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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process

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Every year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, 44 men and women gather in the host city and determine the members of the next class of Hall of Famers.

Typically, the panel considers 15 modern-era candidates, which systemically is whittled down to five finalists for an up-or-down vote.  The voters also consider two previously-determined finalists determined by the Seniors Committee, which comes up with two players who, for whatever reason, were passed over during past sessions.

In the end, as few as four and as many as seven secure admission to Canton.

Every year, complaints inevitably arise regarding the persons who make it and those who don’t.  At times, those complaints are aimed at the process.  Usually, the debate fizzles by the next day, when the Super Bowl starts.

This year, largely through the efforts of Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com, the criticism has lingered.  The fact that Whitlock’s opinions have sparked a pointed response from two of the voters has served only to give the discussion ongoing life.

Though some of the voters who perhaps feel a threat to their fiefdom may not like it, any effort to consider whether the process can be improved represents a valuable expenditure of time and effort.  In this vein, we now offer 10 specific ideas for improving the procedure for determining who gets in, and who’s left out of, the Hall of Fame.

1.  Expand the panel.

The panel currently consists only of media members, some of whom are unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.  One voter is assigned for each team, even if the voter has no specific jurisdiction over that team.  For example, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange holds the vote that corresponds to the Falcons, even though he hasn’t focused his efforts on that team for years.  Ditto for David Elfin, the Redskins’ representative who no longer works for a Washington-focused publication.  Others, like Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had limited experience covering the NFL but was the only guy at the only paper in the town in which the team is headquartered.

That’s not a knock on Joe, whom we know and like.  But, surely, he’ll acknowledge that he had limited experience covering the NFL when he got the assignment.  Before inheriting the Bengals beat from Mark Curnutte in 2009, Reedy previously covered the Jets for two years (1997 and 1998) at the Post-Star in Glen Falls, New York and the Jaguars for one year (1999) at the Gainesville Sun.  Many would contend that three relatively distant years at non-first-tier publications shouldn’t be enough to secure 2.27 percent of the say as to who makes it to Canton.

The panel also includes one representative of the Professional Football Writers Association and 11 at-large media members.  That’s 44 total voters.

The panel, put simply, is too small.  (And, trust me, I’m not saying that because I’m angling for a seat at the table.  I don’t want one, I don’t expect to ever be offered one — especially after writing this article — and I wouldn’t have the time to do the assignment justice unless and until I become unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.)  Because the human beings who comprise the panel are subject to the same human factors that influence us consciously or otherwise, one way to neutralize those realities is to involve more voters.

As explained below, that doesn’t mean more media members.  To enjoy the full faith and confidence of football fans, the process needs more voices, more perspectives, and less power in the hands of any one voter.

Many of the persons who hold these votes take great pride in the assignment.  As a result, they naturally will be inclined to resist any changes that will make the achievement less significant, such as adding significantly more people to the process.

Regardless, significantly more people need to be added to the process.

2.  Overhaul the Board of Trustees.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is governed by a Board of Trustees.  Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  (One name is recognizable but curiously out of place. ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, whose bailiwick is college football, has a seat on the Board of Trustees.)

There is also a cluster of persons with no connection to the NFL, but who hold positions of prominence in and around Canton, Ohio, the geographic location of the Hall of Fame.

With all due respect to those Canton-area businesspeople, it makes no sense for the policies and procedures of the Hall of Fame to be set by folks whose biggest contribution to the process is the ability to show up for meetings without incurring travel expenses.  Though it makes sense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to seek the support and involvement of the Canton business community, the Board of Trustees should be composed of folks who have a direct role in the game and who have the best interests of the game at all times in mind.

To the extent that there are some Canton-area businesspeople who have a direct role in the game, such as Packers great and successful Akron businessman Dave Robinson, they should have a seat at the table.  We also realize that some members of the Board of Trustees are instrumental in organizing the events that surround each year’s enshrinement ceremony.  But most of the persons who are setting policy for the Hall of Fame should have names that ardent fans and followers of the sport instantly recognize.

Currently, it’s roughly a 50-50 split.  That needs to change.

3.  Change the bylaws.

The Board of Trustees ultimately determine the contents of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws.  All too often, members of the panel who are faced with criticism of the selection process instantly explain that their hands are tied by the bylaws.

