Three-time Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett has the Arizona Cardinals shooting for perfection once the opening whistle sounds against the Seattle Seahawks on September 9th at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

And he's not accepting any excuses. From anyone. Especially not himself.

“I don’t make excuses,” Dockett said. "We’re just trying to raise the standards around here and not have excuses."

Dockett won't even allow fellow Pro Bowlers to make excuses for mistakes.

Larry Fitzgerald beat starting cornerback Patrick Peterson on a deep route and Peterson told Dockett that Fitz pushed off. 

Dockett put Peterson in check after hearing his excuse: "So we get beat for a touchdown and we lose by seven." Peterson agreed and fined himself $200 for making the mistake of getting beat.

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt sees it a bit different. He understands that players will make mistakes, he's just concerned with how they react to them.

“I don’t think you ever accept mistakes,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes every day. But you don’t accept it. You are driving to get better. You know young players will see things they have never seen before and part of the evaluation process is how they handle it.

“We are trying to get better. It’s easy to say mistakes are going to happen, but guys who make a lot of mistakes aren’t going to be here.”

Safety Adrian Wilson sees things more along the lines of the way Dockett does, but with a splash of Whiz' mindset. He wants perfection but realizes there will be mistakes. He's just not giving an allowance to anyone for more than two mistakes.

 

“The first team should expect perfection,” safety Adrian Wilson said. "To say perfection, I mean, there will be one or two mistakes here and there. But you have to stop it at that.”

Obviously each player will make several mistakes this offseason and during the regular season. The deciding factor—especially during OTA's and training camp—is how the team works together to resolve those issues and blend together as a cohesive unit. 

The Cardinals have a solid foundation of being able to stick together even when mistakes cost them wins. 

After winning the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, Arizona went on a six-game skid. That many severe blows to a team is enough to make it implode. 

The Cardinals didn't collapse. They adjusted to the mistakes they were making—most notably on defense. And they finished strong.

Over the final nine games, the Cards won seven and lost two. 

So while the players are seeking perfection with their play this offseason, they already possess the most important attributes needed to win and make it to the playoffs: persistence and determination. 

By not giving up, and continuing to work hard in the 2011 season, the Cardinals laid the mental foundation for a successful 2012 season. 

 

 

 

Prior to the start of the 2011 regular season, the Arizona Cardinals signed wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to an eight-year deal worth $120 million, making him one of the richest men in the NFL.

Still, Fitzgerald deserves better.

Also in the 2011 preseason, the Cardinals landed the most sought after quarterback in the shortened free agency period when they signed Kevin Kolb to a five-year deal worth $63 million.

Still, Fitzgerald deserves better. 

Since being selected third overall in the 2004 NFL draft, Fitzgerald has been a rock for Arizona's offense. Fitzgerald has topped 1,000 yards in six of his eight seasons with the Cardinals (Fitz had 780 yards in his rookie season and in 2006, he played only 13 games and had 947 receiving yards). 

Fitzgerald has made franchise history by breaking Roy Green's touchdown record (69) after hauling in two touchdown passes against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 13. He's allowed Arizona fans to be privy to 73 of his touchdown celebrations. He also holds the franchise record for most receiving yards at 9,466, and he has the most receptions (684) in Cardinals' history.

Fitzgerald is making history without much help.
 

Fitz' Supporting Cast

In 2010, the Pro Bowler was forced to catch passes from the likes of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton.

Anderson has since flew the coop and is backing up Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers. In the 2011 season, he had more rushing attempts (2) than passing attempts (0). Carolina kept the ball out of Anderson's hands—something the Cardinals should have done.

Hall injured his non-throwing shoulder and passed through waivers and then reverted to injured reserve for the 2011 season. He'll most likely be back with the Cardinals this offseason battling for the No. 3 quarterback position, which is a mistake.

And as far as Skelton and his success in 2011, it was a facade. If you take the veneer off of Skelton's victories, you'll discover a dominant defense, not a rising young quarterback.

Kolb is not the answer either; he is one more concussion away from what should be retirement. 

Fitzgerald's fellow wide receivers aren't helping much either. 

Prior to the start of the 2011 season, Fitzgerald used to huddled up with talented wideouts on his team—that's a thing of the past.

As Fitzgerald said himself, “I had some talented guys around me.” 

Had.

Fitzgerald, although maintaining his high level of play, feels that if defenses didn’t have the luxury of keying in on just him, the offense would be more potent.Had.

“Look at Green Bay, they have a plethora of talented guys,” Fitzgerald said. “When you have so many things teams have to worry about defensively, you’re going to get open, you’re going to get the big shots for your offense.”

Fitzgerald's comments are a direct indictment of Early Doucet and Andre Roberts, and deservedly so.

After watching Doucet do his best river dance impression with his feet and fall to the turf against the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona was under a mandate to add not only a capable starting wideout, but a talented one. And by selecting Malcolm Floyd with the first-round pick, Arizona has met their charge. 

But simply drafting an electrifying wideout doesn't change the other deficiencies on the Cardinals' roster. Surely, you can't put a Cadillac body around a Pinto engine and think you have a Caddy.

In order to give Fitzgerald what he deserves, the Cardinals need to replace just about every member of the offensive line and the quarterback. Arizona will not be able to meet these needs in just one offseason. And with the Cardinals' notorious cheap front office and lack of aggressive offseason moves, the fixes are likely never to occur—at least not all at the same time.

The bottom line is that Fitzgerald is the West's Calvin Johnson. Both have had to somehow excel on inept quarterback play. In 2011, Johnson was treated to Matthew Stafford and history was made.

Fitzgerald deserves the same.

Anyone who followed the 2012 NFL Draft knows the Arizona Cardinals feel they need help along the offensive line. A lot of help. They spent three of their seven draft picks on offensive linemen: Bobbie Massie (4th rd.), Senio Kelemete (5th rd.) and Nate Potter (7th rd.). 

And anyone who followed the Cardinals this past season also knows the passing game needs improvement. A mix of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton—with a dash of Richard Bartel—led Arizona to rank 24th in the league in scoring.

Running back Beanie Wells was only able to get the Cardinals to rank 24th in the league in rushing. 

The offense's production starts with the big guys up front. And Profootballfocus.com ranked Arizona's offensive line 30th in the league—above only the Bears (31st) and Giants (32nd). So maybe those three picks were well worth it.  

Hell. Even Sandra Bullock knows that the left tackle position is the most important position along the offensive line. And that spot belongs to draft bust Levi Brown.

But when Brown was drafted (2007), his charge was to protect a left-handed quarterback, Matt Leinart. Hence, he was never to provide blind side protection. 

Nevertheless, Brown finds himself on the blind side and with that he finds himself on the wrong side of consistent criticism. In the past, I've even slapped him and his fellow linemen with a deserving nickname: The Matadors. 

Of the 31 sacks The Matadors surrendered in 2011, Brown accounted for 11 of them—third most in the NFL. He also gave up 40 QB pressures, or the fourth most in the league.

But let's take a closer look. 

Of Brown's 11 sacks given up, 10 of them came in the first 10 weeks of the season. From Week 12 to Week 17, Brown surrendered only a single sack. In that same period, Brown allowed only eight QB pressures.

Those numbers spread over the entire season would have Brown ranked one of the top offensive linemen in the league. So maybe the light went on for Brown. 

Perhaps Brown is finally earning his paycheck. Perhaps the Cardinals over did it during the draft by selecting three offensive linemen. Or, perhaps Brown just gave a bit extra effort to secure a roster spot and then will slip into another four-year hibernation. 

Whatever the case may be, Brown's play in the latter part of the season will be exposed as a facade or legit in the early part of the 2012 season. Cardinals brass won't hesitate to usher in one of their bright, new, shiny offensive linemen in his stead.  

 

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt told Jim Rome on Rome that quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are neck-in-neck in competing for the starting quarterback position for the 2012 season. 

 

“I think the knee-jerk reaction would be to say that it is Kevin’s job to lose,” Whisenhunt said. “But then you have to look at what John Skelton did last year in winning those games when he was in there. So I think you have to give John a lot of credit for winning those games. I certainly have a lot of respect for Kevin and what he’s done in this league and we made the commitment to bring him in to our football team. So it’s going to start out as even as it possibly can, and we’re going to let the best player take it from there."

Whiz is wrong to throw credit Skelton's way for the late-season victories. Yes, it may be true that Skelton was physically in the game for the majority of the Cardinals' wins during their impressive 6-2 winning streak. But if you're giving credit where credit's due, then look no further than defensive coordinator Ray Horton. At the beginning of the season, Horton was unable to utilize his full playbook as a result of the lockout. By the end of the season Horton bewildered opposing teams with his defensive schemes and clinched victories without possessing the ball.

And let's not forget about Arizona's special teams too. As I recall, neither Kolb nor Skelton took a punt 99 yards for a touchdown to win a game.

Whiz' comments about the quarterback competition show that he's using the competition to bring out the best in both quarterbacks. 

"So hopefully the competition between both of them will sharpen up one of them enough that he’ll be a good starter for us,” Whiz told Rome.

The fact of the matter is that if Kolb and Skelton are competing for the starting position, then Arizona has already lost the battle. That's not to say the Cardinals won't be competitive in 2012, because with Horton still at the helm, they most certainly will. But by keeping Kolb on the roster when an equally talented quarterback (Skelton) is already rostered, Arizona foreclosed other opportunities to improve their team.

Kolb's contract is counting $4.65 million against Arizona's salary cap in 2012, while Skelton's salary requires a measly $540,500 hit. That equates to over $4 million that could have been used to improve either the offensive line, linebackers and/or defensive backs. Instead, the Cardinals chose to pay Kolb's roster bonus this off-season and keep him around for one more year.

The Arizona brass may be locked in with Kolb after spending so much to acquire him in the first place. And perhaps he is the future of the Arizona organization. But Kolb surely hasn't done anything on the field to justify such a discrepancy in pay.

The Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars swapped a couple of coaches this offseason. Former Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was shipped over to Jacksonville to be the Jags head coach, while former Jaguar offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter assumed the same position for the Falcons. 

When Koetter arrived in Atlanta, head coach Mike Smith gave Koetter his orders. 

Screen shot_2012-06-17_at_7.13.47_AM

Not only does Koetter plan to utilize the screen game more next season, there are plans to open up the offense by going with the no-huddle more frequently, according to Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. And Ryan makes no bones about his stance on Koetter's plans.

"I love it," Ryan said. "It's something we've had success here with the past four years."

In fact, Ryan has spent the better part of the offseason in the weight room preparing for the physical demands of the no-huddle offense by adding muscle.

"It's good, solid weight," Ryan said. "I feel strong in practice. It will help with the no-huddle when we go to it."

Last season, Ryan had difficulty with deep throws. But he's working on that, as well. 

"I think we need to be more effective with some of our throws down the field and that’s something that I’ve certainly worked on early this offseason," Ryan said. 

When you put those two aspects of Ryan's game together, it cements a solid foundation for a quarterback who has held his own since his inaugural season in 2008. Ryan has led the Falcons to a 43-19 overall record over the past four seasons, including three trips to the playoffs.

With Smith's orders, Koetter's new offensive plans and Ryan's strong work ethic, the Falcons should not only visit the playoffs in 2012, but should finally notch their first post-season win.

 

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they have released linebacker Lofa Tatupu with an injury settlement. Tatupu tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights away from the Falcons' training facility.

In March, the Falcons and Tatupu agreed to a two-year deal worth $5.75 million. Tatupu will only see $600,000 of that deal, which was a signing bonus considered earned upon receipt. 

The Seattle Seahawks released Tatupu on July 31, 2011 after the three-time Pro-Bowler had reconstructive surgery on both knees. Tatupu worked out for the Saints and Titans in February before signing on with the Falcons in March. 

The Falcons signed Tatupu in order to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of linebacker Curtis Lofton. Lofton has led Atlanta in tackles the past two seasons. Lofton took his talents to the Bayou, signing a 5-year, $33.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Now that Tatupu has been released, the battle between Tatupu and Akeem Dent for the middle-linebacker position is settled. Dent—a third-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft—will inherit the starting job. Falcons brass quietly wanted Dent to win that competition in any event, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas.

On Monday, the Falcons re-signed veteran linebacker Mike Peterson. Peterson is not a lock to get his name on the 53-man roster, and if he does, he'll serve only as Dent's backup. If Peterson is forced to see significant action on the field, then Atlanta's defense will suffer a sizable downgrade. Peterson—who will be 36-years-old by Week 1—cannot be relied upon to lead the Falcons defense.

Just like the picture above, the Atlanta Falcons have stated that they plan to keep the ball out of running back Michael Turner's hands in the upcoming season.

Even Turner has accepted as much.

"Might be a little more passing than normal, than what Falcons fans have been used to." Turner told reporters outside of OTA's.

Falcons fans have definitely seen their share of the run game. Turner has ranked first, first and second in the NFL in carries over his last four full seasons. 

And last season, the Burner's heavy workload took its toll. 

Over Atlanta's first 10 games, Turner lived up to his nickname, averaging 4.78 yards per carry and having multiple 20+ yard carries. 

Over the last six games of the 2011-2012 season—including the playoffs—Turner averaged a paltry 3.24 yards per carry and didn't notch a single carry over 20 yards. That number, of course, excludes the Week 17 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs defense packed it in long before Week 17.

So while some may simply look at Turner's final numbers (1,340 yards, 11 TDs, 4.5 YPC) and claim that the 30-year-old back still has gas left in the tank, his overall performance exposes the truth. Turner is no longer a featured back in the NFL and is committing a felony by accepting his $5 million payday next season. 

The Falcons cannot rely on Turner to carry the offense next season, and they know it. It wouldn't be surprising if Turner is asked—and does—accept a pay-cut before he accepts a handoff.  

The Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters is out with a foot injury. And with Peters on the sideline, Atlanta's defense is looking a bit shaky.

First they allow their No. 1 tackler—Curtis Lofton—to walk in free agency. To fill that void, Falcons brass brought in three-time Pro-Bowler Lafu Tatupu. Tatupu suffered what may be a career-ending torn pectoral muscle. And now their 2011 breakout defensive lineman will be out of training camp for the next several weeks. 

The Falcons have yet to divulge the details of Peters' injury, but with the length of time that he's been unable to participate in team activities, it doesn't take a crystal ball to know it's a fractured foot. Peters has been nursing his bum-hoof since late May.

Atlanta has brought in defensive tackle Elisha Joseph to work with the team while Peters is out. Joseph will most likely be released and not make the final 53-man roster. He spent time last season on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad.

When I heard Roger Goodell handpicked the investigator who is going to determine if he engaged in any wrongdoing, I figured the final report would amount to nothing more than a PR/marketing report on behalf of the NFL. Picking one’s judge shrouds the final judgment in partiality.

Then I heard Goodell selected Robert Mueller, a former FBI director and Purple Heart recipient. I thought: maybe Goodell is serious about the investigation. History tells us that former FBI directors surely are able to conduct a thorough and proper investigation in the sports world.

There’s little question former FBI director Louis Freeh competently investigated and reported the systematic sexual abuse that occurred on Penn State’s campus.

And on paper, Mueller, like Freeh, would be an undisputed and proficient investigator, a man more than suited for the charge given to him by Goodell.

Mueller, age 70, has extensive experience investigating corruption cases as an assistant U.S. attorney. Heck, the guy brought down John Gotti. Who can argue with that?

Me. That’s who.

Mueller may have an impressive history, but it’s that history that disqualifies him from conducting the Ray Rice/Ravens investigation.

Mueller is a current partner at the law firm WilmerHale. Ravens president, Richard Cass, is a former WilmerHale partner. Cass worked at WilmerHale for 31 years.

So what Goodell has done is hire a law firm to investigate a former partner of that same law firm.

While there are a great number of ways conflicts of interest arise for lawyers, here's one definition that covers Mueller's involvement:

Screen Shot_2014-09-20_at_6.28.49_PM

The conflict of interest is self-evident. The conflict is especially clear and pervasive when examining Cass’s role in the Rice scandal.

Cass worked closely with Rice’s defense attorney, Michael Diamondstein, and helped formulate Rice’s criminal defense strategy. Cass birthed a scheme that would ensure, he thought, the public would never see the inside-elevator video. That plan was to have Rice enter a diversion program with the permission of the prosecutor.

And in order to secure the prosecutor’s permission, Cass wrote a letter on behalf of Rice to the prosecutor, doing his part to get Rice into a program that has accepted less than 1% of defendants similarly situated as Rice (charged with violent felonies), according to ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

Cass also went with and supported Rice at the disciplinary meeting with Goodell. That’s the meeting where Rice truthfully (according to OTL) told Goodell what occurred inside the elevator. That makes Cass a witness to what Rice said or didn’t say.

Let’s take Mueller’s involvement with Goodell, Rice and the Ravens to its completion: litigation over Mueller’s ultimate investigative report. That puts former WilmerHale partner versus current WilmerHale partner, potentially. I would think WilmerHale wouldn’t want to sit on both sides of the courtroom.

Mueller also has incentive not to cast Cass in a disparaging light. If Mueller shows Cass engaged in deceptive acts and/or acted unethically, it could lead to problems for WilmerHale, Mueller’s current employer.

Undoubtedly, Mueller has a conflict of interest by investigating one of WilmerHale’s former partners. At best, there is a distinct appearance of impropriety having Mueller investigate Goodell and the Ravens front office.

Penn State taught us as much.

Prior to Freeh being assigned to investigate the sexual abuse at Penn State, the university placed two of its trustees in charge of the investigation. Penn State came under fire for appointing such “interested investigators.” Faculty at the school demanded an actual independent investigation. That’s when the board of trustees hired Freeh.

As stated in the video, Freeh made it clear that he had “a commitment to show no favoritism toward any of the parties who’s actions we will be reviewing, including the board of trustees.” (3:03).

While we haven’t seen any favoritism from Mueller because the investigation is at its infancy, there is an undeniable look of bias towards one’s own colleague.

Goodell also appointed Art Rooney and John Mara to oversee Mueller’s investigation. Certainly there will be favoritism coming from Rooney and Mara towards Goodell. What incentive do Rooney and Mara have in exposing any of Goodell’s wrongdoing? They’re involvement in the investigation equates to that of the Penn State trustees initially tapped to investigate the university: hyenas patrolling their own den.

Prior to Freeh taking on the Penn State investigation, he demanded “total independence,” which was the “main condition of his engagement.” (3:15).

The opposite rings true with Mueller’s appointment—he is an interested party to the investigation, which taints his entire investigation.

The eventual report Mueller will always have a stain of favoritism on it because of his direct link to Ravens president Cass. If Goodell wants a true independent investigation, then he should hire an independent investigator.

And if the NFL owners—including you Packers shareholders—want a true independent investigation, then they should do as the Penn State faculty did and demand Goodell appoint a disinterested party. Maybe Freeh is available.

