality might haunt you / I know everything, I know Compton. . .”  – the entire second verse is nothing but that.  His “interludes” are basically full length songs, but should’ve been left off the album altogether.  “For Free?” is annoying jazz / spoken word mess that Kendrick gives a shot at.  He does follow the high hat well with his flow, but the constant reminder of the line “This d*ck ain’t freeeee,” is neither clever or not-annoying.  On the other interlude “For Sale” Kendrick once again talks about temptation and what things are not what they always appear to be.  Even in his conversations with what appears to be the Devil, Kendrick goes on a frantic non comprehensive rant more than rap.  

Understanding that Kendrick is known for being lyrical, there is no reason for lack-luster hooks like the one he gives on “Hood Politics” : “I been A-1 since dday one, you n*gg@s – boo boo / You home boy, your block that you’re from, boo boo / Lil hoes you went to school with, boo boo / Baby mama and your new b*tch, boo boo / we was in the hood, 14 with the deuce deuce. . .” 

The album is peppered with a lot of “pro-black” ideals, which to some may seem new – but the truth is, it’s been done before – and better.   Mos Def, Common and even Kanye West at times, deliver the message with better story telling and delivery.  The fine line one draws when going this route is that you will tend to isolate certain demographics of hip hop listeners.   Whether Kendrick cares or not isn’t the issue, it’s just the truth.  If trying to become more of a “universal artist” one should keep their ideas universal.


Just to be clear – there is nothing wrong with Kendrick speaking on topics near and dear to his heart at all – but there comes a risk of turning some folks off.  Or even worse, get bored with it.

Kendrick ends the album with a really awkward fake conversation with the late Tupac Shakur and the message of a “black man” only having about five years to exhibit their maximum strength in this country which seems overly dramatic. . .

The truth about “To Pimp A Butterfly” is that it’s a courageous effort that Kendrick had no doubt – put a lot of effort into.  That’s the part that’s weird though because knowing he did put a lot of effort into it, some parts of this album sound as if they are made for a demo, thrown together or not completely thought out.  His hype exceeds his talents considerably – but that’s not to say he’s not talented – the potential is there, but everyone needs to pump their brakes on  crowing him with any sort of title.

Rating 5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“Empire, Season 1 Soundtrack” Review


FOX’s television drama “Empire” has become a national hit who’s ratings and viewer audience numbers only get bigger week to week.  The show itself (if having to be explained in a nutshell) is about Terrance Howard’s character Lucious Lyon who is for all things considered a combination between Jay-Z and Suge Knight.  Howard’s character is a supposed hip hop legend who runs a label called “Empire.”  Taraji P. Henson plays Cookie, his ex wife who is back home after a 17 year prison stint and they are the parents of three sons of whom are all in the running as “heir to the Empire.”  Trai Byers plays the oldest brother, Andre, who is a book smart yet bi-polar character who works for Lucious yet lacks the musical talent of his younger brothers;  the role of Hakeem is played by little known rapper “Yazz” who is the youngest of the three – Hakeem appears to be Lucious’ favorite of the sons because of his rap talents, but Hakeem is young, brash and controlled more by women than anything else.  This leaves Jussie Smollet to play the role of Jamal, who is the least favorite of Lucious’ sons because Jamal is gay.  Lucious refuses to see that Jamal is the more talented and headstrong of the sons, although to mostly everyone else it is obvious.


The reason, the characters are important to the soundtrack is because the characters are heavily involved in the music which the show is based on and around.  Mostly the characters of Hakeem and Jamal.   The soundtrack works best if following the show – although, one could only imagine that the soundtrack would only be purchased by viewers of the program anyway. . .

Timbaland is the shows musical producer and his influence is sprinkled throughout the soundtrack.