So change the bylaws.

Every year, the NFL changes multiple rules in the hopes of making the game better.  In the past half-decade, the only meaningful change to the bylaws occurred when the modern-era finalists were increased from 13 to 15.

The bylaws shouldn’t be used as a shield for avoiding change, but as a sword for implementing it.  All too often, the bylaws become an excuse for the status quo, not the impetus for improvement.  For that reason alone, the powers-that-be need to be willing and able on an annual basis (or more often) to look for ways to improve the rules that govern the selection process.

4.  Include Hall of Famers.

Every year, the winner of the Heisman Trophy acquires the ability to vote on all future winners of the award.  The logic is simple, and undeniable.  Winning the Heisman represents membership in an exclusive club, and the men who have won it should have a say in who gets it.

The argument applies even more strongly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden believes that the busts talk to each other at night.  If they do, the first comment when a new crop joins them shouldn’t be, “Who in the hell let that guy in?”

They say it takes one to know one, and a Hall of Famer is in the best position to know another Hall of Famer.  Though giving Hall of Famers votes would introduce the possibility of biases and prejudices, those factors surely apply from time to time (or, as the case may be, every year) to the 44 men and women who currently have the keys to Canton, especially when players who earn a reputation for being hard on the media seem to have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.

The only requirement?  To vote, the Hall of Famer must attend the meeting.  No proxies or absentee ballots.  If they show up, they get a say in the process.

5.  Include coaches and other established football minds.

In responding to Jason Whitlock’s column calling for change, Bob Gretz argued that “Rick Gosselin has forgotten more football in a week than Whitlock has known in his life.”  That same observation likely applies to many of the folks currently on the selection committee.

And that observation probably would apply to all of them if, say, guys like Joe Gibbs or Ron Wolf or Bill Parcells or Chuck Noll were in the room.

So why not give people who have devoted their careers to coaching football and/or running football teams a direct say in who should and shouldn’t land in the Hall of Fame?  For those not already in the Hall of Fame, they’d have to forfeit their own eligibility for the Hall until two years after leaving the committee.

Frankly, those folks are far better suited to picking the new members of the Hall of Fame than pretty much everyone on the selection committee as its currently constituted.

6.  Categorize the candidates.

Every year, the finalists are thrown into a vat regardless of the position they played, with the new members of the Hall emerging from a stew that can’t distinguish between pancake blocks and pick-sixes.  It would make more sense to allow one new member per year from each of the various positions on the field:  quarterback, running back, receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and coach/G.M./contributor.

The finalists would be determined by position, with the list of candidates trimmed to three-to-five before the selection meeting, and with no requirement that a person be admitted from each position group.

This would expand the potential maximum size of the class from seven to eight, but the high-water mark of seven per year has been in place since 1964, the year after the charter class was inducted.  At the time, the NFL and AFL had only 22 teams.

Today, the NFL has 32 franchises, as a result of the addition of two in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, two in 1976, two in 1995, one in 1999, and one in 2002.  Moving the maximum annual class from seven to eight in light of the growth of the league isn’t simply justified, it’s overdue.

7.  Scuttle the Senior Committee.

The Senior Committee serves the purpose of allowing the selection committee to revisit two players from past seasons who fell through the cracks.  In other words, it gives the selection committee to right past wrongs.  By improving the selection process, there would be no reason to clean up past messes by devoting two of seven annual spots to guys who failed to get in when competing directly with their peers.

In his response to Jason Whitlock’s criticisms, Bob Gretz unwittingly proved our point.

Gretz explained that, ever year, a pair of Hall of Famers join the Seniors Committee to assist in the process of whittling down the previously overlooked players to two finalists, who seem to almost always get in.  For the 2011 class, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham and Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders worked with the Seniors Committee.

Ham, per Gretz, made a strong case for linebacker Chris Hanburger.

“Ham told the group that when he went to the Steelers in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Penn State, the Pittsburgh coaches gave him film of Hanburger to study,” Gretz writes.  “There was no doubt in Ham’s mind that Hanburger was a legitimate candidate.  Whose word are your going to take on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or Jason Whitlock?”

Gretz essentially is admitting that the selection committee screwed up by not putting Hanburger in the Hall years earlier.  With the involvement on the selection committee of guys like Hall of Famer Jack Ham convinced that Hanburger should get in, that wouldn’t have happened.

