The idea: ask smart people, 25 of them, in and around football, what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport of professional football.
I’m getting out of the way. From Ron Wolf to Pete Carroll to Amy Trask to Mike Florio, here goes. I’ll be back to wrap things up.
Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags
Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager
I spent 38 active years in professional football. I came in not knowing anything at all about pass interference, and guess what? After those 38 years, I left without knowing what pass interference is. I think that the officials have responsibility in too many areas nowadays. The rule that drives me batty is “players in a defenseless posture.” The thing I fail to understand is throughout the ages when hasn’t a receiver been in a defenseless position? Interestingly, football has always been a game of blocking, tackling and kicking. It is supposed to be a spartan game and necessary roughness was a huge part of its attraction and still is. It’s my firm belief that the game should go back to the coaches and players to determine the outcome of a contest. There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.
Rick Gosselin: Help Defenses By Extending The Bump Zone
Covered NFL in Kansas City and Dallas for 47 years, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter
In 2008, NFL quarterbacks completed 61 percent of their passes league-wide. Ten years later, NFL quarterbacks were completing passes at a 65 percent clip. In 2008 there were six individual 4,000-yard passing seasons. In 2018, there were 12. Quarterbacks league-wide completed 1,381 more passes in 2018 than they did in 2008. But defenses intercepted 46 fewer passes in 2018 than they did in 2008. The NFL has long been a passing league, but it’s become way too easy of late for offenses to complete passes, gain yards and score points. The NFL has stacked the rules against the defense for years and it’s no longer a fair fight. It’s time to level the playing field. I’d extend the NFL bump rule from five yards to 10. Make the receivers work a little harder for space in their routes and also their catches. The 10-yard cushion would also give NFL defenders a physical counter to all the “rub” routes that have become staples in NFL offenses. The NCAA doesn’t have a five-yard rule. Neither do high schools. At those two levels, defenders are allowed to contact receivers until the ball is in the air. The NFL needs to follow suit.
Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable
FOX officiating analyst, former NFL vice president of officiating
• I have come full circle on this since I worked in the league, but I now think coaches should be able to challenge anything they want. Don’t increase the number of challenges. Put the onus on the coach to save his challenges. This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.
• The league needs to put real resources behind officiating. Nothing the league does impacts the game more than officiating, and I believe it’s probably the area least valued by the league. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes, because the NFL treated me great. But officiating in the NFL is treated almost as a necessary evil. You see on-field officials, good ones, moving to network jobs before the end of their careers. The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training.
Brandon Carr: Take Away Some Protection of the Quarterbacks
11-year veteran cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
I was playing for Kansas City in 2008, in the game when Bernard Pollard blitzed and injured Tom Brady. [Brady tore his left MCL and ACL in the first game of 2008 when Pollard hit him around the knee. The NFL created a rule to outlaw hits by defensive players to the knee or lower leg of a quarterback in the pocket in 2009.] I appreciate the Competition Committee trying to make the game as safe as possible for the players. I love the fact that the last CBA outlawed two-a-day practices in training camp—that’s going to allow me to extend my career. But the rules protecting the quarterbacks are pretty tough for defensive backs. Think about it: a 185-pound nickel back blitzes and can’t hit the quarterback low because of the Brady rule, and he has to be careful about hitting him high to avoid hitting him in helmet. Think of that 185-pound DB trying to bring down Ben Roethlisberger, or 245-pound Cam Newton. He’ll hit him around the waist and might just bounce off. This game’s hard enough for the DBs. I think a DB should be able to tackle a quarterback [in the pocket] by the legs.
Scott Hanson: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again I
Host, NFL RedZone channel
Let’s morph the onside kick into a fourth-and-15 offensive play. After a field goal or touchdown, the scoring team—if trailing in the fourth quarter—can elect to forgo a kickoff and run a fourth-and-15 offensive play from its own 35 to try and retain possession. Due to the (appropriate, in my opinion) “no running start on kickoffs” rule implemented in 2018, successful onside kick attempts have become overly difficult. Last year, there were only four successful onside kicks in 52 attempts (7.7 percent). In the nine seasons prior, 16.3% of onside kicks were successful.
As for fourth-and-15, teams going for it on fourth-and-15 (exactly) had a 21.7% success rate over the past five years. While I realize the yardage might need to be tweaked (maybe 20 yards instead of 15) based on statistical analysis, I think it’s worth trying to inject more drama and hope into the late moments of NFL games. Or, as we call it on NFL RedZone, “The Witching Hour.”
Hat-tip and thank you to Greg Schiano, who, to my knowledge, was the first to go public with the concept years ago. Great idea.
Booger McFarland: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again II
ESPN Monday Night Football analyst
What I would do is allow a trailing team to try to get into the end zone on one play from the 10-yard line, only in the fourth quarter. If they are successful, they retain possession on their own 30-yard line. If they fail, the opposing team takes over at the 50-yard line. Onside kicks would still be allowed, if teams choose, but I think you would find a success rate somewhere around 20 to 25 percent trying to convert from the 10-yard line, which is where I think the NFL wants that play to land—as opposed to the less than 10 percent that we’re at now with onside kicks.
Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay
Head coach, Seattle Seahawks
Get rid of—or at least decrease the use of—instant replay. I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.
