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Christie gives measured endorsement to NFL’s decision to play Steelers-Giants game on Sunday

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The late-but-wise decision to cancel the New York City marathon serves only to put more focus on the decision to proceed with Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Giants.

On Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie approved the decision, but his comments to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo contained enough nuance and equivocation to make us wonder whether Christie, if the decision were his, would have gone forward with the game at MetLife Stadium.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much of anything diverted away from us by having the game there,” Christie told Russo.  “The fact is that’s a completely privately owned piece of property now.  There are flushless toilets in the new MetLife Stadium.   This is just not a situation where I think there are going to be a lot of state resources diverted.  And ultimately, my philosophy is I don’t want the government involved in making those decisions unless it is an absolute emergency.  Now, if the East Rutherford area looked like Mantoloking?  Whole different story.  But you don’t have that kind of destruction up there.  You do have people without power but they have their own power system up there.  But the fact is I don’t think there is a lot being diverted.  If the NFL feels comfortable playing under those circumstances, that’s the NFL’s call as long as they are not impeding me from being able to help the state back to recovery.  And I don’t think those three hours are going to hurt the state’s progress towards recovery.”

Christie’s position was reinforced by the fact that East Rutherford, the location of the stadium, should have full power by Sunday.  “The fact is that if it came to a point where I felt like there was anything that was impeding our recovery, I know [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell well enough, we’ve spoken twice already this week, I would pick up the phone and call Roger and say, ‘Roger, listen, you’ve got to move it to Pittsburgh.  We just can’t do it.’  I don’t believe that’s the case and as long as it is not the case then I don’t want to get involved in Roger Goodell’s business.  He gets paid a lot more money than I do so I’m not going to get involved in his business.”

While Christie was clear that the game won’t impact the recovery effort, phrases like “that’s a completely privately owned piece of property” and “I don’t want the government involved in making those decisions” and “if the NFL feels comfortable playing under those circumstances” and “I don’t want to get involved in Roger Goodell’s business” suggests that, if it were Christie’s business, he would have moved the game or rescheduled it.

Apart from impeding the recovery efforts, the question becomes whether folks who have paid for their tickets will be able to go.  And whether they will want to go.  And whether proceeding with the game so soon after the state suffered one of the most devastating blows in its history shows the proper respect and deference to the situation.

A full 49 Novembers ago, Commissioner Pete Rozelle made a decision to proceed with NFL games in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy.  In hindsight, it was the wrong decision.  Hindsight could lead to that same conclusion here.

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Roger Goodell’s absolute power over players is a myth

Goodell AP

There’s a popular view among some in the media that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enjoys complete and total power over the league’s players, especially on matters of discipline.  That popular view also is not accurate.

Apart from the reality that all discipline for on-field infractions falls under the jurisdiction of Ted Cottrell or Derrick Brooks, who were jointly appointed and are jointly paid by the NFL and NFLPA, the recently-revised PED and substance-abuse policies feature unprecedented use of third-party arbitration for most offenses.

Of course, the Commissioner retains full authority over the personal-conduct policy, a power that has had for years.  But while many (including us) routinely have characterized Roger Goodell’s authority as reflecting “judge, jury, and executioner” status, it’s important to remember one key point:  In three recent high-profile executions, the guy swinging the axe has missed the mark.

In 2012, Goodell yielded his authority over the discipline imposed on players in the Saints bounty scandal following an aggressive legal challenge.  Faced with compelling arguments that Goodell should be recused from handling the appeal of the punishments because he had prejudged the case, Goodell handed the baton to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  And Tagliabue overturned the punishments with a subtle rebuke that apparently has destroyed whatever relationship the former Batman-and-Robin-style partners once enjoyed.

In 2014, Goodell agreed preemptively to designate a neutral party to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, given Goodell’s status as a witness in the case.  (A witness who fought hard not to testify in the case.)  Former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones overturned the punishment by finding that the main justification for it — that Rice had lied to the Commissioner in June 2014 regarding Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée — was not factually accurate.