In other words, if Ham and the other Hall of Famers had a seat at the table, perhaps Hanburger wouldn’t have been erroneously passed over.

After all, whose word should the Hall of Fame been taking on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or any member of the media?

8.  Embrace transparency.

Though many voters seek refuge in the bylaws and regard them as if they’d been etched onto stone tablets by the hand of God, many also will acknowledge the validity of Whitlock’s complaint that the process unfolds in secrecy.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who has nothing but the best interests of the process in mind (and I say that not because he’s a friend and a colleague but because I’ve spent enough time around him to know that’s who he is and how he operates), would welcome transparency.

I’d be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn’t want us to do,” King wrote in his February 7 Monday Morning Quarterback column.  “The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn’t vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it’s incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we’re going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.”

If one of the most respected members of the NFL media believes that the process should be more transparent, then it’s fair to say that the process should be more transparent.  With an expanded panel of voters, anyone who covers the team on which a player played most or all of his career could abstain from voting, thereby addressing the biggest concern that King raised.

9.  Involve the NFL.

As mentioned above, the Commissioner and various owners occupy seats on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.  But the NFL should be even more involved than that.

Though it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s essentially the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NFL should be in position to propose changes to bylaws and initiate procedural enhancements aimed at improving the process of determining each class of enshrinees.

One change the NFL would likely make relates to the consideration of off-field conduct.  Currently forbidden by the bylaws, the reality is that plenty of voters consider the things a candidate did when not playing football, especially in close cases.  The bylaws, then, should change to reflect the reality of the process.

If the NFL is the perpetual custodian of the highest levels of the sport, the NFL should have much greater involvement in and dominion over the museum that celebrates those who made the biggest impact on the game.

10.  Commit to continuous improvement and change.

Most of the criticisms of the current selection process arise from a perception that the system is stale and stagnant, in large part because change doesn’t happen often and doesn’t seem welcome.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly explains that the league constantly must look for ways to enhance and improve the game.  That same attitude must infect, and overtake, the Hall of Fame.

So many things about the selection process need to be changed because so little change has happened in the 48 years since the Hall of Fame opened.  Egos and agendas and pride and any other factor that stands in the way of change needs to be set aside, and folks need to look for ways to make the process better, and ultimately more fair.

We’re not advocating change for the sake of change.  But in this case there has been little or no change.  Changes need to be made, and then the Hall of Fame needs to be willing to consider future change without external calls for it.

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Conference championship ratings almost certainly will drop

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23:  A woman walks in blizzard-like conditions on January 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Northeast and parts of the South are experiencing heavy snow and ice from a slow moving winter storm. Numerous deaths from traffic accidents have already been reported as the storm makes its way up the coast.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The apples-to-apples comparison of last year’s conference championship games to this year’s conference championship games will be hampered by one major difference between the broader circumstances from this same weekend from 12 months ago.

Last year at this time, much of the northeast was buried in snow after a blizzard hit on Friday and Saturday, the two days before the AFC and NFC title games. So with millions snowed in, millions tuned in.

On average, 53.3 million watched the Patriots-Broncos game, which went down to the wire. The Cardinals-Panthers game, which was a blowout, averaged 45.7 million.

This year, with no snow and seasonably warm temperatures throughout much of the country, it will be very difficult for Packers-Falcons and Steelers-Patriots to match those numbers, no matter how compelling the games are.

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Jim Irsay: Peyton Manning won’t be joining the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07:  Peyton Manning (L) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay hug during a press conference announcing that the Colts will release Manning at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on March 7, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts owner Jim Irsay finally has done that which seemed quite possible if not likely three weeks ago: He has fired G.M. Ryan Grigson.

At a press conference to announce the move, Irsay said that Peyton Manning will not be joining the team as the G.M. But Irsay may have taken his position on Peyton Manning a bit too far by claiming that Manning and Jon Gruden joining the team was “never in the cards.”

Multiple reports indicated that Irsay tried to woo Gruden and Manning as a package deal. The two men are close friends (it’s not quite The Odd Couple, but it’s close), and the goal was to get both of them. If those reports were all #fakenews, Irsay should have shot them down days ago.