But a word of caution to you Green Bay shareholders, don’t be too vocal about this. Included in the fine print of your stock certificate is a strict prohibition against you “publicly criticizing any NFL member club or its management or employees.” And when I say strict, I mean to the tune of $500,000. This Goodell guy, I tell ya.

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Goodell “disciplined” Ray Rice with a two-game suspension, which was inappropriate. The public freaked out, which was appropriate.

In direct response to the public’s outcry over Rice’s suspension, Goodell wrote this letter to the NFL owners. 

Goodell mentioned the fans and/or the public six times in his letter to the NFL owners. The fans are even mentioned in the first sentence of the letter.

Goodell’s kneejerk letter was written simply to appease the public and created a flawed policy with respect to domestic violence.

Here’s the portion of the letter/policy regarding domestic violence punishment:

“Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”

There are two key terms in Goodell’s statement that make the policy flawed: 1) “violations of the Personal Conduct Policy,” and 2) “physical force.”

Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy

First, the phrase “violations of the Personal Conduct Policy” is one that, when juxtaposed with the actual Personal Conduct Policy, has little bite with respect to domestic violence.

According to the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, when the commissioner catches wind of “conduct that may give rise to discipline,” he can start his own investigation and impose appropriate punishment.

The policy differentiates first-time offenders from repeat offenders, however.

“Unless the available facts clearly indicate egregious circumstances, significant bodily harm or risk to third parties, or an immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL, a first offense generally will not result in discipline until there has been a disposition of the proceeding,” according to the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.

Disposition of a criminal proceeding is defined in the policy as “an adjudication of guilt or an admission to a criminal violation; a plea to a lesser included offense; a plea of nolo contendere or no contest; or the disposition of the proceeding through a diversionary program, deferred adjudication, disposition of supervision, conditional dismissal or similar arrangements.”

The policy gives the NFL discretion to act prior to the legal outcome of a case, but makes it clear that, except for exceptional cases, won’t do so until the court case becomes final for a first offense.

The only time Goodell disciplined a player when no arrests, charges or convictions were obtained was with Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 when Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a college student. But that was not a “first offense” for the Steeler quarterback.

At the time of the 2010 suspension, another woman had claimed Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her. She was suing Big Ben civilly for the alleged incident. The NFL did not discipline Roethlisberger with respect to the 2008 allegations.

Big Ben_Smoke

The problem with the NFL’s policy as it relates to domestic violence is that most victims of domestic violence choose not to prosecute.

In the 200 or so domestic violence cases I’ve handled, only a handful actually resulted in some type of conviction. And that’s not because I’m some super lawyer—it’s because I knew beforehand that the victim wouldn’t show up for trial.

In the study, Factors Related to Domestic Violence Court Dispositions in a Large Urban Area: The Role of Victim/Witness Reluctance and Other Variables, Executive Summary. Washington D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice, 96-WT-NX-0004 National Institute of Justice, NCJ 184112, it was found that 70.5% of domestic violence cases in Ohio were dismissed because of victim “unavailability/failure to attend.”

Handling a domestic violence criminal case goes like this: 1) the client tells you he was charged with domestic violence; 2) you read the police report; 3) you look up and ask, “Will she show up for the trial?”

If the answer is “no,” then set it for trial and “win” the case. Without a victim, it’s much more difficult for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction. Not impossible, just more challenging.  

Even when there is a victim, approximately 30% of the time victims report that no assault occurred, contradicting statements made in police reports. Domestic violence victims often do not want any punishment to occur to their partner.

Therefore, the case is almost always dismissed at the beginning of trial because there is no victim to testify or the victim’s testimony would create reasonable doubt.

I mean just look at Rice’s wife—she all but apologized for getting in the way of her man’s uppercut.

Physical Force

The other issue with Goodell’s letter is the term, “physical force.”

Often times, domestic violence doesn’t involve “physical force,” but rather some other form of power and control.

It is as though the NFL is only concerned with addressing what the public viewed with respect to Ray Rice and not concerned with addressing the real issues surrounding domestic violence.

I’m not bashing the NFL for attempting to address a significant issue swirling around in the NFL. Kudos to Goodell for putting together a swift and seemingly severe policy. But in my opinion, the policy was rushed and didn’t take into account how domestic violence cases are actually handled in court.

Simply put, the NFL’s policy—for first time offenders—whiffs when it comes to real world domestic violence issues.

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Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie is still unable to suit up for practice. McKinnie reported to Ravens training camp on Sunday (veterans were supposed to report the previous Wednesday) with a hurt back and is being held out of team activities.

McKinnie having issues preventing him from practicing is nothing new for the University of Miami grad. 

McKinnie was originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first-round of the 2002 NFL Draft. After playing seven seasons in the NFL, McKinnie was selected for the 2009 Pro-Bowl. It didn't last long.

McKinnie chose to attend only one of the four team practices and didn't want his picture taken with the team. The NFL removed McKinnie from the Pro-Bowl for his lack of interest.

Following the NFL lockout, McKinnie showed up to the Vikings facility weighing nearly 400 pounds to start the season. The Vikings cut the overweight 'Cane. 

Fellow Miami alums took up McKinnie's cause to find a team and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed convinced the Ravens to take a chance on the apathetic lineman. 

Now we have McKinnie showing up late for training camp, missing practices and not communicating with the team. History instructs that this is status quo for McKinnie, not an aberration. 

McKinnie has placed the Ravens in a precarious position with their offensive line. Baltimore is dealing with an aging front-five and need to make concrete decision on starters early in camp. Not knowing if or when McKinnie would report to camp—or if he would show up overweight—prevents the Ravens from making those decision.

As it is now, fellow offensive lineman Michael Oher is working in the left tackle position instead of where he will most likely end up: right tackle. 

The lack of cohesiveness with Baltimore's offensive line—at the hands of McKinnie—may affect the team's overall performance this season.

Claudia Wilken, a federal judge in California took 99 pages to explain why college athletes can now get paid. With the expansive and convoluted issues that laced the O’Bannon v. NCAA case, I can understand why it took half of a redwood tree to write her ruling.

The crux of the O’Bannon case involved two concepts: antitrust and amateurism. 

Before discussing antitrust and amateurism, however, it’s important to breakdown two terms used by the judge throughout her ruling: grant-in-aid and cost of attendance.

Grant-in-Aid vs. Cost of Attendance

Grant-in-aid is what you know as a scholarship. The grant-in-aid covers the actual expenses for getting an education but nothing more—no incidental expenses.

The cost of attendance is the full cost of attending a school and is a school-specific figure defined in the NCAA bylaws. 

The judge labeled the cost of attendance as “an amount calculated by [a school]’s financial aid office, using federal regulations, that includes the total cost of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses related to attendance” at that particular school.

Think of cost of attendance as what your parents actually pay for you to attend school. This figure is usually a few thousand dollars more than the value of grant-in-aid scholarships.

The judge’s ruling was largely based on the difference between grant-in-aid and cost of attendance. I’ll circle back to this later.

So what is Antitrust?

I explained what antitrust is here. In short, it has to do with making sure a market for goods or services remains competitive and that no one person or entity has or creates an unfair advantage in the exchange of those goods and/or services.

The student-athlete wants something the school has and the school wants something the student-athlete has.

In exchange for a University’s “bundle of goods and services, football and basketball recruits must provide their schools with their athletic services and acquiesce in the use of their names, images and likenesses for commercial and promotional purposes.  These recruits also agree to pay any costs outside of the scholarship they receive,” Wilken wrote.

In the O’Bannon case, the antitrust issue centers on the fact that the NCAA sets a price of zero dollars on the student-athletes’ services and, in turn, says the student-athletes don’t need to be paid anything beyond what their scholarships provide (which is less than the cost of attending the schools).

OBannon

One of the NCAA’s own experts referred to the NCAA as a “cartel” in his economics textbook. He tried to backpedal his way out of that characterization, but it didn’t work.  

Judge Wilken remarked that “the schools agree to value the student-athlete’s athletic performance, name, image and likeness at zero by agreeing not to compete with each other to credit any other value to the recruit in the exchange.”

That, my friends, is price fixing. It’s illegal. 

Because all of the NCAA schools have agreed to do this (setting the value of the recruits’ and student-athletes’ value at zero), it violates antitrust laws, or at least to this judge it does.

What is Amateurism as Defined by the NCAA?

While the definition of amateurism may seem like a cut-and-dry concept, under the NCAA bylaws through the years, it’s anything but.

The NCAA was started in 1905 (then known as Intercollegiate Athletic Association (IAA)) by the presidents of 62 colleges & universities in order to have uniform rules in football only. The first bylaws were penned in 1906.

The 1906 NCAA bylaws defined amateurism in its purest form: no money or compensation to student-athletes whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Even the modern-day scholarships players receive today would’ve violated the 1906 bylaw defining amateurism.

Despite the restrictive language in the 1906 bylaws, players still received subsidies.

The IAA’s name changed to NCAA in 1916 and thereafter, the definition of amateur changed several times. Despite the definition of amateur varying through the years, the judge found that the member schools “continued to ignore these rules for the first few decades of the NCAA’s existence.”

In 1948, the NCAA got strict and enacted the “Sanity Code,” which was designed to curb violations of its bylaws. It didn’t work.

The Sanity Code lasted only four years and in 1952, the NCAA created the first enforcement committee.

And in 1956, the NCAA revised its scholarship limits/procedure that started the modern day grant-in-aid scholarships. In 1956, the scholarships (known as full “grant-in-aid”) said student-athletes could only receive financial aid for tuition, fees, room and board, books, and cash for “incidental expenses,” such as laundry. Their words, not mine.

In 1975, the “incidental expenses” clause was removed from the grant-in-aid phrase. 

In 2004, the NCAA amended the grant-in-aid again, allowing student-athletes to accept the full value of a Pell grant if they qualify for it, even if it exceeds the cost of attendance. The full value of the Pell grant is $5,500.

The current amateurism provision in the NCAA’s constitution includes the following language: “...student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.” 

Fan with_ticket

The NCAA, itself is a commercial enterprise, with its president, Dr. Mark Emmert pulling in about $1.7 million or so per year. Not to mention other businesses like ESPN, CBS, and many others all vying for the right to use the student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

The definition of amateur has evolved and morphed over the decades and was used as a shield by the NCAA in the O’Bannon case, as well as a couple of other cases still pending in the courts. Judge Wilken stripped the NCAA of that shield and used the NCAA’s own witnesses to strike down its rules.

The NCAA, specifically Dr. Emmert, argued that the NCAA has a strong “philosophical commitment to amateurism” and is the reason more schools want to join the NCAA Division I ranks and the reason the athletic programs are successful. 

The judge found this argument “implausible” and “not credible.” She detailed how schools are clawing to join Division I because of the financial benefit, not philosophical beliefs regarding amateurism.

Other NCAA Arguments

Group License

A group license in sports is a license that allows a broadcasting company to use all of the sports’ players’ images, names and likenesses rather than having to enter into licensing agreements with each individual player.

The NCAA argued, through its expert’s testimony, that a group license to use the student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses was not necessary and was primarily entered into “to gain exclusive access to the facility where the event will occur.”

It’s perplexing that the NCAA made this argument, and even harder to believe they did it with a straight face.

If you’re not buying the NCAA’s argument, neither was the judge. Judge Wilken immediately wrote the following: “This testimony is not convincing.” 

Broadcasters have to have the rights to visiting players too, and the license isn’t a ticket to get into a particular venue—it’s secured to do exactly what its intended purpose is: use the student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA No Longer Licenses Intellectual Property

This is the “I’m taking my ball and going home” defense.

ea cover

The NCAA’s argument was that because it stopped licensing its intellectual property for use in videogames, developers wouldn’t develop a videogame without the use of the student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

The judge saw through this “defense,” as well. The judge noted how the NCAA only stopped licensing their intellectual property (student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses) in response to the O’Bannon litigation.

More importantly, the judge explained that just because the NCAA stopped such licensing doesn’t mean it would never renew the license with EA Sports again. Prior to the O’Bannon suit being filed, such licenses were profitable, so the judge reasoned that following the litigation the NCAA would reenter into those licenses.  

What About the Fans?!

The judge rejected the NCAA’s argument that the consumers (those who watch and attend NCAA games) would be harmed if student-athletes were paid.

Oddly enough, the NCAA relied on survey data and lay witness testimony to support their argument that the rules they have restraining athletes getting paid “promote consumer demand for its product by preserving its tradition of amateurism in college sports.” Lay witness testimony? That’s a fan.

I can just picture a guy up on the witness stand in his Ohio State jersey, wearing a beer hat: NCAA Attorney: “Sir, you wouldn’t go to games any longer if we paid the athletes, would you?” Beer Guy: "Uhhh, no."

The judge said such “evidence” was insufficient to justify their argument.

The NCAA surveyed 2,455 people across the U.S. asking them how they feel about college athletes being paid.

Fan Basketball

The judge said the survey was critically flawed.

The NCAA’s survey asked questions that “primed” the people completing the survey to think about student-athletes receiving “illicit payments when answering the...survey questions.”

The NCAA still argued that 69% of people surveyed “expressed opposition to paying student-athletes while only twenty-eight percent favored paying them.” The judge found what fans think irrelevant to the chief issue at hand and said their responses “say little about how consumers would actually behave if the NCAA’s restrictions were lifted.”

Even the NCAA survey expert admitted that the other polls and surveys on the issue of college players getting paid “vary in their quality or their methodology and their implementation.”  That means they may have used a poll on ESPN’s webpage, or at a bar in Tuscaloosa prior to kickoff to support their argument. If you’re thinking this is absurd, you’re correct.

The survey used by the NCAA didn’t even ask the central question of whether people agreed with student-athletes getting a “share of the licensing revenue generated from the use of their own name, image and likeness.” 

And the survey respondents weren’t asked about scholarships actually covering the full cost of attendance rather than just the grant-in-aid fees of attending school.

O'Bannon's Specific Requests

Ultimately, the judge ruled on three requests made by the O’Bannon plaintiffs: 1) stipends for school expenses, 2) actual payments for athletic ability and performance, and 3) payments for endorsements.

1. Stipends for School Expenses.

Going back to the NCAA’s definition of amateurism, the judge found that allowing schools to award stipends to student-athletes would help ease the oppressive effects the NCAA’s have on student-athletes without affecting amateurism as defined by the NCAA.

In other words, student-athletes can still meet the NCAA’s definition of amateur if they receive a stipend from the school.

The judge limited the stipends to the “cost of attendance” as defined by the NCAA’s current bylaws.

The judge specifically mentioned “school supplies” in her ruling. So, with respect to balancing scholarships (or, grants-in-aid) versus actual cost of attendance, the judge just reverted back to the 1975 “laundry and other expenses” clause, nothing more.

Essentially what the judge did was raise the grant-in-aid limit to cover the true cost of student-athletes attending college, which Dr. Emmert and other NCAA witnesses agreed would not violate the NCAA’s amateurism rules.

Simply put, student-athletes have to receive grants-in-aid combined with stipends that at least cover the cost of attendance.

2. Actual Payments for Athletic Ability and Performance

The judge also ruled that schools can “make limited payments to student-athletes above the cost-of-attendance” but only if the student-athletes are not paid based on athletic ability or performance. It has to be the same limited payment for everyone.

So Florida State will pay Jameis Winston the same amount as John Franklin, III, the third-string quarterback.

Jameis Winston

The payments made to student-athletes, which can vary year to year, have to be held in trust. This means the student-athletes can’t touch the money until after they leave school.

The money used to pay the student-athletes will come from the licensing revenue generated from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA can set a cap on the deferred compensation, however, but that cap has to be at least $5,000 “for every year that the student-athlete remains academically eligible to compete.”

Also, schools can pay less than $5,000 to student-athletes, but they cannot conspire with one another in setting the payment amount. Something to watch for is schools all paying the same amount of money to student-athletes.

If this happens, the student-athletes will most likely be back in court arguing another price-fixing claim.

So yes, there is a NCAA cap of at least $5,000 that can be paid to student-athletes, but the individual schools are free to pay as little as zero to the student-athletes.

3. Money for Endorsements

The judge rejected the student-athletes’ proposal that they get paid for endorsing commercial products because, the judge reasoned, this would not protect them from “commercial exploitation.” 

The Fallout

The judge expressly stated that more reforms and remedies need to be undertaken by the NCAA, or if not by it, then by the individual schools and conferences; and if they all fail to act, then by Congress.

The judge issued a permanent injunction against the NCAA and its rules prohibiting student-athletes from getting paid. The injunction is an order telling the NCAA it can no longer enforce the restrain on student-athletes receiving financial payments beyond their scholarships.

The NCAA is going to appeal the judge’s ruling.

The strongest claim the NCAA has is that the permanent injunction was not necessary because there is no irreparable injury to the student-athletes. In other words, the litigation can take its course and if the final ruling in the case is that the student-athletes are to be paid, then they can be paid retroactively.

The injury, if there ends up being one, is not permanent so there is no need for the injunction.

Compare the NCAA’s case to the Josh Gordon case: The NFL suspended Gordon for the 2014 NFL season. If the courts don’t issue an injunction against the NFL and allow Gordon to play in the 2014 season, then he will not be able to go back and play in the 2014 season if he wins his case in state court.

The student-athletes will always be able to receive a check at a later date. The only issue is what amount would the school have paid the players if the injunction had stayed in effect. The court would most likely award the $5,000 limit to the student-athletes if the injunction is lifted and retroactive payments had to be made.

The judge’s injunction against the NCAA doesn’t take effect until the next football and basketball recruiting cycle. So if you’re a senior, you’re fresh out. 

On May 7, 2012, Buffalo Bills' running back, Fred Jackson signed a three-year, $10.805 million deal. He received $3 million for picking up the pen and inking his name on the contract.

Let's pretend that Jackson didn't sit in that Bills' office, he didn't have a contract in front of him to sign, the pen wasn't in his hand, and he didn't negotiate a single term of the deal.

No. Fred Jackson wasn't in that NFL office. Instead, he was sitting in Lamar High School's locker room on a Friday night. It was his senior year—final game—and he still hadn't gotten the blessing from his head coach that he could be a starter, even for just his final high school game. 

And let's pretend after his last high school game—ending the year as a third-string running back—Jackson got discouraged from the 0.08% chance he had to make it to the NFL and he felt dejected after hearing 13 of his high school teammates already signed to play college football. 

Then pretend that Jackson had too much pride to go from Division I dreams, to enrolling in Division III's Coe College. Maybe having to pay for college was too much for Jackson because he felt he should've received a scholarship like his high school teammates. Pretend that Coe College would even offer Jackson a scholarship.

