Rested and recharged, I start my annual training camp tour Tuesday
Commissioner's power among things on the radar entering start of camp season
Thoughts on the Colorado killings and how the Broncos have responded
Paterno's statue had to go; the Lions shoud cut Berry; my training camp schedule
So we're off with the 16th season of Monday morning quarterback. Pro football is the sport that never sleeps, and I was fortunate on my vacation to have union czar DeMaurice Smith, Colts rookie tight end Coby Fleener, Washington GM Bruce Allen and inspirational Tampa Bay defensive tackle Eric LeGrand writing, allowing me to sleep peacefully every Sunday night -- boy, I already miss that -- knowing the column was in good hands.
Before I get to the highlight of this column, I'll touch on the news of the week. The highlight, at least for me, is a 39-year-old pre-training-camp speech by one of the greatest coaches of all time: Paul Brown, speaking to his 1973 Cincinnati Bengals. This is sort of a risky thing here, running much of a coach's pre-camp talk to his team. I don't know if you'll like it or not, but it's something that as a fan of football history I just love. See what you think.
I'll be leaving on my training camp tour Tuesday for Flagstaff, Ariz., and it's going to be an exciting month. The weirdness of the Saints, Peyton Manning with the Rockies as a backdrop, the new Raiders, an entire state (Florida) of new coaches, Tebowmania and lots, lots more. Like the rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden, to name a few. The NFL needs a summer of fun to deodorize a lousy offseason. Let's start there, with what's on my radar entering the start of NFL camp season:
1. I don't expect much out of a settlement conference in the Saints' case today. Attorneys for the league and the players association meet today with Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles of U.S. District Court in Louisiana. They'll see if there's any grounds to settle the combined cases of the four suspended players in the Saints' bounty scandal. One attorney with knowledge of today's proceedings say the talks could last 15 minutes or three days, depending on the willingness of the parties to compromise.
I don't think it's likely anything substantive will happen. The suspended players, particularly Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, are so convinced they did nothing wrong that it's highly unlikely they'd accept a suspension of any length, even if the league cut back on the eight games given Hargrove and the three to Fujita. Similarly, why would the league be motivated to cut way back on the suspensions when it has heard nothing on appeal from the players, who essentially boycotted the proceedings because they felt it'd be a kangaroo court in front of Commissioner Roger Goodell?
2. The dawn of coaches tape in fans' hands. I was in the NFL offices Friday, watching a demonstration of the new coaches' tape being made available to fans this fall. (The package of NFL Game Rewind plus coaches' tape will cost $69.99 this year for regular season and playoff games combined, the same price the setup cost last year without the coaches' tape. You can get it here.) And this thought occurred to me: Suppose you're a coach at Moeller High in Cincinnati, and you have a good quarterback and two or three good receivers, and you love the Saints' offense. You know what you can do with this system? You can take individual Saints plays on the All-22 wide-angle view, freeze them, telestrate lines on them, and e-mail them to your quarterback and receivers and say, "Fellas, this is the play we'll be installing in practice tomorrow. Study it.''
For $70, coaches nationwide can get the tape they're used to watching of every NFL play. There might be a little cottage industry the league never thought of, selling tape to coaches from Pop Warner to the Big Ten. "If you wanted to,'' said NFL vice president for digital media Greg Isaacs, "you could create a private network for the coaches on your staff.'' Not to mention attracting the hardcore fan dying to see who blew the coverage on the 3rd-and-long touchdown his defense gave up.
The only problem I see with the availability of the coaches' tape is that many fans now are going to be adamant they can pin blame on players for bad plays or credit players for good plays. As one GM told me, "The problem with that is often I don't even know when I watch tape of our own team who blew the coverage, because you don't always know what the assignment was on a specific play. I have to go down the hall and ask my coaches who was responsible. So I don't expect fans at home to be able to have the answers even after they watched a play three or four times.''
3. Mike Lynn, a hard-liner who engineered the biggest trade in NFL history with the Cowboys, died Saturday. Lynn will always be known for trading seven players and five draft choices (three first-rounders) to Dallas for Herschel Walker in 1989. But did you know he was the first influential front office man in the league in 1989 to throw his support behind Paul Tagliabue against the favored Jim Finks in the race for commissioner? Lynn felt the league needed a tough lawyer and negotiator, not a well-liked football man like Finks, in the biggest office in the league. And that's the way it turned out.
Back to the trade. I was in Minnesota the weekend Walker arrived, and this thing was big. Capital B big. The favorite thing I recall unearthing was a final, almost fatal snag in the trade discussions hours before the deadline Dallas owner Jerry Jones had imposed to make the trade. Jones had negotiated an agreement with one of Walker's agents, Peter Johnson, under which Walker would receive $1.25 million from the Cowboys to accept the trade. Walker didn't have a no-trade clause in his contract, yet Dallas had to pay to get him to report to the Vikings.
After finishing negotiations on the $1.25 million payoff with Johnson, Jones got Lynn on the telephone at 8 a.m. and asked him to help cover the $1.25 million. Lynn was stunned. Then, said Lynn, Jones wanted to talk about the terms again. Lynn feared Jones might start calling other teams, so he told Jones he wouldn't let him off the phone until they had made a firm agreement. Walker had already come to clean out his locker at 6:15 that morning.
