No lack of drama as season nears
The Cowboys' new videoboard could be an embarrassment for the NFL
Projecting the top 20 players who could be available in free agency next spring
Carolina isn't an easy read, Tweet of the Week, plus Ten Things I Think I Think
Don't get spoiled by the last two Mondays. I can't keep up the pace of 7,200- and 9,000-word columns in the preseason. But there's enough -- from Dallas, Denver and Minnesota, and a stunningly bad list of prospective free agents when teams will have real money to spend in 2010 -- to keep us all thinking this morning.
Then there's the game news of the weekend: The left-handed interception by Kyle Orton (who told me last Monday, falsely as it turns out, that he'd learned his lesson from his three-pick Denver opener); Detroit giving up 17 points in the first 16 plays against the struggling Browns; Jason Campbell justifying everyone's doubts' Brett Favre looking shaky; and DeAngelo Williams looking like Gale Sayers.
With 17 days until the opener, the headlines of the week in the NFL:
Jerry's World Needs a Few Repairs
All weekend, league and team people I spoke with asked versions of the same question: How do you open a $1.2-billion stadium and not figure how low to hang the video board so kicks or punts won't hit it? I can't figure out whether it's more mind-boggling that the Titans punters were hitting the 60-yard-wide structure in pre-game warmups, or their just-out-of-college, free-agent punter would hit it in the fourth quarter. Or whether it wasn't hung 20 feet higher in the first place.
"It's just an honest mistake that needs to be corrected,'' a member of the league's rules-making Competition Committee, Indy's Bill Polian, said Sunday.
No doubt about it. Several league officials, including vice president of football operations Ray Anderson and VP of officiating Mike Pereira, spoke by phone Saturday and began to fact-find about the issue. The Competition Committee could convene by conference call today or tomorrow to begin to consider options.
The only possible option, to me, is raising the video board 15 or 20 feet, which stadium officials say can be done; the $40-million board is connected to the roof by monstrous cables. Whatever happens, I can't help but thinking someone's going to take a pretty big fall for this. I was told Sunday night the Cowboys definitely got the green light from the NFL for all football and competitive aspects of the stadium, including the positioning of the board 90 feet above the field.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones said he was comfortable with the height of the board after Friday's game. He was unavailable for comment over the weekend as this storm brewed, but you have to know Jones to understand what his reaction will be to this: Whatever consternation he feels about the board needing to be moved is overridden by his love of the attention for the stadium and the controversy. Vastly.
The league could do a number of things: Order the video board raised, have commissioner Roger Goodell unilaterally impose a rules change of some sort to account for punts hitting the board, or leave the rule the same. If a ball hits the board now, it's essentially a do-over; the play is played over as if it never happened.
But as a league source told me Sunday night, there are two worrisome things about doing nothing. The NFL would never want to create different ground rules for one stadium, as there is, say, in baseball, with the ivy at Wrigley Field or the different rules for fly balls hitting different beams above the field at Tropicana Field. And doing nothing could mean multiple do-overs in one game, particularly if the team has a boomer punter trying to kick the ball high to let his coverage team run under it downfield. With two of the best legs in punting history -- San Diego's Mike Scifres and Shane Lechler of Oakland -- due in Dallas this year, the potential for an embarrassing day for the league is high.
Think of this possibility: The Raiders and Cowboys meet on national TV on Thanksgiving. Oakland stalls in the first quarter at midfield, at the left hashmark, and Lechler is told to try to place the ball across the field, inside the 10-yard line. He could hit the video board once, twice, three times in a row. It's not probable, of course. But it's certainly something the league has to think could happen, especially with the best punters in the game.
"Plus,'' Polian said, "one of the things you don't want to do is add kicking plays to a game, because of the risk of injury. And you don't want to wear your gunners [coverage players on punt-cover teams] out. You can't undermine the punter'' by making the play a do-over.
"The irony is that our stadium architect [at new Lucas Oil Stadium] wanted to hang the video boards the same way in our stadium,'' Polian said. "So we put a metal beam about 90 feet above the ground and had our punter at the time, Hunter Smith, punt the ball up there trying to hit it. He hit it the majority of the time. That's why we put our replay boards on the wall.''
The Brandon Marshall Story Will Not Be a Jay Cutler Rerun
In the category of "Strange Training Camp Interviews,'' I bring you mine with Brandon Marshall in Denver the other day.
Me: "Can you be happy here long-term?''
Marshall: "I can be happy playing football.''
Marshall: "I can be happy playing football.'' (Wide smile.)
Me: "How do you like Josh McDaniels and his offense?''
Marshall: "I don't know too much about either.''
Me: "Can you be productive even if you're not happy?''
Marshall: "I'm going to be productive wherever I am. Somewhere.''
Me: "You're never like this. Come on. Tell me something.''
Marshall: (Wide smile. No comment.)
Marshall wants out of Denver, and he wants out even more now that he's been told he won't get either a trade or a new contract with the team. I told him he had to know there's no way the Broncos will deal him after the Jay Cutler debacle, when Cutler shot himself out of town. "Really?'' he said, smiling. Yes. Really. Unless the people I trust in the building are lying or don't have the juice I think they have, Marshall, productive or unproductive, will stay in Denver all season.
I say the same thing about Marshall that I said about Cutler back in March: The match with McDaniels would be good for his career. Malingering for a year will not be good for his career. It'd reinforce what many teams in the league now think of Marshall -- that he's selfish with a troubled résumé off the field. But despite his pasted-on smile, Marshall didn't seem at all happy, or very willing to play ball with McDaniels.
Marshall did say one revealing thing, when I asked him about whether he thought the team could win with the current coaches and players, and without Mike Shanahan and Cutler. "Did we win with them?'' he said. "We didn't win, at least win a playoff game, since I've been here.''
He's right. Denver was 24-24 with Marshall, Cutler and Shanahan keying the offense. Maybe Marshall thinks he's got no chance to win with the Broncos, or no chance to get paid. But he ought to be smart enough to realize the majority of these stories have bad endings, and just because Cutler got what he wanted doesn't mean he'll get what he wants. The fact that Cutler did get what he wanted, in fact, is the exact reason why Marshall won't get his way.
Whatever, there was a weird pall hanging over the Denver camp when I was there a week ago. A smaller-than-usual Monday crowd at camp was so subdued I thought I was in church. McDaniels needs something good to happen to him, and soon.
NFL Truth & Rumors