Mark Leibovich: Put Bad Ownership Up For a Public Vote
Chief national correspondent, New York Times Magazine. Author, “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times”
If I could change one rule in the NFL—and I realize this would never happen in the real world but what the hell—I would put in a rule that owners need to stand for re-election every five years. Anyone who lived in the jurisdiction where the team plays, or who purchased a ticket to a home game in the last calendar year, would be eligible to vote, either “approve” or “disapprove,” on the owners’ performance. If an owner receives less than 35-percent approval, he or she would be forced to sell the franchise within 90 days, and that new owner would be forbidden from moving the team. As citizens in a democracy, one of the few remedies we have against corruption, incompetence, arrogance, etc. is to vote. As football fans, we have no such right. Instead, we are subjected to the monopolistic whims of unelected oligarchs in our communities. In many cases they are greedy idiots. They wield largely unchecked power over the fortunes of players, fans, local politicians, even their own “commissioner.” Until now.
See you on Election Day, Mr. Snyder.
Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime
Tight end, Los Angeles Chargers
I think both teams should have a chance to touch the ball in overtime, especially in the playoffs. The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful. Take Kansas City last year. I think it would have been cool to at least see them touch the ball in overtime after the Patriots went down the field and scored. Obviously, I think the Patriots earned it and that’s the rule, but it would be cool for the Patriots defense to go out and say, ‘Now, we have to stop these guys.’ Then, if they stopped them, the game is over. If not, the game continues.
Lindsay Jones: Be More Progressive About Players Using Marijuana
National NFL writer, The Athletic
It’s beyond time for the NFL to completely overhaul its drug policy, especially with the way it punishes players for using marijuana, so that’s where I would start. (I swear I am not writing this just because I live in Colorado, home to the most progressive marijuana laws in the country.) The league’s drug policy, collectively bargained with the NFLPA, is growing increasingly out of date with norms across the country, and the fact that many players live in states where possession and use of marijuana is legal for adults but still considered a major offense by the league is problematic. As we learn more about the medical benefits of marijuana, it makes sense that the NFL should be a leader in trying to find new and safer ways for players to manage their pain, rather than continuing to criminalize marijuana use. This isn’t to say that players should be allowed to smoke at team facilities. And they should be punished for violating other laws (such as driving while impaired). There is a lot the league and the players association can do to make the league’s marijuana policy more progressive.
Chris Nowinski: Eliminate Tackle Football Until High School
Co-founder and CEO, Concussion Legacy Foundation
Football is in a precarious position. The more successful a player is, and the longer he plays, the more likely he is to develop CTE. It’s called a dose-response relationship: The more years of tackle football you play (the dose), the higher your risk of CTE (the response). The NFL can reduce CTE risk for players by lowering the dose, but changing the NFL game further wouldn’t be expected to make a big difference. The biggest gains would be made by changing the way children play the game. But slight modifications are probably not enough, just like adding filters and lowering tar in cigarettes, which the smoking industry told us would prevent lung cancer, were not enough. The NFL’s best chance to dramatically reduce CTE risk for players but still have a pipeline of talent is to back efforts to only allow flag football before high school and retrain high school football coaches to virtually eliminate head impacts in practice. Those two changes alone could probably ensure most NFL players, even the successful ones, don’t develop CTE. Football could soon face a reckoning. What if we discover that 75 percent of NFL players have CTE? If CTE is the price for success, how long will it be before most Americans decide their son will never play? The time to change how the youngest players play is now.
Richard Deitsch: Give Fans a Beckham Cam
Staff writer (and media columnist), The Athletic. Radio host, Sportsnet 590 in Toronto
Kill all kickoffs. This would be one of my immediate mandates if given the power to improve the NFL. But I have been asked by my former SI colleague and editor of The MMQB to focus on a media-centric angle regarding improving the game—or in this case, the viewing of the game. The NFL, now, as a television product is very good (Red Zone, high-speed cameras, Tony Romo) and technology will take us to even better places. I personally love the idea of watching the game from a specific positional perspective. Imagine having a Beckham Cam, where viewers at home can experience what it is like from Odell Beckham Jr’s perspective for an entire game, including the vantage point the receiver watches the game from the sideline. The wearable camera technology already exists and you’d also be able to add all the advanced data such as how far Beckham ran during a game, how much energy he expended.
But if you want an outside-the-box idea, and one that would open up a whole new broadcasting genre, well, here you go: I’d love to see a second-screen option for NFL games. Each team designates one practice-squad player (or someone not playing that day) to sit on the bench during the game and offer real-time commentary regarding what viewers are seeing. It would be an incredible education into the game (along with great reps for those who want a post-playing career in broadcasting), the first of its kind in major sports. (As a second-screen option, you could also always go back to the main broadcast if you wanted.) Now, the likelihood of this being greenlit is remote, given NFL organizations are more secret than the Kremlin and practice-squad players might be too worried about revealing proprietary information. But this would be a true inside look at the game in real-time. It would also be a profit center for the NFL, because advertisers would want in.
