Players, owners still divided on schedule
FRI, FEB 4
4:08 PM CST
I was fortunate enough to be in the room Thursday when DeMaurice Smith
, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association, took some time to speak -- off the record, of course -- with members of the Professional Football Writers of America, of which I am a member.
I was also fortunate enough to be in the room Friday when Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, gave his state of the union-like address -- all of which was on the record -- in front of everyone from the media to the owners to the clean-up crew at the Sheraton Dallas.
Here's what I took away from both of those meetings: Aside from the almighty dollar, the biggest sticking point in the negotiation process for a new collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners is the implementation of an 18-game schedule. The players don't want it. The owners do. And since I believe the owners have most of the leverage at this point, I see it eventually happening and in place as early as the 2011 season.
Thursday, Smith was asked if there was a price tag placed on his players capitulating and accepting an 18-game schedule. His short answer: No. The risks involved are too high, so their respective careers -- and, most importantly, their earning potential -- will inevitably become even shorter than they are, which is already the shortest on average of all the major sports in this country.
Friday, Goodell said an 18-game schedule isn't that significant of a change since the league would still be sticking with 20 games total.
"We started this with the fans," Goodell said. "The fans have clearly stated that they don’t like the quality of our preseason. As
you know, our structure is a 20-game format. We have four preseason games and 16 regular-season games. Repeatedly, the fans have said the quality of the preseason doesn’t meet NFL standards. That is one of the bases on which we started to look at the 18-and-two concept, by taking two of those low-quality, non-competitive games and turn those into quality, competitive games that the fans want to see, they want to support."
Personally I would love to see two preseason games and 16 regular-season games, but no way would the owners agree to giving away a game day -- preseason or not, it's worth a fortune -- and all the receipts that come along with it.
"I talk to fans all the time," Goodell continued. "I get that feedback from them, including season-ticket holders who are the ones who are going to those preseason games and paying for those preseason games. I feel an obligation to make sure we are doing the best we can to present the best football, and that includes [asking] how do we make the preseason as effective as possible and the regular season as effective as possible, and I believe we are on the right track to get that done.”
What Goodell failed to mention is the fact that the stress involved with preseason games vs. regular-season games isn't comparable. Starters aren't asked to play a full four quarters during the exhibition slate since the results don't matter, so there is less of a physical toll demanded from the body. Two more regular-season games means two more weeks of full-speed violence that counts, do-or-die game-planning that counts, up-all-night film work that counts -- I could go on forever.
I have talked to many players about the prospects of an 18-game season, and so far not one of them has been in favor it. One Lions player, as a matter of fact, said he’d rather play one game every season in another country -- the league wants to globalize, after all -- than extend the portion of the schedule that means something by 12.5 percent.
So if the impasse between players and owners lasts well into the summer and begins to threaten 2011 altogether, aside from how the big bag of money actually gets divvied up, 16 games vs. 18 games is likely the issue that can’t get resolved.
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Lions, visit RoarReport.com
Polamalu great, but don't forget Collins
THU, FEB 3
12:41 PM CST
S LeRoy Butler
Obviously, and not just because he was recently named Defensive Player of the Year, safety Troy Polamalu
has been getting as much attention as any Steeler not hiding behind Ben Roethlisberger
’s Zach Galifianakis
-like beard this week in Dallas.
But there is another Pro Bowl safety scheduled to be in the starting lineup Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, Green Bay’s Nick Collins, yet his presence in Big D has been borderline anonymous to this point.
Hanging out Thursday on Radio Row, former Packers safety LeRoy Butler believes Polamalu and Collins do have one trait in common, and that’s a natural inclination to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. Butler himself was a little more outspoken during his time as a four-time All-Pro selection.
“That’s the reason why me and [Packers general manager] Ted Thompson wanted [Collins] to wear my number (36),” said Butler, “so he could get the recognition. But he’s such a humble, quiet guy that, I don’t know, do I want him to be more brash? I want him to be himself.”
Most of the NFL world got introduced to Collins in 2008, when he intercepted seven passes and returned three of them for touchdowns. This season he was credited with 70 tackles and four INTs, plus he scored another defensive TD on a fumble return.
“He’s a playmaker,” Butler said. “He’s made the Pro Bowl three years in a row. He does it the right way, and he’s a center fielder. He doesn’t play the way I played -- down front, blitzing. He didn’t do any of that. He can do it, but he’s kind of the safety valve of the team. He’s the smartest guy out there and they want him to make sure everybody’s lined up. And when he’s called upon, he makes plays.”
According to Butler, Polamalu’s ability to toe the line between disciplined and reckless in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s scheme is what makes him so special.
“They can have Cover 2 called in the huddle,” he said, “and [Polamalu] will just take off and run. And if he makes a play, who cares? That’s what it’s all about. So a lot of the people say it’s a lot of guessing game. He guesses right a lot. But as long as he’s right, who cares?”
