BY JEFF ANGUS
We have seen it happen in all major pro sports leagues – a floundering organization is quickly turned around thanks in large part to the play and presence of one player. In hockey, we saw Sidney Crosby save the Pittsburgh Penguins and completely turn their fortunes around, both on and off the ice. Dallas Stars fans hope that Jamie Benn can do the same in Big D. In the NFL, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III have all stepped in as rookies and brought with them credibility and stability to their respective clubs.
In the NBA, the LA Clippers were the target of countless jokes for decades before acquiring Chris Paul two years ago. They are now one of the best teams in the league, and the basketball world now pays attention whenever ‘Lob City’ rolls into town.
A lot more than talent alone goes into turning the fortunes of a franchise around. Franchise-changing players make those around them better (perhaps no better example of this is Chris Paul), they are marketable off of the court/rink/field (RGIII), and they are natural leaders (Russell Wilson and Crosby). It is a unique mix of character traits that is necessary, and even all of that alone isn’t always enough. There has to be a fit or a need in a city or an organization. Timing is a big part of it, too.
The Indianapolis Colts are quite lucky. They had arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game as the face of their franchise for over a decade in Peyton Manning, and they only had to suffer through one year before getting Luck-y.
So what sports organizations could use a “franchise-changing” player? I’ll take a look at a few.
NFL – NEW YORK JETS
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets (-1, 39)
The Jets have become the biggest sports sideshow east of Los Angeles. QB Mark Sanchez has seen his confidence evaporate into thin air, and the team has crumbled around him. The Jets have absolutely no playmakers on offense, and they have been without their star defensive back, Darrelle Revis, for the majority of the season (knee injury). He Jets for so long have tried to mold Sanchez into their franchise player. He has the looks and the personality off the field, but he has never performed at an elite level (outside of a few brief stretches).
The Giants, their cross-town rivals, are led by Eli Manning and his two Super Bowl Rings. Manning will go down in history for tossing one of the most memorable passes in franchise history.
The Jets and their fan base are desperate for a winner on the field, and they are even more desperate for a new face of the franchise to emerge. That will be tough, though, as the team owes over $8 million of guaranteed money to Sanchez for 2013, even if/when they decide to cut him:
Less than four years after the Jets made a franchise-changing decision to move up in the draft for Mark Sanchez, they will attempt to trade the struggling quarterback after the season.
One day after Rex Ryan benched Sanchez for third-stringer Greg McElroy for Sunday’s game against the Chargers, the Daily News has learned that the Jets will explore trading the player that they once believed would be their franchise quarterback.
The Sanchise no more. Do the Jets tank for a few years in hopes of drafting Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M? Do they take a run at Michael Vick, who looks to be done in Philadelphia? The Jets could also make a play for Alex Smith or Matt Moore – capable veterans who can hold the fort down until the next franchise quarterback comes along.
NHL – COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
For so long, Jackets fans wanted Rick Nash to develop into the superstar power forward that Doug MacLean drafted with the 1st overall pick back in 2002. Nash showed flashes of dominance (especially internationally for Canada), but his time in Columbus was marred with disappointment and inconsistent effort. He isn’t completely to blame, though, as the supporting cast of players around him was usually subpar. Nash is now in New York, where he will quickly learn that floating and a lack of defensive detail won’t fly in John Tortorella’s system.
The Jackets have a few solid young players to build around, including Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, and Tim Erixon. They did a great job getting value back for Nash, who isn’t as attractive with a $7.8 million cap hit as many believe.
The organization doesn’t have any franchise caliber prospects. Johansen is going to be very good, as is Atkinson. What the Jackets could use is a player to use as the face of the franchise, and there just so happens to be a few of them draft-eligible for 2013 – Halifax Mooseheads forward Nathan MacKinnon, and Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones. Jones is already a polished two-way defenseman, and he is an impressive physical specimen at 6-4 and well over 200 pounds.
MacKinnon is from the same small town as Sidney Crosby, and the comparisons don’t end there. He competes hard and has a well-rounded game. He’s been dealing with Crosby comparisons for a long time, and he is ready for the pressure that comes with being the top pick at the draft. Each player has the potential and personality to provide a franchise-changing impact.
In a team-oriented sport like hockey, franchise players aren’t essential to on ice success, but in a struggling market like Columbus, it would go a long way to helping the team gain respectability.
NBA – Toronto Raptors
+17,500 to win the Eastern Conference
The Raptors haven’t had a franchise player since Vince Carter complained his way to New Jersey many years ago. They have been stuck in a state of mediocrity for many years now, and it is tough to land a franchise-caliber prospect without completely tanking. And when they have tanked, bad luck has intervened. The year they did end up with the first overall pick, Andrea Bargnani was the consensus best player available. Even if they hadn’t picked Bargnani, no superstar talent has emerged from that draft class (Brandon Roy came the closest before his knees gave out). Imagine if the Raptors picked first in the LeBron James draft year instead? How about Anthony Davis?
The Raptors are well on their way to another miserable standings position. Bargnani will be moved as soon as Toronto can find a team willing to take on his massive contract. DeMar DeRozan is a solid player, but he isn’t capable of leading a team to any sort of success on his own. Dare the Raptors look ahead all the way to 2014, when Canadian basketball prodigy Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be selected?