Now pretend that Jackson gave up after his junior year at Coe, when he rushed for 1,702 yards and 29 touchdowns and still couldn't make it into a big-named college. Pretend the All-American awards he earned meant something. 

And after his senior year, maybe—just maybe—he would finally get recognition and drafted into the NFL. But Jackson failed to understand that he had just a tad over 1% chance to make it into the NFL after graduating from Coe.

Let's pretend that Jackson listened to those percentages and didn't accept a running back spot on the Sioux City Bandits roster. In fact, let's pretend that he gave up his football dreams well before the Bandits. He stopped pursing his NFL hopes after trying out for the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers and got rejected, thrice. 

Pretend Jackson listened to those NFL teams when they told him he was too small to play running back. Or pretend that the $200 per week paycheck Jackson received from the Bandits was too humiliating to continue on his football path. 

Pretend Jackson couldn't keep getting those checks for the next two years. And pretend that moving to Europe to play for NFL Europa was too far for Jackson. Because he had already turned 26 years old, which, in the NFL, would almost qualify him for AARP benefits.

So up to this point, Jackson was too small and too old to take the field, according to the NFL. And according to statistics, and his one-in-1,250 chance of playing professional football...he was never going to make it, especially after not being able to start in high school, or even make a Division I college football team.

Someone should've told Jackson. Well, they should've told him again. Because from the looks of things, he hasn't been listening this entire time. 

Jackson's unmatched hustle and unbridled determination landed him in the Buffalo Bills' training camp in 2006. He began his NFL career in Marshawn Lynch's rearview mirror, but kept his eyes on the front seat. It took him three years to make it into the NFL after college, and it took him the same amount of time to rip the starting job from Lynch in 2009.

Now, back to reality, where we're back in the Bills' front offices and Fred Jackson has pen-to-paper, about to sign his $10.805 million deal.

Pretend you're not rooting for this young man.

Fred Jackson_crowd

Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey made a couple of big announcements yesterday. First, he announced that the team cut Shawne Merriman. The media covered that story ad nauseum. The other announcement that got very little press was that Cordy Glenn would be Buffalo's starting left tackle. 

Glenn was a second-round selection from the 2012 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, the former Georgia Bulldog will now be assigned to what Sandra Bullock called the second-most important position on the field: protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. 

Gailey feels that Glenn already possesses the tools to excel at the position. “Cordy’s got great ability,” Gailey told Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. “He’s not done great against the two good pass-rushers he’s faced [Brian Orakpo and Jared Allen], but he’s done OK. And I think that we see a great upside with him.”

What Gailey feels he needs more than anything is reps. 

 

“Ability’s not the issue. It’s just playing time. He needs as much playing time as he can get. I think if he gets playing time he’s got a chance to be a really good football player."

Now that Glenn has beat out Chris Hairston for the starting spot, he'll have plenty of reps going forward. But he'll need to do better than be a "really good football player" in the Bills pistol-spread offense. Protecting Fitzpatrick is the key to the Bills' success.

Last season, the Bills were off to a start that had them headed to the playoffs. After Fitzpatrick was injured against the Washington Redskins in Week 8, the team went on a seven game losing streak and tanked the season. So Glenn will need to be great, not just "really good."

Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills franchise holds a record. The franchise currently holds the longest streak for non-appearances in the post-season among all teams. For the twelfth consecutive year, the Bills failed to reach the playoffs.

Early in the 2011 season, however, the Bills looked destined to break that streak. In Week 1, Buffalo annihilated the Kansas City Chiefs 41-7 at Arrowhead Stadium. That win was solid, but didn't raise any eyebrows.

In Weeks 2 and 3, the NFL took notice. 

The Oakland Raiders visited the Bills in Week 2 and Oakland took a commanding 21-3 lead at halftime. The Bills rallied against Darren McFadden and torched the Raiders in a memorable fourth quarter. The Bills won the game with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to a wide open David Nelson with :14 remaining.

In Week 3, the Bills cemented themselves as a legitimate playoff contender after overcoming a 21-0 deficit in the second quarter against the New England Patriots. Fitzpatrick, again, led a fourth quarter arial assault to allow kicker Ryan Lindell to punch in the game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation.

Over the first eight weeks of the season, Buffalo was entrenched in the playoff race. The Bills went 5-2 over that span with a bye week in Week 7. Fitzpatrick was leading his team with the playoffs in sight.

In Week 8, the Bills defeated the Washington Redskins, but according to wide receiver David Nelson, Fitzpatrick took a shot from linebacker London Fletcher that left the quarterback with cracked ribs. We tend to believe Nelson.

In the Bills first seven games, Fitzpatrick had a 97.8 passer rating. He tossed 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in those first seven games. After cracking his ribs in Week 8, Fitzpatrick notched a 10:16 touchdown-interception ratio over the remaining nine games. By seasons' end, he led the league in interceptions (23). 

Many speculated that Fitzpatrick's job was in jeopardy after the Bills acquired Vince Young. General manager Buddy Nix quickly put that thought to bed.

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To make matters worse, running back Fred Jackson broke a bone in his right lower leg in Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins and was placed on injured reserve. Jackson was having a Pro-Bowl caliber year prior to the injury.

Following the Redskins game in Week 8, the Bills went on a seven-game skid and won just a single game (Denver Broncos, Week 16) to finish out the disappointing season.

But with the offseason, comes much needed healing from Buffalo's three key players: Fitzpatrick (ribs), Johnson (groin) and Jackson (leg). All three impact players will opening training camp (Thursday, July 26, 3:00 p.m.) healthy and eager to pick up where they started the 2011 season. 

If the trio remains healthy throughout the 2012-13 season, the Bills will most assuredly enter the post-season and snap their playoff non-appearance streak.

 

When you think of the most successful wide receiver the Buffalo Bills had in recent memory, Lee Evans comes to mind. But Stevie Johnson has enjoyed more success than Evans in half the amount of time Evans had with the Bills.

Johnson has posted consecutive 1,000+ seasons with the Bills, and he reached double-digit touchdowns (10) in 2010. In Evans' seven years with Buffalo, he never recorded double-digit touchdowns and never had back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons. In fact, in five out of his seven seasons, he failed to breach the 900 receiving yard mark.

Even with Johnson's career developing with such promise, he is looking to make it better. His focus is to improve the yards he gains after the catch, or YAC. Last season, Johnson ranked 40th among wide receivers in YAC with 4.5 yards.

There's an easy explanation: Johnson played the season with a groin injury. That injury affected his mentality when it came to having solid stats in the YAC column.

“With the groin it was more a thought of, ‘I know this guy is going to catch me.’ My level of confidence was basically low because I felt with a torn groin I had to do a lot of cutting back across the field instead of just trying to outrun somebody,” said Johnson.

Johnson had offseason surgery to repair his torn groin. Johnson will have a full training camp and preseason to test out his improved groin. And this year when he catches a pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, he'll be thinking touchdown instead of "get down." 

“When I’d be out there I’d be thinking about making the catch and then get what I can and get down," said #13. "What the mentality should be is get the catch and try to take it all the way to the house. It was different with that injury.”

Last season's 4.5 YAC for Johnson was entirely disappointing. Now that his injury is fixed, Johnson has lofty goals. 

“I want to be able double that,” said Johnson. “I want to up that number to show that I have a complete game. All those elite guys are getting those yards after catch. So anything up around 10 would be good. That’s another first down.”

There's little chance Johnson doubles that number, but he should be able to improve it significantly. And that improvement will have the Bills most likely battle the New York Jets for a Wild Card spot in the post-season.

The Buffalo Bills have locked up all nine of their 2012 NFL Draft selections, including the most recent signing of wide receiver T.J. Graham. Graham agreed to a four-year deal with the financials undisclosed.

Now the question arises as to where Graham will fit into the Bills' Pistol Spread offense. Head coach Chan Gailey has his reservations about the young speedster (4.41 40-yard dash time). 

 

“Everybody else has been here and knows the system. So he’s been struggling to catch on because we’re at an advanced stage and we’re trying to catch him up,” said Gailey. “He’s got a load of talent. We’ve just got to get him caught up.”

If you ask the Bills No. 1 wide receiver Stevie Johnson, he'll give a different answer. 

 

“As much as I can with little things like he’s been thrown into the fire and all that, but he looks good to me,” said Johnson.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to be luke warm on the rookie. “It’s tough for a rookie to come in here. Our offense you need to know all four [receiver] positions,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s a lot more difficult than going somewhere and playing one position all the time. That being said he’s made big time strides in the OTAs and we’re throwing everything at him.”

Big strides are maybe all the Bills expect out of Graham in the early part of the season. Based on Graham's statements, it sure seems that way.

 

“I think I’ll fit into a spot. I have to figure out where that is,” Graham said. “Right now I’m just competing with the guys around me. I don’t know exactly what role I’ll play or where I’ll fit in, but I do know they need me to run fast and I can do that.”

With 4.41 40-yard dash speed, he's right: he can run fast. But in order for him to be successful in the league, he will need to not only learn the playbook, but also get comfortable enough with reading defenses so that he's playing football and not thinking football on the field. Once he gets comfortable with the playbook and reading defenses, the game will slow down for the rookie and he will be able to make an impact for a Bills team that looks to be on the rise.

There's no question the NFL is morphing into a passing league. Ten quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards last season. But in order to find success in the NFL, teams need to strike a balance between an attacking arial assault and an effective running game. There are only a few teams in the NFL that have an elite quarterback to go along with a pounding backfield. 

Some highly talented tandem backfields include the Houston Texans (Arian Foster and Ben Tate), the New Orleans Saints (Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas), and the Buffalo Bills (Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller). Other teams have duo's that could emerge as top-threats, such as the Chicago Bears with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Arizona Cardinals with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, or the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.

But with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Carolina Panthers have, arguably, the most explosive, talented running back set in the NFL. Carolina seems to recognize this and pulled out all stops to keep the duo from being divorced.

Prior to the start of last season, the Panthers made a curious move to keep the tandem together. Carolina shelled out a 5-year, $43 million contract to keep Williams in a Panthers' jersey. Stewart got nothing.

This offseason Carolina brought in Mike Tolbert from the San Diego Chargers. Following Tolbert's signing, speculation began flying out of the rumor mill that the Panthers would surely move Stewart. Everyone within the organization tried to put those reports to rest.

Screen shot_2012-08-09_at_1.19.09_PM

Even Stewart himself was insisting that no trade would occur, and that he wanted to stay in Carolina.

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With the trade rumors tucked tightly in bed, and training camp well under way, Carolina is set to deploy a thundering run game. 

Both Williams and Stewart averaged 5.4 yards per carry. And quarterback Cam Newton forces defenses to lock in on him as a ball carrier, as well. Newton averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 126 attempts. The Carolina wildcat formation is as real as it gets.

As if the ground game wasn't electrifying enough, the Panthers added Tolbert. The 5'9" 243-pound wrecking ball scored 15 touchdowns on 37 attempts inside the 5-yard line with the San Diego Chargers. Once Carolina gets in the red zone, they will not lack options for punching it across the goal line. 

Panthers brass has been excellent at carving out roles for each one of their ball carriers. First and foremost, Williams and Stewart are just about in a deadlock when it comes to time on the field. In 2011, Stewart played on 55.2% of the offensive snaps, but Williams edged out Stewart in carries with 155 carries for Williams and 142 for his counterpart. 

And while Williams only saw 2 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line compared to Stewart's 10, Williams scored more rushing touchdowns (7) than Stewart (4). It's almost impossible for defenses to predict Carolina's rushing strategy.

To start training camp, Williams opened as the starter. After all, he's the one carrying around that monster contract. Once the regular season starts, however, Panther fans can expect to see an equal dose of both backs.

With Stewart entering a contract year, however, this may be the last season that Carolina fans see Stewart in a Panters' uniform. It's doubtful that the Panthers will be able to secure Stewart to a long-term contract that he will undoubtably seek following this season. He would accept no less than what Carolina dished out to Williams.

But until that time, Williams, Stewart, Newton and now Tolbert will try to run opposing defenses into the ground, and in the process, run the Panthers into the NFL Playoffs.

The most pivotal question looming over the Carolina Panthers in the upcoming season is whether or not quarterback Cam Newton will slip into a sophomore slump. After a record-breaking rookie season, such a slump almost seems inevitable. 

After all, Newton hasn't exactly tip-toe'd onto the sports scene over the course of several years. He is just three years removed from a junior college football field. Two years removed from hoisting the Heisman trophy and one year from being selected first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. We're just getting to know the 23-year-old.

And, as a professional football player, he's just getting to know himself.

Due to the NFL Lockout in 2011, Newton was herded into the rookie bunch that was forced to start their inaugural season without the benefit of a full offseason of work. And while it's true that all NFL players—rookies and veterans alike—were prevented from engaging in organized team activities with their coaches, such a situation is even more dire for quarterbacks. Even more so for rookie quarterbacks.

Newton did not have the opportunity to engage offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski or head coach Ron Rivera leading up to his rookie season. For a rookie quarterback who is expected to lead the previous year's worst-ranked offense in the NFL, that's a frightening situation.

Other positions on the team are not impacted by a lockout as much as the quarterback position; those players excel using power or speed. The quarterback position is the brain and central nervous system of the offense. Newton needed to know not only his position, but exactly what every other player's assignment on the offense was, as well. He had days, not months, to acclimate himself to his team and the NFL.

Cam learning

With such a grim backdrop to begin the season, few outside of North Carolina thought Newton would succeed as a rookie. And by succeed, we mean not fall completely flat on his face. Many thought Carolina made the right draft choice in Newton if for no other reason than to fill stadium seats and sell jerseys. 

Without question, Newton succeeded. He broke a handful of rookie quarterback records, including the most passing yards in a game (432) and a season (4,051), he ran for the most yards as a rookie quarterback (706) and had the most total touchdowns (35), a record held for 63 years. 

And he did it all without a reference guide in the huddle. Chudzinski and Rivera did not allow Newton to use a wristband with a playlist on it as most NFL quarterbacks do.

The 6'5" 245-pound quarterback used his 4.58 40-yard dash speed to take the Panthers from last (in 2010) to fourth (in 2011) in total offense. And he did it consistently throughout the season. During the first 8 weeks of the season, Newton pass for 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Over the last 8 games of the season, the rookie tossed 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He showed no decline.

In fact, Newton improved towards the end of the season. Over his final six games of the season, Newton boasted a 108.0 quarterback rating by accounting for 14 total touchdowns and only three interceptions. 

And in 2012, Newton and the Panthers should hold their ground offensively. Newton has worked hard on accuracy and improving his touch passes. And the improvement is noticeable, according to NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah.

Not only does the organization have, arguably, the best running back tandem in the league, they have added wide receiver Louis Murphy to the ranks. Murphy was buried on the Oakland Raiders depth chart and will not be able to showcase his speed and talent with the Panthers.

To compliment Murphy, the Panthers will start wideout Brandon LaFell. LaFell showed some spark last year and will look to improve off of his second-year success. Often times, a wide receiver has their breakout year during their third year in the league. With reports coming out of Carolina's training camp at Wofford College that Newton and LaFell are syncing up, a breakout season should be waiting for LaFell.

The cornerstone of Carolina's success in the 2012-13 season, however, will rest with Newton. And he is more than capable of providing the offense with the needed foundation to be successful.

Most would consider Newton's rookie season a success, but to him, he failed. He has repeatedly stated that despite breaking records last season, it was all for naught because his team didn't secure a spot in the NFL Playoffs.

The most striking statement he has made about himself—to himself—following his record-breaking rookie season is this: "If your team ain't in the playoffs next year, then Cam Newton, you failed yourself."

That statement shows a lot about the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Most importantly, it reveals that he has the drive to make his team better, not just himself. And when he told ESPN's Hannah Storm that he has yet to take a day off this offseason, his discipline and work ethic are evident. 

That drive, couched in his discipline and willingness to work hard during the offseason, will propel Newton further into the record books and have the Panthers fighting to make the playoffs come January 2013. 

The Chicago Tribune revealed that the Chicago Bears may sign quarterback Jay Cutler to a long-term deal before inking running back Matt Forte's deal. Any doubt as to whether new GM Phil Emery is concerned about Forte's feelings can be cast aside. 

Emery is concerned only with making his organization stronger, and that's all he should be concerned with. This is a business and signing Forte to a long-term deal may be a bad business decision.

The Bears' evaluation of Forte appears to reveal that he's not as vital to the ball club as he may think he is. And the latest news is that Forte feels he's worth about $8.5 million per season.  

Since donning a Chicago jersey, Forte has needed a second running back to help him get the tough yards. First the Bears employed Chester Taylor for the gig, and then Marion Barber took those reins. Now, Michael Bush flew over from Oakland to do what Forte has struggled to do—get the tough yards.

Over the course of Forte's professional career he has had 33 rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line. He's only been able to spike the ball on three of those runs. Despite Forte's size (6'2" 218 lbs.), he's just not a goal line back. 

The Bears have realized that because of Forte's 33 attempts inside the five, he was only trusted on five attempts in 2011. Like his opportunity to sign a long-term deal, his goal line touches are dwindling.

Forte What

 

The crucial question for Chicago is whether or not Bush is an adequate replacement if Forte holds out into the 2012 season. Based on Bush's successful 2011 season, many are quick to anoint him as an every-down back. The numbers prove otherwise.

In 2011, Bush averaged 4.44 yards per carry on his first 134 carries. Like life, in the NFL it's not how you start but how you finish (just ask the New York Giants). Bush's finish was weak. He averaged a measly 3.13 yards per carry on his final 122 rushing attempts. 

Bush may be a solid short-yardage back, he's clearly not a work horse back. And most assuredly, he's not an adequate replacement for Forte.

So while Bush—in his limited role—may be key to the Bears' success, Forte's role inside the 20-yard lines is not as vital. 

Cutler's recent answer as to how much he misses Forte at OTA's is telling: "[Michael] Bush is doing a good job out here for us." 

Perhaps Cutler doesn't miss Forte as much because of the new additions to the passing game. The Bears have added wide receivers Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery for the 2012 season. Both Marshall and Jeffery give Cutler big, tall options at the goal line who can go up and get the jump-ball. 

Chicago may look to give Cutler a couple of chances inside the 5-yard line instead of pounding the rock in. Either way, the Bears' passing game looks like it's on the rise, while the running game is in a state of flux. 

Forte does have the option of holding out into the 2012 season, but Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says that's simply not an option.

The best option for Forte is to sign the $7.7 million franchise tender offered by the Bears and produce at a high level this upcoming season. If he's able to stay healthy and put up solid numbers—and work on his short-yardage ability—then a long-term deal with significant money should be awaiting him next offseason. 

The NCAA slapped The Ohio State University football program with a one-year bowl ban and other sanctions for violations that included eight players receiving a total of $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for Buckeyes memorabilia.