Jones agreed to pay the entire $1.25 million. He wired the money to Walker's agents in Cleveland the next day. Turned out to be a great trade for the Cowboys, obviously. It gave them a farm system of talent with all those picks that Jimmy Johnson used to build a deep roster.
Lynn was 76, and died from multiple infirmities.
4. Hines Ward is "devastated." He should be, and of course we all are, after the horrific shootings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises movie Friday in suburban Denver, where 70 people were shot by a gunman dressed as the Joker. In Ward's first movie role, he returns a kickoff in the movie at an incendiary Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
"I'm devastated,'' Ward told me. "It's a sad weekend for everyone. It took me from an all-time high to an all-time low. I'm so sad for everyone in Colorado. And it's pretty scary. You shouldn't have to live your life being afraid to go to the movies.'' Ward said he has friends who don't want to go to the movie now. "Fear of a copycatter,'' he said.
5. Remembering Jessica Ghawi. Her name in the press box at Colorado Avalanche games was Jessica Redfield -- her beloved grandmother's maiden name -- and she burned to write and talk about hockey for a living. So much so that five hours before she was shot fatally in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater, she sent Denver Post hockey writer and mentor Adrian Dater a direct message on Twitter, asking if there were a fall internship at the paper she could apply for. There wasn't.
Ghawi was looking for a job, having lost one as a waitress recently. "It didn't knock her down,'' said Dater. "I think the reason I was drawn to her was she was in the same position I was in life at her age. I just kept knocking on doors when I moved to Denver from New Hampshire, determined to get a break. That's how Jessica was.''
As an intern at a Denver sports station, she got sound for sportscasts in the Avalanche locker room. "Are they going to take me seriously?' she said to Dater early on. "I don't want people thinking I'm looking for a date. I'm serious about this job.'' And as she struggled with her doubts, wondering if she'd ever get a full-time job in the hockey media, Dater reassured her thusly: "I was living in my parents' basement when I was 25. You're doing fine. Don't worry. Just keep working.'' ...
And she would have, of course. She had a lifetime of interviews to do and dreams to chase. "It makes you ache so much,'' said Dater, "because when you see someone so driven to succeed and she never got the chance to do it, it's such a terrible feeling. I don't know what else to say.''
That's because there is nothing else to say.
6. Thanks, Broncos. A cadre of Broncos players -- tight end Jacob Tamme, tackle Ryan Clady, defensive end Ben Garland, wideout Eric Decker, linebacker Joe Mays, guard Chris Kuper and former Bronco Brian Dawkins -- visited the Medical Center of Aurora on Sunday to comfort the victims. Peyton Manning phoned several more of the 58 wounded in the attack. If you ever wonder about the meaning of a very popular team to a city, the emotion some victims felt to be remembered by the Broncos illustrates how important a franchise can be on days other than fall Sundays.
7. A note about the power of Roger Goodell. It's fashionable now for some players, and some in the media, to say Goodell shouldn't be judge, jury and executioner in the wake of the power he's wielded in the Saints' case. But it's revisionist history, really, to suggest the players could have won the power last summer during negotiations for a new labor agreement to send appeals to Goodell's decisions to an independent arbitrator.
One of the league's negotiators for the CBA, Giants president John Mara, told me last week: "We felt strongly this was something we weren't going to be flexible about. We weren't going to entertain discussions about putting those big decisions in the hands of an arbitrator. We weren't going to put the future of the game, potentially, in the hands of someone who wasn't the commissioner.''
On Saturday, I asked De Smith if, in retrospect, he'd have pushed harder to win neutral appeal power. "Commissioner discipline was a major issue during negotiations,'' Smith said. "But it wasn't going to change. Their side said several times it was a non-starter. They were firm. I don't believe in hindsight -- there was anything more we could have done.''
Let's say the NFL at some point said to the players, You want to change the appeals process so much, fine. But we want two percent more of the shared gross revenue. Midway through the labor deal, one percent will probably be about $150 million. Do players want neutral appeals so much that they'd have authorized surrendering something like $300 million? And there's no guarantee the league would have ever proposed that anyway; it's just a hypothetical advanced by me. My point is, I don't think players would have pushed for a neutral appeals process if it would have cost them a lot of money.
8. Be worried about seeing replacement officials in August, and quite possibly September. I'm hearing the talks are not going well. Tension between locked-out officials and the league is high, especially after Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times reported Friday that a cadre of veteran officials who now train young officials for the league, led by former Super Bowl ref Jerry Markbreit, refused to train the replacements and had their assignments and computers taken back by the league.
In a story for Sports Illustrated that I filed Sunday concerning the league's offseason of headaches, I address the officiating problems. What worries me most is that the 120 replacements aren't going to be major-college officials, but rather taken from a pool that will include some small-college and even high school officials. I don't like the tenor of what I'm hearing from the two sides, but they have 44 days to get something done before the opener.
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