Sam Farmer: Adios, Chain Gangs
NFL writer, Los Angeles Times
Do away with chain gangs. Use a laser to mark off 10 yards. I know there are far more important issues—concussions and off-the-field behavior among them—but this imprecise, anachronistic system of measuring first downs is silly. You’re only as precise as your most imprecise measurement, so the fact that officials guesstimate on first, second and third down, then suddenly get ultra-precise on fourth down is just wrong. Referee Gene Steratore used the thickness of an index card to measure! It’s like marking and then re-marking your golf ball on the green. It’s an inexact science. I get that it’s very difficult to put a chip in the football and use GPS, because spots are determined when a player’s knee is down. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and the technology is available to create an exact first-down line. The league likes the suspense of running the chain gang onto the field and using every last link to measure. I get it. It’s theater. But it’s the theater of the absurd.
Eric Winston: Seed the Playoffs By Record, Not Division Title
President, NFL Players Association, and former NFL tackle
Ever since you were a small kid and you played games and they kept score, the team with the best record at the end of the season, before the playoffs, got the advantage in the playoffs. Then I get to the NFL, and it’s not that way at all. You get a massive advantage by being one of the top four seeds in each conference. You get at least one home game.
(Examples: In 2011, Pittsburgh was 12-4 and finished second in the AFC North. The Steelers, seeded fifth, had to play a wild-card game at 8-8 Denver … In 2013, the Niners were 12-4 and finished second in the NFC West. Seeded fifth, San Francisco had to play on the road at fourth-seeded Green Bay, 8-7-1.)
I say you can’t control how good the other teams in your division are. Let’s say the division winner is 13-3, and you’re 12-4. This league is supposed to be about excellence, being the best. The best should get the spoils at the end of the day. And a 12-4 team being seeded below teams that might be 9-7 or whatever … it’s just not right. It’s a matter of fairness, which is what the NFL should be about. We have a landscape where it’s not fair right now, and it should be fixed.
Amy Trask: Increase Roster Size
Former CEO, Oakland Raiders. Current CBS NFL analyst
I would increase roster size by a significant number. League economics support an increase and concerns about player health and safety should dictate it. As for league economics: To counter an argument that more players per team means less money per player, increase the salary cap by an amount roughly equal to the cost of additional players at the bottom of the roster. For example, if you increase the roster by a dozen, take an average of the various minimums and multiply that by a dozen and add that to the cap. That’s a marginal amount relative to club revenues. (Trust me on that.) I would also strongly consider doing away with “inactives.” If you’re on the roster, you’re active.
Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day
Defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars
One rule change I’d like to propose is eliminating inactives on game day. If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions. If players are aware that there are more guys on the team that can substitute in for a play or two, guys will be less inclined to remain in the game with an injury that could worsen with more time on the field. Overall, more players on the active roster would lead to better health for all players.
Sal Paolantonio: Send Replay Review Into Our Living Rooms
National correspondent, ESPN
I think the NFL should televise the instant replay review. That’s right: Make it part of the network broadcast. The payoff would be immediate and lucrative. One, it would turn an annoying stoppage of play into must-see TV. The audience would see and hear the on-field referee, the instant replay ref in the booth and league officiating guru Al Riveron in New York, dissecting the play. Ratings go up. Two, sponsor this segment. Cha-ching! That’ll get the networks’ attention. Three, a televised review would be the holy-grail of prop bets. The league’s new casino partners would love that action.
Les Snead: Reinvent the Preseason
General manager, Los Angeles Rams
My long-term thought is to reduce the preseason from four to two games, one home and one away. But don’t waste the rest of August. I would add a scrimmage with another team at a neutral site that loves football—and slot that scrimmage the same week that now would be used for the first full preseason weekend, the week after the Hall of Fame Game. We could take the NFL on the road to towns in America that support the NFL on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays by watching us. Play those scrimmages in great high school stadiums, college stadiums or minor-league baseball stadiums. It’s a chance to give back and invest in our dedicated fans who support us even though they might be in a place that’s not close to an NFL franchise city. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Carson Wentz and the Eagles scrimmage the Vikings somewhere in North Dakota? Or the Seahawks and Texans scrimmaging in Madison, Wis., where Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt played? Good work for the teams, and very beneficial for the fans. And wouldn’t Carson Wentz always remember the time his professional team played in the state he grew up?
Rich Eisen: Give the Ball Back to the Offense on Fumbles Through the End Zone
Anchor, NFL Network, and host of “The Rich Eisen Show”
If I could wave a wand for NFL change, I’d get rid of the antiquated rule that makes a fumble into and through the end zone a touchback and a change of possession. I know the end zone is hallowed ground, but why should a ball fumbled out of bounds at the one-inch line remain with the offense while a fumble that occurs two inches further down the field, one inch into and through the end zone, goes to the defense? Under the current rule, the defense that likely performed poorly on the drive gets bailed out by a lucky bounce of the ball. I say: Any fumble into and through the endzone should be a reverse touchback. The ball goes to the offense on the 20-yard line. Considerably damaging but not overly punitive, like losing possession. Trust me, when this happens at the end of a Super Bowl—and one day it will—this will cause a national uproar. Just trying to head it off at the pass now.
