ProFootballTalk: Ravens-Patriots set for AFC rematch
Derek Cox wasn’t out of work long.
After turning in four solid years with the Jaguars, Cox signed with the Chargers last year, but was released one year into what was originally a four-year, $20 million deal.
He may have never been good enough to deserve that kind of money, but he’s been an acceptable player in the past, and the Ravens have a need.
In recent years, the term “drone” has acquired a sinister feel, what with all the lethal firepower that unmanned military planes routinely carry and deploy. So when a non-weaponized remote-controlled helicopter with simply a camera attached to it is called a “drone,” there’s a real difference.
But maybe not a huge difference.
In the wake of the news that a “drone” invaded the airspace of Bank of America Stadium during a recent preseason contest involving the Chiefs and the Panthers, Jim Celania of WFNZ in Charlotte mentioned this morning that a flying lawnmower once killed a fan at a game in the ’70s.
Initially, I assumed that Jim had simply doused his Post Toasties with something more potent than two-percent. And while that’s still entirely possible, Jim was right.
It happened in December 1979, at Shea Stadium. The Jets hosted the Patriots, and at halftime the Electronic Eagles of the Radio Control Association of Greater New York took the field, flying a collection of model airplanes.
During the show, a plane shaped like a lawnmower landed in the stands, striking 20-year-old John Bowen and 25-year-old Kevin Rourke. Bowen, who reportedly “looked like he had been attacked by an ax,” underwent emergency surgery. Several days later, Bowen died.
Criminal charges never were pursued, but a lawsuit later was filed against the Jets, the Radio Control Association of Greater New York, and Philip Cushman, who was flying the plane.
So, yeah, it’s probably a good idea for the NFL to ensure that “drones” don’t get anywhere close to the paying customers. Otherwise, the paying customers will opt to watch the games from a place where the lawnmowers remain in the garage, with all wheels on the ground at all times.
So what caused the NFL to ultimately impose six-figure fines on the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll for impermissible contact during a supposedly non-contact minicamp practice?
Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA started the investigation after reports emerged of a fight at a June 18 practice involving cornerback Richard Sherman and receiver Bryan Walters. Coach Pete Carroll had to stop practice in order to restore order.
The NFLPA caught wind of the situation via TV reports of the altercation. At that point, the NFLPA asked the Seahawks to surrender the video of all offseason practices.
Inspection of the footage resulted in the union concluding that the practice was “way too aggressive,” per the source. Aggression was detected not simply on one or two plays but for the entire practice. While the penalties reportedly cover only the day of the fight evidence of excessive aggressiveness was spotted over multiple days of the minicamp.
“Coaches were coaching contact,” the source said. And the NFL apparently agreed, given that the league ultimately imposed unprecedented fines for something that happens in plenty of offseason practices. But apparently not to this extent.
In an ordinary workplace, a boss who screams obscenities into the faces of his underlings would not be tolerated. One of the lessons that HBO’s Hard Knocks has taught us through the years is that an NFL team is not an ordinary workplace.
On Tuesday night’s episode, Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong lit into several players with a string of profanity and nasty insults.
“Who do you think you are? The game don’t mean enough to you, and that’s very f–king apparent,” Armstrong told one player during a film session. “You better wake up and get your pride in the game. Go out there and play like s–t? The s–t was coached the right way! I don’t want any excuses, selfish ass. What the hell is this? Look at this crap. Are you kidding me?”
As the team reviewed tape of a blocked punt, Armstrong exploded.
“It ain’t OK to go around here and not know. That ain’t cute. It ain’t OK. Really don’t care. That’s as selfish an act as you can make. Grow the f–k up,” Armstrong said.
Two rookie defensive linemen were singled out for poor play on the field goal unit. Armstrong told Jacques Smith, “You do what I tell you to do. You understand, Smith? You ain’t good enough to be an asshole. Do you understand that? Do you understand that?” And Armstrong told Ra’shede Hageman, “Do you start on defense? No. So what you going to do, sit your ass on the sidelines and watch the goddam game? We got enough people around here doing that s–t. Ain’t important to you.”