The NCAA punished five Buckeye player (Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Daniel "Boom" Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas) for exchanging Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos at the Fine Line tattoo parlor on the West Side of Columbus. The items seized at Edward Rife's tattoo parlor were given to the players, either by the Big Ten conference or the Ohio State University.

According to NCAA bylaw 16.02.1, "An award is an item given in recognition of athletics participation or performance."

"Given," i.e., a gift.

This situation takes me back to my first day of law school.

During that first day, I recall my Property Law professor explaining what constitutes a gift. A gift?, I thought. Is this going to be one of those Bill Clinton moments arguing over what the definition of "is" is?

It turns out that it's a big deal in the law about whether or not a person actually gives a gift to someone else.

 

There are three parts to a gift: 1) the person giving the gift has to intend to give the gift, 2) the property, or gift, has to be given, or delivered to the other person and 3) the property has to be accepted. That's it. Easy enough.

Or, maybe not.

Let's take a look at the gold pants that were exchanged for tattoos.

The university intended to give the gold pants to the players who received them, the gold pants were actually delivered to the players and the players, of course, accepted the gold pants. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a gift.

Federal law, as well as Ohio law, makes it clear that once you have received a gift, it is yours to do with as you will. No exceptions. You can destroy it, sell it, burn it and yes, even trade it for a tattoo.

If there is an exception made on that gift, such as a restriction on selling the item, then another law is invoked: the Sherman Act.

The Sherman Act, named after an Ohio senator, ensures that no person's ability to work or trade goods in the free market is restrained. In other words, there can be no restraint of trade. 

The same NCAA bylaw (16.02.1) that defined what constitutes an award also places restrictions on what athlete's can do with their awards or gifts. Therein lies the illegality of the bylaw. 

And as you have now learned, because the Big Ten Conference and/or the Ohio State University gave (think, gifted) the items to the athletes, ownership of the items transferred from the conference or university to the individual player receiving the item(s). 

After all, if these items were stolen from, say, running back Daniel Herron, the university wouldn't be entitled to be reimbursed for the loss; Herron would be the proper victim, and a judge would order that he receive any restitution, not the university; that's because it is his sole property.

The NCAA suspended the five Buckeyes for the first five games of the season because they violated the NCAA bylaws by receiving a benefit from exchanging their property for tattoos. In so doing, the NCAA forever changed the Buckeyes' 2011 football season and the lives of each one of those players.

Pryor, who intended to play his senior year at Ohio State, left early and entered the NFL's supplemental draft (Oakland Raiders).

And Herron, who entered the 2012 NFL Draft, most assuredly lost value in terms of his draft stock. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Herron with the No. 191 overall pick in the sixth-round of the draft. Had Herron been able to play the entire 2011 season with the Buckeyes, he most likely would have been picked in the third- or fourth-round. 

The NCAA restricting Herron's, or any other athlete's, ability to do with what they will their own property is not only in violation of state and federal law, but it demoralized the entire Buckeye Nation. The NCAA bylaws and the sanctions they impose on those who violate them are woven together by a common thread: accountability. It's time to hold the NCAA accountable for their unbridled control of college athletes by way of illegal bylaws.

Accountability should begin with: Herron v. NCAA. 

 

The Josh Gordon saga would’ve made one hell of a reality show. First he’s suspended, then there’s the long, drawn out NFL appeal process.

A lawsuit seemed imminent, even to the point where the court clerk’s office was waiting in anticipation for the filing to occur.

Then there’s this car salesman business, and now we have the NFL and NFLPA working on what I’ll call The New Deal: a revamping of the Substance Abuse Policy.

And just like President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the NFL’s New Deal can provide the “3 Rs: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.” Relief for the unemployed Gordon, Recovery of the NFL’s declining PR, and Reform of the drug testing levels to prevent a repeated debacle.

This New Deal will, reportedly, bump up the testing threshold level of marijuana to 50 ng/ml and replace the ridiculously low 15 ng/ml level that’s in effect right now.

What’s also being reported is the NFLPA is bidding to get some suspensions revisited under The New Deal. Of course, if Gordon’s drug test is filtered through The New Deal, he walks—right onto to the playing field.

From the tone and tenor of DeMaurice Smith’s statements made to 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C. on Friday, that’s exactly what the NFLPA is fighting for:

“If we get a deal done that covers players in this league year, I don’t like that we punish players under a deal active in the old league year,” Smith said. “We don’t want players to suffer because the union and the league couldn’t get it done before the league year.”

The problem for Gordon is that he tested positive for marijuana not in the 2014-15 year, but in the 2013 league year. The new league year began March 11, 2014. Gordon tested positive in the Winter of 2013.

So how can the NFLPA make a tangible and legitimate argument to include Gordon in The New Deal?

Let’s look at how it works in a legal setting.

When you file a lawsuit against someone, the other side probably doesn’t know about it or the date that you filed it. And the other party doesn’t have to respond until they know about the lawsuit. That suit you filed doesn’t mean anything until you give the other side “notice.”

The date you gave notice to the opposing party is the date that triggers events and/or deadlines. For example, if Gordon sues the NFL in Ohio, the NFL will have 28 days from the date they are served with the lawsuit to respond, not the date Gordon actually files.

The reason dates aren’t triggered until notice is given is because the moving party, or the one who has the right to affect the other party, has the choice to actually go through with it or not. That’s called discretion.

The NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy affords that discretion to Roger Goodell (or Goodell’s assigned designee). When Goodell received Gordon’s positive test result, he had the choice (or discretion) to actually act on it. He didn’t let Gordon know he was going to act on it until after March 11, 2014.

So when it comes to whether or not Gordon is included in The New Deal, the effective date should be the date Goodell put Gordon on notice that he was exercising his discretion under the substance abuse policy. Because up to that point, Gordon didn’t know Goodell was going to exercise his discretion under the Substance Abuse Policy to suspend him. Or at least that’s what I think the NFLPA should be arguing.

If the NFLPA loses that argument—and we should know early next week if it will—then I still think Gordon files a suit against the NFL and obtains an injunction and plays this season. 

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With no known downside, I fully expect Josh Gordon to file a lawsuit against the NFL in the next few days. Pursuing his legal options, which Gordon’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said Gordon would do to the fullest extent available to him, cannot result in any foreseeable harm to the Pro Bowl wide receiver.

The NFL already suspended Gordon for as long as they could: one calendar year. It’s not as though the league could suspend Gordon for an additional year, or any other period of time, because he files a lawsuit.

And if Dawg Pound Nation’s report is true—that the NFL made an offer to Gordon for a suspension of less than a full calendar year—then why wouldn’t Gordon take that offer if he’s just going to accept the full calendar year suspension without a fight. It simply doesn’t make sense.

So I expect the news to hit any hour now that Gordon has filed suit in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

And I’m not the only one.

I called the clerk of the court in Cuyahoga County and spoke with a window file clerk. She informed me that their office is on alert in anticipation of Gordon’s lawsuit. The reason she gave me for being on alert: “Because he said he would sue. We’re ready for it.”

Procedure When/If Gordon Files

The first news you’re likely to hear is that Gordon filed a lawsuit in state court. State court gives Gordon the best grounds for relief for contractual claims and claims attacking the drug testing procedure and the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy.

Once Gordon’s lawyer hands the lawsuit to the filing clerk, the clerk files the complaint and stamps it with a case number. At the same time as filing the complaint, Gordon will also file for a temporary restraining order (TRO).

I’ve explained what the TRO is here, but essentially, the TRO is a court order that suspends Gordon’s suspension. In other words, Gordon would no longer be suspended and could play football...in the NFL...not Canada.

Once the complaint and request for TRO is filed, the clerk will assign the case to a judge. Gordon’s lawyer will immediately take the request for a TRO to the judge’s chambers and give the documents to the judge so that they can be ruled on. The NFL will not be a party to this part of the lawsuit—it’s what is called ex parte (one party).

The judge can decide to grant or deny the request for a temporary restraining order immediately, which, considering the significant injury (Gordon not being able to play this season) outweighing all other factors, should be granted.

If so, the judge would return the TRO to Gordon’s lawyer who will then take the documents back to the clerk’s office. The clerk will then “journalize” the documents, or make them official within the court system. The restraining order would take effect at this point.

The clerk would then serve the NFL (and all other named defendants) via FedEx. The NFL would have 28 days to respond to the lawsuit by filing an answer admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint.

In the meantime, you’ll be picking him back up off the waiver wire and plugging him into your lineup. Or if you drafted him, you can just sit back with a sh*t-eating grin and let out a quiet condensing laugh around your league mates. 

I’ve already explained why Josh Gordon should win his appeal. But what if he doesn’t? After all, he does play for the Cleveland Browns. (Sorry, Dad. That one was just too easy.)

But that was the question posed to me by Michael Salfino, the guy who wants to retweet his own retweets:

Screen Shot_2014-08-04_at_10.49.31_AM

I hit my legal databases, the Ohio Code and poured over several Ohio state cases, as well as numerous federal law cases involving labor disputes. I've outlinged what you can expect to see if Gordon takes an “L.”

Gordon's Pending Appeal & Aftermath

Gordon’s appeal hearing began on Friday and is resuming Monday. I believe Harold Henderson will make his decision fairly soon.

Within hours of losing his appeal (which, of course, I’m assuming he does for purposes of this article) Gordon will file a lawsuit with the clerk of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, the state court in Cleveland, Ohio.

Simultaneously with filing a civil suit, Gordon will file a request for a temporary restraining order against the NFL. No, this isn’t what your crazy ex-girlfriend filed against you for calling her too much.

Gordon’s request for a temporary restraining order (or, TRO) will ask the Ohio judge to stop (or restrain) the NFL from enforcing his suspension. If you recall, the TRO in the StarCaps case (that was later turned into an injunction, which is basically the same thing) allowed the Kevin and Pat Williams to play for two complete seasons. They played the 2009 and 2010 seasons while their case was pending in the court system.

Williams Together

To secure the restraining order, Gordon will have to show he “is entitled to the relief demanded” in the underlying lawsuit. He will also have to show that if the restraining order is not granted, he will suffer permanent injury.

This “injury” isn’t a torn ACL or the like, but rather a lost NFL season. Obviously, that will be easy for Gordon to show.

Gordon also has to prove that the NFL “is doing, threatens or is about to do” what he is asking the judge to stop the NFL from doing. The NFL isn’t showing any signs of letting up or allowing Gordon to play, so proving this factor won’t be difficult.

The tougher challenge Gordon faces is showing that he is entitled to relief. I think he is, based on Ohio law.

Ohio’s Drug-Testing Laws Applied To Gordon’s Case

The strongest claim Gordon will argue is that under Ohio law (but using the NFL’s cutoff levels) he did not test positive for marijuana or, more accurately, THC metabolites.

As I’m sure you know by now, the NFL divides a player’s urine into two bottles: bottles “A” and “B.” If bottle “A” is positive for the THC metabolite, then bottle “B” is used to confirm what was in bottle "A."

According to Section I(C)(3)(e) of the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy, as long as bottle “B” contains the THC metabolite (at any level), then the sample is considered positive and the player is subject to the league’s discipline. 

Ohio law differs.

Under Ohio law (Ohio Code 123:1-76-07), only “specimens which test negative on the initial test or negative on the confirmatory test shall be reported as negative.” If the NFL is bound by Ohio law, Gordon’s confirmatory test was negative. Hence, he did not test positive for marijuana as claimed by the NFL.

Josh Gordon_Stiffarm

But the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy, as written, does not mirror Ohio law. More specifically, Section I(C)(3)(e) of the NFL policy states that "the "B" bottle Test need only show that the substance, revealed in the "A" bottle Test, is evident to the "limits of detection" to confirm the results of the "A" bottle Test." 

Again, Ohio law says that both the initial drug test and the confirmation test must be positive. Or, as Ohio wrote its law, if either of the specimens are negative then the employer is obligated to report the result as negative. 

The NFL will attempt to circumvent Ohio law by arguing only federal law applies to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Substance Abuse Policy. This is a preemption doctrine that will effectively wipe out Gordon's state-law claims. The NFL attempted this argument against Kevin and Pat Williams in the StarCaps case and lost.

Federal courts have already found that the NFL is an employer of each NFL player and therefore is bound by the state laws where that player is employed. So Ohio courts should ultimately decide the case and Ohio law should control the outcome of the case.

And in Gordon’s case, once the confirmation test showed Gordon was under his employer’s threshold amount for marijuana, the test was “negative” under state law. The NFL found otherwise, contradicting state law.

The difference between the StarCaps case and Gordon’s case is critical.

The Williamses argued that Minnesota state law precluded the NFL from disciplining them for violations of the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy. In other words, the Williamses were taking the position that Vikings players were only subject to discipline under state law, not the NFL.  

That’s not Gordon’s claim.

Gordon isn’t asserting he is immune from the NFL’s discipline for violations of the policy. He’s arguing (or should be) there simply was no violation.

As shown above, Gordon’s drug test, carried out to its completion, did not meet the definition of “positive drug result,” under Ohio law. The secondary claim for Gordon would then be that the NFL’s drug-testing policy, as implemented, violates Ohio state law.

Josh Gordon_Touchdown

But let's keep focused on whether or not he provided a "positive test result" under Ohio law.

If Gordon’s claim—that he did not test positive under Ohio law—(if that is, in fact, what he claims in this hypothetical lawsuit I'm drawing up for him) holds up, as I think it should, then the state court should find the NFL’s testing procedure violates state law, find Gordon did not test positive for the THC metabolite and vacate any suspension imposed by the NFL.

Gordon will likely have a number of other claims, such as a defamation claim, a breach of contract claim and a couple of others his lawyers will throw in. I only highlighted his strongest claim while trying to avoid your faces hitting the keyboard from reading about the difference between libel and slander and the nuances of a breached contract.

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Agreement Not To Sue

Salfino also asked about the agreement between the NFLPA and NFL not to sue each other. That agreement is contained in Article III, Section 2 of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The agreement not to sue is an agreement about issues arising out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, not the Substance Abuse Policy. In fact, Section 2 of the CBA lists the terms of the agreement that they won’t sue each other over—the Substance Abuse Policy is not listed.

What is mentioned, however, is that the players retain the right to enforce labor laws. And those laws are what Gordon will use to attack the NFL’s finding that his drug test was positive—or at least he should.

Because Gordon has such a solid case against the NFL based on the Ohio drug-testing laws, I believe his TRO will be granted and he will play in the 2014 season. This is all assuming he loses his appeal, which he shouldn’t. 

I fully expect Josh Gordon’s legal team to get the calendar-year ban lifted following his appeal this Friday.

I have defended clients in court who tested positive for drugs, challenged positive test results and cross-examined several lab technicians and doctors regarding drug test results. I started salivating when I saw the results of Gordon’s drug tests—as much as a shark, mosquito (or any other animal, insect, etc. you call lawyers) can salivate.

First is the arbitrary and completely random labeling of the “A” and “B” bottles of urine. That, alone, should be enough to get the suspension lifted.

Bottle “A” was a nanogram above the extremely low 15 ng/ml cut-off level (the World Anti-Doping Agency raised its limit from 15 ng/ml to 150 ng/ml to account for secondhand smoke, among other things), while bottle “B” was below the limit. 

Had bottle “B” been labeled “A” and tested first, the only reason we would be discussing Gordon would be arguing over whether he would be the No. 1 wide receiver this year or not. Instead, bottle “A” was labeled “A” and tested first so here we are.

Such arbitrariness should not control Gordon’s fate when it comes to his livelihood.

Gordon Troy_Catch

Here is something that is not arbitrary: the type of testing that is done in these cases.

Typically, the first urine sample is tested for a panel of different drugs. If that sample comes back positive for a particular substance, then the second urine sample is tested using a different, more specific form of analysis. That different analysis is called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

GC/MS identifies the drug molecules based on characteristic fragmentation patterns at specific retention times.  In other words, GC/MS is a highly sensitive form of detecting the true and accurate level of the substance in the urine that is only usually done to confirm the first positive test.

If GC/MS was done on Gordon’s second sample and not the first, then the argument is that the true and accurate level of marijuana in his system was 13.63 ng/ml, not the 16 ng/ml that was in bottle “A.” That too, is enough to get his suspension lifted.

It’s been said that Gordon will argue his urine was positive for marijuana (THC, actually) due to secondhand smoke. The cut-off level for marijuana is so low in the NFL that that argument is completely reasonable.

Remember back in 1998 when that snowboarder won the Olympic gold medal only to get it snatched away from him by the Olympic Committee because he tested positive for marijuana?  That was Ross Rebagliati, and he tested positive for marijuana at 17.8 ng/ml.

Regabliati claimed the THC metabolite ended up in his system due to secondhand smoke. The Olympic Committee gave the gold medal back, mainly due to marijuana not being on the Olympics’ banned-substance list. So it’s not the first time we’ve heard the secondhand smoke argument.

Gordon’s secondhand smoke argument is problematic because the NFL holds these guys accountable for what goes into their bodies, which is also completely reasonable.

Then there is the chain-of-custody to examine, along with a host of other potential problems that come along with drug testing, including calibration of machines and certification of the labs where the testing was done—that’s where the details matter.

Gordon’s legal team, of course, has those details and will present them on Friday. Based on what’s been reported thus far, and what I know about Gordon's drug test results, I think the only types of hits Gordon will be taking are from defensive backs.

Gordon Troy_Hit

By now you know Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was caught speeding and that he was not in possession of marijuana. After hearing the details, my bullsh*t radar started beeping. Here’s why:

First, Gordon was probably going faster than 74 miles per hour. Being ticketed for going 74 in a 60 mph zone means the cop didn’t want to tag Gordon with going 15 mph over the speed limit.

The cop likely cut Gordon a break so higher fines and a possible license suspension wouldn’t be imposed. Gordon was previously ticketed twice for speeding, including one occasion when he was letting the wind blow through his ‘fro at 98 mph.

Then there’s the passenger. This guy already admitted that the marijuana was his. I’ve represented criminal defendants for about 10 years—Gordon’s friend would be among the 1%’ers who actually admit to being guilty.

The typical conversation in a vehicle between two guys being pulled over is like this:

Driver: “Here man, take this gun...I’m on probation.”

Passenger: “WTF?! Hell no! I’m on probation too.”

Now here’s how it probably went down in Gordon’s vehicle:

Gordon: “Man, take this weed...I’m already up for suspension.”

Friend: (holds hand up making $ sign with fingers)

Gordon: “Okay. I got you.”

Friend to Cop: “Hello, officer. I'm in possession of marijuana.”

And finally, let’s dispel the notion suggested by some that Gordon may test positive for marijuana because of second hand smoke. Marijuana is broken down into metabolites that pass through urine. And in order to have the metabolite in his system, Gordon has to actually smoke the marijuana. Unless, of course, he was sitting in a car for about a month with someone who was puffin' the ganga, then he might test positive—but I still doubt it. 

