I really hope Ed Reed doesn't retire.
You want to see great players make great plays in big games like these. Well, I do anyway. Reed had the most compelling three minutes any player has had in a while against the Colts on Saturday night. In the span of six plays on the same drive in the third quarter (technically, they are two different drives because of the change of possession and then the change back within seconds), Reed twice intercepted Peyton Manning. The first pick he fumbled back to the Colts. The second interception was negated because of a pass-interference call against nickel back Corey Ivy and robbed the Ravens of their last chance to get back in the game.
Reed, 31, said after the game a nerve impingement in his neck may force him to retire. "You'll know soon enough,'' he said. That would be sad for football, because this is the best ball-hawking safety of our time (maybe ever), and the most instinctive defensive back of this era. Intercepting Manning twice in a span of six plays ... that's absolutely stunning. And it's no fluke.
On the first play, a long throw down the right sideline for a seemingly open Pierre Garcon, Reed stayed in centerfield (well, maybe right-centerfield) until he saw Manning bring his arm forward, which is a different motion than Manning's pump-fake, and then sprinted in front of Garcon to intercept the ball. Obviously, by Reed not protecting the ball and getting it punched out by Garcon on the return, the Ravens took a big hit.
But five plays later, Reed did the same thing in straight-away center, on a ball I'm surprised Manning threw. With Ivy in tight coverage on Dallas Clark, Manning tried to squeeze a line drive into Clark; there was some jostling, a flag was thrown on Ivy, and then Reed stepped into the picture and picked Manning again. The interference wiped it off the books.
Someday, if Manning stays healthy for six or seven more years (a big if), we might be talking about him as the greatest quarterback of all time. If you talk to corners and safeties around the league, they'll tell you he's virtually un-baitable. That's what makes Reed, who has studied the difference in mechanics between Manning's pump-fakes and his real throws, so special. Even though one of them didn't count, I don't think you'll ever see such a great quarterback as Manning picked twice by the same guy on such instinctive plays.
If Reed retires, it'll be like some of the greats who went out in their prime -- Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, etc. "I've been thinking about it often, and I'm thinking about it now,'' a stone-faced Reed said quietly in the Ravens' locker room. I'm not sure Manning would miss Reed, but the game certainly would.
The negotiations for a new labor agreement couldn't be going any worse.
If the past few days, I've spoken to sources on both sides of the labor talks, and I've come to the conclusion that it'll be an upset if there isn't a work stoppage that either delays or cancels the 2011 season. Many of us in the media have speculated about the chances for a lockout and predicted one is coming, but the total lack of progress over the nut issue in 11 bargaining sessions tells me unless there's a sea-change by one side or the other, you'd better savor the 2010 season because it could be the last football we see for a while.
At the core of the problem is ownership's demand for players to bear an equal part of the cost for stadium construction, debt service and upkeep -- and the players saying it's not their problem. In NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith's recent e-mail to player representatives, he startled player leaders by saying ownership wanted to cut player compensation by 18 percent per year in the new CBA.
I thought the 18 percent number might be an exaggeration, a scare tactic to get players' attention. It's not. The owners, one management source said, have asked that the players' pool of revenue against which the salary cap is calculated be reduced by 18 percent.
The players' response, a union source told me, is that they're not prepared to take a penny, or a percentage point, less. While Smith, in his letter to players, didn't dismiss the possibility of negotiating on the issue, he wrote that there has been no compelling information presented to players to justify such a major reduction in what players make.
You wonder what 18 percent means. So did I. The management source said the owners want $1 billion a year credited to ownership and not subject to being part of the pie that the players divide. "There's obviously been an enormous shift from public financing of stadiums to private funding,'' the management source said. "Those costs are not recognized in the current CBA, and we feel that has to change.''
The league has beat this drum for several years. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some give-and-take in the owners' demands, because this is collective bargaining, but I would be surprised if the owners drop this as a demand altogether. They're just too dug-in on it.
But from the players' perspective, it's got to be a tough sell to union leaders. Imagine Smith going into a union meeting at a team and telling the players that the average compensation to the men in this room is about $1.8 million this year in salary and bonus payments, and explaining to them in a time of bountiful success for the NFL, each of the players is going to have to take, on average, a $324,000 pay cut. The players will never go for that, absent the owners being able to prove they're losing money in a time of unparalleled wealth in the league.
At some point, serious talks will start, with each side compromising. But I can't see the two sides bridging this chasm anytime soon.
Marriage of the Week
Bobby April and DeSean Jackson. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
When the Eagles convinced April, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, to take their special-teams coordinator job Thursday, they obviously got a great mentor for their kicking game; April, the NFL special-teams coach of the year in 2004 and 2008, had the best combined special teams in Buffalo three times in the past six years, according to rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.
One of April's fortes is getting rookies who have never played special teams in college to be key guys as gunners on the punt team or pursuit men on kickoff teams. With a weapon like Jackson in his hands? Who know how great the Eagles punt-return team can be. Jackson had two touchdowns and a 15.2-yard average punt return this season, and scored an NFL-record eight touchdowns of 50 yards or longer. Jackson, who made the Pro Bowl this year as both a returner and receiver, has become what the Bears hoped Devin Hester would be -- a punt-returner who doubles as a deep-threat receiver.