Last week, current U.S. Judge David Doty found that Goodell and his hand-picked arbitrator, Harold Henderson, incorrectly determined that the unilaterally-revised personal-conduct policy could be applied retroactively to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Pending appeal and/or further proceedings before Henderson, Goodell’s suspension of Peterson could end up being thrown out.

So while the emperor may have clothing, it’s covering far less muscle that most realize.  With the Saints players, with Rice, and with Peterson, Goodell believed he had the ability to impose whatever ruling he wanted to impose.  In each of those cases, Goodell and the rest of us learned that Goodell’s powers has real limits.

 

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Howie Roseman doesn’t like trading up (but it’s not up to him)

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Amid talk that Eagles coach Chip Kelly would like to trade up in the draft and select his former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Eagles Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman is saying that trading up isn’t a good idea.

Roseman said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that when two teams make a draft trade, it’s usually the team trading down that gets the better end of the deal.

“When you’re looking at trading up, at some point, your board drops off so dramatically in terms of how you evaluate that player,” Roseman said, via Philly.com. “But the history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn’t good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it.”

Unfortunately for Roseman, it isn’t up to him. When he and Kelly had a power struggle at the start of this offseason, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Kelly the final say over personnel, which means that if Kelly thinks Mariota is worth a boatload of draft picks, then Kelly will trade a boatload of draft picks to move up and acquire Mariota whether Roseman likes it or not.

So if that trade does happen, it will be one more sign that Roseman doesn’t have much influence in the Eagles’ front office. That doesn’t sound like a trade that Roseman would make.

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Marshawn Lynch visits Turkey, gives lengthy interview

Marshawn Lynch AP

Marshawn Lynch will gladly talk to the media. When he’s on a promotional tour of Turkey.

Lynch is in Turkey helping the organization American Football Without Barriers, and while he was there he sat down for a long interview with a Turkish sports network.

“I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Lynch joked before getting serious about why he wanted to work at a Turkish youth football camp and help promote football in Turkey. Lynch said he sees the work he’s doing overseas as similar to his efforts to promote football in his hometown.

“With the camp, I do this back at home myself, in Oakland, California, and when I got the word they were doing something here, it gave me a chance to spread my wings. I hold a camp at home, like I said, with about 850 kids and it’s been growing. This is an opportunity for me to come out and spread my brand as well. I’m here, like I said, to spread football across the world and at the same time help people in need,” Lynch said.

Lynch joked that when someone at the football camp was working wanted to find out what it was like to get hit by an American football player, he decided to go “Beast Mode in Turkey” and run the guy over. But Lynch also said he was impressed with how quickly Turkish athletes were picking up the sport. And he shared some thoughts about how much football meant to him when he was a Pop Warner player and a high school player, adding that he’d like to give young people in his hometown and across the world the same opportunities.

The full interview (with Lynch, Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams speaking English and a Turkish translator speaking over them) is below:

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Todd Herremans isn’t retiring

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As noted in the Sunday one-liners, former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans has said farewell to the fans of Philadelphia in the aftermath of his release.  But Herremans won’t be saying farewell to football.

Per a source with knowledge of Herreman’s plans, he fully intends to play elsewhere in 2015.  And he fully intends to be in another team’s starting lineup as a guard or right tackle on Week One.

A fourth-round pick in 2005 from Saginaw Valley State, Herremans has been a full-time starter since his second NFL season.  With the man who drafted Herremans a decade ago needing an upgrade at offensive line in Kansas City, it makes sense for Herremans to reunite with Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

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Rosters could expand to 55

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The Competition Committee’s annual pre-league meeting get-together includes, for 2015, examination of roster size.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Competition Committee is considering expanding rosters from 53 to 55.

Opposition to larger rosters previously came from the fact that more than a few teams were having trouble staying under a salary cap that was flat and/or “smoothing.”  In recent years, the salary cap has been increasing more quickly.  Coupled with the impact of the rookie wage scale on the market for veterans (many are paid less and less because quality rookies are cheaper than ever), there’s plenty of extra cash available under the cap to pay two more players per team.

The NFL Players Association would have a voice in roster expansion.  At one level, the union should welcome it; more roster spots means more jobs.  More jobs means more employees.  More employees means the union grows.