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One thing is clear, however, Josh Gordon loves to smoke marijuana. This dude was so high once in college, he actually fell asleep in a Taco Bell. True story.

He was suspended during his sophomore year at Baylor because of testing positive for marijuana, transferred to Utah (didn't play) and then entered the NFL Supplemental Draft. He was suspended the first two games of last season for testing positive for marijuana and now will likely sit out the entire 2014 season.

In other words, Gordon isn’t a football player who got caught being a pothead; he’s a pothead who got caught playing football.

The Cleveland Browns have signed both of their first-round picks from the 2012 NFL Draft. According to the terms of his contract, running back Trent Richardson will be paid a guaranteed $20.4 million over the next four years, including a $13.341 signing bonus. 

The Browns have now locked up their starting running back and, potentially, their starting quarterback in Brandon Weeden. Next to follow will be Supplemental Draft selection wide receiver Josh Gordon. The trio has the look of turning a downtrodden organization around and making the Browns franchise a contender in the hard-fought AFC North. 

Richardson has been touted as the best rookie running back since Adrian Peterson. During his rookie campaign, Peterson exploded for 1,341 rushing yards, 13 total touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards every time he ran the ball. If Richardson can approach Peterson's rookie numbers, then the Browns may have their third winning season since their return to the NFL in 1999. 

At a minimum, Richardson will make life easier on rookie quarterback Weeden. With a smooth blend of power, quickness and game-changing speed, defenses will be forced to stack the box in order to slow Richardson down. There is no question that if the No. 3 overall draft selection pans out as intended, the Browns will emerge as a franchise on the upswing.

The Cleveland Browns have made the quarterback controversy legitimate with the signing of first-round pick Brandon Weeden. Earlier today, the No. 22 overall selection from the 2012 NFL Draft penned a 4-year deal worth roughly $8.1 million. 

Weeden will take his place on the Browns' carousel of quarterbacks of recent years. Since 2004, the Browns have selected five quarterbacks in search of their franchise player. The list is not impressive: Luke McCown (2004), Charlie Frye (2005), Brady Quinn (2007), Colt McCoy (2010) and Weeden (2012).  

Perhaps Weeden will be able to put an end to the quarterback turnstile Cleveland has in its locker room and establish himself as a franchise quarterback for the Browns. Head coach Pat Shurmur appears will be quick to pull the trigger in announcing his starting quarterback for the 2012-13 season.

 

"Sooner than later, I think once we've made the decision, that's the deal," said Shurmur. "If you know that he's going to be your guy, then make it happen so everybody gets comfortable working with that guy all the time."

The Browns didn't draft Weeden in the first-round to have him sit behind fellow quarterback Colt McCoy. McCoy showed a ton of promise in college. But that hasn't translated to success in the NFL. McCoy does have talent and the ability to play in the NFL, he just need to find a team that can develop him behind a well-establish quarterback.

With Weeden's signing, all signs are continuing to point to him being the starter for Week 1. Once Shurmur names Weeden the starter—which should come early in training camp—the 28-year-old quarterback can settle down and get comfortable with his new offense.

 

"I'm still working my tail off just to get better and keep learning," Weeden said. "Yeah, I'm getting more comfortable with what we are doing, but I still have a long ways to go. The other guys have a lot more experience under their belts as far as game reps and practice reps, whatever it may be. I've got some catching up to do, so I think that's just my main focus right now. I'm not worried about it."

Hall of Famer Jim Brown spoke his mind about the Cleveland Browns first-round pick, running back Trent Richardson on NFL Network's Total Access

 

“When I think of greatness, I think of guys like Earl Campbell and Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, and these individuals who, it’s unanimous they’re going to make a difference — when they’re coming out of college, there’s no doubt,” Brown said. “So at least we have to discuss Richardson from the standpoint of giving him an ordinary label and letting him prove to us that he’s not. And if he does that then I will apologize. But I’m going to look at things, I’m going to stand by things I see, and I think he is an ordinary individual. He has great work ethic and all-around ability. But that special ability that I look for, when I see a Gale Sayers? I don’t see that.”

Let's take a look at what Brown has seen:

There's no questioning Richardson's size, vision and, to a lesser extent, speed. In the video, however, are a lot of college defenders who had poor tackle skills. For the most part, Richardson won't have that luxury in the NFL. But for Brown to condemn the man before he's even had a single handoff in the league is a bit premature.

Is this a case of a once great player—possibly the greatest at his position—being jealous of a guy who could take his place? Doubtful. It seems simply a case of Brown being asked his opinion and him giving it. 

The nice thing about Brown's statement is that he's not saying Richardson won't be successful. He's merely saying that he doesn't see the justification for all the hype that surrounded Richardson to cause him to be picked No. 3 overall by the Browns.

So I guess this just comes down to whether or not Brown is a good scout. If not—if Richardson shines in Cleveland—then Brown said he would apologize.

With Cleveland's offensive line, Brown should start working on an apology. 

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys handled running back Felix Jones with white gloves and didn't allow him to return kicks. Wide receiver Dez Bryant got the same treatment after a Week 1 thigh injury—he was taken off punt return duties.

Dallas' executive vice-president Stephen Jones made the team's plans for Jones and Bryant clear on day one of the Cowboys' training camp.

“That’s really going to really do wonders for our kicking game and really let them work on it from the get-go,” Stephen Jones said. “Obviously we weren’t doing that with Felix last year because he was our starting running back and we weren’t doing it with Dez. This year I think that’s going to make a big difference. Both those guys were tops coming out of college and I think when they work on it every day and work with [special teams coach] Joe [DeCamillis] every day on it it’s going to make a big difference on our special teams.”

It's obvious why the Cowboys are throwing Felix to the wolves. He drastically failed his audition as the team's No. 1 running back last season and has become expendable. At the end of last season, DeMarco Murray took a stranglehold on the starting running back position.

Bryant's new-found duty of returning punts may have more inconspicuous surroundings. After Bryant suffered his thigh injury last season in Week 1 against the Jets, the team took him out of harm's way. With Bryant's continuing offseason mishaps—including an incident involving hitting his mother—he has become a distraction in Dallas. 

Cowboys brass may just be fed up with the promising wideout and willing to risk his health for the benefit he provides on the return team. Whatever the case may be, Jones and Bryant are now entrenched as the return specialists for the Cowboys, something they were protected from last season.

Let's first clear up any confusion—Denver Broncos' newly acquired quarterback Peyton Manning is not a coach. He won't make the call to start running back Willis McGahee over rookie Ronnie Hillman, or vice-versa. But there is no question that Manning will conduct an aerial assault in Denver just as he did with the Indianapolis Colts. And that fact will directly affect who lines up in the backfield on any given play.

The Broncos are deep at the running back position. And other than three-time Pro Bowler McGahee, the group is largely unproven. After McGahee, Denver is taking a hard look at guys like Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Xavier Omon and rookie Ronnie Hillman.

There's nothing too special about that group as it stands now. But then again, there wasn't anything special about the group of running backs Manning had in Indianapolis either. The running backs in a Manning-led system need to possess two key attributes: 1) the ability to pass block and 2) be able to catch out of the backfield. 

And with that, McGahee can expect to see more of the sideline than he did last season in Denver's power-run system.

The Broncos have made it clear that they will be led by Manning, which means you can expect to see Manning calling countless audibles and No. 18 zipping the pigskin around in the air.  

So unless it's 2nd-and-1, McGahee's role will be significantly diminished. McGahee simply does not catch the ball—it's not his forte. McGahee has notched 15 or fewer catches in each of the previous three seasons. He catches more colds than passes.

The other running backs at Dove Valley this offseason have a better chance of seeing the field than McGahee. And one running back has began to separate himself from the others.

Rookie running back Ronnie Hillman has already secured the number two spot behind McGahee just based on his performance during OTA's, according to the Denver Post. And with McGahee not typically playing on passing downs, Hillman is set to see a significant portion of snaps during his inaugural season. 

The other running backs on Denver's roster all have issues that carry great weight. 

Knowshon Moreno has invited injury to his body each season, including the most recent ACL tear/surgery. The Broncos are more likely than not looking for Moreno to get healthy and then will look to shop him prior to the regular season.

Sophomore running back Mario Fannin is a guy to keep an eye on this offseason and preseason. Fannin is a rare combination of size (5'10 3/8", 231 lbs.) and speed (4.37 40-yard dash). The undrafted running back suffered a torn ACL last summer and was shipped off to injured reserve for the 2011 season. Fannin is back with the Broncos in Dove Valley and is picking up where he left off last offseason prior to his injury.

Fannin is intriguing not only because of his open-field speed and elusiveness, but because of his ability to catch out of the backfield. Fannin developed into a solid pass-catching back during his time with the Auburn Tigers. In fact, he broke the Tigers' all-time records for receptions and receiving yards by a running back.

And with Manning at the helm, a typical third-down back like Fannin becomes almost an every-down back. Fannin's knee injury is the huge red flag you can see from any high place in the country, however. 

But let's not forget about Hillman. The Denver Post sees Hillman as the running back who will see action beginning Week 1. The Broncos spent a third-round pick on Hillman and they intend to get milage out of him immediately. In fact, Denver traded up (with Cleveland) to acquire Hillman with the No. 67 overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft. 

Lance Ball is strictly a role player that may see some action on third downs, but with better talent in front of him on the roster it's doubtful.

Xavier Omon is a journeyman running back who has bounced around from the Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. Omon has shown flashes of greatness and should land on a team. And if given the right opportunity, Omon could make significant contributions for the ground game. Denver just might not be that team.  

So the battle for the third-down—and perhaps every-down—running back spot may just come down to a previously undrafted project (Fannin) and the second-round rookie out of San Diego State (Hillman). The smart money is on Hillman.

At San Diego State, Hillman proved his value by trucking for back-to-back 1,500 yard seasons. He can catch out of the backfield and has legit pass-blocking skills. And unlike Fannin, he's not hobbled by a significant and recent knee injury. Look for Hillman to pick up blitzes for Manning this season.

Offensive lineman Riley Reiff agreed to a 4-year deal worth $7.993 million with the Detroit Lions. The former Hawkeye signed his deal with the Lions earlier this morning, according to Tim Twentymen of the Detroit Free Press.

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Reiff was drafted by the Lions with the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. So far this offseason, Reiff has backed up starting left tackle Jeff Backus. By the end of the offseason, however, expect to see Reiff take over for right tackle Gosder Cherilus. At a minimum, Reiff—a three-time state wrestling champ in South Dakota—will be pegged for swing-tackle work to start the season.

The pick by the Lions was an excellent one. It provides them with depth along the offensive line and gives emerging quarterback Matthew Stafford much needed protection.

Reiff—standing at 6'6" and tipping the scales at 313 lbs.—will also synch well with an offensive line that will look to open holes for running back Jahvid Best. Last season, the Lions relied heavily upon Stafford's cannon of an arm and less on the ground game. 

With Reiff inked, the Lions have signed all of their rookies. Only 24 draft picks are without a deal, which includes nine first-round picks. 

The ink on the arrest citation wasn't even dry when the Detroit Lions put pen to paper and issued defensive back Aaron Berry his release papers. Team president Tom Lewand appears to be addressing a seemingly out-of-control Lions team. 

 

“We have repeatedly stressed to everyone in our organization that there will be appropriate consequences when an expected standard of behavior is not upheld,” Lewand said in a statement following Berry's release.

 

This offseason, the Lions have been party to seven arrests. Berry contributed two. On Saturday, Berry was arrested for simple assault involving a firearm, and suspicion of DUI earlier in the month. 

Berry's release is a blow to the Lions' backfield. Berry was slotted as a starting cornerback for the club. While Berry is not an impact player at his position, he is better than what he left behind on the roster. Now Detroit will have to turn to sub-par talent to fill a void that crippled the team last season.

In recognizing the gaping hole at the position, the Lions drafted three cornerbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft. They also acquired veterans Alphonso Smith and Jacob Lacey. 

The twist that we would like to see for teams who release players like Berry is to not penalize the team by making them take a hit on their salary cap. Much like the NCAA did with the current Penn State players by allowing them to transfer to other schools without suffering any transfer restrictions (and the receiving school, as well), the NFL should permit teams to release players without enduring a salary cap penalty if the player violated the NFL's conduct or substance-abuse policy. Until then, the players are able to hi-jack teams. 

And undoubtably, Berry will be snagged by a different NFL team, serve a looming suspension and be right back on the field providing his mediocre talents to another ball club. Teams should freeze Berry out of the league and send a message. But with the Bengals still a part of the NFL, guys like Berry will always have a home.

It's that time of year. No, not Christmas shopping or visiting family for the holidays. It's time for NFL holdouts. And an interesting one is taking place between the Jacksonville Jaguars and running back Maurice Jones-Drew.  

This past week, Jones-Drew was obligated to report for the Jags' mandatory minicamp. He failed to show and may be fined up to $60,000.

He was willing to report, however, but only if Jacksonville inked him a new deal.

Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $30.95 million deal in 2009. And set to earn $4.45 of that figure, he wants more. In fact, Jones-Drew has no intention of showing for any offseason or preseason workouts until he gets a new deal.

He may even hold out into the regular season, according to Jaguars beat writer Tania Ganguli. 

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Jags general manager Gene Smith has also made his position clear to Jones-Drew.

"Obviously, he has expressed that he would like to renegotiate and we have expressed again that we feel he has a contract with two years left that we expect him to fulfill those obligations," Smith said.

Jones-Drew's position is entirely understandable. He's the benchmark of the Jaguars offense, he led the NFL in rushing last season (1,606 yards), made three consecutive Pro Bowls and is getting paid less than the likes of Steven Jackson, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson and Marshawn Lynch.

And in a profession where contracts mean little—each season players are cut by teams despite having years remaining on their contracts, and teams often renegotiate contracts with years remaining on them each year—it's expected for Jones-Drew to demand top-dollar for his outstanding performance. 

Besides, the shelf-life for a running back in the NFL is rather short. Once they hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark, they witness their demise quite rapidly. (Jones-Drew is 27 years old). They have to cash in while they can.

And typically, Jones-Drew would have the scales tipped in his favor after such a illustrious career in Jacksonville and being the centerpiece of their offense. But one strange twist negates his success: the Jaguars' lack of success.

Despite MJD leading the league in rushing, Jacksonville finished the season with a dismal 5-11 record. In fact, the Jaguars haven't won their division (AFC South) in over a decade—twelve years to be exact. They simply are not a good football team.

So when GM Gene Smith is evaluating the effect Jones-Drew's holdout will have on his team, ultimately, it's minimal. This is not the case of quarterback Drew Brees holding out with the New Orleans Saints, or running back Ray Rice playing hardball with the Baltimore Ravens. Those teams have their sights set on the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl.

If Jones-Drew doesn't play for the Jags in 2012, they finish maybe 4-12. If he does play for the Jags, they finish around 5-11. Either way, with the offense they have put together, success is not in their immediate future. The AFC South belongs to some other team.

So with the lowered expectations of the Jaguars organization, and the fact that they don't have much to lose from a lengthy holdout by MJD, the scales tip back in Jacksonville's favor. 

And that's why GM Gene Smith can issue such plain, clear-cut statements to the fantasy football-loving running back.

 

"Our expectation with any player that's under contract is for them to fulfill their obligations," Smith said. "In terms of our position, he's got two years remaining."

Smith's words sound more like a judge issuing a prison sentence rather than an exciting opportunity to play in the NFL. The Jags may just be that bad.

 

The Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick saw the inside of an Oklahoma jail before his first snap in the NFL. Rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon was arrested on aggravated DUI charges in Payne County, Oklahoma. 

Blackmon's current felony DUI arrest comes on the heels of his previous DUI just some 19 months ago.

In 2010, Blackmon was arrest for DUI in Carrollton, Texas after attending a Dallas Cowboys game. After that arrest, Blackmon issued the following statement: "I'm embarrassed to be in this position. I look forward to redeeming myself and proving to everybody that this isn't who I am. I'm not this guy. I'm humbled by this experience and I will grow from it."

After his first offense, and his statement, Blackmon was given the benefit of the doubt. In fact, Jags brass didn't even interview Blackmon prior to drafting him with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. 

But now it's time to evaluate Blackmon as a person, even if the Jags refuse.

Being convicted of a DUI offense relates directly to a person's character. It's an entirely selfish offense and one that is easily avoidable. By a person getting in their vehicle and driving after drinking—and in Blackmon's most recent arrest, his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit—that person's ability to put others before themselves is lacking. 

And Blackmon choosing to do this selfish act on at least two occasions, driving drunk is something that he feels is acceptable. At the very least, his statement—that he's looking forward to "proving to everybody that this isn't who [he] is"—has been debunked. This is who he is. He's given us the evidence. 

Blackmon cares about Blackmon and not the individuals who he passed on the street as he drifted left of center, going 60 in a 35-mph zone. He most certainly didn't concern himself with the Jaguars and his responsibility as a teammate to the other players. 

What this means for the Jags

Now that Blackmon has been drafted into the NFL, he is subject to the league's substance abuse policy. That means that Blackmon faces a possible suspension, among other discipline. And because Blackmon has a prior alcohol-related incident, suspension is likely. The league's recent modus operandi is not to punish players for pre-draft conduct, but a player's prior conduct will be taken into consideration in dolling out the discipline for the post-draft infraction. 

All that to say the Jags will be without the services of their first-round pick for probably two games to open the season. 

The Oklahoma DUI laws may require additional time away from the field. 

In Oklahoma, if a person has a prior DUI within 10 years, the current DUI can be charged as a felony. A conviction for a felony DUI in Oklahoma carries a minimum one-year prison sentence. Of course, that sentence can be suspended (think: not served). 

If the Oklahoma judge decides Blackmon needs to be sent to prison, then the Jags will need to start eyeing up the wide receiver crop in the 2013 NFL Draft now. 

The Jags ranked dead last in passing yards after the 2011 season. Drafting Blackmon gave the Jags, and most importantly Blaine Gabbert, something to look forward to on passing downs. 

Now that Blackmon has proven that this is who he is, the Jags and Gabbert can slip back into the caboose of the passing league and rely solely upon running back Maurice Jones-Drew's legs to begin the fight for last-place in the AFC South. 

 

Much has been said about Donald Sterling’s racist comments and now Mark Cuban’s follow-up to Sterling’s wake. It appears the principle dispute with these comments, particularly Sterling’s comments, is his right to free speech. While the concern for free speech is understandable, it’s misplaced.

Most cite Sterling’s right to free speech as the foundation for their argument that Sterling shouldn’t be forced to sell the L.A. Clippers.

Despite popular opinion, Sterling being forced out of the NBA has nothing to do with free speech.