As for Butler nowadays, he made an effort to get into coaching, but he says low-level assistants need to be another coach’s “stepbrother” to get that first opportunity. A lack of experience has been his biggest hurdle to jump. By his own admission, he simply does not have the patience to start at the high school level.
Nevertheless, Butler thinks the experience excuse is just that -- an excuse.
“How much #@$%&*! experience do you need to tell that guy to get deep on Cover 2?”
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Packers, visit PackerReport.com
Okoye a big believer in two-back system
WED, FEB 2
2:27 PM CST
RB Christian Okoye
Owner of one of the most memorable -- most fitting, too -- nicknames in football history, “The Nigerian Nightmare,” Christian Okoye
was a bruising force as a running back during his six-year stint with the Chiefs.
“I never thought about it,” Okoye said Wednesday when asked about other great monikers in the game. “I just like to watch guys, [Vikings running back] Adrian Peterson mostly. To watch him play, he’s a great joy to watch.”
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, and one of only two NFL players ever from Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, Okoye came to Kansas City in 1987 at the age of 26. By 1989, he led the league in carries (370) and yards rushing (1,480), earning the first of two Pro Bowl berths and his lone All-Pro selection. At 6-1 and 253 pounds, he was one of the most intimidating featured backs to lace 'em up, not to mention one of the toughest to tackle.
However, his career was over by 1992, as his body simply couldn’t take the pounding anymore. The 370 rushes he logged in 1989 were 36 more than anyone in the NFL received this season -- Michael Turner of the Falcons had 334. Okoye even missed a game that year.
Because defenders are bigger, faster and stronger than ever, making it all the more difficult for any ball carrier to get through a season of 20-plus attempts week after week, many clubs have started to employ a two-back approach. Okoye’s former team was wildly productive on the ground in 2010, with youngster Jamaal Charles (230 carries) and veteran Thomas Jones (245) sharing the load.
While some may have figured Okoye would have been angry when Barry Word came to the Chiefs in 1990 and started taking away some of his touches, Okoye was actually in favor of the move and said Word’s presence extended his own relatively short career another two years.
“It has to be that way,” he said, “because running backs, we take a lot of abuse on the field. So you have to have somebody come in and help you out. You can’t just have one player take all the abuse, because if you do that, that player is not going to last. And then, if anything happens during the course of the season, then the team is going to hurt. So you need to have one or two other guys behind him to come in and share the blows.”
Okoye is making the rounds in Dallas this week promoting Past Pain, an organization that donated $2.2 million worth of surgical procedures to former professional athletes last year alone. The artist formerly known as the Nigerian Nightmare currently lives with 16 screws and two bars in his neck, courtesy of Past Pain.
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Chiefs, visit WarpaintIllustrated.com
Dukes: Draft key to Super Bowl success
TUE, FEB 1
2:36 PM CST
If you look at the Packers and Steelers, two teams with nine Super Bowl titles between them and going for their fourth and seventh, respectively, they go about building their roster the same way.
“What they do is they draft,” said Jamie Dukes, an analyst for NFL Network and 10-year league veteran, Tuesday at Media Day. “They draft everything in house, and they seasoned with a little free agency. A lot of other teams are trying to build it with free agency, and they don’t have the formula right. You’ve got to get these draft choices right, and it’s not just the first and second. It’s the fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round picks.”
Green Bay’s high-powered offense could very well be stifled by Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked defense in terms of points allowed. And then when the Steelers have the ball, the Packers are equally capable of tearing apart any offensive attack. Super Bowl XLV may come down to special teams, where the Pack have been suspect -- they surrendered a 102-yard touchdown to Eric Weems on a kick return in their 48-21 divisional-round victory at Atlanta -- at times in most phases of the kicking game.
Dukes, however, doesn’t see Steel City being able to take advantage of that weakness because return man Antwaan Randle El is 31 years old and not nearly as dangerous as he used to be.
“There’s no spring in those legs,” said Dukes. “From Pittsburgh’s perspective, they do a good job covering. I don’t see an edge there because there’s not necessarily an explosive player that’s returning the ball, and so that’s the reason why I think they’re a wash.”
If any of the gamblers out there want to put a few buttons down on a below-the-radar MVP for Sunday’s tilt at Cowboys Stadium, Dukes is looking to either the Green Bay secondary or the Pittsburgh backfield.
“Charlie Peprah probably could be that guy for the Packers, picking a ball off, taking an opportunity to get a shot,” he said. “For the Steelers, a guy that I still think that goes under the radar is Rashard Mendenhall. He’s done a great job, ran hard. He was the star of the show in [the AFC Championship Game], what he did.”