Irsay said he has a list of G.M. candidates, that it could expand, and that he’ll interview current Colts executive Jimmy Raye III for the job. (I think Irsay knows who he’ll hire, but he’s trying to ensure the perception of a full and fair search.)

As to coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay explained that Pagano will be back for 2017, but it’s obvious he’ll be on the hot seat — especially if the new G.M. comes from outside the organization. Every coach wants his own quarterback and every G.M. wants his own coach, and half-measures of this kind rarely work.

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Blandino explains accuracy of Chiefs holding call

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Side Judge Carl Cheffers #51 listens in as the officials discuss a play during the game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears on September 12, 2004 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The outrage over the holding call that wiped out what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion last Sunday night in Kansas City was entertaining but, ultimately, not accurate. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher held Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

In his weekly officiating video, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed the accuracy of the call made by referee Carl Cheffers, whose assignment on such plays when positioned on the right side of the quarterback includes watching the interaction between the left tackle and the man he’s blocking.

“We talk about position, body position,” Blandino said. “We talk about feet. If the blocker can maintain good feet and he can maintain position in front of the defender and if he can stay square to the defender and he can continue to move his feet, we’re not gonna have a foul for holding. If the defender gets outside his feet and the blocker has to reach, now he reaches with his left arm across the body of the defender and he’s gonna grab . .  on the jersey. When we see that, now we have to look for restriction. Does he materially affect the defender’s ability to get to the ball carrier?”

The foul occurred when Harrison tried to break free from Fisher, and when Fisher knocked Harrison down.

“The other factor, we have a rip . . . technique,” Blandino said. “Where the defender’s gonna bring his arm under the arm of the blocker, try to gain leverage, and get through to the quarterback. When there’s a rip, there’s no foul for holding unless the defender’s feet are taken away. And you can see clearly the defender’s feet are gonna be taken away as he’s taken to the ground.”

The explanation is useful, but the simpler point is that it looks like holding, clearly and unmistakably. So while it was surely disappointing for the Chiefs to have two critical points taken from the board in the closing minutes of an elimination game, the foul occurred — and kudos to Cheffers for having the will to throw the flag at a time when plenty of officials take a “let them play” approach, which essentially means when obvious fouls aren’t called, “Let them cheat.”

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With three receivers hurt, Packers call one up from practice squad

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 28: Max McCaffrey #87 of the Duke Blue Devils stiff-arms Zach Dancel #9 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 28, 2015 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packer have called in reinforcements for their ailing receiving corps.

Max McCaffrey, a rookie receiver who has yet to play in an NFL game, has been promoted from the Packers’ practice squad to their active roster. That means he could play tomorrow in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons.

Three Packers receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — are questionable for the game Nelson is dealing with an illness and broken ribs, Adams has an ankle injury and Allison has a hamstring injury.

McCaffrey signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL draft but did was cut at the end of the preseason. The Packers signed him to their practice squad in December. A three-year starter at Duke, McCaffrey is the son of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey and the older brother of potential 2017 first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey.

To make room for McCaffrey on the 53-player roster, the Packers placed offensive lineman JC Tretter on injured reserve.

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Pat McAfee celebrates the firing of Ryan Grigson, apparently

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 24:  Pat McAfee #1 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after throwing a first down pass on a trick play during the second quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re wondering what Colts players think about the decision to fire G.M. Ryan Grigson, look no farther than the Twitter page of Colts punter Pat McAfee.

Thank God,” he tweeted not long after the news broke. He then followed it with an observation that “‘Unwarranted Arrogance’ just ran into a brick wall called karma.”

After Indianapolis radio personality and former college basketball coach Dan Dakich sneered at these observations from “the punter,” McAfee removed any doubt that he was talking about Grigson: “‘All Pro punter’ please and thank you.. also someone who has seen your best friend treat humans absolutely horrendously for 5 years.”

It’s stunning stuff from McAfee, but I’ll take honesty over robotic Foxboro cliches any day. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether any teammates join in the chorus or publicly dispute McAfee’s views about Grigson.

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What’s Jim Irsay’s next move? Presumably, he already knows

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  Jim Irsay Owner of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates their 30-17 victory of the New York Jets during the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation after the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Nearly three weeks after the Colts’ season ended and a full week after it became obvious that owner Jim Irsay was courting Peyton Manning to run the team and Jon Gruden to coach it, Irsay finally has made a move.