The United States Constitution provides us with the right to free speech and only applies to (or can be used to defend against) state action. State action comes from state actors, who receive their paychecks from the government, either city, county, state or federal. In other words, think along the lines of police officers, courts, public schools, etc.

The NBA is not a state actor—the owners of the respective NBA teams, not Obama, ink the signatures on the players’ paychecks. Consequently, Sterling can’t hold up the Constitution in defense of the actions being taken against him by the NBA.

Sterling signed up to be a part of a private group of NBA owners who set their own rules, which they are entitled to do under the law. The government has no say over the terms of that agreement—it’s a private agreement and he has to abide by that agreement or endure the consequences of not doing so.

The private agreement dictates the consequences Sterling will endure.

Bottom line: private acts of discrimination cannot be addressed under the First Amendment. So the only way the First Amendment would come into play with Sterling’s case is if the government owned the NBA, which, in that case, the league would be operating in a deficit in no time.

Miami Dolphins first-year head coach Joe Philbin has what will most likely be a season-affecting decision to make at the quarterback position this offseason. Philbin's choices are between newly acquired David Garrard, returning starter Matt Moore and unsigned rookie Ryan Tannehill. 

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Tannehill will get the bronze medal when this competition is decided. He has yet to sign his rookie deal and report to camp.

The real fight is between Garrard and Moore. And if you listen to the media, Garrard is expected to win the job. Philbin has tried to put that train of thought to bed.

"I know a lot has been written and there has been a lot of speculation about who is ahead, and whether this guy is behind and he's not ready, but that is news to me," explained Philbin. "We are still evaluating all quarterbacks and we'll make a decision when it becomes evident."

Who should start Week 1 is already evident to some. Dolphins center Mike Pouncey made his preference known: “Garrard has been great, has been the main guy running with the first team," opined Pouncey. "He brings leadership. Matt Moore did a good job last year but when Garrard is in, it’s a whole different tempo.”

Pouncey's opinion aside, the Dolphins would be better served with Moore under center.

Miami started off the season without winning a single game until November. The team went 0-7. Matt Moore took the reins of the offense following the Week 5 bye and led the the Dolphins to a 6-6 record from Week 6 on. 

During that 12 week span, Moore amassed 2,497 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with 9 interceptions. Moore ranked 12th among all quarterbacks with a 87.1 passer rating by season's end. 

Whether Moore gets the opportunity to improve on those stats remains to be seen. Philbin has stated that a decision on who will be his starting quarterback for the 2012-13 season will not be made until after the third preseason game on August 24 against the Atlanta Falcons.

So the fact that Moore took the first snap with the first-team offense to begin training camp is irrelevant. What is relevant is their performance over the long haul of training camp. And with Moore's track record of having underwhelming practice performances, Garrard may be calling the shots against the Houston Texans come Week 1 of the regular season. 

Moore acknowledges as much.

“There is a little truth to that,” Moore said. “I’ve been trying to get better year by year in practice, but does it really matter what I do in practice? I’d like to think that what happens in games matters most.”

So if Philbin pays closer attention to what happens during the preseason games this offseason instead of practice, Moore may win the job. We doubt it.

Head coaches have to make decisions for Sundays based on what they see all the other days. And the last thing a head coach wants to do is hope that his quarterback will be ready on Sunday. Instead, a coach will be more comfortable starting a quarterback who shows all week that he can make the reads and throws and can take command of the offense. If Moore is unable to demonstrate those attributes in practice, then Garrard will trot out onto Reliant Stadium field on September 9th. 

So what, exactly, is in a name? For Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson, everything. Johnson—formerly Ochocinco, formerly Johnson—sat down with Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald to explain the name change. And his words dripped with the "Old-Johnson" flavor from his days in Ohio.

“[A]nytime I score, not only am I celebrating, but fans have to follow along. Something real short: five, six seconds. Once you stand up, you know what to do," Johnson said. 

The question—after Johnson essentially vanished last season—is just how much scoring will he be doing?

According to Johnson, about $100,000 worth. The six-time Pro-Bowler plans to send NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a check for $100,000 after the final pre-season game to pay, in advance, for his touchdown celebrations. 

Johnson's plan of sending Goodell a check reeks of confidence, something Dolphins fans might not share. After all, Johnson was folded into one of the most prolific passing schemes in the NFL, was on the receiving end of passes from Tom Brady—one of the league's preeminent passers—yet managed a measly 15 receptions and a single score. 

And for the die-hard Patriots fans, who can forget Johnson's game-losing drop against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 last season? 

Chad Johnson_Drop

Johnson has an answer for that, as well: “Do you want to be honest? Do you want to know why my numbers dropped?” Johnson asked. “It’s because I got complacent, I got somewhat comfortable thinking I had the formula and could do it on my own."

Perhaps another reason his numbers dropped was because he was on the bench far too often to have a chance to put up decent stats. Johnson played only 331 snaps in 2011 (Calvin Johnson topped the league with 1066 snaps). To put that number into perspective, it was one fewer than Donte Stallworth and 60 less than Matt Willis. Raise your hand if you know who Matt Willis is. 

No, Johnson could not do it on his own. He needed the Pats' coaching staff to have more confidence in him. 

This offseason, Johnson isn't doing it on his own. He went back to what got him to playing at a Pro-Bowl level: Charlie Collins. "My preparation with [Collins], before the season started, is what got me to Pro Bowls," said Johnson. "Getting back with him has me mentally prepared to be the same again."

That "same again" may be interpreted two different ways. Either Johnson will be the same as with the Pats or the same as when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson seems to think it will be the latter.

“My normal ways, when I was at my best, when I got fined, look at the production those years," Johnson requested. "Usually things don’t go right when you try to change the way you do things. I’m back to normal."

Johnson requested, and we complied.

We took a look at Johnson's numbers before his time with the Patriots and he's right. Every year that he played all 16 games, he was well over 1,000 yards receiving. And during those years Johnson was one of the most heavily fined players in the NFL, including fines for orange chin-straps and gold shoes.

But do bright accessories and animated celebrations really convert to better performance? Of course not. But do those things affect Johnson and his mind-state? Yes. After all, this game is as much mental as it is physical. And Johnson makes it clear that stifling his flamboyant side affects his mentality.

“One of the things I like about being here, that’s so refreshing, and is such a weight off my back, is I can be me, whatever that entails," Johnson stated. "When I can be me, I am loose. Everything just flows for me. Whether it’s the style of play, the way I learn.”

There's no question that Johnson was silenced last year. He didn't have any exchanges with Goodell, or even make it into Goodell's office. 

“My personality was controlled last year," Johnson said. "You didn’t hear me at all last year. Zero. Zilch."

The man who once included a poncho and sombrero in a touchdown celebration won't be controlled this year. And with his reins being removed, look for Johnson to get back to his typical high level of play. Like Johnson says, "[w]hen my mouth is running, it forces me to perform."

And with Johnson's solid work ethic and knowledge of the game, we have no doubt that he will perform. And perform well. Far too often, a player's worth is measured by last year's stats. Johnson's case is no different.

There's no question that Johnson had a miserable year statistically. But what's worse is that he had a miserable year mentally. Mentally, all signs point to Johnson being back to 100%. Even his wife agrees. Her proof? She caught him singing in the car. 

“He’s happy," Evelyn Lozada said. "Yesterday he was in his car, singing, ‘I can’t wait.’ He’s beyond excited.”

Perhaps a better song for Johnson is Eminem's verse: "...the new me's back to the old me, and homie I don't show no signs of slowing..." Either way, the guy in the No. 85 jersey in Miami will come out strong.

And even at 34, Johnson won't show signs of aging in Miami. Again, that's because of his solid work ethic.

"I take care of my body," Johnson said. "Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Training ridiculous. Gym rat."

With his head right and body in shape, Miami fans can expect to see the "Old-Johnson." Not age-wise, but performance-wise. And get ready to learn his touchdown celebration, because apparently, you have a role to play too. Just be ready to get fined by Goodell for your part.

 

For purposes of this article, I’m going to assume Roger Goodell agrees with my reasoning that Adrian Peterson being on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List qualifies as a suspension due to the definition of Accrued Season.

[Read all about my Accrued Season reasoning.]

So with the backdrop of Goodell letting Peterson out of his 8-week Timeout (see what I did there, Peterson? Try it next time...it won’t cost you millions), we have to turn our attention to the Minnesota Vikings.

Just because the NFL lets Peterson suit up doesn’t necessarily mean the Vikings will do the same.

The Vikings are holding the sword of Damocles over Peterson and still have to make the decision to activate him and allow him to play this year, or not. In actuality, it’s the public holding Damocles’ sword over the Vikings.

If you recall, the public already dropped that sword on the Vikings, and the Vikings reacted. Here’s how it all played out:

On September 4, the Grand Jury decided not to indict Peterson for the injuries he inflicted on his child. On September 7, Peterson suited up against the St. Louis Rams.

Before the wheels on the Vikings’ plane touched down in Minneapolis, TMZ released the second Ray Rice video showing him knocking out his then-fiancé. The public went crazy.

About a week prior to TMZ releasing the second Rice video, Goodell drafted a letter to all 32 NFL teams explaining how he got the Rice discipline wrong but will now “do better.” That letter was in direct response from mounting pressure from the public.

After Week 1 (September 7), Peterson practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday but not Thursday. Head coach Mike Zimmer called it a “veteran day off.” That was September 11.

On September 12, Peterson was indicted. Within thirty minutes of being indicted, the Vikings deactivated Peterson for Week 2.

The day after the Vikings’ 30-7 home loss to the Patriots (September 15), Peterson released a statement explaining that he was simply disciplining his child. In less than an hour after Peterson released his statement, the Vikings reinstated Peterson and clarified that with the “extensive information” they have, Peterson “deserves to play while the legal process plays out.” General Manager Rick Spielman stated (after seeing the photos of the child’s injuries), “We feel strongly as an organization this is disciplining a child.”

That same night, Radisson suspended its limited sponsorship of the Vikings “effective immediately.”

The next day (September 16), Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton called Peterson’s actions “a public embarrassment” and called for Peterson to be suspended immediately. That same day, Anheuser-Busch let it be known they were “monitoring” the Vikings’ and Goodell’s decisions regarding Peterson, and Castrol Oil suspended it sponsorship with Peterson.

Remember the Sword of Damocles? It dropped right at 2:00 a.m. on September 17. That’s the exact moment the Vikings place Peterson on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List.

Since placing Peterson on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, the Vikings have avoided public scrutiny over the Peterson situation. At most, they, along with the rest of the NFL community, have simply monitored the legal process and its results.

Now that the legal process has run its course, Peterson wants off the list and wants on the field. We have yet to hear from Goodell with respect to the league’s decision regarding Peterson’s suspension/fine. But let’s assume Goodell makes it where Peterson could play next week.

Then we have to pull focus on the Vikings brass.

And to be clear, the only way the Vikings can affect any of this is to cut Peterson because, under Article 46, Section 4 of the CBA, any blows delivered by Goodell supersede those of the Vikings—the team and Goodell cannot punish Peterson for the same conduct. 

All NFL players’ contracts contains the following stock language: “...if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judge by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club, then Club may terminate this contract.”

That would be the term of Peterson’s contract the Vikings use to rid themselves of Peterson. The Vikings could use the “adversely affect or reflect” language in the player contract to terminate Peterson’s contract immediately.

One thing is for certain, the Vikings will feel some pressure to keep Peterson off the field. It’s hard to imagine a Minneapolis community accepting a convicted child abuser when they wouldn’t accept an alleged one. The only question is how strong that pressure will be. That will largely depend on the punishment dolled out by Goodell.

The Vikings have shown that they will bend to the community’s will.  And they certainly felt the force of community’s will when Nike stopped selling Peterson’s jerseys in Minneapolis stores and the Radisson pulled its partnership with the team.

And then there is the added undercurrent of the Vikings relying on public funds to build their new stadium—that will have an affect on Peterson’s return, as well.

If Goodell suspends Peterson for eight games (six games per the new domestic violence policy, plus two more for the aggravated circumstances of hitting a child repeatedly) and fines Peterson for those eight games, there shouldn’t be much public pressure to keep Peterson off the team. The Vikings should be able to rest on the NFL’s discipline and reinstate Peterson immediately

Peterson could certainly help his cause by putting on a strong public relations case and showing the public what he is doing to become a better parent and how he has learned from this experience. So far, not much has come from his camp. 

Have you learned from this experience? Then follow me on Twitter.

On October 8, the Montgomery County District Court in Texas ordered Adrian Peterson to submit to a drug test, which he did. During that court-ordered drug test, Peterson told the guy performing the drug test (Justin Whitehead) that he “smoked a little weed.”

Now that’s just a special brand of stupid. You tell the guy collecting your urine, who you know is going to report back to the prosecutor and judge, you smoked weed. The. Guy. Collecting. Your. Urine. 

The Texas prosecutor tried to capitalize on Peterson’s stupidity by filing a motion to set aside Peterson’s bond. Ultimately, the court didn’t discipline Peterson for his statement.

But the lingering question is, will the NFL discipline Peterson because of his admission to smoking pot? This question has become crucial now that Peterson has wrapped up a significant portion of his legal proceedings by accepting a plea agreement.

The NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy, Section 2.3 controls Peterson’s admission:

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The first sentence in Section 2.3 indicates that players who are convicted of or admit “to a violation of law relating to use [of marijuana]...are subject to appropriate discipline as determined by the Commissioner.”

At first glance, Section 2.3 applies to Peterson because he admitted to smoking marijuana, which is a violation of the law.

The issue with Peterson’s admission, however, is that the statement wasn’t made under oath and not in court while accepting a plea agreement or entering some other diversionary program. The admission appears to be an off the cuff remark made outside of court but while performing a court-ordered function.

Because Peterson’s admission was not made in the context of the listed situations in Section 2.3, the NFL is not likely to use it to punish him.

The spirit of Section 2.3 encompasses the situation where a player is charged with a crime but makes certain admissions in court or with another diversionary program in order to receive a reduced charge or enter a diversion program. In other words, the league doesn’t want a player to avoid punishment just because he avoids a conviction.

In Peterson’s case, the admission was made outside of court and him making the statement wasn’t a prerequisite to him entering a diversion program or accepting the plea agreement. In fact, the judge found that the admission—as proposed by the prosecutor in the motion to set aside Peterson’s bond—was insufficient to warrant Peterson’s arrest and incarceration.

The same must hold true for Goodell—Peterson’s admission is insufficient, without a failed drug test, to warrant discipline. Although some may argue that the context in which Peterson’s admission was made gives it sufficient reliability and therefore, is probably true.

But in criminal court, you can’t be convicted based purely on your statement; there must be corroborating, independent evidence that you committed the crime. For example, if you’re drunk, standing outside of your vehicle and a cop pulls up to the scene (without having seen you drive) and you tell him that you were driving, the prosecutor couldn’t convict you of DUI. It’s called corpus delicti.

I know the NFL isn’t a courtroom and the rules of criminal procedure don’t apply. But I also believe that a statement like the one Peterson made shouldn’t invoke the two-game check penance required by the Substance Abuse Policy.

But like Patrick Mayo (@ThePME) tweeted yesterday: “The NFL does what it wants. That needs to be taken into consideration.”

But let's answer Daniel and Red's questions:

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If Goodell determines Peterson’s admission warrants discipline, under the new Substance Abuse Policy, he will get docked two game checks because it would be Peterson's first drug offense. Unless, of course, Goodell uses the same calculator he did when he added up Josh Gordon’s violations. If that’s the case, it’s anybody’s guess how many violations Peterson has or how long he’ll be suspended or how much he’ll be fined.

You won't be fined a damn thing for following me on Twitter

Adrian Peterson accepted a plea agreement and pled no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault. To be clear, “no contest” means a defendant is not contesting the State’s evidence and is leaving it up to the judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence to convict the defendant. And in Peterson’s case, there’s a small avalanche of evidence to convict him.

According to sources, Peterson’s plea agreement won’t make any mention of domestic violence or any assault against his child, which is perplexing because the only listed victim was his child. It seems a bit of a stretch for Peterson to be found guilty of reckless assault without any mention of the victim.

Perhaps Peterson and his lawyer are attempting to circumvent Goodell’s August 28 Executive Order. You remember...that was the letter he sent to each team outlining the discipline for domestic violence, assault, battery and sexual assault.

According to Goodell’s Executive Order, Peterson would be subject to a six-game suspension, or longer. I say, “or longer” because Goodell added this little nugget to his Executive Order: “Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”

We have a couple of the aggravating factors present: repeated striking and committing the act in the presence of a child.

The answer to when Peterson will play again largely depends on the definition of “suspension.”

Up until this point, Peterson has not been suspended in the traditional sense—he was placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List and paid his full salary.  So while Peterson hasn’t been able to practice or play, he has not been suspended by Goodell for his actions relating to beating his son.

Adrian Peterson_Stadium

The Vikings have seven more regular season games. If Goodell ignores the “aggravating factors” clause of his Executive Order, Peterson will suit up against the Bears—on December 28, not November 16. Meaning Goodell would suspend Peterson for the next six games.

If Goodell finds that the repeated striking of the four-year-old child and the fact that the conduct took place in the presence of a child “merit a more severe penalty,” Peterson may not play until the post-season, assuming the Vikings make the playoffs.

Alternatively, Goodell could find that Peterson being sidelined for eight games satisfies the discipline terms of his Executive Order, which would have Peterson booking tickets to Chicago next week.

If Goodell allows Peterson back next week and finds that, under the new Personal Conduct Policy/Executive Order, Peterson served a sufficient “suspension,” it will create chaos in locker rooms across the NFL.  

Any player who would normally be suspended—you know, without pay—would argue that they need to be placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List just as Peterson was.

While many believe Peterson’s eight-game absence was sufficient punishment for his crime, Goodell can’t ignore the numerous other moving parts to this situation. If he does, the Domestic Violence Tornado is surely to blow back through the NFL with a fury again.

But what also can’t be ignored, and is the strongest argument Peterson has to be immediately reinstated, is the definition of “Accrued Season” within the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Article 8, Section 1(a) explains that a player can only receive credit for an accrued season if he was on “full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games.”

It's true Peterson is receiving his full pay while on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, but subsection (i) of Article 8 excludes any “games for which the player was on the Exempt Commissioner Permission List.”

If you’re arguing for Peterson to come back immediately, that’s your best argument—yes, he’s been getting paid, but he hasn’t received credit towards an accrued season. Therefore, he’s technically been suspended eight games—two more than the six games warranted under Goodell’s Executive Order.

Once Peterson is removed from the safe haven of the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, Goodell is likely to impose a six- or eight-game suspension. Goodell will then find that the suspension has already been served and Peterson will book his flight to Chicago.

