About the players' event at the draft...
The players association has a meeting today to determine what form their draft night event will take. There's a slight chance there will be no event at all. Slight. But it's more likely something will happen, and it could be something different from what leaked out a couple of weeks ago -- all the draft choices being called up and greeted by a veteran player or two from the team that picks him. But I was told Sunday it still could take some form similar to that, and plans are fluid, with several options to be discussed today.
The one thing I feel sure about, though, is that it will have a welcome-to-the-family feel, with current players welcoming new players to pro football. And aside from a potential live-TV element, it also will have a live-streaming portion to it, which the players have used several times in the past few weeks to get their message out to the public. Their unfiltered message.
One last point: A couple of agents told me over the weekend that the league is going directly to prospective rookies, not through agents, to invite players and families to the draft in New York. However the invitations come out, the prospects are already feeling conflicted. Check out the tweet from Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn (@AJaClay) over the weekend: "Just got my invitation to radio city on April 28th!!! Decisions decisions!''
The NFL is bound and determined to not be under the thumb of a federal court judge in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Whenever the players and owners sit across the table from each other again, I'm told the owners won't bend on one thing: The desire to be rid of federal-court oversight in the new CBA. There had been rumblings of this going back to the mediation days in Washington, and more out of the league meetings in New Orleans last week. I was conversing Sunday with a source close to several owners and I said, "It's obvious they don't want to leave their legal fate in the hands of a judge like David Doty.'' The source shot back: "They don't want to leave their fate in the hands of a judge, period. After having the last two decades, basically, with federal oversight in the Eighth Circuit, their attitude basically is this: No other leagues have the courts lording over them. Why should we?''
I was told Sunday night by a second source that this is a vital issue for the owners. I'll explain why. Since the NFL reached a bargaining agreement with the players in 1993, each successive agreement has been an extension of the same agreement, so the basic rules have been the same. One of the rules is that federal judge David Doty has overseen any appeals between the two sides over the past 18 years.
Whereas other sports (and large unions like the steelworkers) have disputes settled by impartial arbitrators and the settlement is final, the NFL and its players have an arbitrator -- law professor Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania Law School -- but his decisions are not always final. In 2009, Burbank ordered Michael Vick to repay $16 million of his Atlanta signing bonus back to the Falcons when he defaulted on his contract due to his dogfighting conviction. Doty overruled Burbank, allowing Vick to keep the money. More recently, Burbank ruled mostly for the owners in the $4 billion network TV case, and Doty a month ago ruled for the players, meaning the owners couldn't use TV money during a lockout.
The 1993 CBA expired March 4. Now that there's a new deal to be negotiated, the NFL, whenever it talks with the players again, will contend that it's fine having a third party (even a different one than Burbank) decide cases between the two sides. But they'll draw a line in the sand over having any judge be the backstop to the arbitrator they choose.
I don't see this being a major issue for the players, because it so rarely comes into play. But when it does, it can be a doozy of a decision. Owners were furious that Vick got to keep his bonus -- but in part, the owners had themselves to blame because of the liberal language the league put in the 2006 extension. That language made it very hard for the league to recapture most bonuses already paid to players. But the players will certainly try to use this as a chip to be bargained whenever the two sides talk again.
Now we have to see who wins the next couple of legal proceedings. If a federal judge in April agrees with the players that an injunction should be issued to bar the owners from locking the players out, and if an appeals court agrees, then the players would have no great motivation to negotiate a new deal, because the rules of the 2010 league year would apply in the new league year, and business would go on as normal. But if the injunction is not granted, that would motivate the players and owners to talk.
I'd take NFLPA board member Mike Vrabel's idea and put it into action: Put some players and owners in the room and let them have at it.
Marty, Marty, Marty.
I talked to the 67-year-old Schottenheimer Saturday night, and I understand perfectly why he's going to coach the United Football League Destroyers in Virginia Beach, beginning next week: It's a perfect way for him to get back in football without it taking over his life 12 months a year. The UFL season, from the developmental start in April to the final game in late October, is a seven-month grind. Schottenheimer would still have time to golf in Palm Springs in the winter and follow his son Brian's games with the Jets in the fall.
"It's not the same pressure-cooker as the NFL,'' he told me from Palm Springs, "but it's got the other things about football I love. You build something. You watch it grow. You help players develop. Believe me, when [UFL commissioner] Michael Huyghue approached me about two and a half weeks ago, this was the furthest thing from my mind. But he came out here, we visited, we played golf, had dinner, and we thought about it. I talked to [wife] Pat and said to her, 'Frankly, I don't see a downside. Do you? Tell me if you see a downside.' She said, 'I don't.' And so all of a sudden, I'm on another life adventure.''
The 67-year-old Schottenheimer coaching football, and making a few bucks doing it, seems the right thing for him to do. Coaches today don't seem to age the way they used to. I think it's because they stay in better shape year-round.
Elway's been a pleasant surprise to John Fox.
I noticed this at the Scouting Combine. John Elway, the new vice president of football operations for the Broncos, was everywhere. In the interview rooms talking to players, out in the stadium watching the workouts. Same thing at the league meetings. Chatting with other GMs and coaches. When I sidled up to new Denver coach John Fox to ask him about it, he went on like he'd discovered gold.
It was an off-the-record conversation, but it surprised me how much Fox seemed to legitimately like and admire Elway as a club executive, so I reached out to the coach Sunday to ask if I could write about it. He called back and told me, "It's not BS, what I told you. It's real. This guy works. I have fallen in love with him. A lot of people probably thought it was going to be [just a job with a title] and he wouldn't be all in. But he is.
"We went to a speaking engagement recently in Denver and one of the things John said is, 'I've discovered there's more than one 6 o'clock.' He's in at 7 most days, out at 7. When we met with players, his perspective was valuable; he understands what makes a player better than 90 percent of the people in the league. The bottom line is, he did it right. He played, he was a success in business, he raised his kids and now he's doing something he loves. I think he's going to be good at this.''
Let me make this point about what Fox just said: I've known Fox for a long time. Plenty of times -- and I mean plenty -- I'd ask him a question and he'd say we have to talk off the record for a minute, because he didn't want to lie, nor did he want to mislead me. So I do not take his words as him trying to butter up the boss, or paint a fake picture of the boss for public consumption. We'll see how it works out, but so far, so good.
You remember the Top 100 Players of All Time show from NFL Films last year?
Now there's going to be the Top 100 Players of Today. NFL Films is counting the last of its estimated 400 ballots from current players, who have been asked since January to name their top 20 current players in the league. Films is tabulating the results on a 20-19-18 etc., basis, and will start the countdown from 100 to 91 after the draft finishes airing on NFL Network on Saturday night, April 30. That show will re-air Sunday night, and the 10 successive countdown shows will run through early July.
This much we know:
Quarterbacks will be the third-most common players on the show, which is sort of surprising.
No kickers or punters in the top 100.
It's a 5-5 defense-offense split in the top 10.
There are two 2010 rookies, including Ndamukong Suh, among the top 100.
And unlike the historical show, on which people from all walks of life introduced the players, this will have only current players and coaches introducing their own players, teammates and foes. You'll see Rex Ryan on Darrelle Revis, for instance, and Terrell Owens on Champ Bailey, and Bill Belichick on Jerod Mayo.
Each show will be followed by an NFL Network post-show discussion, complete with social-media fan reaction from Facebook and Twitter, in effect arguing about where the players landed.
Interesting concept, but I'll be interested to see how it's justified to have the quarterback position be number three on the list of most players in the top 100.