Armstrong made a point of explaining to the players that when he’s disappointed with them, he’ll tell them to their faces, “one man talking to another man.”
That’s fine, but Armstrong’s tirade raises some questions about where, exactly, the line is when coaches are addressing their players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made respect the theme when he opened the owners’ meeting in March. Goodell’s emphasis on respect was a direct result of the situation that unfolded in Miami last year, when Jonathan Martin decided to leave the team because he couldn’t take the way he was being treated in the locker room anymore. Richie Incognito may be wondering why he was suspended and treated like the NFL’s worst villain last year for his unkind treatment of Martin, while Armstrong can insult players with impunity.
An NFL meeting room may never look like an ordinary workplace, but NFL players do have the right to be treated respectfully. Armstrong treated his players with something less than respect.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Josina Anderson filed a report from Rams camp that included fairly extensive commentary on the shower habits of Michael Sam. On Wednesday, ESPN apologized for the report.
“ESPN regrets the manner in which we presented our report,” the network said in a statement posted at its media-relations website, via SportsBusiness Daily. “Clearly on Tuesday we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports.”
The Big Lead has the video of the report, which included a minute or so on whether Sam is avoiding showering with his teammates so that they aren’t uncomfortable.
It’s hard to listen to the explanation about whether Sam avoids showering with teammates without becoming uncomfortable, and ESPN ultimately decided that it was uncomfortable with the discomfort created by the report.
Sean Gilbert, who conducted a media conference call on Tuesday in connection with his plan to pursue the position of NFLPA executive director, wants to achieve a variety of gains for the players. In return, Gilbert is willing to give the NFL something for which it had stopped asking: An 18-game regular season.
Appearing that same day (coincidentally, or not) on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Smith addressed the issue of expanding the regular season.
“It’s not my decision to make,” Smith said. “If someone thinks it’s better for them to play 18 games. I know that there’s a healthy number of football players now who would say go ahead and do play 18 games.”
Current NFLPA president Eric Winston strongly opposes the idea of expanding the regular season to 18 games. Few players have argued in favor of adding a pair of games. Given the current climate of player health and safety, it’s hard to imagine Gilbert’s proposal taking root among the rank and file.
Smith also addressed the fact that he faces an actual challenger for the job, a dynamic that the sitting NFLPA executive director hasn’t confronted in decades.
“I don’t give much thought to people who want this job,” Smith said. “I have the pleasure of working for the players of the National Football League, the players decide who their leaders will be. I look forward to March. I intend to be in this job for as long as the players will have me.”
The issue could be resolved long before March. The election of the 2014-15 team-by-team player representatives, which will occur in the coming weeks, potentially will result in the eventual winner being determined, if at least 17 of the 32 reps favor one of the candidates.
They also opened their playbook to their opening week opponent.
According to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t wild about the fact Palmer will likely be turning over 10 months of information about the Bears offense in the next 10 days.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” Cutler said. “It’s not exactly what you’d want. He can give them a few things I’m sure. If he does sign, he’ll be meeting with [Bills defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz pretty much immediately.
“He knows snap counts, some of the stuff we do with some of our checks, what plays we like. But they still have to defend it. So I don’t think we’ll change much if anything. Maybe a few tweaks here and there. But we’ll just have to go play football.”
Players and coaches usually downplay any edge an opponent might glean, but given the level of detail the quarterback has to know, it’s the one position which could force a team to make a major adjustment.
The Cardinals have lost a number of impact players on defense, and they’ve previously reached out to guys who made an impact with the Steelers.
They’re taking that path again, as they’re apparently thinking about bringing in linebacker James Harrison.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Harrison is on his way to visit the Cardinals today.