But more jobs under a hard cap means fewer available dollars per employees.  That said, expanding the pool of full-time workers from 1,696 to 1,760 shouldn’t have much of a total impact on employees sharing a maximum available annual payroll of more than $4.5 billion, and climbing.

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Stephen Tulloch “way ahead of schedule” in ACL rehab, hopes he stays with Lions

Stephen Tulloch AP

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was lost for the season early in 2014 when he tore his ACL while celebrating a sack, but he said Sunday that he’s on track for a full return this year.

Tulloch told Alex Marvez and Zig Fracassi of Sirius XM NFL Radio that he’s “way ahead of schedule” in his return from the knee injury and that he feels like his knee may be stronger than it was before he got hurt. He also said he hopes that he’ll be back playing behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next season.

That may be about more than just the Lions re-signing Suh. Tulloch, who has a cap hit of $5.8 million, was asked about the possibility that the team might look in his direction to provide more money to put toward signing Suh. He said neither he nor his agents had heard anything from the team to suggest he won’t be there for the start of offseason workouts.

“I hope I am [back with the Lions]. I hope my body of work speaks for itself,” Tulloch said. “I’ve put a lot of work in this team and I’ve been there through it all. It’s the first time in my career I’ve ever been on this side with the unknown, but I know the organization will do what’s best for them.”

The Lions would save $3.2 million by releasing Tulloch, something that seems like an option after they had one of the best defenses in the league with Tahir Whitehead starting in Tulloch’s place last season.

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Keeping secondary intact would cost the Pats a fortune

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With free agency starting next week, the Patriots are in an interesting position: They can keep the three best players in their secondary but spend a fortune, or they could take the frugal route and risk losing Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and Brandon Browner.

The good news for the Patriots is that they have the choice to keep both Revis, McCourty and Browner, if they want to. Revis is under contract for 2015, and the Patriots can pick up his deal by paying him a $12 million roster bonus on March 9. Browner is under contract for $5.5 million in 2015, of which $2 million comes in a roster bonus next week. McCourty becomes a free agent on March 10, but the Patriots can keep him by using the franchise tag. McCourty has indicated that if the Patriots franchise him, he’ll sign the one-year, $9.6 million franchise tender.

The bad news for the Patriots is that picking up the second year on Revis’s contract would give him a $25 million cap hit for 2015. No other cornerback even has a cap hit of $15 million for 2015. Revis is great, but is he so great that the Patriots want to spend $10 million more on him than the Cardinals are spending on Patrick Peterson, and $13 million more than the Seahawks are spending on Richard Sherman or the Browns are spending on Joe Haden?

Throw in the $9.6 million for McCourty and the $5.5 million for Browner, and the Patriots would be spending more than $40 million on three players in their secondary.
Last year the Packers paid more for defensive backs than any other team, at $26.6 million for the 11 players in their secondary. Do the Patriots really want to blow up their cap to such an extent that they’re paying $14 million more than that just for the top three players in their secondary?

Maybe they do. But if they do, it’s a departure from the Patriots’ longtime practice of emphasizing depth and spreading the wealth around their roster, rather than spending a lot of money on a few key players. The Patriots have some big, and potentially expensive, decisions to make by next week.

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A.J. Smith announces his retirement

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When A.J. Smith announced that he wouldn’t be back for a third season as a consultant in the Redskins front office, he said he and his family were going to discuss what was next after three decades in the NFL.

Smith announced the result of those discussions is his retirement.

“We had a family discussion and an actual voting process. It was unanimous!” Smith wrote in an e-mail, via Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego. “… We have experienced incredible highs and lows in our 38-year ride. At the age of 66, it’s time for me to enjoy my family and friends more than ever before. I will now get going on my long-awaited bucket list.”

Smith joined the Redskins after his 10-year run as the General Manager of the Chargers came to an end. Smith’s teams went to the playoffs in five of his first seven years in the job, but only advanced as far as the conference title game once before three years out of the postseason brought his time in San Diego to an end. The Chargers won 95 regular season games and three times in the playoffs while Smith was in charge.

