Snap Judgments: Gag order lifted, Phillips reminds why it was there
Dallas Cowboys' Wade Phillips talks T.O., Tony Romo at meetings
Roger Goodell talks about preference between 17- and 18-game season
More meetings notes on Raheem Morris, Tom Cable and Rex Ryan
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we wrap up the NFL's annual meeting with a little table-hopping among the league's head coaching set, and more from the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort...
Spent part of my morning Wednesday with Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, he of the Jerry Jones-imposed gag order for much of this offseason. And now I can see why they gagged him in the first place. Much of what Phillips offered up at the NFC head coaches media breakfast didn't pass the sniff test.
I understand the need for spouting the company line, but when it came to facing the inevitable questions concerning Terrell Owens, Tony Romo and the Cowboys' much-discussed locker room chemistry issues, Phillips' logic was usually twisted beyond recognition. I didn't see him get a bite of food, because most of the time he was too busy talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Asked what the Bills are getting in Terrell Owens, Phillips did nothing but toss bouquets T.O.'s way, describing him as "all the things you want in a football player,'' and "probably the most productive receiver in the league in the last several years.''
That obviously begged the question, if all that's true, why did the Cowboys feel the need to release him?
"Because we feel like we can go forward with the guys we have,'' Phillips said, referencing the likes of young Dallas receivers Miles Austin, Sam Hurd and Isaiah Stanback. "We've got some emerging players who are going to make a difference.''
Phillips three times answered in the affirmative when asked if Owens' release was a purely football decision, rather than attitude-related. But if that's true, what could Jerry Jones have possibly meant earlier this week when he said not having Owens around would put Romo in a better position to succeed as a quarterback? What could he have been referring to if he wasn't at least tacitly identifying Owens' penchant for being disruptive, and that his club had made your classic addition by subtraction move?
"I think this season is going to be even more of a breakout year for [Romo], just because of experience, not because Terrell is or isn't there,'' Phillips said. "It's just experience and playing the game. And Tony's still 21-8 as a starter the last two years. But I think this is a big year for him.''
So do I, largely because without Owens around, Romo may not have anyone else to absorb some of the blame if the Cowboys fail for the 13th consecutive year to win a playoff game. But this is how Phillips explained the notion of Romo being a better quarterback without Owens on the Cowboys roster:
"It's more him making decisions,'' Phillips said. "Getting better, and those kind of things. With a quarterback -- every position is really about making decisions, but a quarterback certainly makes the most decisions, and I think he's improved in that area over the last two years. But there's more room there, and he works at it as good as anybody.''
Huh? Not having Owens might indeed improve Romo's decision making, but only because he doesn't have to face the always-tricky decision of how often to throw the ball in T.O.'s direction any more. We all know that when things start to go south with Owens around, not getting the ball enough is usually the source of his discontent.
Phillips contends the Cowboys' chemistry issues were "blown out of proportion after the season,'' and I don't completely disagree with him. But undoubtedly there was some validity to the team's chemistry problem, overblown or not, and when I asked Phillips how much of it was fair to look back on, he turned prickly for one of the few times Wednesday morning.
"I'm not even going to discuss that, because that's why I didn't want to talk about it in the first place,'' he said. "Because you begin talking about last year and all these things: this didn't happen; somebody said this. I'm through with that.''
Surprisingly, Jones brought Phillips back after last year's 9-7 debacle in Dallas, but in essence told him to start cracking the whip a bit more on his players. Phillips promised to amend his laid-back ways, but he's not letting us in on any of his changes just yet.
"Obviously, there've been change already,'' said Phillips, alluding to moves that are not quite so obvious to me, unless he means Owens' departure. "Some of it's modification, an adjustment. Everybody's going to say you ought to be a tyrant rather than the person you are, but I have a lot of pride in how I work with players and how they respond to how I coach. There's going to be certainly some things that we do different, but I'm not going to go into any of them. I have a plan for what I want to do and I'm going to do that.''
Even the whole issue of a gag order being imposed on Phillips is now apparently open to interpretation. After saying all offseason that he couldn't talk to the media because Jones wanted to be the one voice speaking for the organization, Phillips this week said he could have talked if he wanted to, making the gag order sound like a bit of his own creation.
As it turns out, Phillips had a lot to say Wednesday morning about all the issues that surround his always-topical Cowboys. It's just that by the time I got up from his table at breakfast, I didn't know what any of it really meant.
I tried to get NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to tell us if he favors a 17-game regular season, or the 18-game version, but he said he has not yet shared his preference with the league's club membership because he hasn't made up his mind.
"I'm not sure I've found a position I think is best,'' Goodell said. "And I try not to draw conclusions before I've heard all the analysis and opinion. I'm keeping an open mind and trying to understand all the different perspectives.''
This much is clear: Though it's early in the debate, there's enough support in the NFL for an increase to 17 games, but no sooner than 2011 due to the issue being tied so closely to the upcoming CBA negotiations. But 18 games might be a push, even though the historical precedent is for the league to increase its schedule by two games, from 12 to 14 to 16.
Goodell said he thought history does help the case for going to 18 games. "I think it does, in the sense that, yes, it's been done effectively in the past. But it's clear you don't need four preseason games any longer.''
The most telling thing the commissioner said on the issue is the early feedback from the analysis done by the league's competition committee is an increase of games is feasible.
"The big feedback that we have is we can do this and do this effectively,'' he said. "What we heard very firmly back again is that it can get done and get done in a way to improve the quality of our game.''
The league will continue to analyze the move to 17 or 18 games and will pick the issue back up at the owners meeting in Fort Lauderdale in May. Goodell said while there are "undoubtedly some camps that are probably falling into those two categories [17 or 18 game seasons], we did not go around the room and try to determine [the level of support]. Those things will be addressed in May.''
You can kiss off any chance of seeing the NFL re-seeding the playoffs by overall records in the foreseeable future. After the issue got a long and vigorous debate at last year's annual meeting, and had some support league-wide, the proposal that the Jaguars made this year was withdrawn Wednesday without a vote. It had virtually no momentum this year, even though the 8-8 Chargers and 9-7 Cardinals played host to divisional round playoff games against teams with vastly superior records in the Colts and Falcons.
Like a lot of NFL rule proposals that go nowhere, this one probably made too much sense to ever happen.
I made sure I listened in on new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz for a little bit Wednesday, and I'm still getting the strong vibe that Detroit isn't taking a quarterback first overall. But the reality is the decision has yet to be made and the private workout the Lions are putting Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford through on March 31 in Athens is potentially pivotal.
Schwartz said the Lions will try to emulate some game-like conditions for Stafford to deal with, which is anything but the sterile, structured setting of a prospect's pro day, which is run by his school.
"We can direct this,'' Schwartz said. "We can tell him exactly what to do on the play. We can make him throw into the wind. We can say, 'Hey, these are the throws we want to see.' When someone else is scripting it, they can accentuate a positive, and make it kind of like watching a performance. I can't sing, but probably a good producer could put me in a studio and at least hide it a little bit, and that's what we're looking to avoid here.''
Schwartz said this private workout with Stafford will be important, but then, every part of the process is when you're picking first.
"You need to be comfortable with everything about that player,'' Schwartz said. "Every facet. If the player fails to jump through any of those hoops, so to speak, you're not going to be comfortable, and particularly at No. 1.''
Schwartz concedes a quarterback prospect at No. 1 has more hoops to cleanly jump through than anyone else. "There are probably more variables at that position than other positions, so it probably does make the odds a little longer.''
Hear that? I'm definitely sticking with Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith in the top spot of my mock draft -- but check back next Thursday to see if I've changed my mind.
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