Favre isn't that angry -- but he is glad the truth is coming out. I caught Favre at the end of a day planting soybeans on his ranch in southern Mississippi Friday. The story had broken two hours earlier, and his cell phone kept vibrating. That's how he knew something was up. When I told him the extent of it, and the Vilma story, I waited for his reaction. "Hmmmm,'' he said, and paused. "That's about it.''
With Favre, the reaction is rarely three words long. "I'm not pissed,'' he said. "It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys. I would have loved to play with Vilma. Hell of a player. I've got a lot of respect for Gregg Williams. He's a great coach. I'm not going to make a big deal about it. In all honesty, there's a bounty of some kind on you on every play. Now, in that game there were some plays that, I don't want to say were odd, but I'd throw the ball and whack, on every play. Hand it off, whack. Over and over. Some were so blatant. I hand the ball to Percy Harvin early and got drilled right in the chin. They flagged that one at least.
"I've always been friends with Darren Sharper, and he came in a couple times and popped me hard. I remember saying, 'What THE hell you doing, Sharp?' I felt there should have been more calls against the Saints. I thought some of their guys should have been fined more.''
As for the story finally seeing the light of day, Favre said: "Now the truth comes out. That's good. But that's football. The only thing that really pisses me off about the whole thing is we lost the game. That's the thing about that day that still bothers me. And that's the way it goes. If they wanted me to testify in court about this, they'd be calling the wrong guy.''
Tom Benson is out of the woods on this one, mostly. But should he be? In the four-page confidential memo to league teams that I referenced earlier, the league makes it clear Goodell buys the Saints' owner's contention that he asked Mickey Loomis to make sure the bounty program stopped, and Loomis didn't do it. But that's not going to take the Saints off the hook here. The organization will be fined, and likely have draft picks taken. In the conclusion of the league memo, the league makes it clear the players, Williams, Payton, Loomis and the organization as a whole are guilty of conduct detrimental to the league.
Specifically on Benson: "While it is clear that ownership was unaware of the bounty program, and strongly disapproved of it and directed that it be discontinued once it was disclosed, the club nonetheless is guilty of conduct detrimental by virtue of the actions of its employees, which continued over a period of years, and the failure of its senior executives to address the matter in a responsible way. The Commissioner has repeatedly held that clubs bear a responsibility for the conduct of their employees, and that misconduct by employees -- particularly by employees in responsible and leadership positions -- will be attributed to the club for purposes of discipline.''
This gives head coaches and general managers a teaching point. One coach said to me over the weekend that he had nothing like this going on with his team -- but he'd be sure at his next full staff meeting to tell everyone in the room that if that goes on at any point in the future, the offending assistant coach should expect to be fired. Imagine the guts a coach would have to possess to continue a bounty program now. He'd have a death wish.
Can Peyton Manning's neck injury be traced to Gregg Williams? Williams was the Redskins' defensive coordinator on Oct. 22, 2006, for the Washington-Indianapolis game. Last fall, during an NBC telecast, Tony Dungy said Manning's current neck injury stems from that game. Manning's neck got wrenched and his helmet ripped off on a hit by two Washington defenders. We showed the highlight on our show. Manning, after being hit and crumbling to the ground awkwardly, lay there for a second, and when he rose, he stretched his neck and shook his right arm for a second, as if trying to get the feeling back in it.
Afterward, as I wrote last fall in this column, Dungy told me: "Earlier in the game, I'm outraged that there was a flag for roughing-the-passer on Dwight Freeney for just grazing the quarterback's helmet. So I'm yelling at the ref [Scott Green], 'Where's the flag! Where's the flag!' And I don't yell much, but I did then. So I didn't notice Peyton calling timeout and being shaken up. Peyton came to the sideline and said to [backup] Jim Sorgi, 'Jim, start warming up.' As the timeout went on, he said to us, 'I can stay in, but we need to run the ball here.' '' Which the Colts did, settling for a field goal deep in Washington territory.
"Then we sort of forgot about it at halftime, and Peyton seemed fine," said Dungy. "He lit it up in the second half. He was on fire [throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns]. But that's the year we started cutting back on his throws at practice. I'm not putting two plus two together. I just figure he's getting older and he needs some time off, he's made enough throws. But now, as I look back on it, there's no doubt in my mind that this was the start of his neck problems.'' There's no evidence that Washington's defenders had a bounty out on Manning that night. But it's a question, surely, that begs to be asked. And if I were one of the league investigators interviewing Williams today, it's certainly something I'd explore.
