Ruthless Preseason 3: Out of Luck Edition

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This will only be my third season of writing at Ruthless. I am hardly an institution around here, not some grizzled veteran beat-writer type. Respectable, yes. Consistent, absolutely. Lust-inducing, sure, I get that all the time. But I’m not part of the furniture, nor some mythical Bob Considine supplemented with a chiseled physique and a full head of hair while I’m at it, no, sir.

Yet even granting my relative inexperience, I’m still marveling about how fast the cycle goes now, as exemplified by the Andrew Luck story. I heard about his very sudden retirement on Saturday evening, while sitting in an MLB ballpark and with my phone turned off no less. This went rippling peer-to-peer through baseball fans in Flushing, Queens by word of mouth and Luck hadn’t even left the field yet, nor had he heard the infamous chorus of boos that would permit even Philadelphia Eagles fans to go Jesus, what a bunch of assholes for a while. At least until they went back to stocking up on this year’s batch of expired batteries to hurl at opposing coaches’ wives.

This goes online on Thursday night, almost five days to the hour after the Luck story broke, and everyone has already squeezed every angle and take imaginable out of it. Over the rest of the weekend and into Monday, every sportswriter, blogger, and Twitter douchebag analyzed what Andrew Luck’s retirement portends for Luck himself, for the Colts, and for the league overall. Then the longform types got ahold of it. Nonconsensual J.J. Duquesne mentor Drew Magary thinks the precedent could doom the NFL. Washington Post columnist John Feinstein really wants Luck to teach high school history. I am sure that by now thousands more have written at length about the modeling career that is his for the taking, but there is only so much research I can do in one week.

The only thing I did not see discussed in detail is the fact that we called this, three days shy of a year to the day. On August 27, 2018, in this very column, I said “there is some question as to whether or not he even wants to play football anymore. And who can blame him? Do you know what architectural engineers who are not world famous make?” Of course, I said that in the process of positing that they wouldn’t win seven games, but that is just fine by me. I will swap my handicapping skills for the ability to psychically affect the future, no questions asked and twice on Sunday! Just in case that offer is sitting on some unseen cosmic table in a parallel dimension somewhere, let me be clear: THERE IS SOME QUESTION AS TO WHETHER DONALD TRUMP EVEN WANTS TO BE PRESIDENT ANYMORE. AND WHO CAN BLAME HIM? DO YOU KNOW HOW HUMILIATING IT MUST BE TO HAVE YOUR HOT SLOVENIAN MILF OF A WIFE LEAVE YOU FOR SOME UNKNOWN GAMBLING COLUMNIST AND THEN GET PELTED WITH ROTTEN FRUIT EVERYWHERE YOU GO WHILST FACING IMPENDING FEDERAL CHARGES THAT ARE CERTAIN TO PUT YOU IN PRISON FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?

Hell, it’s worth a shot, right?

Of course, of all the ink spilled over Luck’s retirement, the most torrential occurred after some Indiana University basketball coach turned sportstalk dickhead and Doug Gottleib of all people both took their swings at being the edgy straight shooter guy. Gottlieb used millennial as a pejorative, on Twitter no less, while either Weenie or The Butt borrowed some unnamed relatives’ working class bona fides despite once quitting a coaching job after eight days. Troy Aikman and Gottlieb’s former coworkers fired shots back at him, while Jerry Rude keeps trying to top himself because it makes his name appear in print, albeit next to the words “fucking” and “idiot.”

No one in their right mind would attack Andrew Luck, probably a literal genius, for retiring at 29 for the sake of his own health. Nor would any reasonable person defend the people attacking him. So without doing so, let me give you the last take left: I get it.

It’s deplorable, and indefensible, but I get it. Gottleib and Dingo – or, to be more accurate, some of the people they are trying to appeal to – plan their lives around people like Andrew Luck. It may well be pathetic, and is likely brought about by emotional or intellectual deficits that vary person to person, but those persons exist. Big Fan is such a gripping, soul-crushing movie because the Patton Oswalt character is a dead-on proxy for a real person and, if you’re being honest with yourself, someone you know.

So again, I get it. Wages have been stagnant for decades in this country, meaning that people’s paychecks, after factoring in inflation, have the same purchasing power they did about 40 years ago. The unemployment rate that the media shoves in your face only counts sources of income as compared to people, so if you eat crackers for dinner and drive an Uber in between filling out applications, you’re employed. If you scour Taskrabbit for house painting gigs, congratulations, you are the working class. And if you also run an Etsy store, well sweet Jesus, the Department of Labor just assumes you made out like Rich Uncle Pennybags!