Terez Paylor: The NFL Must Loosen Its Vise-Grip on Highlights
Senior NFL writer, Yahoo Sports
There is no shortage of things that can be done to improve the NFL, but I’ll use this space to advocate for one underrated thing that I believe could help everyone, from reporters to fans to the NFL itself: loosening up the league’s restrictions on the utilization of highlights and GIFs. I wrote about this here, but the NBA promotes its players and teams by letting news outlets break down X’s and O’s using league footage—unlike the NFL, which aggressively targets organizations that are not rights holders. You can’t even embed the NFL’s videos from its YouTube channel on web sites because the league won’t get a direct click. Allowing more news groups to use the footage to create smarter fans will only improve fans’ understanding of what teams are doing on the field, and help keep the focus on how amazing these athletes are and how special the game of professional football really is.
Neil Hornsby: Shorten the Game
Founder, Pro Football Focus
I would propose that the clock run on incomplete passes till the last four minutes of each half. Then the clock would stop on incompletions. I love the NFL, obviously, but the games are too long, and there are many dead periods in games. There is no reason a football game cannot be played in two hours and 35 minutes, or 2:40. The NCAA is far worse; it’s ridiculous to stop the game on every first down. Who wants a four-hour football game? One of the things I loved about watching the Alliance of American Football games this year was the speed of the game. It just makes the game more enjoyable when you’re not sitting around, sitting around, sitting around waiting for the next play.
Harry Carson: Bring Pre-1993 Retirees’ Pensions In Line With Other Sports …
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker. Executive director, Fritz Pollard Alliance
As a 13-year veteran of the game and now a retiree myself, I understand first-hand the price many players paid to help build the National Football League into what it is today. The price paid for almost all were physical injuries (knees, hips, etc.) while many others suffered neurological impairment. The NFL should respond to the voices of older (pre-1993) former players and their spouses by bringing pensions and benefits in line with professional basketball and baseball.
Joe Horrigan: … And Do The Same For Pre-1993 Player Benefits
Executive director, Pro Football Hall of Fame (retiring June 1)
It seems almost trivial to say, but the most important element of pro football’s success has always been its players, men who spend countless hours training and preparing for the greatest and most physically demanding sport played. While the financial rewards for today’s players are more reflective of the game’s success than ever, it’s important to remember that the average pro football career is relatively short, yet long-term post-career physical ailments might last a lifetime. The NFL should be applauded for its continuing efforts to address and improve health, safety and quality of life issues for its players. But, if I could do one thing to improve the game off the field it would be to provide former players, particularly those from the pre-1993 era, the same post-career health benefits as their present-day brethren. I realize this is no simple matter and will require the investment and cooperation of both the league and the players association, but I can think of no better initiative to begin the next century of the NFL.
Bart Scott: Liberalize Rules to Bring Back the Excitement of the Kickoff
Former NFL linebacker. Current sports-talk host, WFAN in New York
Bring back the old kickoff rules. In fact, move the kickoff back to the 20-yard-line to encourage kick returns. It’s the most exciting play in the game. Guys like Devin Hester, Mel Gray, Brian Mitchell and Dante Hall were so fun to watch. Teams would put more skilled players on special teams.
Mike Florio: Adopt the XFL’s OT Rule
Founder, Pro Football Talk
The NFL’s overtime problem never will fully be resolved by tweaking the current rule to guarantee a possession for both teams because the possibility remains that someone will parlay the first sudden-death possession into a walk-off field goal. So why not implement a truly fair solution? The XFL, inspired by soccer and hockey using penalty kicks and shots to break ties, will try a two-point conversion shootout, with both offenses and both defenses on the field at the same time, alternating attempts to score from either end of the field. It’s a simple solution that will resonate with younger fans, reduce (ideally) the number of snaps taken to resolve a game, and most importantly change overtime into something that is truly equitable. The chances to score will be the same. And the outcome will be determined by far more players than, as in soccer and hockey, goalie vs. rotation of players trying to beat the goalie. An added benefit would emerge from this approach. With teams spending more time practicing two-point offense, maybe more teams would attempt two-point conversions during regulation. Which actually could promote fewer tie scores at the end of the fourth quarter.
Well, wow. I wanted to let my panel of pro football authorities speak for themselves. But let me draw a few things from their 4,300 words:
1. Listen, and you’ll learn. I’ll bet that someone in the NFL office today will email this column around to peers and say, “We should listen to what these people are saying.” Not because any one idea is so smart it should certainly be adopted. But because there are too few times when smart people brainstorm about improving a product. Roger Goodell a few years ago said in a meeting that maybe the league should think about moving the draft to different cities, and maybe it would be better being outside of New York City. Everybody—probably including me—found all the problems with having the draft in, say, Philadelphia. And then it went to Philly and it was probably the greatest draft of all time, and everyone said, Why didn’t we think of this year ago? There’s no issue with new.
2. Smart people can disagree and still be educated. Pete Carroll wants to kill replay because it’s become a tail-wagging-dog thing. Dean Blandino wants coaches to be able to replay every play because the technology is there, and it’s creeping that way, and why not? No matter where you fall on this spectrum, these are two of the smartest people in the game. Very smart people can disagree, and they can make us re-think our long-held beliefs on things. What’s wrong with that?
3. Thank you, Chris Nowinski. Eliminate tackle football till high school. After all we know now, this is a totally rational point of view to take. It gives me the creeps to see fourth-grade tykes dressed up like NFLers, beating each other up in their own young ways. That can wait. Thanks, Chris.