When all is said and done, as is usually the case in the NFL, especially for ex-offensive linemen, Dukes believes the Vince Lombardi Trophy will likely be awarded to the team that keeps its passer upright in the pocket most often.
“This is all about who is able to pick up the blitz, who does the best job of protecting the quarterback,” he said, “and that’s where it is at the end of the game.”
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Steelers, visit SteelCityInsider.com
Decker a Packer Backer for Super Bowl
TUE, FEB 1
12:02 PM CST
Tuesday of Super Bowl week is Media Day, which every year is less about the players up in the interview booths and more about the non-stop spectacle on the sideline down below.
Doing some work for “Entertainment Tonight” was none other than Brooklyn Decker, otherwise known as Mrs. Andy Roddick, otherwise known as the cover girl for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, otherwise known as clear evidence that God does indeed exist.
While Decker’s journalism skills need a bit of work, as she spent the majority of her time asking members of the Packers to name all of the Kardashian sisters, she did grow up a Panthers fan as a kid in Charlotte and knows her football.
“Yeah, I’m a very big football fan,” said Decker. “I was actually in school when Carolina started the franchise [in 1995]. Unfortunately, though, it’s not been a good couple of seasons, but I’m a big Carolina fan.”
She is an international supermodel, so she doesn’t spend as much time at home as the typical professional athlete’s wife, and with her husband the No. 8 tennis player in the world right now according to the ATP, one can’t help but wonder how many days per year Decker and Roddick actually spend together.
That’s what one sports writer in particular is wondering while typing this sentence, as a matter of fact.
“There’s lots of ESPN, 'SportsCenter,' FOX Sports on in the house,” she said. “There’s lots of sports on all the time. Lots of traveling. It’s fun. It’s fun to travel when you’re young. It’s actually quite fun.”
While Decker surely spends more time wearing a two-piece bikini in Barbados than a one-piece Aaron Rodgers jersey in Wisconsin, she’s picking Green Bay to win Super Bowl XLV.
“I’m going for the Packers,” she said. “I’m going for the Packers. They’re favored by three still, right? They’re still favored by three, which surprises me. I thought the Steelers would be the favorite, but I’m going with the Packers. I’ve seen the Steelers win it before.”
I’m sorry, Brooklyn. What were you saying? My mind was in Barbados.
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Packers, visit PackerReport.com
Fiscal smarts key throughout CBA strife
MON, JAN 31
1:51 PM CST
LB Lance Briggs
While Super Bowl week is a time to celebrate the NFL and the behemoth it’s become in 2011, next season is far from a guarantee at this point because of the state of the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners.
A lockout this coming offseason is all but inevitable, and negotiations between the two sides haven’t generated much progress. With the NFL as powerful as it’s ever been, both in terms of popularity among fans and dollars put in the pockets of everyone involved, certainly cooler heads will prevail and a new deal gets done.
Maybe, maybe not. In the meantime, players would be wise to cut out any unnecessary spending and save as much money as possible. Less Cristal, more Korbel.
In Dallas prior to Super Bowl XLV, four players -- Bears linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte; Cowboys running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice -- are preaching the message of financial responsibility to local high school students.
Naturally, considering the attention span of your average high schooler these days, the best way to do that is with a video game.
Financial Football is a Madden-like battle between two competitors, with the offensive team trying to advance down the field by answering money-related questions. “Short run” questions, naturally, are easier than “hard pass” questions, with correct answers resulting in successful plays being run. But if the players on offense get the question wrong, the players on defense can then answer correctly and, say, sack the opposing quarterback for a loss.
Briggs, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract in 2008, made sure to take care of his family when he was a rookie but admitted to some over-indulgent decisions along the way.
“I can tell you a purchase that I did make that was great: The first thing that I did when I got my money was I bought my mom a big home in Sacramento,” he said. “I bought her her dream car. She always wanted a Corvette. Outside of that, things I spent on myself, it was all pretty much material. It was a lot of material stuff, so you can go down the list of financial decisions that I made wrong.”
Forte, on the other hand, majored in finance in college and didn’t fall into some of the same traps that his teammate did earlier in his career, and he’s prepared if the CBA evolves into a worst-case-scenario situation: no football -- and no paychecks -- for a year in the prime of his time as an earner.
“I haven’t made the money that some of the other veterans have made,” he said, “but I’ve made some good money. I don’t live above my means, I would say. I don’t go out buying a bunch of jewelry and a bunch of cars and different stuff just because I can. I have enough money to hold me for a lockout.”
By the way, Forte and Briggs’ Bears tied Jones and Choice’s Cowboys 8-8 in their game of Financial Football, with the Cowboys missing a field goal on the last play of regulation -- they failed to answer a question about credit cards correctly.
For all the news, notes and quotes on the Bears, visit BearReport.com
|John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|