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Not the same teams

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions. Vic: Here's what the league told me about the Hines Ward penalty that nullified the touchdown in Sunday's game. The league said that the tight end Ward covered had to report to the officials as an ineligible receiver since the tight end was wearing the number of an eligible receiver. Had he reported his intent to be an ineligible receiver, the formation would've been fine and there would've been no penalty. I thank Dean Blandino in the league office for providing us, again, with an honest and forthright explanation.

Colette from Beach Haven, PA:
I got chills when Jerome Bettis said toward his parents, "We're going home." I just think he's a class act. Do you have any Bettis stories you could share with us?

Vic: I was already in Jacksonville when the Steelers acquired Bettis, so I have no stories about having covered him but I do have a story about having met him in Jacksonville during last year's Super Bowl week. I was at a Jax restaurant for lunch with the Steelers' long-time PR director who is now retired. It was a chance to talk about old times. Shortly after we were seated and toasted our iced teas, Bettis walks into the restaurant, spots the PR guy and walks over to our table where we were introduced. "The Bus" joined us for lunch and very quickly the people in the restaurant recognized him and began drifting over to our table for autographs. Before long, half of the restaurant was at our table, as Bettis signed autographs, posed for pictures and carried on conversations with people who told him why he shouldn't retire or why he should retire. What struck me was that he liked it; everybody was welcome. There was an energy in the restaurant that did not exist when we first sat down. Some people have that kind of charisma. He's been a great player and a great ambassador for the game. Now, all of a sudden, his parents have become stars and I think it's great. Here are two people who've never missed one of their son's games. In a game in which a lot of these players have never known their father and, in some cases, were estranged early in life from their mothers, here's a player who has never known life without his mother and his father together and at his side. The whole scene is sensational and makes a wonderful statement for the family unit. We're going to see a whole lot of this story next week and I have no problem with that. People complain about bad role models. Well, here's the very best of role models and it's all about the family.

Eddie from Jacksonville:
Is there a clause in the CBA that requires a team to spend a certain amount of their salary cap?

Vic: It's called the "minimum salary cap" and in 2005 it was $70.3 million. That's how much each team was required to spend on its players in the '05 cap year.

Shaun from Jacksonville:
What will the increase in the salary cap be this year?

Vic: The 2006 salary cap is projected to be about $92 million, up from $85.5 million in 2005. It'll probably go a little higher than $92 million but it won't be lower. Consider that the cap was in the $35 million range when the Jaguars came into existence and it's easy to see what kind of player-cost increases the owners have sustained in 11 years.

Anthony from Tallahassee, FL:
Do you think the Jaguars' season was more significant, being that they beat both of this year's Super Bowl participants, or do you think we caught both teams before they hit their strides, with the Steelers being without "Big Ben" and getting the Seahawks in the first game when they weren't clicking yet?

Vic: There's nothing wrong with feeling a sense of pride for having defeated each of the two teams in this season's Super Bowl, but I don't think it's something we should analyze too deeply. The Jaguars beat the Seahawks on Sept. 11 and the Steelers on Oct. 16. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie "Cinderella Man." James Braddock is fighting a guy who beat him badly a few years earlier but this time Braddock is dominating the bout. Between rounds, Braddock's opponent's corner reminds their fighter that he beat this guy badly a few years earlier. The fighter says, "He's not the same guy." Yeah, a little thing called "The Depression" changed Braddock. Well, the Seahawks and the Steelers are not the same teams the Jaguars beat. They have grown. They have improved dramatically.

Kevin from Dunkirk, MD:
Do you think Ricky Williams would be a good fit with us?

Vic: Ricky Williams is a good fit for any team. He's a super talent; no one questions that. The questions about him revolve around his commitment to the game. Will he quit on you? That's the issue. He quit on the Dolphins on the verge of training camp. Trading for him would require a major leap of faith.

Jake from Toronto, Canada:
How many questions do you get on an average day? On what day did you receive the most questions?

Vic: I'm averaging about 150-200 questions a day right now. That varies according to the time of the year, though the averages are clearly increasing on a consistent basis. I hope all "Ask Vic" contributors will take that into account. The all-time one-day record was set recently, on Jan. 15-16, when I got over 400 questions. That spike was the result, of course, of the Steelers-Colts game and the Troy Polamalu call.

Philip from Woodmere, NY:
Do you think it's possible the Redskins are making a mess of the salary cap because they know there's not going to be a salary cap after 2009 and they just don't care, being that's exactly what Daniel Snyder wants to do?

Vic: That's not it. There's no advantage to that kind of strategy because between now and '09 the Redskins are screwed and nobody can push money out beyond '09 anyhow. I think they got careless with their cap because they believed a CBA extension would get done and they could re-structure contracts and push money out and keep out-running the cap because large-market teams such as themselves would just keep driving the cap figure higher and higher. I think their philosophy was similar to those people who believe the national debt is an insignificant concern; just keep pushing money into the future, right? Well, unless there's a CBA extension, the future ends in '09 and the Redskins are out of years from which to borrow.