4. Thank you, Mark Leibovich. “We are subjected to the monopolistic whims of unelected oligarchs in our communities. In many cases they are greedy idiots. They wield largely unchecked power over the fortunes of players, fans, local politicians, even their own commissioner.” This is never going to stand. But why shouldn’t owners the local communities hate, and who never win, stand for election?
5. I wish Eric Winston would use his influence to push his wish. Maybe this is because it’s a passion of mine, but why on earth should winning a division at 8-8, or 8-7-1, or ever 9-7, guarantee you a home playoff game over a team in a power division with 12 wins? The NFL, as Winston writes, should be about excellence, not mediocrity.
My thanks to the men and women who answered my call and contributed to the (first annual?) column that I hope will generate ideas about how to improve pro football.
Chris Long, who retired over the weekend after an 11-year NFL career that ended with two Super Bowl rings (in 2016 with New England and 2017 with Philadelphia), and an NFL Man of the Year Award (in 2018) for his work in U.S. social justice and building fresh-water wells for thousands in Africa, on the lessons he takes with him into retirement:
“I learned to never make a decision based on just one thing. The decision to retire was complicated. It was based on health, which is still very good, and family, we have two small children, and football fit, which includes a chance to win and my role and geography. Philadelphia is where I wanted to play a couple more years. I love Philadelphia. But as a player I learned the most important thing to me is Sunday, and having a chance to be a big part of it. It seemed like player-coach was kind of the role that was going to be carved out for me—maybe playing 10, 12, 15 plays a game. I’m a rhythm player. I need to set people up, I need to be in the flow of the game. If I sit on the bench for three series, I can’t get rhythm, and I’ll get cold and maybe I’ll hurt myself. Some people think that’s great—play less and you won’t get hurt. Man, I want to play ball. In Philadelphia, it didn’t seem there was much of a chance to compete there. But they were honest with me the whole time. I appreciate the honesty. I’ll always love Philadelphia and the Eagles, but I didn’t want Week 4, 5, to come around and people think, Whoa, where’s Chris? Did Chris retire? I’d rather do it this way than just fade out. And I didn’t want to start over again across the country somewhere.
“I learned so much in my career. Getting drafted second overall, and going to St. Louis, and the fact that we were losing, I just thought, I am not gonna fold. I am not a loser. I am gonna be a bright spot. I am gonna give these fans, who I deeply appreciate for their dedication, the respect they deserve . Anyone playing in that era in St. Louis knows how bad it was at times. It was carnage, in so many ways. It was a test of my will. Do I get irritated by the no-Pro Bowl thing, never making a Pro Bowl? Yeah, I do. Fifty sacks in the first six years, with no one watching, on a bad team. I just felt the narrative should be, That kid panned out. But that’s okay—it was a labor of love. I have zero regrets.
“In New England, I learned so much about football. I always thought I was a smart player, even though I never thought about anything but the six inches in front of my face. In New England, I was forced to learn so many schematic concepts. In my career playing football, nobody asked me to do as much as Bill Belichick did. I might be 3-technique, or a linebacker, or a linebacker dropping into coverage more than ever, or playing inside more than ever. I’ll always remember how much I learned watching Bill in practice. He can coach any position as good as any position coach in league. He can walk around the field and stop drills and coach each position—at the highest level. And the quality of the dudes. Solid men. The right kind of people.
“Tom Brady blew me away. Who’s the most famous athlete of our generation: Tom Brady? LeBron? Messi? Ronaldo? Serena Williams? Maybe I haven’t been around enough to know how the biggest stars really act. But Brady is a normal guy. When I got there, here comes Tom. ‘Hey Chris, I’m Tom, nice to meet you.’ Well, yeah, I know you’re Tom. A lot of people want to hate him for all the success, and I understand how you can dislike the Patriots, but I cannot understand how you can dislike Tom.
“That Super Bowl against Atlanta … when we were way behind, I’m thinking, ‘I waited my whole life to be here, and this is a nightmare. This is the worst nightmare I have ever had.’ If we lost that night, I very possibly would have retired a bitter man. But winning it breathed life into me.
“Going to Philadelphia, I felt I found a home. Best sports city in America. But how different my situation was. I went from team captain with the Rams two years before that to winning the Super Bowl in New England to starting on the bottom in Philly. I was an average Joe. I was challenged. I learned how much being a team, being together, really means. We were a case study for whatever you believe. Either we were an anomaly or we proved you could do good things and win in pro sports. We happened to have guys who were good players who cared. I remember winning a Monday Night Football game, falling asleep at 4 or 5 o’clock, and waking up for a train to Harrisburg to work with state legislators on policies. It just showed how much we could make changes in things that matter, and play really good football too. You can be a football player and a citizen. It’s gratifying when young players come up and say they’re inspired to do more because of things that Malcolm Jenkins or Torrey Smith have done, or me.
“I’ve always tried to be me first and a football player second. When I came into football, I didn’t want to be this piece of wreckage who couldn’t move or have a normal life. But I learned you can’t predict the future. I thought I’d play eight years. I thought I’d retire at 30. But I played 11, and now I’m 34.
