I flew out for a long weekend in Atlanta this morning, so most of this week’s Free Kicks were written at some point on Thursday.  However, it felt appropriate not to wait, since it has been a pretty slow week for sports in general.  These weeks remind us how dull the sports landscape can be this time of year without March Madness- the NBA hasn’t reached its second season yet (the playoffs are almost as long), baseball is still in spring training, and as the grass starts to return to green the first mock drafts poke their heads through the thawing winter.  It’s adorable the way those flowers of prognostication come around every year, none ever reflecting the way the draft actually follows, none taking into account possible trades, and none recognizing that some teams just make bad picks.  But I guess that’s another column.  Anyways, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories out there from this week that may have slipped through the cracks.  Which stories?  Let’s line up for the kick…

McNabb Market In Question

There is a bit of chip on one’s should to being underrated, undervalued in your own city, and viewed as expendable by your own organization.  It can drive you to continue your success and prove your doubters wrong.  However, it doesn’t make much of a market for your services, either.  It is well known that all three of the Eagles quarterbacks is on the chopping block- Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick- but no teams have offered Philadelphia what they are looking for in return for any of these signal-callers, most notably McNabb.  Additionally, with McNabb’s unwillingness to sign an extension with a losing organization, they would have to find a team that needed a solid quarterback but was otherwise a playoff contender.  How many teams exactly are there?  Doesn’t being a playoff contender usually come with the requirement of at least a half-decent quarterback?  The Ravens have managed to get around that with serviceable efforts and a dominant defense, but that isn’t the case around the league.

There is only one team I can think of that has all the elements for a playoff run except a quarterback- Minnesota, and I can’t count them because the unretireable Brett Favre hasn’t decided to come back yet.  If they want to wait out the Vikings they may have to wait until August, when a deal might be too late.  For all the talk, expect McNabb to start in September for the Eagles or for Phili to massively lower its demands and deal their starter for a 3rd or 4th rounder.  A sad move for a top-10 quarterback.

Maryland Football Spring Practices Get Underway

Not a story?  Well, I guess it depends on who you ask.  I know the team was 2-10 last season, I know the defense was even more slow and confused than usual, the quarterback play went from inconsistent to bad, and the offensive line consisted of a set of matching red and white bean-bag chairs.  We all know that if the athletic department wasn’t following terrible business practices and running perennially in the red that Ralph Friedgen would be coordinating some D-II offense this season and the questionable would-be phenom James Franklin would be the one trying to salvage this team.  However, it is possible that last season was a wake-up call to recruit positions evenly and tailor the offense to best take advantage of the weapons available to them- including Jamarr Robinson’s athleticism.  It is always a good year to make a run in the ACC, with few powerhouses but a hose of mediocre programs.  If Robinson can become a more consistent passer, the rest of the skill positions are there for an offensive leap.  The defense is another issue.  Regardless, the poor recruiting classes of 2006 and 2007 did more than anything to cause last season’s collapse.  After some recent solid classes, this team could already be on the road to recovery- we just don’t know it yet.

No One’s Butler

Did I just write my first two pieces about football in March?  Wow, this really has been a slow week.  Thank God for March Madness coming back.  Butler took down Syracuse, leading for almost the entire game despite lacking any major presence in the paint.  But this has been the knock on Butler all season long- they play how Villanova was supposed to play, with a small lineup and quick breaks inside to complement some timely perimeter shotting.  Syracuse, despite lacking center Onuaku to injury, had the size and experience to dominate the boards at a much better margin than the +6 they gained last night.  Whether this was due to Butler’s tenacity or Syracuse not working hard enough isn’t clear, but I need some more convincing before I dub Butler a championship calibur team.  I love the way they play (I did have them in the Final Four on my bracket), but they have yet to face a team in the tournament with a quality big man to clog up the paint.  If they do, they could be out of luck.  Then again, they’ve won 23 straight games, so perhaps 3 more isn’t too much of a stretch.