Two-time Super Bowl champion and CNN sports contributor Hines Ward spoke to CNN’s Jill Martin this week to share some of his takeaways through Week 7 in the NFL.
I’ve always said this year has kind of been, really, the year of the quarterbacks. Drew Brees becoming the all-time leading passer, Tom Brady’s still doing his thing at the age of 41. But I kind of see the young guns, the young quarterbacks that are rising.
It seems like there’s been a lot of trades and signings this season – is it really that much different from any other season?
Oh, there’s more this year than any other year. You see it often in baseball and basketball, you never really see it as much as in the NFL. But lately, you see teams trying to load up and make a push and make a run to the playoffs.
Now, you don’t really have time. They don’t give new coaches and quarterbacks time to do it. A lot of the older guys, their window of opportunity for winning is short, so now teams are starting to pull the trigger on a lot of free agents and trades during the season to add that one little piece that might help them get over the top.
And then for bad teams, it’s a firesale. It’s, ‘we’re not going to win anyways, so let’s load up on draft picks, let’s lighten this salary cap, let’s get rid of some of the higher-paid players, let’s rebuild and start working on next year.’
What’s the biggest challenge for a team that’s importing new talent?
Sometimes chemistry can be the biggest issue. Chemistry is key, sometimes it’s not enough to be the most talented team out there. You can be great on paper, but if the team doesn’t mesh well, both on and off the field, it’s hard to win a championship.
I’ve won Super Bowls with teams that maybe weren’t the most talented, but the closest. That really goes a long way, because people think that if you have all these superstars, you can just go out there, but if there isn’t continuity or brotherhood amongst the team, then it’s very hard to win ball games.
What’s the process for a player joining a new team after training camp and the preseason?
There are a lot of proud players in the NFL, and when they go to a new team, they want to show instantly that they can play and they want respect from their peers. It’s a matter of figuring out anything you can do to help contribute to a win, and that’s how you gain your respect. You go in focused, learn your plays, don’t make mistakes, and really just figure out what you can do to help the team win games.
What does it say about the league and players that people like Nick Mullens, James Conner and Matt Barkley have stepped in and found success?
Sometimes, you need a little luck. For players like Barkley, it’s hard to leave the league and come back, you don’t hear many successful stories of guys being gone from the game, coming back and playing lights out, but it does happen. Sometimes it’s harder for teams to prepare for a new guy, because you don’t have any film to really go by. Look at Ryan Fitzpatrick – he started off hot, then teams started to figure him out a little bit and he sizzled out. They’re all great stories, but I think that teams will start to catch up. Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Allen, being who they are, are still the guys when they come back from being hurt.
Even with the fact that Dez Bryant got hurt before ever playing a game, was it a good move on the Saints’ part to bring him in?
They had a lot of injuries at the wide receiver position, so when you can bring a veteran guy in who can go out there and help you, when you know what kind of production you can get out of them, that can be the security blanket that quarterbacks need, especially heading into the playoffs.
Having a guy like Dez Bryant, who has already played at a high level in the postseason, that was going to be that security blanket for Drew Brees.
Some analysts said that a reason Bryant wasn’t signed was because of a fear that he’d end up getting injured. Do you think there’s truth to that?
Oh, yeah. For players, you can’t just turn it on and off. You can be in shape as much as you want, but there’s a difference between being in shape and being in football shape. You’re utilizing muscles and movements that you rarely use, plus you have people defending you at the same time.
You’re putting pressure on all different areas of your body, and that’s how you end up with something like an Achilles tear or pulled hamstring, you got people pulling and tugging all on you and then you have to try to make a cut. Getting away from football and then jumping right in, especially at a skill position, is extremely hard to do.