That sucks. Minimum wage sucks. Feeding kids sucks and right-to-work laws really suck. And if you beg for the privilege of frying chicken or washing cars for more than 40 hours a week, sometimes Sundays are your only respite. Those people aren’t going to sympathize with Andrew Luck, because they don’t fathom Andrew Luck, let alone what it must be like to be Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck has earned $97 million in seven years. Hell, I’m not even sure I can process that. Some people, out of necessity, can’t see Andrew Luck as human, because they see him as something more than an athlete playing something that is more than a game to them. Is it gross and disgraceful to despise a significantly injured man just because he doesn’t want to play for the Colts? Of course it is, but I get it. As far as some people are concerned, the Colts are all they have.

HEY LOOK FOOTBALL (which is, to be abundantly clear, just a game)!

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS TO MISS PLAYOFFS (-800)

As promised, we are looking at futures this week, and while this one comes with a sizeable stake, I am pretty confident. I was initially thinking of taking the field, i.e. the Falcons, Panthers or Saints to win the NFC South, but that is sitting at a whopping -1500 on Bovada, and I like this just as much anyway.

The Bucs are in the unenviable position of celebrating their wooden anniversary with Jameis Winston, and it may well doom them. Subtracting the *ahem* character issues, which is to say his complete lack of respect for women or their boundaries, he is an occasionally exciting player proven to be just as much of a liability, with a five-positive TD to interception ratio last year, a number theoretically skewed because his job was legitimately threatened by Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Google searches for the terms “Bruce Arians” and “Quarterback Whisperer” return 6,520 results, which proves nothing save for the fact that Dan Savage’s Rick Santorum gag still holds up if something gets said or typed enough times. Arians’ last head coaching gig was with the Cards in 2017, leading them to an 8-8 record with a combination of Carson Palmer (3-4), Blaine Gabbert (5-5), and a strong 5-4 finish from perennial Pro Bowler Drew Stanton. Perhaps the whispering wasn’t loud enough in Phoenix, on account of the air conditioning mandated by the Glendale heat.

Is a miracle possible? Sure. An Andrew Yang presidency is possible. But even a profound turnaround in Winston’s play would be hampered by a porous offensive line, and Todd Bowles is tasked with remaking one of the league’s worst defenses with an all-rookie secondary and Ndamukong Suh in place of Gerald McCoy. If there were posted odds on Arizona finishing dead last in the NFC West, I would take them. Given the available options, I’m ready to bet heavy on the whole squad having the freedom to drink as much as they want on New Years Eve.

CHICAGO BEARS TO MISS PLAYOFFS (-110)

That Sports Illustrated piece about the Bears kicker search that went viral a week or so ago was interesting for several reasons; they had to pay more money to cut Cody Parkey than if he had played this year, they pissed even more away measuring useless stuff like kick apex and MPH, God still has a sense of humor when it comes to last names, take your pick. But the antagonist of the article was Matt Nagy, portrayed as a man unhealthily obsessed with the partially blocked kick that ended last year’s season, so much so that he apparently made the whole team – minus Cody Parkey, of course – watch the whole thing in the screening room numerous times.

Is that the intellect that will develop Mitch Trubisky into Jim McMahon as opposed to Rex Grossman? Can they rely on all of the interceptions tossed their way to maintain the DVOA that was built on the back of Khalil Mack, who was all but gifted to them due to myopathy in Oakland?

Of course there is a risk involved; that’s why it’s called gambling. But Vic Fangio is gone, replaced by Chuck Pagano, who is simultaneously far more blitz-dependent and handed the job of rebuilding a core of DBs with question marks like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine, who was good but not great save for brief flashes during his time with the Jets.

The Bears are a likeable franchise. They just went 12-4 and ended an eight-year playoff drought behind a defense that their fanbase likes to pretend has been a hallmark of Chicago football since the Ditka days. But ask yourself who is running the show, and if they can reach the same highs in the toughest division in football. 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS TO WIN NFC SOUTH (-160)

Don’t mind me, just following the herd! This is probably an all-or-nothing affair for Drew Brees, now every bit of 40 years old and in charge of a win-now team good enough to go 13-3 last year and not being made to patch a bunch of holes, given how heavily dependent they were on well-drafted young players and modern, adaptable scheming on both sides of the ball.

Brees has all of the guys he relied on back, specifically Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, and Alvin Kamera, who could probably get elected mayor tomorrow were it not to be necessary to retire in order to be the mayor of a major city. Cam Jordan and Marshon Lattomore will again shore up the defense to the degree that no one will miss Eli Apple, who would have cost them $13 million in cap space. DVOA has this team with a 70.5% chance to make it to the postseason and I don’t see Atlanta or Carolina challenging this squad, which gets home gimmes against the Cards and Colts in between divisional matches in which they should be favored. Don’t go crazy with it, but plan on seeing this pay-off by week 11 or 12.

The next time we speak, we can discuss real football with real consequences. Andrew Luck deserves credit and appreciation for what he did and probably for what he’s yet to do. Feel free to miss him if you wish, and let’s get paid on the repercussions while we do.

Good luck!

About J.J. Duquesne

J.J. is an attorney in New York City. He loves NFL Football...a LOT.