With Irsay expected to announce that G.M. Ryan Grigson has been fired, the question becomes what will be Irsay’s next move?

Presumably, he already knows. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s good because it means Irsay has achieved his obvious goal of landing an upgrade before dumping Grigson. It’s bad because it means that Irsay could have a hard time complying with the Rooney Rule, if it’s widely believed that Irsay already knows who he is going to hire.

For that reason alone, don’t expect Irsay to name a successor — unless he has pre-complied with the Rooney Rule. Which would mean that he has been interviewing candidates while Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano have been hanging out to dry.

Grigson has three years left on his contract, which means he’ll be paid by Irsay minus whatever he makes elsewhere. And “elsewhere” could potentially be a return to the Eagles front office, where Grigson worked before being hired by the Colts.

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Colts fire Ryan Grigson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 16: General manager Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during a rookie minicamp at the team complex on May 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

After five seasons and little progress, Ryan Grigson is out as the General Manager of the Colts.

Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson today, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. The Colts have announced that Irsay will speak to the media later this afternoon, but they have not confirmed that Grigson is out.

It has been widely reported that Irsay would love to change the structure of his front office and work out a deal to put Peyton Manning in charge. It is unclear if firing Grigson is a step toward hiring Manning, or whether Irsay just decided to can Grigson and start searching for a new G.M. now.

It is also unclear whether head coach Chuck Pagano’s job is safe.

The Colts will now get a very late start on the offseason, as most teams have their front office personnel in place and are already making preparations for free agency and the draft. But Grigson had ample opportunity to build a team around Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, and he failed to do so. As a result, he’s out.

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Brady, Eli, Peyton have identical postseason passer ratings

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady AP

Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have decidedly different reputations for playoff performance, and yet their postseason statistics are strikingly similar.

In fact, heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Brady has a career postseason passer rating of 87.4. That happens to be exactly the same career postseason passer rating as both Manning brothers.

The three players are tied for 15th in NFL history in career postseason passer rating.

Brady is often described as the most “clutch” passer in NFL history, Peyton is often described as the greatest regular-season passer but largely a postseason disappointment, and Eli is often described as a player who has delivered his best performances in the biggest games. There may be less to that than meets the eye, however: We remember Brady as having a great playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri makes it, while we remember Peyton as having a bad playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Mike Vanderjagt missed it.

As far as the NFL’s official passer rating stat is concerned, the three are equals in the postseason.

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Packers add Christine Michael to injury report

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Christine Michael #32 of the Green Bay Packers fends off a tackle attempt by Romeo Okwara #78 of the New York Giants in the third quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have added running back Christine Michael to their injury report.

The team lists Michael as questionable for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game due to a back injury.

On Friday the Packers listed three wide receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — as questionable. There were no changes announced Saturday, so all three presumably made the trip to Atlanta and will be given a chance to play, as coach Mike McCarthy said they would.

Nelson had been away from the team on Friday due to illness. He didn’t play last week because he’s dealing with broken ribs.

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Bill Belichick going for postseason win No. 25

belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is already the all-time leader in career postseason victories, and so each time he wins it sets a new record, and it hardly even seems worth mentioning.

But Belichick is going for a milestone win on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game: No. 25.

Belichick is 24-10 in the postseason as a head coach, putting him four wins ahead of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry for the most ever. Belichick got his first postseason win with the Browns in 1994, and has added 23 more with the Patriots.

If the Patriots beat the Steelers tomorrow to advance to Super Bowl LI, the Super Bowl will be Belichick’s 36th postseason game coached, which will move him into a three-way tie with Landry and Don Shula for the most postseason games ever. Those three coaches are far ahead of the rest of the pack; Chuck Noll is a distant fourth with 24 postseason games coached.

A win tomorrow would also improve Belichick’s career postseason winning percentage to .714, which would allow him to leapfrog Joe Gibbs and tie Bill Walsh for the highest postseason winning percentage among coaches who coached at least 10 postseason games. Only Vince Lombardi (9-1) and Tom Flores (8-3) have better postseason winning percentages.

Belichick’s place in Canton is already assured, but with each postseason game he’s making a stronger case that he’s the greatest coach in NFL history.