And the only way the Vikings can affect any of this is to cut Peterson because, under Article 46, Section 4 of the CBA, any blows delivered by Goodell supersede those of the Vikings—the team and Goodell cannot punish Peterson for the same conduct. 

Goodell won't punish you for following me on Twitter.

Adrian Peterson admitted to “whooping” his four-year-old son with a switch. A switch is a tree branch with the leaves removed. Peterson removed the child’s clothes and then commenced the “whooping.”

When news of Peterson beating his child with a switch broke, immediate and decisive battle lines were etched all across America. On one side were those who recognized what Peterson did as abuse. On the other were those who tweeted out things like this:

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Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.

And the “It happened to me but I turned out alright” posture is incredibly myopic and carries absolutely no weight. I’ve seen children severely beaten and/or sexually abused turn out all right—that doesn’t mean what they went through is okay or should be condoned. It’s not, and it shouldn’t.

And to be clear, I don’t think what Peterson did to his child constitutes “severe” abuse. I’ve seen the aftermath of severe abuse—it’ll make you physically ill to witness it. It leaves kids with dozens of fractured bones, a broken spirit or worse.

But make no mistake: Peterson’s “whooping” is child abuse, even if not severe in a global sense.

There were 11 to 14 lacerations to a 4-year-old child who stands about 3’4” and weighs about 40 pounds from a man who is 6’1” and 220 pounds of pure muscle. And the wounds, delivered to the child’s back, butt, legs, hands, scrotum and arms, were still visible a week after being delivered. If you don’t feel this is child abuse, it’s time you redefine child abuse.

[Take a look at the images of Peterson's son a week after Peterson beat him.]

What you’re thinking about is called corporal punishment. And there is a marked difference between child abuse and corporal punishment.

So to say there is now a debate between spanking your child versus not spanking your child is wrong. That’s not the debate here. That’s the debate going on in the 19 states that still permit a school to lawfully administer corporal punishment to students.

If Peterson swatted his child on the butt with an open hand over the child’s clothes and Peterson was arrested for that, then there’s a debate regarding corporal punishment. But if your child came home from school looking like Peterson’s child after his “whooping,” I can guess which side of the “debate” I’d find you on.

I highly doubt you’d just say, “Welp, I guess the school just corporally punishment my child.” No. You’d go from the school, to the hospital, to a lawyer’s office—the whole time screaming how the school abused your child and you want someone fired. That's what fans are saying about Peterson.

Simply put, if you’re debating whether what Peterson did was passable as parenting, then you’re debating whether a parent has the right to abuse their child, not to spank them.

What Peterson did (I normally say “allegedly” but he already admitted he hit the child) not only amounts to child abuse, but is also domestic violence and should be reviewed as such.

If Roger Goodell is serious about addressing domestic violence and implementing the new domestic violence policy, Peterson won’t suit up for quite some time.

Under the terms of the new domestic violence policy, first-time offenders ride the pine for six games. The policy makes clear, however, more significant penalties will be imposed if children are involved.

The beating Peterson delivered to his child resulted in substantial injuries to the child. Not only was a child involved, a child was ruthlessly and relentlessly injured at Peterson’s hand. If you don’t think so, then go get a switch and hit a tree trunk 14 times. By the sixth or seventh swing, you’ll feel differently. Or the next time the dog pees on the carpet, hit the dog 14 times with a switch and tell me that’s okay.

Peterson has given Goodell a chance at redemption. That’s not to say Goodell should punish Peterson more harshly than he would’ve pre-Rice days.  But Peterson’s case provides Goodell the much-needed opportunity to demonstrate he is capable of conducting a thorough and competent investigation and rendering a fair and just punishment, whatever that may be. 

[Bang it here to Follow Me on Twitter.]

The Minnesota Vikings have decided to hold wide receiver Percy Harvin out of OTA's while he rehabs his shoulder. He joins running back Adrian Peterson (knee) on the sidelines.

So what do the two competitors decide to do? Race. Uphill. Twice.

Prior to racing Harvin, Peterson had already blown past a few other teammates. Harvin couldn't believe it.

 

"Two weeks ago he beat a couple guys in a race." Harvin said. "When I got here yesterday, I told them guys they should be embarrassed."

Then Harvin lined up next to Peterson and the embarrassment continued. Peterson, just six months removed from major knee surgery, beat Harvin. 

A rematch? Same result.

 

"He's amazing. I told him the other day I don't think he's human," Harvin said.

[Bang it here to see Peterson racing Harvin and working out his knee]

The one guy that Peterson hasn't been able to beat is newly acquired wide receiver Jerome Simpson. 

 

“Jerome was running a dig, which is 20-yard in-route and the cushion was unbelievable because everyone’s afraid he’s going to run right by them he’s so fast,” Ponder told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

While Simpson may be fast, he's got a lot to work on to become an effective NFL wide receiver. The first of which is learning the Vikings' playbook. Often times in Cincinnati, Simpson would run the wrong routes and lost the confidence of not only the quarterback, but the entire organization. Hence his presence in Minnesota. 

Nevertheless, it's all positive news coming out of the Minnesota franchise so far this offseason, which is to be expected at this point.

Just days after signing his franchise tender, things have worsened for New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker.

 

"There have been talks, but nothing that's brightened anything at all," Welker told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "It’s actually gotten worse."

Prior to signing his franchise tender, Welker had the option of holding out until well into the off-season. Teams have until July 16 to sign their franchise players to long-term deals.

Welker—in signing his franchise tender—chose to take a leap of faith.

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Apparently, doing the right thing may not get the right results.

 

According to Welker, the Patriots have lowered the two-year, fully guaranteed $16 million offer that they initially proposed to something less. As it stands now, Welker is guaranteed $9.5 million for only next season after signing his tender.

When contemplating whether he should holdout or not, Welker took the Patriots' style into consideration. 

 

"I think those techniques [holding out] work better with other teams. I think the best thing you can do, as far as the Patriots, is be there and let them make the decision if they want to do something long-term or not," Welker said. 

While the Patriots may want Welker on the receiving end of quarterback Tom Brady's passes, they may not value him as much as they did earlier.

The Patriots have signed free agents Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez, Donte Stallworth, and seventh-round rookie Jeremy Ebert, to go along with their already rostered veterans Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman.  

Despite how crowded the wide receiver elevator may be in New England, Welker is an integral piece to the Patriots puzzle. If the Pats and Welker can't work out a multi-year deal, then expect to see Welker donning a different uniform in 2013.  

 

In a time of turmoil for the New Orleans organization, the Saints brass manage to take the first—and necessary—step in righting their ship. The Saints reached an agreement with quarterback Drew Brees on a 5-year, $100-million deal. Brees will earn $40 million in the first year of his deal.

While Field and Court criticized Brees in the past for failing to reach a deal with the Saints prior to last season only to complain this offseason that he doesn't yet have a deal, it appears that Brees played his cards well. In fact, Brees has always played his cards well, even when the deck was stacked against him.

Thinking back to the 2005 season when Brees donned a San Diego Chargers uniform, it really is amazing that the quarterback has inked one of the most lucrative contracts in the NFL.

During the last game of the 2005 season, Marty Schottenheimer chose to start Brees over then-rookie Phillip Rivers. If you recall, Schott and A.J. Smith were engaged in a chess match over Brees and Rivers. Rivers was Smith's guy but there was no way Schott was going to give in. So Brees got the start in the final, meaningless (Chargers were out of the playoff hunt) game.

The Chargers were squared up against the AFC West Champion Denver Broncos and John Lynch sacked Brees in the end zone, causing him to fumble. As Brees stretched out grasping for the fumble, all 300 pounds of defensive lineman Gerard Warren landed on Brees' shoulder. His throwing shoulder. Brees was done.

So thought the Chargers. 

And they had good reason to think Brees' career ended in that end zone.

Dr. James Andrews examined Brees' throwing shoulder a few days after the game and remarked that it's "one of the most unique injuries of any athlete I've ever treated." As Andrew puts it, "Lord, I was just hoping to give him a functional shoulder."

Again, the Chargers had every bit of evidence to say Brees was to be replaced. After all, Dr. Andrews informed them that "an average athlete would not recover from this injury." And while the Chargers offered to keep Brees for the type of money injured "back-up" quarterbacks get paid, he declined. So they brought in their electrifying rookie, Philip Rivers, and sent Brees packing.

Little did the Chargers know, Brees is not an "average athlete." 

Brees' choices after the injury were the Miami Dolphins or the New Orleans Saints. What Brees wanted most was the best opportunity to secure the starting quarterback spot. New Orleans was his best option. 

First-time head coach Sean Peyton offered Brees the helm if he was able to prove that his shoulder was a non-factor prior to the beginning of the season. Brees did just that and led the Saints to a 10-6 record.

Fast forward to Friday the 13th, and instead of gripping the pigskin, Brees has a firm grasp of a ball-point pen and has signed his name once again on a Saints' contract. Only this time, it's for $100 million, instead of the type of money reserved for injured "back-up" quarterbacks. 

The National Football League invited 12 reporters (12 jurors?) into their offices to show what evidence they had gathered relating to the New Orleans Saints alleged bounty program. (Although we say "alleged," it's getting harder and harder to not just report that one existed.) Among those 12 reporters was Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

The league appears to have convinced King that a bounty program existed.

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Earlier today, FieldandCourt.com obtained a copy of the league's evidence. In a previous article, that evidence was discussed. And according to King, the 12 reporters heard the exact same evidence from the NFL that the players heard.

King came away from the private meeting with the feeling that the NFL's evidence is "explosive" and "compelling," while Jonathan Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, still doesn't believe credible evidence exists.

 

"There could be nothing credible about that because it never happened," Ginsberg said referring to a bounty program. Apparently, Ginsberg is taking the "close your eyes as tight as you can, plug your ears and yell 'la-la-la' really loud" approach to this situation. The evidence is there and is compelling, even if it's skeletal.  

Not only does King feel the evidence is compelling, he tweeted specific bounty payments and pools made by the Saints.

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King also confirmed what we suspected about Exhibit 10 of the NFL's evidence: it was a pool, not payments, for anyone who took Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Title game. 

Vilma's best approach to this case is not to claim that a bounty program didn't exist, but to take the offensive and sue the New Orleans Saints and Gregg Williams for negligent hiring.

Vilma was the Saints' employee and they hired a person (Williams) to be Vilma's boss. That boss put into place a program that punished the employees if they failed to perform but rewarded them if they did illegal acts (hurting opposing players).  

By its very nature, the NFL is a place where each player has to satisfy their bosses or they will be cut, no matter how many years they have remaining on their contract. In order for Vilma—or any of the other Saints players—to keep their jobs, they had to engage in the bounty program implemented by Williams. 

That's a much better approach than denying what is so painfully obvious: a bounty program existed and the NFL showed that certain players participated in it. At least Vilma would have more credibility with fans.

The NFL has released a portion of the evidence that it obtain during its investigation of whether the New Orleans Saints operated a bounty program through former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And by a portion of the evidence, only 200 of 18,000 pages were released. And the majority of the 200 pages are horrendously irrelevant. 

And by released we mean, the NFL released the 200 pages of evidence to the NFL Players Association on Friday. The hearing was on Monday. And Father's Day weekend was stuffed in between.

Field and Court obtained a copy of the NFL's evidence that it released. Bang it here to take a look for yourself. 

If your head hasn't hit the keyboard by the time you get to Exhibit 10, then you'd see that the Saints clearly operated a bounty program.

Exhibit 10 is a handwritten note (but typed out for the NFL by someone unknown) that has names and dollar amounts next to those names. Some of the players and coaches listed on the note are contributing to a "QB Out" pool, while others are contributing to a "general pool" or "Pick 6" pool. 

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While some have said that Exhibit 10 appears to be a payout of money to linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Charles Grant, it's clear to us that this exhibit only shows who is contributing to the pool. 

After all, linebacker Charles Grant was placed on injured reserve well before the 2009 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. So it would be highly unlikely that he would be paid $10,000 for a hit on Brett Favre that was impossible for him to make. 

Nevertheless, the evidence that was released by the NFL shows that money was paid out to Saints players for certain types of hits on opposing players. Exhibits 5 and 7 show money being paid out to players and players owing money based on their performances during games.

Undoubtably, the Saints and Williams operated some type of pay-for-performance-based system. They even used "Dog the Bounty Hunter" as a cover image on one of their documents and had the words, "Now it's time to do our job...collect bounty$$$!" It doesn't get any dumber than that. 

The NFL's evidence is insufficient, however, based on the sanctions issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Goodell has wiped out Vilma's 2012 season. He blanked head coach Sean Peyton's opportunity to lead the Saints next season. And he's taken games away from other players and coaches who he has determined were involved in the bounty program. 

With such severe sanctions, Goodell needs to disclose all of the evidence used to reach his decision to deliver such fatal blows. That evidence would have to include the players getting money to injure opposing players. Anything less doesn't warrant such long suspensions.

And while Exhibit 10 seems to be exactly that—large sums of money pooled to take Favre "Out"—it only seems that way. It's time for the NFL to take the guess work out of this situation and disclose the evidence that unequivocally proves that the Saints were paid to injure opposing players.

We believe that with all the smoke that the NFL has conjured up, there has to be more substantial evidence of a pay-to-injure bounty program within the Saints organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court today in Louisiana. Vilma is suing Goodell for defamation relating to Goodell's public statements that Vilma was involved in the Saints bounty program initiated by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

The Field and Court obtained a copy of Vilma's complaint, which alleged that Goodell, in a report, stated that Vilma put a $10,000 bounty on Bret Favre prior to the NFL Championship game in January, 2010:

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In his suit, Vilma alleges that Goodell has never disclosed any evidence of such a bounty on Favre, or even that a bounty program existed within the Saints organization.  

Vilma's allegation relating to the lack of evidence of a bounty program is the crux of his case.  In defamations suits, whether it's a libel (written) or slander (spoken) defamation claim, truth is a defense. If Goodell is able to prove the truth of his statements, then Vilma will not only lose his lawsuit, but under federal law, may have to pay Goodell's attorney fees for defending the suit. That would just add insult to injury considering how Vilma is out $2.2 million after being suspended for the entire 2012 football season. 

The discipline Vilma received from Goodell may be seen as harsh to some, but considering the great importance the NFL is placing on player safety, it should come as no surprise. And while the Saints may not be the only program in the NFL with such a bounty program (allegedly, of course), they are the only program that had a snitch, according to Warren Sapp.

Goodell was able to get to the snitch and gain evidence (again, allegedly) that he feels warrants Vilma's suspension. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' pre-game speech does nothing to dispel the notion that a bounty program existed, or at least players were encouraged to hurt opposing players. 

So while Williams (and possibly (allegedly) Vilma) may have wanted to do everything to "kill Frank Gore's head" to knock him out of the game, Goodell did what he could to "knock out" Vilma for not just a game, but an entire season. 

This is all well-and-good, except for the fact that Goodell has not released any evidence of an actual bounty program. Goodell has put the cart before the horse in every sense of the meaning.

Before Goodell is permitted to suspend individuals in an illegal program, certainly those individuals should be privy to the evidence against them. A hide the ball approach to cutting off millions of dollars of salary to these individuals and their families is unacceptable; at least it should be. Certainly, it's a scary proposition when your employer can essentially fire you for a reason that they know of but won't tell you, or more importantly, show you.  

The F&C spoke with Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, and Ginsberg made it clear that Vilma's quarrel is not with the Saints, but rather with the way in which Goodell handled the bounty situation. Vilma believes that Goodell's unsubstantiated allegations were not only wrong, but illegal. Hence, the lawsuit.  

Vilma is standing behind his claim that a bounty program did not exist within the Saints organization. And as far as evidence goes, nothing has been produced to prove otherwise. One thing is for certain, this lawsuit will change all that. With subpoena power, Ginsberg will be able to demand the evidence Goodell used in doling out Vilma's discipline. 

 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees took to the air on Wednesday. Instead of tossing a football, however, Brees used the airways of the WWL-AM radio station in New Orleans to express his disappointment with the Saints organization for not making his long-term contact a priority.

"It's extremely frustrating for me, but here we are," Brees said about the lack of a long-term deal being in place.  Brees went on to say that he is "certainly committed to getting a long-term deal, as I have been throughout this entire process."

While Brees is pointing his finger at the Saints with his words, the Saints have their actions to back their position.

In 2011, General Manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints organization offered to make Brees the richest man in the NFL. The Saints put together a deal that would have made him the highest player in the league.  Brees declined. And now he's claiming that he is committed to securing a long-term deal.

His commitment to the game cannot be challenged, but his commitment to the contract process very well can.  

Had the Saints not offered Brees a long-term deal in 2011, then Brees' words would carry significant weight. With him having turned down a substantial offer, he is beginning to simply look greedy and, in turn, lose favor with his fans. 

Yahoo! Sports has reported that Brees and the Saints are about $5 million per year apart on a long-term deal. Brees is seeking $23 million per season, while the Saints hold his value at around $18 million per season.  

To put Brees' demands in context, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently restructured his contract and will earn just at 11.7 million in 2012, and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take home $8 million in 2012.  Brees is asking that his bank account be larger than both Brady and Rodgers combined for next season.  

Not only is Brees seeking to make more money than Brady and Rodgers combined, he's 'disappointed' the Saints have made him wait this long.

While it's true that Brees became the most prolific single-season passer (5,476 yards) since they began wrapping up the pigskin with laces, his demands are unjustified. At least his 'disappointment' in the Saints organization is misplaced.

"I would say, more than anything, I guess, what's been a little frustrating on my end or disappointing is the lack of communication," Brees said. "I would just say there should be a sense of urgency and yet it seems like there's not," Brees added.

The Saints have had other urgent matters to attend to this offseason other than Brees' long-term contract. 

In what now looks like genius moves, the Saints signed linebackers David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton. These signings will allow the Saints defense to move on seamlessly from Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension. The Saints also signed offensive lineman Ben Grubbs to replace Carl Nicks. These three free-agent signings were essential to holding the dominant black and old gold fabric of the Saints together.  

So while Brees is frustrated with the lack of communication now, the Saints communicated with Brees in 2011 just fine. It was Brees who lacked a sense of urgency. Now it's time for Brees to wait patiently while the Saints figure out things with their salary cap on.

New York Giants No. 1 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was finally able to suit up in last night's final preseason game against the New England Patriots after breaking a bone in his right foot back in May. In the fourth week of the preseason starters such as Nicks don't see the field against opposing teams, but Nicks need the Patriots to knock him around a bit.

During the second series of the game, Nicks caught a pass from quarterback Eli Manning after, what appeared to be, him jogging his route. To make the play even more peculiar, after Nicks caught the pass, he didn't try to avoid defenders but rather turned to them and braced for contact.

Nicks agrees that it was out-of-the-ordinary, but a necessary part of his recovery.