"I had Deion Sanders,'' April said the other night, "and I don't want to put a lot of extra pressure on DeSean, but he has that kind of big-play ability. He's special. He's very similar to Roscoe Parrish, who I just had in Buffalo . We'll have to make sure he stays disciplined and hungry.''
April preaches the punt return is the first play of the offensive series. He's had the backing of his prior coaches in making the kicking teams an equal third of the team, and this can only ratchet up the danger of the already formidable Philadelphia special teams.
This Lane Kiffin story really ticks me off.
The gall of Kiffin. The unmitigated, outrageous gall of this kid. And the idiocy of Tennessee apparently giving Kiffin -- when, let's be honest, what options did he have coming off his disastrous 5-15 run with the Raiders? -- an $800,000 buyout after one year of his contract. But I blame Kiffin far more. Tennessee bought out Phil Fulmer's coaching staff, then brought in Kiffin and his staff (including his father, Monte, for a reported $1-million-a-year deal to be a college defensive coordinator) and the minute there's an opening at USC, Lane Kiffin bolts ... in the prime part of recruiting season, a terrible time to hire a coaching staff.
I wonder if Kiffin ever said to a single recruit since getting hired by Tennessee 13-plus months ago, "USC's my dream job, so if it ever opens up, I've got to go?'' Of course not. I'm sure the conversation was something like, "Come to Tennessee, I'm going to be here a long, long time, and we're going to win a national championship together.''
One 7-6 season. After Tennessee rescued a tarnished Kiffin. After Tennessee's athletics department backed Kiffin through six secondary recruiting violations, and after Tennessee backed Kiffin in a potential violation of having campus "hostesses'' make "visits'' to recruits all over the southeast.
And he's rewarded by another institution of higher learning (and I type that with as much sarcasm as I can muster), making him even richer than if he'd stayed at Tennessee .
Where's the decency? The maturity? The gratitude? The simple sense of even a pinch of loyalty?
My favorite part of this story is that Kiffin left Tennessee so hurriedly that he didn't even bother to call his brother-in-law, the brother of his wife, who was also his quarterbacks coach at Tennessee . The New York Times reported David Reaves found out Kiffin was bolting when he saw the news on TV at a local restaurant.
In the past few days, I've learned that I'm really old, because there's not nearly as much outrage as I thought there'd be over this. I'd say my Twitter account has been 60-40 against my anti-Kiffin stance (yes, I did call him "a bum''), believing that as long as he pays the buyout, he's got no obligation to the university beyond that. That's where I'll draw the line in the moral sand. He has an obligation to Tennessee. That school gave Kiffin and his family a life-preserver when he was on the street. Would he have gotten a good coaching job, after Davis booted him out of Oakland? Maybe. An SEC contender's coaching job? I doubt it. And this is how he thanks them.
Interesting column Friday on statecollege.com by Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, son of Joe, railing about the state of college football. "This profession has lost touch with the reality of the world around us, and some coaches have lost touch with what the mission of our profession should be,'' Jay Paterno wrote. "We are starting to look as arrogant as the Wall Street bankers raking in seven-figure bonuses. The astronomical explosion in coaching salaries continues at a time of 10 percent unemployment in America and exploding tuition costs burdening working class families ... Coaches walk into a recruit's home and talk about how they will look out for that young man's future. The expectation is that the coach will help to guide him through a very formative time. A year later the same coach is off to another job for more money and left behind are the young men he promised to nurture towards their future.''
That's precisely the way I feel. I hated Brian Kelly skipping out on Cincinnati before its bowl game; I hated the USC staff not returning calls to recruits they'd bombarded with text messages and phone calls for months when Pete Carroll flirted with the Seahawks. But this one is so reprehensible because of Kiffin being rescued by the Vols and leaving after a cup of coffee and tons of broken promises. Now, a few notes responding to many of your e-mails and Tweets to me:
Why this differs from a NFL coach like Bobby Petrino or Nick Saban leaving for college football. It doesn't. Those things were outrageous too.
Why this differs from a coach who gets fired despite having a valid contract with his pro or college team. It does, because teams or schools have to pay a coach who gets fired what he's due under the terms of his contract. If he's got three years and $3 million left, the school has to fork it over.
Why this differs from the Josh Cribbs story. You may know that I've been on Cribbs' contractual side. He's got three years left on a contract that in 2009 made him the 30th-highest-paid Cleveland Brown, though he was selected the all-pro return man this season. I've written the Browns should do the right thing and give Cribbs, the most dangerous special-teamer in football, a new contract. I feel strongly he should be paid more. But if he is not paid, he needs to live up to the contract he signed. He signed it, it stinks, and he's got to live with it if he can't reach agreement on a new deal.
Why this differs from the real world. Scores of you believe I'm a Pollyanna about this. I currently have a contract with Sports Illustrated, and another with NBC. If another media company came to me and offered me three times what I'm making, I wouldn't entertain the offer. I want to believe I'm like most Americans -- a contract's a contract.
Except, of course, if you're a college football coach.
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