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Family connection helped Rams lure Wade Phillips from Denver

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans waits on the sideline during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Broncos coach Vance Joseph hoped to retain defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. New Rams coach Sean McVay lured Phillips to Los Angeles.

So how did McVay pull it off? He explained the coordinator coup during a visit to Friday’s PFT Live.

“The one unfortunate part of this business is you don’t get a chance to see your family as much as you’d like, and he has a daughter that lives out in the L.A. area,” McVay said regarding Phillips. “Then being fortunate enough to work with Wes, his son, the last couple years in Washington. We’ve developed a really close relationship; I consider him one of my closest friends in this profession and really just in life in general. [I’ve] gotten to know Wade a little bit better through that, and I’ve always admired his career from afar. I think his resume speaks for itself, so just those different connections . . . and it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got some pretty good players that you’ll get a chance to come in and coach right away.”

The Rams definitely have some good defensive players. It may not yet be as potent as the Broncos defense, but it’s good enough to help the team turn things around — especially if McVay can fix an offense that currently has a lot more in common with the Greatest Show on Earth than the Greatest Show on Turf.

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Enforcement of illegal substitution rule doesn’t match its language

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 20:   Brice Butler #19 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after catching a pass during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys receiver Brice Butler’s NFL career may not last very long, but at least his name will be attached to an obscure rule, at least until the next time the rule is applied. It’s quite possible that the rule wasn’t applied correctly as to Butler.

NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained in his weekly officiating video the quirk that saw the Cowboys penalized 15 yards after Butler entered and exited the huddle area without participating in a snap last Sunday against the Packers. Blandino said that the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler Rule is aimed at preventing teams from deliberately fooling opponents by sending players on and off the field. Blandino admitted that the officials have discretion in this regard, when for example a team facing fourth and short initially decides to punt and then sends the offense back onto the field.

Blandino added that the rule has been on the books since the 1950s, and that it was last called in 2014 during a game between Washington and Dallas. (The NFL’s excellent Game Pass feature includes the Week Eight Washington at Dallas game, but neither the broadcast footage nor the coaches film show what Washington tight end Logan Paulsen did before the snap to draw a 15-yard penalty.)

Blandino’s explanation was reasonable, and it all makes sense. But it seems to conflict with the plain language of the rule book.

“The rule is pretty straightforward in terms of the way it reads,” Blandino said. “It says an offensive substitute who moves onto the field inside the numbers and leaves without participating in one play, that’s a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s a second part of the rule that talks about coming into the huddle and communicating with a teammate and then leaving, but really once a player’s inside the numbers and then leaves but doesn’t participate that’s going to be the foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Here’s the full language of Rule 5, Section 2, Article 2:

“The following are applicable to any offensive substitute who is entering the game:

“(a) He must move onto the field of play or the end zone as far as the inside of the field numerals prior to the snap to be a legal substitution. If he does not, and is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap, he is an illegal substitute.

“(b) If he approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate, he is required to participate in at least one play before being withdrawn. Violations of this rule may be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The first part of the rule seems to apply only where the substitute tries to sneak onto the fringe of the field. Moreover, the foul under the first part of the rule arises only if the player “is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap.” Thus, because Butler’s foul had nothing to do with being on the field at the time of the snap, the first part of the rule simply doesn’t apply.

The second part of the rule becomes the focal point of the analysis. By its plain terms, a violation occurs only if the player “approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate” but doesn’t participate in at least one play.

The video included with Blandino’s explanation doesn’t show Butler communicating with a teammate — unless slapping the hand of the player who was exiting as Butler was entering counts as communication. Instead, Butler enters the huddle area, immediately turns to the sideline, realizes he shouldn’t be in the game, and then leaves. (That fact that Blandino glossed over the second part of the rule seems to confirm that he doesn’t believe that there is evidence of “communication” with a teammate.)

The discretion to which Blandino referred is codified in a note to the rule that explains the overall intention “to prevent teams from using simulated substitutions to confuse an opponent.” The question of whether discretion should be exercised if relevant, however, only if the two key elements of the violation have occurred: (1) the player has approached the huddle; AND (2) the player has communicated with a teammate.” If the player approaches the huddle and doesn’t communicate with a teammate, there’s no reason to exercise discretion because a potential violation has not occurred.