Pete Carmichael Jr., get ready. Lots of jobs around the Saints could change for the short- or long-term, depending on how Goodell rules. It's possible if Payton misses some time he'll make assistant head coach Joe Vitt the interim coach, which he was when Payton was out with his knee injury last fall. The new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, will do the job he's prepared to do, but he'll certainly have to adjust if and when his defensive players are suspended. But the pressure will likely be most felt by offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who came with Payton to the Saints in 2006. Payton is the normal play-caller on gamedays, and Carmichael had some play-calling duties last fall when Payton was recovering from his knee surgery. But if Payton is ordered not to have any involvement with the team for a specified period, Carmichael will take on the game-planning and play-calling duties that Payton has been so good at. Last fall, Drew Brees downplayed -- as he would, of course -- the temporary absence of Payton. "There are plenty of times in practice when Sean will say, 'Hey, Pete, you've got it,' and Pete will be calling it off the script or making adjustments. The fact that Pete is the one giving me the play isn't all that unusual, because we've done that many times before. This will be an adjustment, but then again when I do come to the sideline my communication is usually with Pete. We're looking over at pass pictures together. I'll get up and talk with Sean a little bit, but a lot of the communication happens in the headset between Pete and Sean and then back to me. I think we have a good flow as far as how we communicate on game day, anyway, and a lot of it comes through Pete. I think the fact that it's going to be Pete's voice now and he'll actually be relaying the plays to me, that won't be all that unusual for me." Brees said that last fall. He might be saying the same thing this fall, for a while.
Good sign for Houston.
Early this morning, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported the Texans saved their franchise tag by agreeing to a five-year deal with running back Arian Foster. Big, big deal for Houston. Foster was going to be a restricted free agent, which means there was little pressure on the Texans to get a long-term deal done this year. But Texans GM Rick Smith was smart. Foster's 25. He's the perfect back for coach Gary Kubiak's preferred one-cut-and-get-upfield rushing style, with a good mix of power and speed around the edge. In the last two seasons, since taking over the starting job, Foster has 2,840 rushing yards in 29 games, and he's shown the ability to take the kind of pounding a coach like Kubiak likes. Which leads us to ...
Good sign for Seattle.
The signing of Marshawn Lynch to a four-year deal last night -- actually, Seattle GM John Schneider had the deal all but done after a negotiating session at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that ended at 3:15 a.m. nine days ago -- is a boost for a team on the rise. Lynch is a young player still; he doesn't turn 26 until next month, so when he finishes this contract he'll be 29 years old. In his five NFL seasons, he hasn't been beaten up; he's averaged 227 carries a season. The Seahawks went on a strong run with him late in the season, going 5-4 (with all four losses by 10 points or less) and beating Philadelphia and Baltimore in the process. In those nine games, Lynch, who revels in being called "BeastMode'' for his style of running, gained 104 rushing yards a game, on average, and changed Seattle's identity. A fun-loving, Skittles-chomping player, Lynch even got the sedate billionaire owner of the Seahawks, Paul Allen, excited early this morning on Twitter. "BeastMode will be back!! Great news for this young, exciting team & 12th Man."
Newsiest thing about this deal, from the standpoint of how it influences the running back market: On one hand, it provides very little benefit to Ray Rice and Matt Forte, on the surface. Lynch got a deal averaging $7.75 million a year. The franchise tags Rice and Forte will play under -- unless they sign long-term deals -- is for $7.7 million a year. On the other hand, Rice, for instance, has outgained Lynch by 1,532 yards over the past three years. So shouldn't he say he's worth significantly more than Lynch in a four-year deal?
The reality for Rice is he's probably not going to get a deal in the Adrian Peterson neighborhood, which he'd like to do. He may be forced to play this one-year deal out or take a deal he doesn't love to get anywhere close to the guaranteed money any running back would want in a profession where backs flame out young.
Who is Will Wilson?