The 36-year-old Harrison might be trolling for a Steelers offer the same way defensive end Brett Keisel was, as there was a previous mention the Steelers hadn’t ruled him out.
At the same time, the Cards might just want to see if he has anything left. Harrison had 2.0 sacks for the Bengals last season, after years of declining production led to his release in Pittsburgh in lieu of a pay cut.
Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has experienced plenty of losses and disappointments in court as he remains jailed while awaiting trial on a trio of murder charges. On Monday, Hernandez received a rare bit of good news in the Odin Lloyd case.
Via the Boston Globe, Judge Susan Garsh issued a 28-page ruling that prevents the use of evidence culled from certain electronic devices seized by authorities during a search of Hernandez’s home in the days after Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body was found less than a mile away.
The warrant targeted a GPS device that Hernadnez told investigators contained Lloyd’s home address. Investigators serving the warrant took an iPhone 5, a Blackberry Bold cellphone, an Apple iPad, and two iPad minis. Judge Garsh wrote that the authorities “operated under the misimpression that the Search Warrant authorized the seizure of GPS devices when they seized the cell phones and tablets from Hernandez’s residence.”
Prosecutors argued that a warrant authorizing the seizure of a specific cellphone allowed all similar devices to be taken from the property.
The magnitude of the victory for Hernandez and his legal team isn’t known, because the specific contents of the seized devices isn’t known. But with a very high standard of proof in criminal cases, any little piece of potentially incriminating evidence helps the effort to secure a conviction.
49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks made the Pro Bowl and second-team All Pro last season, but the team isn’t worried that his personal success has gone to his head.
If anything, they’re worried that it has gone to his belly. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday that he hopes Brooks can turn in a repeat of his 2013 performance, but he’s concerned that Brooks is carrying extra weight that has been “holding him back” this summer. Brooks agreed that he needs to trim up and blamed something familiar to many of us when discussing why his weight has become an issue this season.
“It’s all about eating right,” Brooks said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m 30 years old now, so my metabolism has slowed down. So it takes a little bit longer (to lose weight) than before. … Some of the things I used to get away with, I can’t get away with any more. Yeah, I do have to lose some weight. Is it affecting me? I don’t know. But, yeah, maybe a little bit.”
Brooks said it is unrealistic that he’ll lose the needed weight, 5-10 pounds by his estimation, before the start of the regular season. With NaVorro Bowman out for at least the first six weeks of the season and league discipline for Aldon Smith still a possibility, the team will need a productive Brooks at any weight.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said at the beginning of training camp that he’d break off contract talks at a certain point to eliminate distractions.
But with camp over and the regular season a week away, Smith is no closer to deciding what that date is.
“No, I haven’t — I wish I had an answer for you,” Smith said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’ve kind of been locked into games and practicing. With camp winding down here, preseason winding down, certainly we’ll see. But sorry. No answer for you today.”
At this point, he said he didn’t think the negotiations were distracting him, or his teammates.
“I can’t speak on how those guys think,” Smith said. “I certainly know that for myself, . . . it’s the last thing I’m thinking about. I think that as a football player, when you’re in that locker room it’s: What is that guy putting in? What is he sacrificing? Is he accountable? How bad does he want it for the team?
“Those are the things I think about as a teammate and that I look for in my teammates, . . . no matter what, if a guy is on his last year or he’s in a dispute, he’s tagged, whatever those things might be.”
Smith’s entering the last year of his deal, and has the benefit of the Chiefs wanting to get linebacker Justin Houston locked up too.
There’s only one tag to use between the pair of them, so something will have to give if the Chiefs want to keep both. And if they want to keep Smith from worrying about it during the regular season, they have a week and a half.
It looks like the Chiefs are going to have to play the first month or so of the regular season without linebacker Joe Mays.
Mays, who was projected to start alongside Derrick Johnson at inside linebacker, had wrist surgery recently and Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that he will miss at least six weeks while recovering from the operation. If that timeline holds, Mays would miss the first four games of the season and might not return until after the Chiefs bye in Week Six.