Brian from Jacksonville:
What do you think becomes of Kyle Brady? Have we seen the last of him in teal?

Vic: Kyle Brady is owed a $400,000 roster bonus on March 3. We'll know then what the Jaguars' plans are for his future.

Joey from Wake Forest, NC:
We drafted Jonathan Quinn and passed on Hasselbeck. Oops. The draft is truly a crap shoot. It seems quarterback is the hardest to scout for the pros. Is this true?

Vic: Quarterback is an awfully tough position to grade, especially when it involves players from lesser college conferences or system quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger, for example, was coming out of the MAC. There was no doubting his talent but was he challenged fully by the competition in the MAC and how long would it take to groom him into an NFL-caliber quarterback? Those were the questions. When you're drafting a Carson Palmer out of USC, you don't have those questions. He was considered to be blue chip, can't miss all the way and that's exactly what he proved to be. Seven of the last eight first picks of the draft have been quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Michael Vick and Palmer have been hits. I know a lot of people are down on Vick right now but he still qualifies as a hit. Tim Couch was clearly a miss. Now we wait for a verdict on David Carr, Eli Manning and Alex Smith. When I look through the list of quarterbacks drafted high in recent years, there appears to be a 50 percent hit/miss batting average. Manning and Ryan Leaf, for example. Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were hits from the 1999 class; Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown were misses. Vick and Drew Brees were hits in 2001, Carr and Patrick Ramsey are need-more-time guys from 2002. Palmer and Byron Leftwich were hits in '03, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman require more time. Roethlisberger and Eli Manning appear to have been hits in '04, Phillip Rivers and J.P. Losman require more time. The Alex Smith pick in 2005 is one I really don't like. I just don't think he has first-pick-of-the-draft talent.

Rashid from Pittsburgh, PA:
I don't necessarily think a tough schedule will be a bad thing for the Jaguars next season. I think it will prepare them for the 2006 playoffs. What are you thoughts on this?

Vic: I think that's precisely the attitude we should take and the Steelers are the perfect example of that. Bill Cowher has said over and over that the schedule and the circumstances his team faced this year toughened them. They had to win four in a row at the end of the season just to make it into the playoffs. The Steelers have now won nine games on the road, the first time in NFL history any team has done that. They've won in San Diego, in Indianapolis and in Denver. Five of their last six games have been on the road and each of those games was a must-win. The Jaguars will have a difficult schedule in 2006. It's a schedule that could cause the team's record to take a step back, but it's a schedule that could prepare the Jaguars to take a major step forward in the postseason. The postseason is about toughness; about being able to face the best the league has to offer and not wilt under the pressure. Playing a tough schedule will prepare a team for the playoffs, provided that schedule isn't too much to overcome. It was for San Diego and Kansas City.

Vincent from Jacksonville:
Because of the Redskins' recent landing of KC's offensive coordinator and keeping their defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, a lot of people are regarding the Redskins as the sexy Super Bowl pick next year. Do you think the Redskins have what it takes to win it before they serve their salary cap sentence?

Vic: What you're really predicting is whether or not the league will agree to a CBA extension. Without a CBA extension, anyone who picks the Redskins for next season's Super Bowl should have the cow meat they're eating inspected.

Howard from Homestead, FL:
And your favorite Super Bowl would be?

Vic: Super Bowl X because I saw Raquel Welch in the back of the press box. That was the Super Bowl at which they filmed the movie "Black Sunday." We laughed at the idea of terrorists at the Super Bowl.

Andy from Muncie, IN:
I keep hearing about small-market teams in the NFL. Seattle keeps getting this name as well as the Jaguars. I understand Jacksonville isn't a Chicago or New York, but is it always city size that determines this? Would you consider Green Bay a small-market team despite historical success?

Vic: Market size is determined solely by the market's population, as it pertains to TV households. Jacksonville is 52nd in the country in market size. Harrisburg, Pa., and Birmingham, Ala., are each significantly larger in market size. What else are we going to call Jacksonville? Small now but soon to become large? OK, I'll buy that. There's no disgrace, however, in being a small market. Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are considered to be small markets but the Steelers-Bengals and Steelers-Colts games were the highest-rated games of their respective playoff weekends. That means games involving three small-market teams got higher TV ratings than games involving teams from New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Denver and Tampa. A lack of market size can be overcome by the size of a team's fan base. That's how the Packers do it. The Steelers have a huge fan base and Pittsburgh offers a large corporate community to drive sponsorship sales for the Steelers. Those are the two main features of a big market: huge fan base and a large corporate community. If you have those two ingredients, you're big, regardless of the population of your market.

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