“NFL Man of the Year … I never felt deserving of it. I am not the best person in the NFL. I never want to get up there promoting myself as some infallible person. I was very honored. But I was also conflicted that people saw me as this community service guy, not a player. Nobody saw me as the player I was in my prime. I don’t want to be known as Community Service Guy; I want to be known as a guy who busted his ass for 11 years at his craft. But I do appreciate the fact that people saw that I played for free for one year, that I was part of a group that built 61 wells for people to get fresh water in Africa, and that we’ve got 220,000 people drinking from our wells. I will not downplay that stuff. But I am not some angel, believe me. I don’t have a brand. My brand is me.
“Retirement is interesting. It is something I feared for a long time. It is an existential crisis. I’ve been doing something since high school, working toward a goal. I fantasize about crossing the threshold, but at the same time it’s something you can be deathly afraid of.
“I am excited about the next phase of life. I’m launching a digital media company. I will have my own pod. I’m just excited about being able to control the narrative. I like to create. Maybe I’ll work at a network. Whatever I do, I’ll be me.”
A couple of personal notes:
• Come see me for a good cause tonight. I work with a New Jersey youth literacy non-profit group, Write on Sports, which helps at-risk middle-school kids (many in and around the inner cities of Newark and Paterson, N.J., and some in other cities) learn how to write and read by writing about sports, and reading about sports. Tonight, from 6-8, I will be at the Yale Club in midtown Manhattan to talk football. If you come early, at 5:30, you can have a drink with me and buttonhole me on whatever you want to talk about. Here’s a link to get you there. Hope to see you there.
• You can write this column on July 1. When I take a break in the summer, I get guest columnists to write each Monday. This year, I’m going to let a reader write one. I’m going to pick that someone by May 29. If you want to do it, this is what you need to do:
- Send me a 150-word proposal of at least one of the topics you’d address in the column, and why you think you should be the person to be the guest columnist for Football Morning in America. Send this week to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Put FMIA guest columnist in the topic bar of the email.
- Do not write more than 150 words in your proposal.
- There is no money involved. You’ve got to do it for the love of the game.
- Be imaginative. Have some fun with it.
This is going to be a cool experience for someone. Let’s have some good ideas and I’ll pick a fun one.
“What kind of team allows a GM to make a franchise-shaping decision with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft and then fires him three weeks later? What kind of business allows an employee to hand out $125 million in contracts and then hands him a pink slip before any of them actually show up for a meaningful day of work? Only this team. Only the Jets.”
—Steve Politi, columnist, Newark Star-Ledger, on the firing of Jets GM Mike Maccagnan 18 days after the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
“Watching [the Patriots] go from what they were at the beginning of the year to what they were at the end of the year, and take football back in time 20 years, it hasn’t gotten the appreciation that it should have. And they’ve only added to that identity. Their offensive line is going be freakin’ ridiculous. Their secondary? We talk about Baltimore’s secondary, and it’s very good. We talk about Kansas City’s secondary. (But) New England has the best secondary in football. I don’t see anyone chasing them, not in that division.”
—Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, to Don Banks of the Patriots web site, in a piece about whether the rest of the AFC East is catching up to New England.
Banks got interesting stuff from Orlovsky. More of it: “New England really doesn’t have position players, outside of players like Gronk and Randy Moss. Their running backs are receivers. You mean to tell me that Rex Burkhead couldn’t play slot receiver? They don’t really have running backs and they don’t really have receivers. They have football players and they move them all over the place … They’re going to force you to get into what you don’t want to get into. And they will strategically gut you, because that’s what they are. They don’t play by positions, they just play with 11 players.”
“It’s kind of like learning a new language. This is my fourth different coordinator and fourth different language to learn.”
—Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, on the arrival of new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“The message to the rest of the league is clear: Tanking is not the path to eternal happiness.”
—ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, after the NBA’s Draft lottery, which resulted in the teams with the three worst records in basketball getting third, fifth and sixth picks in this year’s NBA Draft. New Orleans, tied for the seventh-worst record in the league, won the first overall pick in the lottery.
“A Florida man caught playing basketball naked at a public park said he thought it would help improve his skills, according to police.”
—WNCT-TV news in Florida.
I have used this note in various forms over the past few years, and it seems apt in the wake of the New York Jets guillotining Mike Maccagnan as GM the other day.
New England coaches/personnel chiefs since Bill Belichick was hired in 2000
Personnel czar/GMs: 2 (Pioli, Caserio)
The rest of the AFC East
Jets (6): Groh, Edwards, Mangini, Ryan, Bowles, Gase.
Bills: (10): Phillips, Williams, Mularkey, Jauron, Fewell, Gailey, Marrone, Ryan, Lynn, McDermott.
Dolphins (10): Wannstedt, Bates, Saban, Cameron, Sparano, Bowles, Philbin, Campbell, Gase, Flores.
Personnel czar/GMs: 18.
Jets (5): Parcells, Bradway, Tannenbaum, Idzik, Maccagnan, vacant.
Bills (7): Butler, Donahoe, Levy, Brandon, Nix, Whaley, Beane.
Dolphins (6): Spielman, Mueller, Ireland, Hickey, Tannenbaum, Grier.
New England’s total coaches/personnel czars since 2000: 3.
Coaches/personnel czars for the other 3 AFC East teams since 2000: 44.
That’s 44-3 — 44-3!
I asked a man whose name appears twice in “The rest of the AFC East” list, Mike Tannenbaum, his reaction to the score of Three Teams 44, Patriots 3.