Yazz “the Greatest” who’s real name is Bryshere Y. Gray, is set to release a solo album called “Respect” some time in the near future, but for now, he’s been able to show what he can do to a weekly television audience.    His style is more appealing to today’s musical standards for what it’s worth and it’s noticeable on the track “Drip Drop,” which is a sexually inspired anthem with a simplistic hook.  His flow outshines his lyrics, which are typical if anything: “You hella pretty/ are you from the city? / Let me  put you in a viddy, maybe later on say ‘hello kitty.”   His song content stays the same on “Can’t Truss ‘Em” but lyrically he steps it up : “Get out my way chick, cause I already know the game / If you tryna talk to me, I’m on my college football, In other words, I’m a act like I don’t Notre Dame (know the dame). . .” The track is trumpet heavy very similar to those on C-Murder’s “Down For My N*gg@z” and Kanye West’s “Blood On The Leaves.”

For those unfamiliar with Jussie Smollett, go dust off your DVD of “The Mighty Ducks” as he played Terry Hall, who was one-third of the pee-wee hockey team’s “Oreo Line.”  Now a days, Jussie has  now found fame with the role of Jamal on Empire.  He has even inked a deal with Columbia records as of last month.  Jussie has a talented and versatile vocal range, which Timbaland exploits to the tune of Justin Timberlake-lake melodies.  “Good Enough” is one of the album’s stronger records as it’s Jamal’s plea for his father’s love.  The song’s arrangement is accompanied by the trademark Timbaland beat-box and with a chorus in which Jamal’s pleading is felt: “I just want you to look at me and see that I can be worth your love / I just want you to look at me and see that I can be – Good enough.”  Jussie flexes the versatility by singing along the street influenced “Keep Your Money.”  Another horn driven track with a slow and steady bass line.


The two artists collaborate often but it doesn’t always translate well.  For some reason, someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to remix the Dire Straits 1985 song “Money For Nothing.”  The song comes off nothing short of corny as the guitar work and lyrics are terribly outdated and no amount of “cool” can save it.   “You Are So Beautiful” is a confusing song because it’s supposed to be one of the bigger hits in the career of Lucious Lyon, who is mostly noted for being a “gritty, street rapper” — the song is mostly an uptempo love ballad.  On the show, the two sons remix it and it sounds just as bad as when their father did it.  The one time Jussie and Yazz truly nail a collaboration is on “No Apologies” which has a defiant feel from the opening piano to the big chorus sung by Jussie: “I do what I want and say what I want with no apologies / excuse me if I’m blunt, I say what I want with no apologies.”  Yazz comes off with a rapid fire third verse which works : “They can’t be mad at me, look at my family / I guess it’s all in my blood line / If you keep ridin me for my apology, you’ll be waiting for a long time.”

“What is Love” is performed by V. Bozeman who is one of Timbaland’s newest additions and the girl has some pipes.  Her character has seemingly jumped shipped to a rival label currently, but her one song “What is Love” is one of the stronger songs on the soundtrack.  It’s enough to make people want to see more of her on the show, or even better – put out her own album (Timbaland has already said she is on his next project “Opera Noir” and her album “Music is My Boyfriend” is in the works. . .”)


Jennifer Hudson was given to songs on the album, “Whatever Makes You Happy” with rapper Juicy J, just seems out of place on this collection while her song “Remember the Music” is a sappy ballad which is sung to the bi-polar brother Andre, in attempts to help his health.  The Mary J. Blige and Terrance Howard duet of “Shake Down” is once again confusing, because we still haven’t seen Terrance Howard rap yet. . .  His singing is nothing special and although Mary J is beyond special – her talents are just wasted on this boring track.

Surprisingly, the Courtney Love song “Walk Out On Me” is nice rock-blues break from the R&B heavy release and even more surprising is that it actually isn’t a bad song.  Remember, we’re talking about Courtney Love here.  The Courtney Love, who is actually perfectly casted as a drug addicted, has-been rocker named Elle Dallas.   Serayah McNeill plays the role  of Tiana, who you can say is molded after Rihanna (equipped with a big forehead and everything).  Her song “Keep It Moving” is actually a catchy dance track with Yazz.  Her range is nothing spectacular but the song’s arrangement keeps it fresh for the whole three minute listen.