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Rex’s Bills need a quarterback, and Sanchez and Vick are available

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When Josh McCown became available as a free agent, the first team to be linked to him was Buffalo, where the Bills are in need of a veteran quarterback. When McCown spurned the Bills and signed with the Browns, that left a hole that the Bills will need to fill elsewhere.

Buffalo traded away this year’s first-round draft pick to move up and draft Sammy Watkins last year, so we can forget about the Bills finding a starting quarterback in the draft. Which means the Bills — whose only quarterback under contract is EJ Manuel — will have to sign a veteran free agent quarterback.

And that raises a question: Will coach Rex Ryan bring in one of his old quarterbacks with the Jets, Mark Sanchez or Michael Vick? Both Vick and Sanchez become free agents next week, and the Buffalo News names them among the quarterbacks the Bills could sign.

The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is that neither Sanchez nor Vick played very well for Ryan. Sanchez was sent packing by the Jets after failing to improve over four seasons as their starter, while Vick had a passer rating of 68.3, lowest since his rookie year, last season.

But there may not be any other options for the Bills. There simply isn’t a sure-thing starting quarterback available in free agency this year. The best the Bills can hope for is that there’s someone who might be able to beat out Manuel in a training camp competition. Sanchez or Vick could be that someone.

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Justin Forsett: I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder

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After six years of bouncing around the league as a backup running back, Justin Forsett made the most of his extended shot in the top job for the Ravens in 2014.

Forsett ran for 1,266 yards, caught 44 passes and scored eight touchdowns as Baltimore advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs. He did all that on a one-year, $730,000 contract that will leave him as a free agent in a little more than a week if he doesn’t re-sign with the Ravens.

Staying put is Forsett’s top choice and he’s “praying that everything works out” with the Ravens. Wherever Forsett winds up, though, he plans more of the same in 2015.

“I want to build upon it,” Forsett said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I want to be great. I didn’t come in this league to be a one-year wonder. Every time I got an opportunity I was able to seize it and I want to continue to do that.”

There’s a fairly deep group of free agent running backs that will be joined by a fairly deep group of backs in the draft, something that won’t help Forsett’s chances of getting out of the “friend zone” of short-term commitments from teams. The six years of toil before breaking out in a running back-friendly offense could also be a deterrent since Forsett won’t be able to prove he’s more than a one-year wonder until he’s already signed a deal.

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Jeremy Maclin on return to Eagles: If it’s supposed to happen, it will happen

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Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is coming up on the point when he’s going to have to make some big decisions about his future, but he didn’t sound like a man feeling too pressured by that predicament on Saturday.

Maclin said he felt “no rush” to get things settled because it is more important to get the right deal than to get something done quickly and he left no uncertainty about where he wants to sign that right deal. Maclin knows other teams will be looking for receivers, but is clear about his desire to remain with the Eagles and his no-stress approach to his impending free agency means that he’s not pushing too hard in the final days before free agency starts.

“I’ve always said I want to be here in Philadelphia, but I’ve also always said I understand it’s a business,” Maclin said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “Both sides have made it known that we both want each other back, so the rest of it is in God’s hands. If it’s supposed to happen, it’ll happen. I want to be here.”

There’s not much sense out of Philly that the franchise tag is in play for Maclin, who signed a one-year deal with the Eagles around this time last year. Maclin was coming off an ACL tear then and proved he was healthy with a strong 2014 season that will leave him in demand around the league if things don’t work out in Philly. That may account for his unruffled exterior at this point in the process.

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Competition Committee considers dumping inactive lists for Thursday games

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NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent said Saturday that the Competition Committee considered the proper handling of rosters for Thursday games.

Per a league source, the possible solution is the removal of the inactive list for Thursday Night Football.  If that happens, teams would dress all 53 players on Thursday night games, with no players on the inactive list.

It doesn’t mean that all 53 players would dress for every team in each Thursday night game; players too injured to play but not so injured to be on injured reserve won’t dress.

Presumably, this approach would apply to all Thursday games, including the trio of games played on the fourth Thursday in November.