You'll be hearing a lot of Will Wilson in the next few weeks. He's Andrew Luck's agent. Luck is Wilson's first client. Luck is also Wilson's nephew. Wilson, 44, joined the Wasserman Media Group of California as the executive vice president of football when Luck signed on with him. Luck is Wasserman's first client. Wilson, a veteran executive of several sports ventures (World League of American Football, Arena League, Major League Soccer, CART auto racing) got his agent certification within the last year and suggested to Oliver Luck, Andrew's father and the former NFL backup quarterback, that he be considered Andrew's agent. "I never had a discussion with them until after the Fiesta Bowl [in January],'' Wilson said. "I suppose there's a lot of trust in my abilities. It's pretty compelling he'll be our only football client, and I'll be able to devote all my time on his representation.'' Wilson said he "hasn't even thought about'' building a client list. Wilson's easiest job likely will be the contract he negotiates with the Colts, if Indianapolis makes Luck the No. 1 overall pick as expected. The rookie deals under the new CBA will have some incentive wiggle room, but are nearly locked in; Luck will make about $23 million over four seasons as the top pick. It's off-field apparel, merchandise and endorsement deals that will be Wilson's concentration -- and making sure the demands of being the first pick in the draft don't interfere with Luck's football.
As usual, some good nuggets in the Giants' Super Bowl DVD.
One of my favorite video events of the year is the hour-long Super Bowl winners' DVD, which goes on sale tonight at midnight and will debut in Times Square in New York this evening. We've already seen some of the good moments previewed on shows like "Inside the NFL'' on Showtime, and on NFL Network programming, the best of which was Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl imploring his defense -- right before Eli Manning rainbowed the greatest throw of his life into Mario Manningham's arms down the left sideline -- to watch out for Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and let the Giants throw it to Manningham or Bear Pascoe.
The other points I enjoyed about Vivendi Entertainment's Super Bowl XLVI Champions: New York Giants:
Good NFL Films slo-mo angles of stopping Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. Tight, compelling shots. And a perfect angle on the ball grazing Kyle Williams' knee on the poor returner's muffed punt.
Victor Cruz on the field before the Super Bowl, speaking to himself incredulously, sounding like a perfectly programmed Tom Coughlin football player. This Cruz talking to Victor Cruz: "I used to think it was all about me. It's about this team. THIS TEAM.''
The mechanics of officiating on the early-game safety in the Super Bowl. After Tom Brady, standing in the pocket in the end zone, sails a pass way over any intended receiver, umpire Carl Paganelli rushes in to speak with ref John Parry in the end zone. "Nobody down there!'' Paganelli said. And Parry looked downfield and said, "He's [Brady] in the pocket.'' Good scene of how officials work together.
Telling camera shot: After Chase Blackburn intercepted Brady, Brady sat glumly on the field. For three or four seconds, a teammate offered a hand to help Brady get up. Brady didn't.
Cruz, again, watching the replay board after the incredible catch by Manningham down the sideline, during the replay review, seeing if Manningham did indeed make a legal catch: "Catch ... right ... left ... YEAH!!!!''
New England linebacker Jerod Mayo in the huddle with a minute to play, telling his defense to play dead: "Huddle up! Huddle up! Gotta let 'em score! Gotta let 'em score!'' And they did.
Finally, Tom Brady, with urgency, just before his Hail Mary on the final play of the game, to Aaron Hernandez: "Run to the goal post and catch it!'' That's exactly what Hernandez tried to do. And failed.
Good stuff, though I'm guessing it won't sell so well in the 617 area code.
Fifty-one days 'til Christmas -- actually, the first round of the April 26 draft -- and here are my odds of who gets the big prize, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, via a trade with the Rams for the second pick in the draft:
1. Washington, 3-1. But this means GM Bruce Allen, as I suspect, will lose out on Peyton Manning because he won't bid as much guaranteed money as star-famished Miami owner Stephen Ross.
2. Cleveland 4-1. Makes the most sense. But GM Tom Heckert will hate to deal away the draft pool it will take to move up to get Griffin.
3. Miami, 5-1. If Miami misses on Manning, it will be conflicted. Full-bore for Griffin or pursue Matt Flynn in free agency?
4. Seattle, 10-1. Too far to come (the Seahawks pick 12th overall), too many draft picks to sacrifice.
5. (tie) Philadelphia and Kansas City, 25-1. Never eliminate Andy Reid in the quest for a quarterback. He loved RG3 when they met at the combine, as did Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. If Pioli has some Thomas Dimitroff riverboat gambler in him, he just might risk it all to go get Griffin.
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