Jussie Smollett is the obvious star of the soundtrack while Yazz shows limited abilities lyrically.  The guest appearances seem forced, especially songs like “NY Raining” which finds Charles Hamilton and Rita Ford in what can only be described as an explainable pursuit of below average-ness.    The plot twists on the show far surpass the efforts of the soundtrack although, die-hard fans won’t care – they’ll pretty much listen to the tracks they liked most from the show anyways.

Rating: 6 out 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Is Andrew Luck the Most “Important” QB in the NFL?

There are many fine lines in the english language.   In the NFL, nearly every word gets twisted and bent to mean two different things. For some it’s a compliment to be called a “game manager,” meanwhile to others, it’s a slap in the face.  The word “elite” is thrown around so much that the word has lost it’s meaning. . . and “being a leader” has been tied in to one’s body language, demeanor, work ethic and even “command of the huddle.”   In the NFL, no position is more talked about, celebrated and scrutinized than that of quarterback.  Some have the silly belief that you need a top flight or elite quarterback in order to succeed – dismissing all other positions of equal importance on the football field.  Not saying that the quarterback position is futile or that it doesn’t help to have a top notch quarterback on a football team to  pave a way to success, but most times the conversation gets out of control.


Ever since Andrew Luck was drafted out of Stanford and handed the reigns of the Indianapolis Colts franchise, he has been touted as “the next big thing.”  He very well may be and in today’s NFL world where many believe the quarterback is the do all end all to a team’s success, Luck is under a huge microscope, with every snap and read of his being examined by so-called “experts.”

So many people want to talk analytics to defend their position but to make the statement of Andrew Luck being the most important quarterback in the NFL, all it takes is common sense.

Andrew Luck has earned the right to be mentioned with the future hall of famers and “elite” class of today’s quarterbacks, which includes: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.  When it comes to those who are his peers : Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan fill out the “comparison tree.”

There is no denying what the first four do for their teams.  They have all made their name in the history books, one way or another and contain all the traits needed to be “elite.”  Let’s not forget though  in the case of Brady and Rodgers – their teams carried the weight when these two went down in previous seasons.  In 2008, the Patriots lost Brady to injury in the first quarter against the Chiefs in their season opener.  What happened the rest of the season was back up quarterback Matt Cassell came in and threw for over 3600 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the Patriots to a 10-6 record.  The Pats missed out on the division crown, but a 10 win season generally keeps folks employed and happy.  In 2013, Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in a week nine hit against Chicago, which sidelined him until the final week of the season.  Coach Mike McCarthy used a “musical chairs carousel” of quarterbacks that were able to check down to wideouts and keep the chains moving in Rodgers’ absence.  Thanks to a strong running game and conservative play calling, McCarthy was able to keep the Packers alive for a do or die division winning game in week 17, which they won.  In other words, these teams made due without their stud QBs.


One can make the argument that last season, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees held their teams back rather than help them get better.  Both quarterbacks were playing as if father time caught up with them as they both seemed to lack their recognizable arm talents and their instincts seemed a bit off.   Nobody is knocking what “getting older” can do to one’s abilities, but it’s more of the fact that Peyton Manning was struggling late last season – everyone saw it, but it was the running game that helped keep the Broncos alive all year.  Things didn’t turn out so well for Brees though, as he could not help get his team out of self dug holes to win an atrocious NFC South division.

This isn’t being written to bash these men.  It’s to prove an obvious point.   The point being, if Andrew Luck quarterbacked New Orleans or Denver, those teams would’ve been better off and if Chuck Pagano had to coach a full or even half a season without Luck – the Colts seasons is as good as done.

Andrew Luck stood in the pocket for the Indianapolis Colts last year and was the only reason why the Colts racked up 11 wins this year.  Yes, the only   reason.  The running game was non-existent all season and the defense was a struggle to watch week-to-week.  The Colts offense became pretty predictable late in games, and every game was won and lost on Luck’s arm.  Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano seemed out-coached for the most part on a weekly basis, and the team seemed to do it’s best when Luck was handed over play calling responsibilities on drives.   Luck had a version of Reggie Wayne that was out-dated and moldy, while he was breaking in a youngster like Donte Moncrief.  Sure, TY Hilton is an explosive player and has become somewhat of a break out star, but he doesn’t have the ideal size to be a true number one option.