“For New England, continuity has become a force multiplier,” Tannenbaum said. “Nobody really talks about the new rules and the limited practice time with the CBA, but it really limits how much new coaches can do with their teams, whereas the Patriots have been together for so long. When [rookie Miami offensive coordinator] Chad O’Shea calls in the next play to Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen, that will be play number one. When [new Jets head coach] Adam Gase calls in the next play to Sam Darnold, that will be play number one. When Josh McDaniels calls in the next play to Tom Brady, that will be play number 15,000.”
Think about it: New England probably has the three biggest advantages over the teams in its division of any team in the NFL: Belichick is one, Brady is two, and 20 seasons of continuity (this is year 20 for Belichick in Foxboro) is three.
Ever notice the college football season grows by the year? Seems it used to be Labor Day weekend to the first of January … a little less than four months. Now it’s almost five: from Florida-Miami on Aug. 24 to the national championship game on Jan. 13.
Days encompassing the college football season: 143.
Days encompassing the NFL season: 150.
Mail call. Have a gripe with me? Love me? Want to sound off on something I wrote? Email me at email@example.com.
Dallas is not a middle-of-the-pack team. From Zak K. of Minneapolis: “I honestly don’t understand on what basis you list Dallas at 16. They made the final eight last year, and not only did they get their center back, they get a whole season of Amari Cooper and did not lose anyone of significance. What gives?”
They have a big schedule advantage too—with the Giants, Jets, Washington and Miami in the first six weeks. I just think Philly’s better, I don’t have a great feel about their pass-rush, and I think you can throw against their secondary. We’ll see. The one thing I know is there’s huge turnover in the NFL from one year to the next, so a top-eight team in one year (a top-eight team that, by the way, had the league’s 22nd-best offense) is not guaranteed to get that far the next year.
Why do you delve into politics? From Jon E.: “Why do you have to find a way every week to take a cheap shot at the President? I’m no fan of his but you seem to go out of your way to find something negative to mix into your work. It’s a bad look for you and I used to think you were above such pettiness. Put the political opinions on the op-ed page.”
Jon, four points:
1. You don’t find it funny that whitehouse.gov referred to the four-time World Series champions, the iconic Boston Red Sox, as the “Boston Red Socks?” If, when Barack Obama was president, and whitehouse.gov welcomed the team by calling it the “Red Socks,” I’d have tittered at that too.
2. You’re the one who says I took a cheap shot at the president. I took a shot at whitehouse.gov.
3. I do not have an op-ed page. This is my op-ed page, below all the stuff I write about football. I write once a week. I am glad you read it, but if a knock of whitehouse.gov for misspelling one of the most famous sports franchises on the planet is going to raise your ire, you need to read another column.
4. I respect that you took the time to write me, Jon. But I’m not changing how I write this column.
This guy thinks Ivies matter, and I’m an idiot. From Mark D.: “You truly think that it makes little difference in a career where one attends college!? Did you ever stop to think about the incredible contacts a student will make at an Ivy school versus someone who attends a small, nondescript school?”
I get the importance of going to a great school, and the contacts you get from going to a great school. I could give two craps. When I went to Ohio University, this is what I thought: I’m going to a good school—maybe not the best school, but a good school—and I can get journalism experience and got get a good job out in the real world. I did. So yes, I do believe it makes little difference where you go to school. And I think these parents who believe paying the bribes to get into all the great schools are absolutely delusional if they think the quality of school will get their children the desire and work ethic they need to do something in life that isn’t handed to them on silver platters. Parents cannot purchase happiness for their children.
(I would like to cap the email portion of the column this week by saying: Get off my lawn, and stay off.)
1. I think the Jets architecture job is not the one to take if you want to run a franchise, Peyton Manning. To be charitable, the Jets are not close to contention.
2. I think I won’t be the first to use this rationale for my opinion about what happened when Mike Maccagnan got dismissed the other day as Jets GM, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me: The Jets truly deserve this controversy. A few points:
• I have no sympathy for Maccagnan, who lorded over a 14-35 team since New Year’s Day 2016. Only Cleveland and San Francisco have won fewer games since then. But by my math, Maccagnan just spent $235 million in free agency this offseason, a gargantuan sum. He just had the keys to the draft and, apparently with minimal input from the head coach, made Quinnen Williams the third overall pick in the draft. He was fired 19 days after the draft. What owner in his right mind allows a GM he figures he may well fire run a crucial off-season? Christopher Johnson, that’s who.
• Adam Gase is going to have a major say on who becomes the next GM of the Jets. Gase was 23-26 in his three-year stint coaching the Dolphins, and, though the quarterback position was plagued by injuries while he was there, he’s supposed to be a quarterback guru, and the Dolphins, again, are starting from scratch at the position after firing Gase four-and-a-half months ago. I like Gase well enough. But what exactly has he done, first, to earn a head-coaching job after his three years in Miami … and, second, to play a significant role in picking the architect of the new Jets?
• I assume the reports of Gase not wanting Le’Veon Bell for $13.5 million a year are true. (I don’t blame him.) But the leaks in that building are never-ending, and in this case, the leaks could drive a wedge between a guy who doesn’t seem very happy to be a Jet in the first place, Bell, and the guy who’s going to be calling his number this fall. Gase better figure a way to tamp that down. I don’t know if he can.