 

"That’s why I didn’t go right down. I kind of just wanted to see where I was at with everything. I kind of wanted to absorb the hit a little bit and get my body back into it,” Nicks said.

While the television announcers gave Nicks some flack over the play, they, frankly, are not in Nicks' shoes. What is in Nicks' shoe is his right foot, which he says feels fine after playing in the preseason game. And for the Giants, that news couldn't be more important.

If you recall, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had a broken bone in his foot during his NFL Combine workouts, had surgery afterwards (including a screw being placed in his foot) and then turn in a solid rookie season for the Falcons.  

And who can forget San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree sustaining a broken bone in his foot prior to the 2009 NFL Draft. Crabtree was originally projected to be a top-4 pick in the draft. His stock didn't fall too far as he was selected with the No. 10 pick overall. 

Crabtree also suffered a broken foot prior to the 2011 season in which he missed all of the preseason. He attempted a return in Week 1—much how Nicks will do—and was unable to play the second-half of the game. He also had to sit out Week 2 to give his hoof more healing time. After taking that time off—essentially six quarters—Crabtree went on to have a solid 2011 season catching 72 passes for 847 yards and 4 touchdowns. 

Nicks will find himself in a similar situation to Crabtree prior to the 2011 season. But with Nicks already seeing live action on the field in the preseason, he should be ready to go against NFC East division foe Dallas Cowboys when they visit MetLife Stadium on Sept. 5. If Nicks doesn't suffer any setbacks over the next six days, then the Giants should have their No. 1 wide receiver on the field.

Take another look at the picture above. Of course you see former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow praying. But look closer. It doesn't take a very hard look to notice that other NFL players from the Broncos and Oakland Raiders are all kneeling and praying together. 

Wait a sec. You mean Tebow isn't the only religious guy in the NFL?

Nope. People just act like he is.

If you watched the Green Bay Packers slice up the Chicago Bears in Week 16 of the 2011 season, then you saw Packers receiver James Jones score two touchdowns.

After both of his touchdowns he stopped, took a knee and looked identical to Tebow when Tebow takes a knee. Only Jones knows if he was saying a prayer or not, but no one is bothering Jones about it.

That's the way it should be—for everyone, including Tebow.

Take a listen to St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson during a post-game interview.

The very last question that he answered (at 3:05) was about how he kept his sanity during a losing season. He responded with a religious answer. His answer didn't make the news.

Tim Tebow is not Steven Jackson. He is not James Jones. And he's not any of the other hundreds of NFL players who perform some type of religious act before, during or after a game.

Tebow is himself—a polarizing NFL quarterback that should not be scrutinized by the fact that he takes a knee on the sideline. After all, NFL players have been taking a knee on the sidelines for years, even decades before Tebow put on a NFL jersey. 

Take a look at the ending of the 1994 AFC Championship game between the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Pay close attention around the :39 mark. 

At the :39 mark there was a Charger player engaged in what looked like a prayer on the sidelines. Or "Tebowing." But Tebow was only seven years old. How could that be?

The Charger player, and his praying, didn't make headlines. The outcome of the game is what the media and fans focused on. As it should be. Not the praying that takes place during the game.

So in 2012 how about we focus on football and leave the judgmental stuff off the field. Let's not focus on Tebow's prayer stance before or after the game. Rather, we should examine Tebow's talent and whether or not he possesses the skills to lead the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl. 

From here on out, let's just watch football and let these guys pray, point to the sky, cross themselves before a punt return or have prayer circles after games. After all, it's their right to do so. And besides, none of these players—including Tebow—have thrust their religious views on fans. It's the media who does that.

Oh yeah, and Saturday Night Live

So, if the NFL is getting too religious for you, then it's time to stop watching. Lord knows, we shouldn't cut the religious stuff out because of people's delicate sensibilities. But who knows, with all the rules surrounding the players and their actions, Patrick Peterson may get fined next year for crossing himself before catching another punt. Or if James Jones wants to take a knee before doing a Lambeau Leap, then he'll need to prove it had nothing to do with praying.

But before that happens, it's time for fans, commentators and everyone else to leave Tebow's beliefs alone, just like they do for everyone else. 

Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy signed a new deal with Philly worth $45 million. The deal includes $20.765 million in guarantees. And he's only 23 years old.

After playing just two seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, McCoy chose to forego his final two years of eligibility and enter the 2009 NFL draft. At that time, McCoy wasn't the biggest (5'10") or the fastest (4.5, forty time). Nevertheless, he was drafted by the Eagles in the second round (53rd overall).  

As a rookie, McCoy replaced an injured Brian Westbrook during the 2009 season. By season's end, he claimed the all-time Eagles rookie rushing title with 606 yards.

Over the next two seasons, McCoy put a strangle-hold on the starting running back job. In 2010, McCoy eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing, averaging over 5-yards-per-carry. In 2011, McCoy dominated the league crossing the goal line a total of 20 times. Many thought quarterback Michael Vick would steal rushing touchdowns from McCoy, but the running back proved his worth to the team. In what appears to be the first of many, McCoy was voted into the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season. 

By signing McCoy to a 5-year deal, the Eagles have locked up their most valuable offensive weapon for the foreseeable future. And because McCoy has the essential ingredient running backs need in the NFL—youth—he will most likely play out the entirety of his new deal.

It's nice to see the Eagles avoid a disastrous contract situation this offseason, unlike last year. Think DeSean Jackson. 

At the time of his arrest for DUI and possession of marijuana, Le’Veon Bell actually said the following: “I didn’t know you could get a DUI for being high. I smoked two hours ago. I’m not high anymore. I’m perfectly fine. Why would I be getting high if I had to make it to my game?”

Hopkins Rule #1: Never make a statement. Ever.

The problem is my clients usually don’t become my clients until after they made the statement so they didn’t know not to make a statement. Bell is no different.

Street/Prison Rule #1: No snitching.

Bell managed to break both rules simultaneously.

He made a statement and snitched on himself at the same time. It’s like shooting yourself with your own gun. I guess he wanted to be Cheddar Bob or Plaxico Burress. Not a good look.

But let’s examine Bell’s statement to see just how bad it was and if it will help or hurt his chances of getting the case dismissed and/or suspended by the NFL.

First a little background on DUI law.

There are two types of DUIs: 1) driving while impaired (think: swerving) and, 2) driving with a certain level of alcohol or illegal drug in your blood.

The latter is a strict liability form of DUI that doesn’t require the prosecutor to prove impairment, only that the substance was in your blood at or above the cut-off level.

Bell was charged with DUI relating to smoking marijuana, or having the THC metabolite in his system, not for being drunk. His statement—“I didn’t know you could get a DUI for being high”—is non-specific to him and irrelevant for the most part.

Eric Thomas’ tweet fittingly sums up that portion of Bell’s statement:

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The second statement—“I smoked two hours ago”—presents problems for his case. Obviously, he admitted to smoking marijuana. No one would believe he was talking about cigarettes or Black & Milds. That argument would border on insanity.

The important thing about Bell’s second statement is what’s not in it: just how much he smoked. That dovetails into his third statement: “I’m not high anymore.”

That statement has been dissected by other state courts (other than Pennsylvania) and has formed the basis for case-dismissing arguments for defendants such as Bell.

Pennsylvania employs a strict liability approach to driving with illegal substances in your system, which means if Bell has just 1 ng/ml of the THC metabolite (Delta-9-carboxy) in his blood, he’s guilty of a DUI.

What Bell didn’t know when he snitched on himself was that many courts around the country are finding that the strict liability THC laws are invalid.

The reason the THC laws are invalid, according to these courts, is because “the ‘metabolite’ reference in the law is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment ... Drivers cannot be convicted of the...offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.” Read the entire ruling here. (Opens in new window)

Bell Jump

Back to Bell and him saying, “I’m not high anymore.”

If he’s correct, and there are no active, impairment causing THC metabolites in his system, then his lawyer will be armed with a strong argument to get his case tossed.

And of course Bell’s lawyer will argue Bell’s statement, “I’m perfectly fine,” shows that his client wasn’t impaired. But again, this is about the THC metabolite and the prior usage of marijuana, not impairment.

And had he adhered to Hopkins’ Rule #1—Never Make A Statement—and had he tested below the NFL’s 15 ng/ml cut-off level, then the NFL wouldn’t have any basis to suspend him on the DUI.

Now the possession of pot charge? Well, that’s another story. I have a theory, though.

Bell was driving and Blount was sitting in the passenger seat. The cop hit the lights and Blount hid the weed under his seat. That, or they gave the weed to the female passenger in the backseat and she put it under Blount’s seat. If she were willing to take one for the team (literally), then she would’ve put it in her purse (assuming she had one). If the weed were in her purse, only she would’ve been charged with possession.

But with the weed under the passenger seat, the passenger gets charged with possession. And because Bell is driving the car, he’s in what’s called “constructive possession” of everything in the car, including the weed under the seat. Busted.

The strongest case he has for beating the possession charge is if the female passenger cops to the weed and says Bell and Blount didn’t know about it. It’ll be interesting to see the statements that are made by these three in the coming months.  

You made it this far, might as well Follow Me on Twitter. (Opens in new window)

 

San Diego Chargers' center, Nick Hardwick, suffered a concussion when playing against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday during an intersquad practice, according to Scott Bair of the North County Times. 

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Just how much time remains to be seen, but with the NFL taking a cautious approach to concussions, quarterback Philip Rivers can expect to have someone else snapping him the ball. 

Then there's the possibility that Hardwick won't wait for the NFL and its concussion tests. He may choose to walk away from the game on his own terms.

Even before the 2011-12 season had ended, Hardwick was considering retirement. Prior to the Chargers' Week 17 game against the Oakland Raiders, Hardwick told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he was thinking about hanging the cleats up.

 

“I love football,” Hardwick told Acee. “It’s a hard decision. There is a lot that goes into it. It’s heavy. So I’m not willing to think about it right now.”

In March, Hardwick inked a three-year deal worth $13.5 million. Now that he's suffered his third concussion of his NFL career, Hardwick may be willing to give that contract back to San Diego.

With Hardwick's best friend and fellow offensive lineman, Kris Dielman, retiring because of the effects his concussions are having on him, Hardwick is surely revisiting the option of retirement.

 

“We’ll weigh the options, see where we’re at, see how I feel when we’re done,” Hardwick said last season. “We’ve got time to make decisions and figure it out.”

For the Chargers and Hardwick, time is running out. Their regular season kicks off on September 10 against Oakland. If the Chargers want to improve their sputtering offense from last season, they will need to fortify the offensive line promptly.

Not only did Dielman walk away from San Diego's offensive line, but Pro-Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill also retired from the game due to recurring spinal issues.

There's no question that Hardwick is contemplating retirement. If he's not, he should. He has a wife and a young son to think about. 

 

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been one of the premier tight ends in the NFL since leaving Kent State University in northern Ohio. The past couple of seasons, Gates has been slowed—not by age or ability—but by something called plantar fasciitis, an injury to his foot.

Gates' injury has healed and last month the tight end expressed his excitement about returning to his typical high level of play. Chargers head coach Norv Turner seconded Gates' proposition of him returning as one of the top players at his position.

 

"Gates looks great — he's back," Turner said. "Physically, he's back to where we want him to be. I think, like anybody, going through this offseason program helps you get better. [It's] the combination of conditioning, the combination of getting better in the areas you can improve, and being out there with your teammates."

While it's best to take offseason remarks from players and coaches with a grain of salt—and wise to take all comments from coaches with the smallest of grains—if what Gates and Turner are saying is true, not only will Gates return as a dominant force on the field, but the Chargers as a whole will resume their top spot in the AFC West.

 

I just read an article written by Yahoo!'s Michael Silver titled "The Worst Call in NFL History?" referring to the Monday Night Football botched call on the Golden Tate/M.D. Jennings catch/interception. I clicked on it because I thought Silver was going to splash cold water on the NFL community and actually discuss the worst calls in NFL history. Instead, he simply falls in line with the rest of the sheep and complains about the officiating.

Since Silver came up short, I decided to fill my pail with cold water.

I'm not here to say the Monday Night Football call was a good one. It wasn't. The Tate/Jennings call was incorrect. But by no means does it qualify as "the worst call in NFL history." 

Each season, there are plenty of calls just like the one from last night. 

I've compiled just a few of bad calls from last season:

If this explanation was done last week instead of last season, the announcers and fans wouldn't be joking about the referee, they'd be condemning him:

 

This bad call was from a Green Bay Packers/Chicago Bears (09/25/11) call where Johnny Knox returned a punt for a touchdown that was called back due to a holding call that was called on a player who wasn't even on the field. The Bears would've come within three points on the Knox touchdown with :51 remaining in the game.

 

Last year, fans were up-in-arms over the officiating because referees were calling pass interference or personal fouls on defenders in order to emphasize player safety. If you remember, the daily mantra from NFL players and fans was "this is a contact sport" not flag football, etc. etc.

Well, here's a personal foul call from a Seattle Seahawks/San Francisco 49ers game last season:

 

Those are just some of the normal botched calls that happened every week in the NFL last season. The one call that could perhaps be labeled "The Worst Call in NFL History" happened last season too. The referees' bad call in this game not only determined the outcome of a game, but decided which team went to the Super Bowl:

If the referees didn't blow that call, the San Francisco 49ers would've played in the Super Bowl. For some reason, Niners fans didn't have reason to riot after that blown call like the Packers fans do after Monday Night Football.

The 49ers/Giants call received little fan-fare. Had the "replacement refs" botched that play, it would've been headline news, just as the Monday Night Football Tate/Jennings catch is today. 

I know that my position is likely to be faced with complete rejection now that the mob has formed and people are trying to "one-up" each other over how bad the Monday Night Football Tate/Jennings call was. Just look at Silver's article where he validates a veteran NFL assistant's position that the Monday Night Football call was as bad as the Rodney King beating. Silver and that assistant have lost all perspective. 

The NFL referees—replacement and otherwise—have made bad calls. If the "normal" officials make it back onto the field, there will be plenty of bad calls from them too. Calls like the one last night have always happened, and will continue to happen as long as the game is played.

 

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was formally arrested for Driving Under the Influence this past week. Various sources have claimed that Lynch will not be suspended because his DUI falls under the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and because this is Lynch's first offense under that policy, only a two game checks fine will be imposed. Those views are short-sighted. 

It's true that the NFL's substance-abuse policy states that a player who is convicted of a one-time DUI offense will be subjected to a fine only. The policy also makes clear, however, that a suspension will be levied if the league finds any aggravating circumstances with respect to the player or incident.

In Lynch's case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell won't have a hard time finding aggravating circumstances. Maybe not with Lynch's most recent DUI — the facts surrounding his arrest have not come to light yet — but certainly with Lynch's past behavior.

During and after his rookie season in the NFL, Lynch was a part of a few incidents that did not result in criminal charges or league discipline. In the midst of his first offseason, however, Lynch hit and injured a woman in the street and then left the scene of the accident. He eventually pled guilty to a simple traffic violation and avoided any league discipline.

His next offseason, in 2009, Lynch was arrested after being found in a vehicle that contained marijuana and a hand gun that belonged to Lynch. Goodell suspended Lynch for the first three games of the 2009 season based on Lynch's conviction of a gun charge.

In March of 2009, Lynch was placed on probation for three years. His DUI occurred less than four months after his probation expired.

Lynch's prior conduct fits squarely into the type of aggravating circumstances Goodell needs to slap Lynch with a suspension. Add in the fact that NFL players have been getting more DUI's than the Kennedys this offseason, and the likelihood of a suspension for Lynch grows more certain.

If Lynch is suspended for even one game, then his suspension could affect how the NFC West plays out this season. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals and Seahawks were in a dead heat up until the final week of the season for the chance to make it into the playoffs. The Seahawks visit the Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Week One. If the Seahawks are without Lynch for their opening game, then the Cardinals will most likely take a one-game lead over the 'Hawks to begin the year. That deficit may be insurmountable in a division as tight-locked as the NFC West.

 

  

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback Josh Freeman, last season is one to forget. Freeman came into the 2011 season riding a wave of hype. Just the year prior in 2010, the Kansas State University alum amassed a 25:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His favorite target, wide receiver Mike Williams, was getting an extra year of experience. And the Bucs came this close to making the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

 

After that 2010 season, the Tampa Bay organization was so comfortable with its offense that five of its eight selections in the 2011 NFL Draft were defensive players, including the first three rounds of the draft (Adrian Clayborn (1st), Da'Quan Bowers (2nd) and Mason Foster (3rd)).

Despite focusing on defense in the draft, the Bucs allowed the most points of any NFL team in 2011 (494), gave up the most rushing yards (2,497) and rushing touchdowns (26). The Tampa Bay defense ranked dead last in 2011. 

 

The Buccaneers' 2010 offense was centered around a balanced approach of an aggressive running back in LeGarrette Blount and an efficient Freeman. They found success because the organization was able to couple a capable offense couched in a stifling defense. The 2010 Bucs' defense ranked 9th in the league, giving up only 318 points (as compared to 494 points in 2011). 

If we rewind back to 2010 and look at Freeman under center, he's a much more relaxed quarterback who doesn't need to take unnecessary risks. The defense kept them in the game and they were able to methodically move the ball down the field. An NFL offense looks a lot different when it's playing from behind than when the team has the lead.

In 2011, the Bucs rarely took the lead. They scored more than 20 points only twice all season, and never more than 30 points in a game. From Week 7 on, Tampa never won a single game. Freeman threw 16 of his 22 interceptions during those last 10 games.

Heading into the 2012 season, Freeman's success is handcuffed to the defense's success. If the defense is able to make stops and give up no more than the lower 300's in points, then Freeman has a legitimate opportunity to revisit his 2010 form. If the Bucs have to rely on Freeman to play from behind and reel in a slacking defense, then the 2011 Freeman will emerge, even with his new favorite target, Vincent Jackson. 

There is no doubt that Tampa's running game received a shot of adrenaline with rookie, Doug Martin. Martin's addition should help absorb some of the offensive responsibility from Freeman, but the Bucs cannot rely on the rookie to fix their abysmal offense. They will need a balanced attack in 2012 coming from Freeman, the running game, and most importantly: the defense.

Featured Writer

Cedric Hopkins

Cedric Hopkins runs this sports law/fantasy football blog. If you have issues with it, it's all his fault. Cedric was an athlete-student at the University of New Mexico (Basketball - Go Lobos!). He then morphed into a student-athlete when he attended law school in San Diego. Age replaced athleticism and now he writes appellate briefs for criminals (alleged criminals, of course) in state and federal cases, including writing U.S. Supreme Court briefs.

For years Cedric has researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, he's combining his two passions: researching and writing about sports. When he's not in court arguing a case before a judge (or writing about himself in the third person), he'll be doing the same with his articles on FieldandCourt.com. Follow me, er, him on Twitter (opens in a new window).