Luck doesn’t have a running game and defense to depend on like Russell Wilson does in Seattle;  he doesn’t have a Julio Jones and Roddy White combination like Matt Ryan in Atlanta and although Luck is the better pure passer and has better weapons than Cam Newton – Newton usually finds himself in close games because of Ron Rivera’s tough nosed defenses.

The word important is not to be confused or tied into the word best.  Although the NFL pundits love to spin double meanings on words.  This isn’t to say that Luck could be, will be or in some circles is considered to be “the best” quarterback in the league but the fact here is that he is definitely the most important quarterback in the league.   Without him, the Colts are easily a two win team who will be looking to draft a quarterback in the off-season.  Andrew Luck on the Seattle Seahawks could probably go undefeated.  And given the scenario where Luck is the quarterback for Green Bay, Denver or New England those teams either get better or worse case scenario, still win their respectable divisions with double digits in the win column.


Considering how the Indianapolis Colts were only able to supply a legend like Peyton Manning two Super Bowl appearance (one victory) – one must wonder if they’ll leave Luck in that same kind of scenario.  Remember, in his hay-day – Manning was the most important quarterback in the league, without him they literally turned into a two win team.  The Colts have to help Luck out with better players around him.  He has already proven his worth to the franchise with what they’ve given him.  Now imagine if the team drafted well and put the right pieces in place.

Don’t blow this one Indy.  You’ve got the most important quarterback in the NFL.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Grading Free Agency, Pt. 2

*You can find Part 1, here: – detailing the free agent signings of Ndamukong Suh, Frank Gore and Byron Maxwell, Rodney Hudson, Stephen Paea and Jeremy Maclin.


Ryan Matthews – Philadelphia Eagles

Naturally, we start with Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles.  It seemed as if the Eagles were locked in with Frank Gore at running back until Frank Gore backed out to sign with the Colts.  Ryan Matthews seems to be the guy who will replace the void left by Lesean McCoy.  Matthews’ history shows that he doesn’t fair well when replacing a fan favorite – as he was supposed to be the one to carry the load in San Diego after Ladanian Tomilson.  Matthews has shown flares of being a capable back, but injuries have derailed his career for the most part.  Questionable signing here by Chip Kelly considering the rigorous practices and uptempo play-style of this Eagles offense.  It will be a miracle if Matthews lasts 10 games this year.

Grade: C-

Torrey Smith – San Francisco 49ers


While most are looking to leave San Fran, Torrey Smith has decided to sign a 5 year, $40 million contract to play for the Niners.  Smith has incredible speed and good size at 6’0″, 200 pounds.  While in Baltimore, Smith totaled over 1000 yards once in four seasons which was also his highest reception total in his career at 65.  He makes the most with every catch and is able to average about 16 yards per catch each season – which is the stat that makes him attractive to the 49ers.  Nobody really knows if Colin Kaepernick will take another step in the positive direction, but Smith can only help.  This move also reunites Smith to play alongside Anquan Boldin (Ravens teammates in 2011).

Grade: B

Julius Thomas – Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville, for as bad of a football team as they are, somehow they pulled off a free agent surprise by netting a deal with Thomas.  This is a risky move on both parts.  Thomas is entering a situation with an unproven quarterback entering his second year in Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars are paying a guy who’s toughness has been questioned and who’s stats can be mostly attributed to playing in a great offense with one of the best ever throwing him the ball. . .  Playing with Peyton Manning makes any wideout / tight end, more in tune to route running and communication but is Jacksonville really the place where that can be exhibited?  Denver also wasn’t too happy with Thomas only wanting to play at 100% and never wanting to “give it a try” when coming back from injury.   Jacksonville could’ve spent the money they spent here on an offensive linemen.