So, based on the language of the rule, there was no foul absent proof that Butler communicated with a teammate once he arrived at the huddle. If there is no such evidence, it’s entirely possible that this is yet another example of a discrepancy between the rules as written and the rules as enforced.

If that’s the case, the rule needs to be rewritten to match the enforcement, or the enforcement needs to be changed to respect the language of the rule.

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Spring League invites Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Vince Young

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 20: Defensive lineman Brandon Mebane #92 of the Seattle Seahawks sacks quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns during the first half of play at CenturyLink Field on December 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 30-13. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) Getty Images

There’s never a shortage of eventually-failed football leagues, and with two of them angling to join the list of ventures that will later pull the plug, they’re both trying to stand out for at least a little while, before the inevitable demise.

The new Spring League, which received some advance notoriety when the #fakenews of NFL involvement emerged last month, has found another way to make a headline. Via Rob Maadi of the Associated Press, Spring League CEO Brian Woods explained that the door is open for big-name players who want to get back to the NFL.

“If Johnny Manziel is serious about a future in the NFL, the Spring League is willing to provide him with a platform to prove he’s still relevant,” Woods said. (The kids and/or the adults who want to seem cool would call that throwing shade.)

Woods also mentioned Ray Rice and Vince Young as potential additional to the upstart league. Even though the goal is to employ players in their mid-20s, the Spring League realizes that any publicity is good publicity, when it comes to staving off what surely will happen within the first three or four years of the league’s launch.

Former NFL players who already have signed up for the Spring League, which will be based at the Greenbrier in my home state of West Virginia so maybe I should be a little less unrealistic about its chances of success as a gesture of hospitality, include receiver Jalen Saunders, cornerback Ellis Lankster, and safety Pierre Warren.

So, yes, the interest in Manziel, Rice, and Young is obvious. It’s surprising the Spring League also hasn’t made a pitch for a certain football player turned baseball player who definitely needs a platform to prove he’s still relevant.

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Stephen Jones: Jerry and Romo will work something out

Tony Romo, Jerry Jones AP

Stephen Jones has a big role in the operations of the Cowboys, but when it comes to the biggest decision the team will make this offseason — what to do with Tony Romo — Stephen knows that his father is still the owner and G.M.

Asked on KRLD-FM about Romo’s future, Stephen Jones answered, “You got the wrong guy on the phone right now.”

In other words, it’s going to be Jerry Jones who makes that call.

So how will it be worked out? Stephen Jones said he thinks his dad and Romo can come up with something that suits everyone’s interests.

“I’m sure as we move forward, obviously, there’s two really important people in this mix,” Stephen Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “First and foremost will be Jerry and then, of course, Tony. I read where Jason said his wish is that Tony, whatever happens here, is happy. I’m sure most people feel that way. At the same time, we all know we’re in a business. It’s something here that will be, obviously, handled with, if you will, kid gloves. And something that we’ll work through and when we’re ready to have any comments about it, I know Jerry and Tony will be the ones to do that.”

Romo has lost his starting job to Dak Prescott, and there’s no getting it back. And there’s no way the Cowboys are going to keep a backup with a cap hit of more than $24 million in 2017. So the only question is whether Jones can find a team willing to trade for an old, injured, expensive quarterback, or whether Jones will release Romo. That’s something the two of them may work out between now and the start of the new league year, which is less than two months away.

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Tom Brady has 19 touchdowns, 0 interceptions vs. Mike Tomlin

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots drops back to pass in the second half during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rooneys own the Steelers, but Tom Brady owns Mike Tomlin.

In the 10 years since Tomlin became head coach of the Steelers, Brady and the Patriots have faced Pittsburgh six times. And in those six games, Brady has absolutely embarrassed Tomlin’s defense.

According to NFL Research, Brady has 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in six games against Tomlin’s teams. Brady’s passer rating in those games is 127.5, his highest against any head coach he’s faced at least three times. His completion percentage against Tomlin’s defense is 71.2 percent and he has averaged 314.8 yards a game.

Brady has never failed to throw for at least two touchdown passes against Tomlin’s Steelers. Tomlin may need to find a way to reverse that on Sunday if he wants to get to the Super Bowl.

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