Blaze striving to keep success rolling in offseason
Despite missing the chance for championship rings, the Utah Blaze will have plenty of hardware to show off after their 13-7 season this year.
Quarterback Tommy Grady won the Arena Football League MVP award, headlining three first team All-Arena players. A franchise-best finish in wins and a first-round playoff victory led coach Ron James to a coach of the year award, and offensive coordinator Matt Sauk took his second straight assistant coach of the year honor.
But when honors pile in, so begins uncertainty this offseason. Will the Blaze be victims of their own success?
Wideout Aaron Lesue didn't hesitate to answer whether he would be back with the Blaze.
"It's a conversation we have to have, but I'd love to be," he said. "I've made it my home here in Utah. My family's here, I love it here."
But Grady, who has evolved into a star over the past two seasons, wasn't available for comment, already working out with the San Diego Chargers. Wideout Tysson Poots said the New England Patriots had been on the phone with him a bit recently. Defensive tackle Keenan Mace, who helped the Blaze pass rush at the end of the season, could land in the NFL as well.
Even coaches aren't immune. Defensive coordinator Rob Keefe, once a championship-winning coach in Spokane, is sure to be a candidate for head coaching positions coming open after overhauling Utah's defense. And Sauk said he's open for any interviews that might come his way James and the team ownership are aware he could be an offseason departure.
In between talking points about preparing for next season, Sauk acknowledged at least a part of him is curious about moving up.
"People always want to progress," Sauk said. "I don't want to be in the same spot doing the same things for years and years. I want progression in my life."
This offseason is also critical for the business interests of the Blaze. After a playoff season, James says more sponsors should come knocking, and a winning franchise could pique the interests of fans all the more reason the team wants to lock down marquee players.
The new AFL collective bargaining agreement could make this more possible, now allowing for slight increases in salary, as well as multi-year contracts for featured players.
Only a few elite prospects find the means to move up to the NFL every year the Kurt Warner underdog stories are few and far between. So while some might get a taste of Sunday football, most should be back.
And if and when they get back, linebacker Mike Lewis said, he hopes they choose to stay in Utah.
"We were three seconds away from getting to the Arena Bowl we want to come back and take it to the top," he said. "We know each other, our kids know each other. â¦ If we separate, all our goals as a team will be difficult."
Blaze looking to lock down in offseason
Utah had its best season ever, but now tries to keep its top talent. A look at some of the players who could be candidates for moving up or moving on:
•Â Quarterback Tommy Grady: 5870 passing yards, 142 touchdown passes (AFL records)
•Â Wide receiver Aaron Lesue: 155 catches, 1810 yards, 56 touchdown receptions
• Wide receiver Tysson Poots: 108 catches, 1167 yards, 30 touchdown receptions (11 games)
• Defensive tackle Keenan Mace: 9 tackles for a loss, 7 sacks (11 games)
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