• How do you have faith in the Jets to get this GM thing right now? And what smart GM-candidate type (Joe Douglas or Louis Riddick or Daniel Jeremiah) would want to take his one shot—because most GMs get one shot at running a team—working for Christopher Johnson?
• If I were Mike Greenberg, I’d be burying my head in my hands this morning, wondering why oh why did I get stuck loving this franchise? How can season-ticket-holders send in their money this year thinking they’re going to see the turnaround season of a team that’s won 5, 5, and 4 games the past three years?
• Sam Darnold doesn’t coach.
3. I think there’s not a lot nefarious about Scott Pioli’s resignation from the Falcons as assistant GM. Pioli might stay in football—probably more likely than not—and he might not. But for several years, he’s been interested in other things than road scouting. Things like the continuing rise of women in positions of football authority. The perfect job for him might be NFL Czar of Inclusion, but I have no idea Roger Goodell’s feelings on adding another layer to his front office. Pioli should be appreciated, if you like the Falcons, for pounding home the focus on the acquisition of big people, particularly on the offensive line (Alex Mack, Chris Chester, Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstom, Kaleb McGary). The Falcons should be set up on the line for the next couple of years at least, if Mack can last through 2020.
4. I think I understand why the Colts are saying nothing now about the fact that an assistant coach, Parks Frazier, had 80 gunshots fired at his house eight days ago. It’s an active case. But this is a story that absolutely should not just go away. We’re going to need answers to this.
5. I think David Carr is a good NFL analyst, but his take that Joe Montana is not one of the top 10 quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era is not going to age well, nor end well.
6. I think this is not a football thing, but it is a life thing, and it must be noticed and celebrated. But when billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith addressed the graduates of Morehouse (Ga.) College Sunday, he changed hundreds of lives. He said, “My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans!” I mean … that is an incredible gesture, a donation of an estimated $40 million to ease the collective burden on a graduating class that would have to work for 10 or 15 years to pay off that debt. I cannot think of a more magnanimous gesture.
7. I think there is “paying it forward,” and then there is what Robert F. Smith did.
8. I think the Jets trading Le’Veon Bell is the dumbest idea of the offseason, and there have been a few. You bought the player, now make it work.
9. I think Patrick Peterson is going to have to have a heck of a season in the final 10 weeks to earn back the trust he’s lost from the Cardinals. Not only did he fail a test for substance abuse, but the fact that he attempted to either mask the positive test or frame it in a way that would suggest he did not take a banned substance only makes it worse.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Football Story of the Week: the NFL’s concussion settlement keeps getting worse and worse, by Dom Cosentino of Deadspin.
b. How is it possible that nearly $500 million in the billion-dollar lawsuit has been disbursed and, as Cosentino reported, the pool of deserving awardees has hardly been dented. “While many of the most obvious, serious claims have been approved—for death with CTE, ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease—there’s a deeper story here, about which Judge [Anita] Brody seems to be completely in the dark, as was clear at last week’s hearing: Of the 2,787 claims submitted, 62 percent are for early or moderate dementia, and only 20 percent of those early and moderate dementia claims have been approved, and only 14 percent have been paid,” wrote Cosentino.
c. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of CBS News on a boy who yelled “Wow” in a symphony hall.
d. Steve Hartman’s so good at finding meaningful stories and executing them expertly.
e. Story of the week: Suzette Hackney of the Indianapolis Star on an Indiana man confronting his family’s slaveholding ancestors.
f. Fabulous video by Mykal McEldowney too. Hoosier Jeff Purvis: ”It was in my power to redress what I took to be a wrong.”
g. “Free at last.” Great work, Suzette Hackney. And thanks for the tip to one of my readers from Indiana, Kristin Bunch.
h. Explicatory Story of the Week: The Daily Beast on how black psychiatrists helped make “Sesame Street.”
i. Fourth headline on Yahoo’s website Friday afternoon at 5: “NY Post opts not to run A-Rod on toilet pic; lawyers looking for culprit.”
j. What a country.
k. Yes: Someone took a picture through a window from a neighboring building in Manhattan of Alex Rodriguez lolling on the commode. He was upset about it. His lawyers were upset about it. Now they’re trying to find who took the photo and spread it around the internet.
l. I like baseball, and there must be something wrong with me. I like strikeouts. I like overpowering pitchers blowing high strikes past hitters.
m. Coffeenerdness: Met a guy, Saints fan, at a Manhattan Starbucks the other day, and he said the nicest thing to me: “I just wish everyone could have a job for two years of their lives that they loved as much as you love yours.” Wow. That was thoughtful.
n. Beernerdness: Tried the Barrier Brewing (Oceanside, N.Y.) Classic White Ale, amazed to find it as one of three tap beers at a Brooklyn restaurant the other night. It’s no Allagash White, but it’s got a smooth and tangy taste with a hint of blood orange to it.
o. That Gio Urshela is one amazing player. He’s had more big hits in the first seven weeks of the season than Mike Trout and Mookie Betts combined, and no one even knows who he is.
p. Remember: When I’m away this summer, guest columnists sub for me, and you can do it on July 1. For the first time, I’m opening up the guest column to a reader on one of my away Mondays in the summer. Send me a 150-word proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org, this week, and I’ll pick the winner by May 29.
My takeaway from
this column: The Blandino
thought is long past due.