Grade: C

Jeremy Parnell – Jacksonville Jaguars

Oh, excuse me Jacksonville – you are putting money to the offensive line.  Nice to see.  Jacksonville has money and they probably over-paid for a guy who split time in Dallas on the offensive line, but considering the success of the that O-Line, Jacksonville figured they had to make a move at some point to bolster this unit. Five years and for $32 million might seem a bit high for a guy nearly 30 years old who’s been a part-time starter but hey – guess you gotta start somewhere. . .

Grade: C-

Derrelle Revis AND Buster Skrine – New York Jets

The Jets were an absolute joke in the secondary last year as every young corner on the roster never panned out and every signing appeared to be the wrong one.  Buster Skrine was signed to a 4 year $25 million dollar contract and there is no doubt he is elated to leave the mess that is the Cleveland Browns.  Skrine is a heavily penalized corner, but the Jets like his aggressiveness and figure him to be a perfect nickel man for this defense.  Although the Skrine signing is okay , the crown-jewel is the Jets getting back their guy in Darrelle Revis.  When the Jets traded Revis in 2013, the fan-base couldn’t comprehend how it could trade away it’s best player in years.  It was business. . . and nobody conducts business better than Revis, who signed back to the Jets for a five year, $70 million contract with nearly $40 million guaranteed.  The Jets front line is still a force in the league and having bolstered their corner position will only help.  Safety is still a question-mark and there is still a possibility of them signing  Antonio Cromartie as the number two corner.  Sure they over-paid for Revis, but Revis makes sure that everybody does. 

Grade: A

Andre Johnson – Indianapolis Colts


In Part One, the Colts were given an “A” for bringing Frank Gore on board and now the Colts have gone out and acquired former Texans wideout Andre Johnson.  Johnson is the Texans all time receiving leader but now leaving on bad terms with the team, the veteran has decided to pony-up with the division rival Colts.  On paper this looks like a massive upgrade to the Colts receiving core and although Reggie Wayne showed last year he wasn’t the Wayne of yesterday, Johnson is almost in the same boat.  Wayne had to make way for T.Y. Hilton, while Johnson had to make way for Deandre Hopkins.  Three years and $21 million seems a bit too steep for a team that has an intriguing young wideout in Donte Moncrief to go along with T.Y. Hilton.  This team has a stud in Andrew Luck, the running game help should’ve been enough.  They need to focus on defense or it will be the same story as last year.

Grade: D

Orlando Franklin – San Diego Chargers

The Chargers are now acting like a shark smelling blood in the water.  Maybe the Chargers see that the Broncos are vulnerable and they can still make enough moves to be better than the Chiefs and Raiders.  If Peyton Manning’s late season performance was a preview to how he’ll play this up-coming season, that would make Rivers the best quarterback in the division.  The Chargers decided to protect one of the least mobile QB’s in the league by acquiring former Bronco, Orlando Franklin.  Franklin plays guard but is versatile all through the line of scrimmage and in his four seasons with Denver he has only missed one game.  The Chargers also re-signed King Dunlap so it seems that protecting Rivers for this year and beyond is (and should be) a team priority.

Grade: B+

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Grading Free Agency, Part 1

The NFL free agency period is one of the most hyped moments of the off-season.  Every team uses free agency as a means to better themselves before the draft, making their draft day decisions a little clearer.   We have seen teams in recent history like the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, make huge splashes with free agent signings, only to fall short come season’s end.

Ndamukong Suh – Miami Dolphins: 


The moment the Lions decided they no longer needed Suh, that was the moment the man known as Ndamukong became the prize of this year’s free agency frenzy.  He instantly adds credibility to even the weakest of defensive lines but the Pro Bowl defensive tackle joins a unit that was already good, but with the addition of Suh, they are noticeably elevated.  With (now) former Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick leaving Miami by ways of a 5 hour drive north up to Jacksonville, this left an obvious opening for Suh.  Keeping in my that Suh is a definite upgrade from Odrick,  just how much better will this move make the team as a whole.  The Miami Dolphins have offered Suh a contract worth about $114 million and this might hurt them because the real need for an upgrade was on defense.  With no wide receivers, running backs and questions with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback the Dolphins ignored their real needs.

