Dwight Howard and NFL Parallels
By Daniel Lago
As a Magic fan who writes for a Jaguars blog, you’ll all have to put up with an article or two like this during the dead zone.
The Dwight Howard saga has been rampant in the sports’ news world for the past week or so. To summarize, Dwight wants to be traded, specifically to the Brooklyn Nets, despite opting into the final year of his contract with the Magic. It’s become a media circus and, quite frankly, it’s made the Magic organization and Dwight Howard look damn foolish.
Dwight looks foolish right now, but the man sure knows how to pull off a three-piece suit.
Recently, a buddy of mine said Maurice Jones-Drew was no better than Dwight Howard because Jones-Drew is holding out for a new contract.
With all due respect to my buddy, he’s a total idiot. I can safely assume he sniffed a few too many markers when he was younger. As both a Jaguars fan and a Magic fan, I can confidently say that the two situations aren’t even remotely similar from a fan’s perspective or the organization’s perspective.
If anything, these two situations are the quintessential example of the fundamental difference between the NFL and the NBA. The NBA is a league of stars where gaining or losing one player can mean the difference between perennial playoff contention and a top 5 draft pick.
In the NFL, there’s only one analogous position – quarterback (See Peyton Manning and the 2011 Indianapolis Colts). But for the most part, NFL teams can recover from the loss of one player, whether it is to injury or free-agency. Even at the quarterback position – the New England Patriots won 11 games with Matt Cassel, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl with Jeff Hostetler– a team can recover quickly and salvage a season.
Hostetler, seen getting mauled by Leon Seals here, was pretty darn good in the postseason.
Outside of the quarterback position, an NFL team can lose a multitude of players throughout the season and still compete at a high level. The Packers won the Super Bowl with 16 players, several of those being key defensive starters, on injured reserve two years ago.
In the NBA however, there are countless examples of a championship run being derailed by the loss of one player. Last year, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose in the first game of the playoffs and they went on to a speedy exit in the first round. Four seasons ago, many pundits thought the Celtics would have advanced to the finals had Kevin Garnett not been injured. I can go on, but the reality is that losing one player – even if he isn’t indisputably the most important player on your roster – can completely dismantle a season.
More specifically, losing a superstar in free agency can systematically cripple a franchise for years. The Cavaliers have had two atrocious seasons after losing Lebron James and they likely won’t be relevant for another year or two. The Magic mired in mediocrity for years after Shaquille O’Neal left to lead the Lakers to three straight championships.
In the NFL, you’d be hard pressed to find a key free agent who left a franchise in shambles and led their new team to the promised land. Drew Brees left in free-agency to go to the Saints and won a Super Bowl, but he left the Chargers in pretty good shape with Phillip Rivers.
So how does this all come back to Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars? It’s simple – Gene Smith and the Jaguars are doing the right thing. Jones-Drew had a career season in 2011 and the Jaguars only won 5 games. How much worse would the Jaguars have been without Maurice Jones-Drew? Four wins? Three wins? Does it really matter? The Jaguars weren’t good enough as a team despite Jones-Drew carrying the load on offense. In the current structure of the NFL, players don’t have the leverage to force franchises to do their bidding, let alone players with two years left on their contract.
Nonetheless, Maurice Jones-Drew is handling this in a significantly more respectful way than Dwight Howard is with the Magic. Jones-Drew actually has some legitimate claims (he’s trying to make money playing a position that has an increasingly short shelf life in the NFL). Comparably, Dwight Howard just comes off as a prima donna who is more concerned with his “brand” than winning a championship.
Fortunately the NFL is structured in such a way that no player can take a team hostage and make them look as desperate as an NBA team trying to woo a superstar.
Well, unless that player is Brett Favre.
“Call me Dwight, I’ll show you how it’s done.”