The Chiefs have a few options to use in Mays’s place. Nico Johnson started the team’s last preseason game and James Michael-Johnson and Frank Zombo also saw time in Mays’s spot during the contest. Josh Mauga is expected back from injury to make his case during Thursday night’s preseason finale and then the team will sort out the pecking order for the season opener against the Titans.
There wasn’t much of an air attack in the recent Panthers-Chiefs preseason game, but there was a later-identified flying object hovering over Bank of America Stadium that night.
According to Mark Washburn of the Charlotte Observer, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the operator of the camera-wielding drone was detained and questioned, with the information turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Witnesses said they saw the drone late in the game, until lights from a helicopter hit it and then it disappeared behind a nearby building.
Airspace over stadiums is banned by both the NFL and (more importantly) the FAA. The FAA considers stadiums and major airports as Class B airspace, which is among the most restricted, and unmanned aircraft are prohibited.
A team spokesman said they weren’t aware of the drone until asked by reporters.
While there was no report of charges filed, the incident represents a security breach that aviation officials need to pay close attention to.
It’s a familiar sight to see stories about a player returning to practice late in the preseason with designs on being ready to play when the regular season gets underway.
Those stories usually feature hamstring pulls or sprained ankles rather than gunshot wounds to the calf, however, so that makes Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph’s situation pretty unusual. Joseph was at a nightclub on August 7 when someone opened fire, hitting Joseph and eight other people. Joseph spoke publicly about the incident for the first time on Tuesday and said that he knows he was lucky to emerge with a relatively minor injury.
“It was very scary,” Joseph said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Now, I just look at every day differently because your life flashes in front of you in the situation that happened. I’m just glad I have the opportunity to do what I love.”
Joseph won’t play on Thursday night and hasn’t practiced in pads since returning to the field, leaving the September 7 opener against the Rams as his goal. Joseph said he will be “full go” next week to prepare for that contest and expects to be ready to play a month after taking a bullet.
When it comes to the renewed emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding, the league office has been acting like that dad who threatens to turn this car around and go home. The teams and players have been the kids sitting in the back seat, continuing to push the old man’s buttons in order to see whether he really means it.
With 230 defensive holding and illegal contact penalties called through 49 preseason games (4.69 per game), the question becomes whether that rate will continue once the regular season begins. One of the more influential owners in the NFL has declared publicly that he hopes it won’t.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s concern around the league about [the increase in penalties] and I think that the point has been made by the officials,” Art Rooney II said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “I hope we’re going to get back to a more normal number of penalties per game.”
Rooney believes that the officials have been calling defensive holding and illegal contact more zealously in the preseason, in the hopes of sending a message that players and coaches must adjust.
“I think that’s been the history that you’ve seen things called in the preseason more than you’ve sometimes in the regular season when they’ve decided to make a point,” Rooney said. “That’s been the pattern that I’ve noticed in the past so we’ll see if that holds true this year.”
The league insists, however, that the fouls will be called the same way once the real games start. Which means that, at a minimum, Rooney is disrupting the ruse.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to increase the number of penalties or the number of stoppages in games,” Rooney said. “It will go up and down depending on a game, but on the whole I think we need to hopefully get back to something that’s more like we had last year in terms of number of penalties per game.”
A cynic would say that, given the quality of the cornerbacks on the team Rooney owns, Rooney hopes that a certain amount of down-the-field hand fighting and pushing and shoving and tugging will be permitted. Otherwise, the Steelers will be giving up an uncharacteristically high numbers of points.
Regardless, the rules are the rules. (Profound, I know.) Officials don’t throw flags for the exercise value of it. Generally speaking, if players don’t commit penalties, penalties aren’t called. So even though fans and media will blame the men in black and white, flags during the regular season will reflect that the coaches and players have failed to adjust to the rules.