Grade: C

Byron Maxwell – Philadelphia Eagles

We all knew the Legion of Boom would take on a different look going into next season because Byron Maxwell was going to head  elsewhere to get paid.   Philadelphia, who has been keeping things interesting to say the least in the off-season, decided to give Maxwell the payday he wanted to the tune of 6 years for $63 million.  The Eagles defense is more opportunistic than it is good.  Maxwell no longer  will be able to “hide” behind the team-mates he was playing with in Seattle.  Even then, saying “hide” sounds as if someone is saying he “can’t” play — the truth is, we all really won’t know how good he is as a team’s number one corner until the season goes under way.   Seeing him play against Odell Beckum Jr. twice this season should show if that signing will pay off for the next 6 years.  It’s a lot of money thrown to a position in which a player’s talents are only exhibited in a system that he’s comfortable in.

Grade: B

Rodney Hudson – Oakland Raiders

Offensive linemen are the perennial Rodney Dangerfield’s of the NFL because they “get no respect.”  The Raiders are seemingly parting ways with their center Stefen Wisniewski, who is a free agent this year  and have decided to pay for an upgrade at the position with former Chief Rodney Hudson.  According to Pro Football Focus, Hudson is the third highest rated center in the league.  This is nothing but good news for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who the franchise is banking on to be their guy for the next decade.

Grade: B+

Pernell McPhee – Chicago Bears

Much like (but not as forgotten as) offensive linemen – defensive specialists, are also lost in the shuffle when it comes to free agent buzz.  The Chicago Bears in announcing that they are turning into a 3-4 defensive scheme, have now signed one of the best 3-4 linebackers in Pernell McPhee.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second best linebacker in the league amongst that scheme and did so while playing behind the likes of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the depth chart.  The Bears need help in pretty much every area of the football field, but lining up McPhee with Willie Young and Lamaar Houston should make for a nice start to what the Bears want to build defensively.

Grade: B


Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts

Yes, the Eagles have been busy.  After trading LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, it was obvious that the Eagles were looking to shave money at that position.   It seemed it was all but done, the Eagles and Gore agreed to a three year deal, in which $7.5 was guaranteed over the first two years. Then, the Colts called. Gore is exactly what the Colts offense needed because we all know how they didn’t need to trade a first round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson.  Gore is still a strong back, who can do it all: tough yardage, pass block and catch out the backfield. Quarterback Andrew Luck is without a doubt a stud, but this offense became too predictable without a viable running attack.  Gore’s deal with Indy is reportedly 3 years for $12 million – that’s a bargain in the first two years of this deal, easy.  Colts did not overspend and in the process picked up a great piece that this offense desperately needed

Grade: A

Stephen Paea – Washington Redskins

The Stephen Paea signing is such a Redskins thing to do, that it’s almost hilarious. . . if it wasn’t so tragically Redskins-ish.  Paea was a perennial under-achiever with the Bears and played pretty well in the last season of his contract.  The Redskins jumped on Paea’s contract year performance and offered him a four year deal.  It seems the Redskins organization never questioned why the Bears, who are turning into a 3-4 defense wouldn’t have looked to keep the 6’1″ 300 pounder.  He’ll be released or be a “depth guy” in two years.

Grade: D-


Jeremy Maclin – Kansas City Chiefs

In other Eagles related news, it appears Chip Kelly and his staff in Philadelphia will not lose sleep with the departure of Jeremy Maclin.  Maclin is a good route runner, with nice speed and can upgrade a wide receiver core which didn’t record a touchdown reception all of last season.   He’s paired up once again with his original head coach Andy Reid, who he started his career with.  Last season Maclin took a gamble on himself, coming off of injury and signing a one year deal with Philadelphia resulting in his most productive season racking in 10 touchdowns and over 1300 yards with 85 receptions.  Maclin can be the guy that opens up this Chiefs offense.  Yes, even with Alex Smith at quarterback.

