Slant Pattern Mailbag

It's time again for the Slant Pattern mailbag. As always, I don't get my own questions, so I poach the questions sent into other publications.

This week, I tackle a pair of NFL questions and a pair of tennis questions. As it happens, all of the questions this week are from Sports Illustrated. I suppose it's because they use the mailbag more heavily than other outlets.

First, the NFL queries.

From Ricker81 (@D_Ricker81):

Do you see any scenario outside of injury where the Giants would start Tyrod Taylor over Daniel Jones? What odds do you give Jones for being the long-term starter for the Giants?

Outside of injury, I would put it at less than 10%. That's kind of a shame because I think Tyrod is a better quarterback than Daniel, even accounting for Daniel being young and (hypothetically) on the rise and Taylor turning 33 before the season starts and (hypothetically) entering the twilight of his career.

If you look at Jones' year-by-year stats, you'll see that he has either improved only slightly, at a snail's pace, by some metrics, or not at all by others (by ESPN's QBR metric, he's gotten worse each year).

Still, the Giants really seem to have hitched their star to Jones' wagon from the moment they drafted him. If they are finally going to cut bait on him, I don't think it will be for someone with Taylor's journeyman rep.

Instead, I got a guy whose career rating and completion percentages are virtually identical to Taylor's, but he's younger and will sell waaaaay more tickets: Baker Mayfield. You heard it here first.

Staying in the NFC East, and from the same column:

@SunnyOutsideNow: When does Jerry Jones "retire" and Cowboys get a real GM?

This is sort of a weird question for two reasons. 1) The Cowboys seem to be on the ascendancy, especially in an otherwise terrible NFC East. 2) The quotes around "retire" seem to imply he could be forced out of making football decisions, but whose going to do that, exactly?

Jerry Jones, to be sure, is an annoying clown who is full of himself. But his teams still win more than they lose, so that's going to make it real hard for him to say, after 30+ years, "I don't know what I'm doing and I'm gonna turn the football operations over someone who does!" even though that's a fantasy with some traction among pockets of both Cowboy fans and haters.

Bottom line, it will take health problems or boredom for Jerry Jones to cease his GM duties.

On to tennis. Dave H. hits us with this rant:

A [Novak] Djokovic/[Rafael] Nadal quarterfinal at Roland Garros is nonsense. Tournament Directors should know better and change their seeding policies to consider surface and history (and also common sense).

Dave goes on and on and on about what if the NBA did this sort of seeding, and clearly would prefer that draws not be drawn as randomly as today.

First, a bit of context. Draws for ATP and WTA events are done largely at random. They will control for a couple of things — for example, that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are on opposite sides of the brackets, that each segment of the bracket has an equal number of seeded and unseeded players, that seeded players won't meet until X round, etc.

Still, by allowing a significant helping of randomness into each draw, you sometimes — often — get draws where one part of it is significantly stronger than the others. The men's French Open draw, which was Dave's talking point here, is a good example:

Djokovic was the No. 1 seed, and the conventional wisdom was that only three players had a real chance of winning the title: Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz.

But, due to the vagaries of the rankings (Nadal missing some time here and there, a couple of surprising losses earlier in the season on clay) meant that Nadal was seeded fifth, and Alacaraz, whose still on the come-up and does not have a year's worth of points accrued at the level he's playing now, was sixth.

This means that they could all hypothetically end up in the same half of the draw, and indeed, they did — and Djokovic and Nadal ended up in the same quarter of the draw.

It's easy to understand why people complain about this, but do we really want tournament directors tinkering with the machine? Because while tossing out the randomness to ensure that Nadal and Djokovic can't meet until the final seems like an uncontroversial decision, it's still subjective at the end of the day. That's why we use the flawed but objective model of a ranking system to determine seeds to begin with. If Nadal wants to ensure he is seeded first or second, he knows what he has to do achieve that.

Finally, tennis is pretty unique in not rigidly casting each tournament from best to worst like most sports do, and I for one think something good would be lost if they started doing that.

Lastly, from Roh_tweets: Interesting point you made here about how limiting media access benefits nobody. But also, as you noted, those with access sometimes ask vapid and/or vaguely offensive questions, and that also benefits nobody. Something has to give, yes?

Of course, "you" in this case refers to the real author of Sports Illustrated's tennis mailbag, L. Jon Wertheim.

Roh_tweets is right. Something has to give. And the thing that has to give is: players being protected from the horrific scourge of being asked vapid questions.

As I look over my years writing this column for Sports Central, I wonder if sometimes I slip into a habit of making the same points, the ones most important to me and the ones I feel are the most worth saying, over and over again.

This may be one of those points, but I'm pressing on anyway.

I feel sorry for introverted professional athletes. I know a lot of them kind of hate the interviews and the rest of the off-field, flesh-pressing stuff. It is even worse for athletes with actual social anxiety disorders, I am sure. My heart bleeds for them, sincerely.

But this sort of thing absolutely, 100%, comes with the territory, and everyone's gotta do their part. The press is the conduit to the fans. The fans, via the press, are what allow people to make a living playing sports.

If there are no fans, then there is no money to put on big tournaments and sporting events, and you, the professional athlete, have to go work in the mailroom at Burger King HQ or whatever instead of making your childhood dreams come true.

Yes, it's not particularly fair that some athletes are gregarious, extroverted, and actually enjoy the media part, while you, the introverted athlete, have to do that stuff too. But ... you do. At least somewhat.

If you don't, it wouldn't be fair to the introverted athletes who came before you and swallowed hard and went to all those press conferences, car dealership openings, and autograph sessions. In doing so, they grew the game, at the expense of their own comfort.

The game is (metaphorically speaking) a living entity, and it requires oxygen to stay alive. These sucky parts and the vapid questions are the oxygen. Sports is such a goddamn wonderful thing, for those who play it and those who watch it. Let's do the maintenance that's needed to keep it tenable at this scale.

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