Top of draft shows stark contrast between haves and have-nots
New GM Reggie McKenzie has to rebuild Raiders without cap space, many picks
Morally, Sean Pamphilon was wrong to release the audio of Gregg Williams' speech
Honoring Joe Avezzano; Quotes of the Week; Ten Things I Think I Think; more
It's rare that I begin with the Stat of the Week in this column, but there's a method to my statness.
Part of the method is I'm so damn sick of all the other bounty-related crap that keeps oozing from the NFL's pores, and I figure you must be too, that I want to lead with actual football. The draft, specifically, seeing that a historic first round is 17 days away. The draft is usually America's fourth-biggest sport (behind the NFL, major league baseball and the NBA), but the spate of bounty and Peyton Manning coverage has relegated the draft to a lesser pastime. So let's spend a couple thousand words on the draft, and the teams drafting, here at the top.
Teams with the most 2012 draft choices in the top 85 overall picks: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, New England, St. Louis (four).
Teams with the least 2012 draft choices in the top 85 overall picks: New Orleans, Oakland (zero).
I'll get to everything of note this week, and the looming bounty suspension news, and the overwhelming sadness of the Steve Gleason-Sean Pamphilon mess, and the death of a good man in Dallas. But we start out west, with one of those draft-pick-poor teams, and what the Oakland Raiders are doing about it.
The Raiders are actually doing things right, and Reggie McKenzie's the reason why.
When the Raiders hired McKenzie as general manager in January, he took over a team with the most decimated draft board in recent history. No first-, second-, third-, fourth- or seventh-round picks because of prior trades or Supplemental Draft picks. McKenzie inherited a team that, in late February, was $26 million over the salary cap and had two draft choices -- the 148th and 189th overall -- before the annual compensatory picks were awarded. Think about it: An 18-year scout finally gets his chance to run a team and pick the players he wants ... and he's hamstrung by the worst cap situation in the league, and one of the worst draft-choice pools in NFL history. And one more thing: Peyton Manning just walked into his division.
"Never thought, 'Woe is me,' '' he said the other night from his office in Oakland. "Not once. Never thought I shouldn't take the job because of things like that either. It never entered my mind. I just figured, 'We'll find players.' I know how to find players. I've been in Green Bay when we found Mark Tauscher and Donald Driver late in drafts, and found Tramon Williams on the street, and signed Charles Woodson in free agency. It can be done.''
If McKenzie's right, it will be done this year with low-cost free-agents starting at three positions (Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell at cornerback, Philip Wheeler at linebacker), and one well-paid (five years, $20 million) starting right guard, Mike Brisiel. Help also came in the form of three of the top 10 compensatory picks awarded last month in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Oakland's first pick will be the first compensatory choice awarded by the NFL, the 95th overall choice, which means McKenzie will sit around all night Thursday on day one of the draft, and all night Friday through rounds two and three, till the end of the third round.
I asked McKenzie if he wished he could have the Carson Palmer trade back. Last October, then-coach Hue Jackson dealt first- and second-round picks to Cincinnati for Palmer. "You can beat that doggone story 'til it's worn out,'' said McKenzie. "But I know this: We've got a quarterback we think can win the division and take us to the playoffs. Losing a one and a two doesn't bother me one bit."
McKenzie said he feels honored to be the first person in almost half a century other than Al Davis to be running the Raiders' draft. "This is a new day in the Raider organization,'' he said. "Coach Davis, he knew football. I relish the chance to follow him and get this team back where it belongs.''
Analyzing who's picking where, and who's in control of this draft.
The Rams have five of the first 96 picks overall (6, 33, 39, 65, 96), and Jeff Fisher told me St. Louis would like to trade down from six for the right price. If not, Justin Blackmon would fit a major need at six.
New England has five picks in a 66-pick span in the first two days of the draft (27, 31, 48, 62, 93). How smart would they be to deal No. 31 to a live-for-today team in the top 12 of this draft (Buffalo?) for a first-rounder next year?
Cleveland will reap the benefit from the Julio Jones trade last year. They've got the 22nd and 118th overall picks as the final booty from the deal with Atlanta, first- and fourth-round picks. In all, Cleveland has six by the middle of the fourth round: 4, 22, 37, 67, 100, 118.
The Saints almost had to pay big for defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, and also for Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, and not only because of the probable Jonathan Vilma suspension. They have one pick in the top 120, at No. 89. They need help on D badly.
Cincinnati is not a big trade team on draft day, so I'd expect they'd pick at 17th (with the Carson Palmer pick from Oakland) and 21st (their own). No way Michael Floyd is still there for them at 17, and they're not a big offensive line team in the first round. That could change, and they could get the best guard in the draft, Stanford's David DeCastro, in the middle of the first round with one of those picks.
Denver could be a package team. By that I mean the Broncos like to move around (they have in recent years), and they've got three picks in a 30-pick span (108, 120, 137). Suppose the league gets scared of Janoris Jenkins because of his sketchy background, and the best cover man in the draft is sitting there early in the second round. Could the developmental-corner-needy Broncos deal three picks to move up for him?
The Eagles have the 51st overall pick, courtesy of the Kevin Kolb deal last year, along with the 46th pick. I can see Andy Reid going developmental quarterback with one of those picks.
Atlanta will have to make the picks count. The Falcons pick 55th and 84th, then not again until 157 in round five.
The Raiders, their fans can only hope, are out of the long, dumb draft-trade death spiral. Last year, they gave a 2012 second-round pick to New England in order to draft tackle Joe Barksdale and running back Taiwan Jones. Barksdale and Jones are backups. They cost the Raiders the 48th pick in a rich draft. McKenzie's not going to do that ... and if he does, he'll be darned sure that at least one of the two picks he ends with starts.
It's impossible to have a one-way, clinical view of the Gleason-Pamphilon mess. At least for me it is.
Last fall, I arranged after some negotiations to do a story for the NBC Super Bowl pregame show on Steve Gleason, the former (and heroic) New Orleans Saints special-teamer who'd been diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disease, early in 2011. I flew to New Orleans in November to begin reporting on the story. Gleason and his shadow, documentarian Sean Pamphilon, met me for lunch. Pamphilon had been working for months with Gleason and wife Michel on a project that they hoped would turn into a marketable documentary or movie about Gleason's life of dealing with this fatal disease. For Gleason, an added motivation was that his infant son, Rivers, would have footage he could always see of his father, no matter how long his life lasted.
Immediately, I could see the closeness of the two men. Pamphilon helped Gleason -- still ambulatory, but with an awkward gait -- sit and get around when help was needed. When Michel arrived at the restaurant with baby Rivers an hour into the meeting, Pamphilon stood up and took the baby carrier and in a gentlemanly way cleared a place for Michel to sit. For a while he held the baby and cooed to him. And for the next couple of months, whenever I was around the Gleasons and Michel's tightly knit New Orleans family, Pamphilon was a combination of videographer and mother hen. I thought he was as close to the Gleason family as anyone could be without being in the family.
Which is why I can think of only one word to describe the disagreement and gulf between Pamphilon and Gleason this morning: sad.
Gleason has remained close to the Saints since his diagnosis. Very close. Sean Payton has given him the run of the football building; if Gleason ever needs treatment or help with rehab, he can use the Saints' training facilities. Last fall, the Saints surprised Gleason, who last played for the team in Payton's first year as coach, 2006, with a Super Bowl ring, even though he didn't play on the 2009 Super Bowl-winning team. The owner of the team, Tom Benson, thinks so much of Gleason that he commissioned a bronze statue of Gleason blocking a punt in the first post-Katrina game in 2006 for the outside of the Superdome.
Payton invited Gleason to make the trip to the Saints' playoff game in San Francisco in January. The night before the game, Gleason was invited into the defensive team meeting room, and his shadow, Pamphilon, went with him. That's when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made his infamous speech directing the Saints to go after various players on the 49ers in graphic and disturbing ways -- the exclamation point on what the NFL believes has been a three-year practice of bounties on opposing players and off-the-books financial rewards for starry defensive plays.
A few things here are very clear.
1. Pamphilon was disturbed by what he heard in the meeting.
2. Pamphilon would never have been in the meeting if he wasn't a trusted friend of Gleason.
3. Pamphilon tried to convince Gleason to allow him to use the audio damning Williams. Gleason, who never played for Williams, didn't like what he heard in the meeting either, but he didn't want the audio released. Obviously, if what they heard in the meeting was going to be made public by Gleason or Pamphilon, the Saints would never have let either in the room.
Gleason knew if the tape came out, he'd spend much of whatever cogent energy he has left on something he never intended to fight -- the rantings of a renegade coach -- instead of focusing on what his aim is: trying to make ALS patients live more productive lives.
Pamphilon betrayed the wishes of a dying man and a former very close friend by releasing the tape; that much we know. But the interesting thing in this story is that the public seems conflicted much more than I thought would be the case. The majority who have responded to me on Twitter (I'd say 60 percent) have said Williams' words were so reprehensible that they, in essence, gave Pamphilon sufficient reason to break his relationship with Gleason and release the audio to the public. He's being seen as a whistleblower the public should applaud, not condemn.
By blowing the whistle, though, what has Pamphilon accomplished? He has shone a light on a dark story. He has earned a seat at what I expect will be a Congressional hearing on the bounty scandal. But Williams already had been suspended indefinitely by commissioner Roger Goodell. Williams already had said he would not appeal the suspension. The release of the audio didn't affect the league's probe, except perhaps to slam the door shut on any chance Payton -- an innocent in Pamphilon's eyes -- had to get his appeal reduced. I got the distinct impression sniffing around the probe Friday that the audio corroborated the league's investigation but did not advance the story.
Now as to the legality of it. Pamphilon, through Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, said he did not violate the agreement he had with Gleason when releasing the audio, and Silver wrote the contract does not "specifically prohibit either party from posting footage ... prior to completion of the film.'' I have not seen the contract, but a source with knowledge of the relationship between Gleason and Pamphilon said it was never contemplated anything regarding the film would be released without both sides agreeing.
The mere discussion of what's legally right is what turns my stomach the most. I told you how close these two men were. This is one of those cases where what's legally right shouldn't matter. What's morally right should. What's morally right is that Pamphilon, who never would have heard what Williams said without being attached to Gleason, shouldn't have released the tape without Gleason's permission.
I'm tremendously conflicted on this story. I've thought about it for three days straight, trying to divine what's right and wrong. I enrolled in college to study journalism in 1975, one year after the Watergate burglary and coverup forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency. I'm all for the public's right to know. And in the end, I'm tempted to say the more clarity about this story the better, just so the public understands why Goodell acted with such an iron hand. But I can't get over the way the material was acquired and made public. It's just not right.
I cannot find it in my heart to quite call Pamphilon a rat, but I cannot call him a hero either.