Grade: A

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Chip Kelly Gambles On Himself

Chip Kelly exudes confidence.  Or is it arrogance he exudes?  Guess everyone will find out a lot sooner than later.  Besides being head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly also oversees the player personnel department.   The Eagles have shown their faith in what Chip Kelly can do, and now he’s shaping up the roster anyway he seems fit.


When the news broke of the Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso it shocked mostly everybody.  Mainly because McCoy is one of the few all purpose and three-down backs in the league, who was without a doubt the biggest weapon in Chip Kelly’s offense.   This wasn’t a bad trade per-say for either side involved: The Eagles got a young stud linebacker on a rookie contract and also relieved a lot of cap room while the Bills, now coached by Rex Ryan, found an upgrade from CJ Spiller in what will be a run dominated offense.  The Bills defense did just fine without Alonso last season and with Rex Ryan there, they’ll be just fine in that department.

What the move says though is that Chip Kelly has more belief in what his offense can do, than the players that are in it.  This should come to no surprise to those who have followed Kelly though. Remember last year, he departed with Desean Jackson as if he was a passing bug.

Acquiring Kiko Alonso might be just the beginning of Kelly’s plan.  Alonso is a former Oregon Duck, who understands the physical demands of which a normal Chip Kelly practice feels like.  Kelly does things differently – where others break down a free agent or rookie prospects squat numbers and broad jumps – Kelly wants to know a players sleeping and eating habits.  He has to know that the player he puts into his system is not only smart enough to understand it, but is in the right physical state to play in it.


Remember when you were in school and the teacher brought out WIlliam Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar?”  A word that was thrown around during that lesson that you’ll never forget was “hubris” – meaning excessive pride.  This is what led to Caesar’s downfall.  He was so self righteous it made everyone around him sick – and they assassinated him.  Nobody is saying Chip Kelly is going to get stabbed 23 times to his death (“Et tu, Kelce?”) but what his ego might do is lead to his downfall and maybe exile himself from the league.  Extreme?  Not really.  If a head coach is going to take a gamble on himself to this extent, he had better be right.

In terms of this trade, it was smart.  McCoy is entering his seventh season and last year was paid over $7.5 million.  Nobody is arguing whether he deserves the money or not – but the bottom line is, no matter how great one thinks McCoy is – they didn’t make the playoffs. At the end of the day, he wasn’t that big of a difference maker to Kelly, who still has Darren Sproles  and (ah hem) former Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner in his backfield.

If current rumors are true, Chip Kelly has another big deal to broker.  If Chip Kelly wants to get his hands on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, he’ll have to trade up of the draft and most likely give up a considerable ransom for that pick which could be anywhere in the top 6 or 7.  Mariota himself is a gamble in the NFL, but there is no better place for him to be situated than with Chip Kelly if that was to come true.  The timing, language and chemistry would be true from the start.


If anything, the seemingly brazen arrogance of Chip Kelly is somewhat inspiring.  If you have that much belief in yourself and your abilities there should be no second guessing in the actions you take.  The city of Philadelphia are putting blind faith into Chip Kelly who seems more like a mad scientist than a football coach.  Or better yet, a super villain who has Metropolis nervous with his every move.   For Chip Kelly’s sake, he’d better be right because we are talking about Philadelphia here. . . a scene similar to that of Julius Caesar may not be too far off if Kelly sinks this team into the abyss because of his own selfish pride. 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“Piece by Piece” Album Review

There will forever be an eye on Kelly Clarkson’s career.  She will always generate some level of interest in mainstream media because many of us so her become the first winner on American Idol.  That title alone set a her a place in pop music history, but that wasn’t going to be enough for Clarkson.  With combined album sales, Clarkson has gone platinum 11 times thus far in her career (with her second album Breakaway selling at six million copies).  Her catalog since 2002 is riddled with gold and platinum singles such as “Since You Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and “Stronger,” to name a few.   Now with her seventh studio album “Piece by Piece,” we see Clarkson as a mother and now a successful veteran in the music game.