It’s unclear whether the Competition Committee will recommend elimination of the inactive list for Thursday days.  Ultimately, the owners must vote on any changes to game-day rosters, with at least 24 of them agreeing.

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Jonas Gray determined to avoid inactive list in future

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Patriots running back Jonas Gray experienced highs, lows and everything in between during the 2014 season.

Gray started the year on the practice squad, but was bumped to the active roster in October and became an overnight sensation by running for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a November victory over the Colts. Gray was late for practice one day the next week, which led to him being benched for the next game and the arrival of LeGarrette Blount meant he’d run the ball just 20 more times in the regular season.

Gray still led the Patriots in rushing yards for the year, but was inactive for both their playoff opener and the Super Bowl to make for a somewhat bittersweet ending to what had once looked like a breakout season. Gray told the Boston Herald that he’s determined to make sure that he doesn’t have to stand and watch from the sideline again in the future.

“The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should, and not be able to help change the outcome of the game; being helpful. But it’s motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I’ll never get myself in that position again,” Gray said. “When people ask me about the offseason, I tell them, I’m going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn’t enough,” he said. “I’m going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I’m going to outwork everybody. That’s what I hope to achieve.”

Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are set to become unrestricted free agents, so there’s likely to be some changes to the makeup of the Patriots backfield. With Blount due back, though, Gray will have to prove he’s the better option for the weeks when the game plan calls for a lot of running.

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Dan Quinn: Hopefully Sean Weatherspoon will be “big part” of our defense

Sean Weatherspoon AP

Injuries have limited linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to seven games in the last two seasons, but that didn’t stop General Manager Thomas Dimitroff  from calling him “an important part” of the Falcons earlier this month.

Dimitroff’s comments came just after Dan Quinn had officially become the team’s head coach and the intervening weeks don’t seem to have created a difference of opinion in the organization about Weatherspoon’s future. The former first-round pick is set to become a free agent on March 10, but Quinn gave a similar answer to Dimitroff when it came to how he’d like to see things play out.

“With him, it’s that toughness and the speed that he can play with so, yes, definitely someone that we’re talking to,” Quinn said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I know he’s got that kind of attitude. And you know me, just from watching our style of defense, it’s fast and physical. And that’s what Sean is. So, we’re certainly hoping that he can be a big part of it moving forward.”

Quinn admitted to some concern about Weatherspoon’s injury history, but called it a “string of bad luck” and said that the team is “excited to find out” if Weatherspoon is capable of playing at the same level he was at before his injuries. That uncertainty should keep Weatherspoon’s price on the reasonable side, which is good for a Falcons team with plenty of work to do to get their defense where it needs to be.

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Lions shouldn’t tag Suh

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With the list of franchise-tagged players due to be finalized on Monday, one name never should be on it:  Ndamukong Suh.

During Friday’s (maybe Thursday’s, probably Friday’s) PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, I harped repeatedly (to the undoubted delight of the audience) on the potential consequences of investing $26.8 million for one more year of service from Suh.

The biggest problem is that it would guarantee only one more year of service from Suh.  At $26.8 million for 2015, the only way to keep Suh off the market in 2016 would be to pay him 20 percent more than $26.8 million.  That’s $32.16 million.

Our friend Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press argues that the Lions nevertheless should tag Suh and then try to sign him to a long-term deal.  However, guaranteeing Suh $26.8 million for 2015 and setting him up for $32.16 million in 2016 makes the logical starting point for any negotiation on a long-term deal $58.96 million fully guaranteed for the first two years.

That’s the problem with using the tag; the amount of the tag in the current year and the expected amount of the tag in the next year becomes the starting point for a long-term deal.

So if the Lions are going to keep Suh, they need to rule out the franchise tag and put together an offer that will match or exceed the package that the Raiders or Jaguars or some other team looking to make a franchise-transforming cannonball into the free-agency pool will put together.  While it won’t be cheap to win the Suh sweepstakes on the open market, it won’t nearly be as costly as a long-term contract with $26.8 million as the starting point.

That’s why the Lions should have made it clear from the moment the two sides decided to table negotiations until after the season that there’s no way the franchise tag was ever being used.

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