The lead single “Heartbeat Song” has gotten circulation and for good reason.  It’s a safe single with a switch of tempo at the chorus which Clarkson handles perfectly.   What separates Clarkson from others in the pop-music genre is that she can sing perfectly without much studio help.  This isn’t a knock on other pop artist – the genre is set up by image and production more than song content to be honest – it’s just when one hears a commercial song like “Heartbeat Song” and they hear a voice like Clarkson’s go at places you wouldn’t expect – it’s a welcomed surprise to an otherwise predictable genre.

“Someone” works on the premise of Clarkson after a breakup and although the man is clearly not the one for her, she knows he deserves love in his life.  The lyrics are written by Matthew Koma, who paints a perfect picture of two people just not on the same page in a relationship : “You had your red flags up and raised / More traffic than East L.A. / But I drove in anyway / My common sense on holiday. . .” Koma’s song-writing does not make another appearance during the album which leads to one of this albums downfalls.


Clarkson herself is apparently only credited for co-writing two songs on the album (which will enter this discussion later) and it seems producer Greg Kurstin has his hands in just about everything on this release.  A song like “Take You There” has a lot going on in and then breaks off into a dub-step-like hook, which makes no sense with a vocalist like Clarkson at hand.   “I Had A Dream” is a song which seemingly promotes lazy lyricism “If you wanna lead, be a leader / If you wanna dream be a dreamer” and later in the second verse “If you wanna preach, be a preacher / If you wanna teach, be a teacher.” When you have as successful a resume as Clarkson, there should be no cutting around the edges when it comes to song-writing.

“War Paint” is about the tenth song in the last year that uses the saturated metaphors that connect a relationship with warfare.  Meanwhile the production on “Dance With Me” sounds like a throw away David Bowie track and “Nostalgic” sounds like a song that was played in the club Tony Montana hung out at in the movie Scarface.   There is a also a duet with John Legend (who is seemingly every where lately, even when you don’t want him around) that is just boring and between the pianos and opening melody sounds like “Imaginary” by Evanescence.

Through it all though – Kelly Clarkson – God bless her soul – vocally is magnificent.

The title track, “Piece by Piece” which she co-wrote is her story about her relationship with her father who skipped out on her when she was very young.   The song is intelligently written and genuine down to the bone: “And all of your words fall flat / I made something of myself and now you wanna come back/ But your love isn’t free, it has to be earned / Back then I didn’t have anything you needed, so I was worthless.” She caps off the song by telling her father that she will not do the same to her daughter and neither will her husband: “She will never have to wonder her worth / Because unlike you I’m gonna put her first / He’ll never walk away / He’ll never break her heart / He’ll take care of things. . .he’ll love her.”  


Clarkson also puts her pen to the pad on the track “Tightrope” which is a story about a relationship that looks to be on the brink of ending, but she doesn’t understand how it got to this point with her still being enamored with her lover: “And I ain’t seen nothing like you / the way you light up every room tonight / so easily / And I have moved mountains, babe / Just a stumble and too long a grace / And I, I can’t compete.”  

It’s really a wonder why she didn’t write more on this album.

For those that are familiar with Clarkson it’s no surprise that this girl has soul.  Like real soul.  She’s been locked in this pop and sometimes pop-rock bubble, when in reality, she can sing anything.  “Bad Reputation” has an Alicia Keys kind of feel to it, equipped with horns and an uptempo attitude – Clarkson plays the role of a girl falling in love but is scared of losing her “reputation” as one who doesn’t care for relationships or gets her heart caught up in things.  The confidence which she displays vocally throughout this album comes out most during “Bad Reputation.”

The takeaway from “Piece By Piece” is that Clarkson needs a different team around her.  She’s around people who are talented, yeah sure – but they are not making the best decisions while working with one of the better voices out there.   Clarkson needs to trust her writing skills more and work with song writers like Ne-Yo and branch off on the production route.  Surely there’s a huge budget for a Kelly Clarkson project so money shouldn’t be an issue.

Rating : 5.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras