DANA POINT, Calif. -- So you've come to the annual NFL meetings, or at least you've come to read about the meetings, looking for big news. Sorry to disappoint you. I've got Meeting McNuggets, but I don't have the whole Porterhouse, mainly because there simply isn't one. No big decisions to be made on the new collective bargaining talks with new NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith. Those talks are still a few weeks off. And no big rules changes. Still, this is what caught my eyes and ears Sunday:
News Item: I don't see Jay Cutler getting traded.
That's my feeling after talking to the involved parties for a (insert shameless plug here) Sports Illustrated story this week. Now, I can't say with conviction Cutler's going to be the Broncos' opening-day starter, but I do think coach Josh McDaniels will exhaust every avenue to try to get Cutler to stay, and I do think nothing's going to happen here. Funny thing is, around the lobby and meeting rooms, I couldn't find any coach who thought the Broncos should even think of trading Cutler.
"Say you're the Broncos, and Tampa Bay offers you two ones [two first-round picks] plus [second-year quarterback] Josh Johnson for Cutler,'' one NFC coach told me. "Denver makes the deal and picks a quarterback with one of the ones. You've traded the best young quarterback in football for two guys who might have a chance, but might be washouts, too. Denver's problem is they could never get fair value for him.''
I called Charlie Weis, the Notre Dame coach and mentor of McDaniels, and asked what I considered the biggest question McDaniels must ask himself as he figures how far he'll go to keep Cutler: If I have to kiss this kid's feet and kowtow to him to make him feel comfortable enough to stay, is that any way to form a coach-player relationship with the most important player on the team?
"It's a rhetorical question, but it's one I definitely would ask,'' said Weis, who left the Patriots' for Notre Dame in 2005, ceding the offensive coordinator's role to McDaniels. "That thought would go through my mind. You've got to be able to coach a quarterback, and coach him hard. You don't want to start your relationship that way.
"Look, I'm not taking sides here. I know Josh very well, and I don't know Jay. But the one question I would ask is: Why wouldn't anyone faced with such a big decision not go have a one-on-one meeting with the coach? It's common sense. Even if you end up telling the guy to go to hell, don't you have to actually talk face to face, alone, before making such a huge career decision?''
Last week, the venom from the Cutler camp was so toxic I said I thought he'd have to be traded. But it was interesting here, listening to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak to the body of league people (including McDaniels) and media here Sunday night. She talked at one point about how "history has a long arc,'' and how you have to take a long view of things. If you're always chasing the day's headlines, she said, you'll eventually become so reactionary you'll ignore long-term good for short-term satisfaction, and you'll fail. I was thinking of McDaniels and Denver management. I think, like Rice used to do in the Middle East, the Broncos will exhaust all diplomatic means. And with agent Bus Cook on record as saying Cutler will report to mandatory mini-camps and training camp, why trade the guy, there's certainly no reason to do anything fast ... even if that means you don't have a definitive answer on Cutler by draft day.
News Item: It's beginning to look like a Tennessee-Pittsburgh season-opener ... with the long-awaited Dallas stadium-opener possible in Week 2, not Week 1.
The NFL doesn't have great options for the Steelers for opening night, Sept. 10. San Diego, Green Bay and Tennessee are the best ones (the Ravens have requested not to be prime-time fodder for the Steelers for the fourth time in three years), and I'm hearing the Titans are favorite sons here. Roethlisberger-Collins. Young stud versus old. And don't forget the infamous towel-stomping incident -- I know the Steelers haven't. Good matchup if it happens. Very good. The football world approves.
I keep hearing the Cowboys might get Week 1 to continue to work out the kinks at their new stadium and play at home in prime time in Week 2. After the BYU-Oklahoma game at the stadium on Sept. 5, Dallas officials could have 15 days to make sure everything's right for the game on the weekend of Sept. 20.
By the way, word in the lobby last night was the Cowboys lost a $25-million-a-year naming-rights deal for their new stadium when AT&T dropped out of the bidding for Jerry's World in Arlington. No name on a stadium is worth that much, but this place is going to be fairly phenomenal, with its 180-foot-wide high-def TV/scoreboard stretching above the field from 20-to-20. I toured the 70-percent complete stadium last October, and it's just like what Elaine Benes found out about the Teri Hatcher-girlfriend character's northern endowment on Seinfeld: It's real, and it's spectacular.
News Item: The Cardinals haven't given up on signing Anquan Boldin long-term.
Now, there are those among Cardinals brass who were not at all happy with what they thought was Boldin moping at the end of the season last year. Some believe he could have played in the NFC playoff game at Carolina after straining a hamstring a week earlier in the win over Atlanta, and the team wasn't happy with his act after the championship game, even though Boldin did his best to smooth over his sideline set-to with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. But coach Ken Whisenhunt tells me the team is still intent on making Kurt Warner happy and trying to sign Boldin so he and Larry Fitzgerald can grow old together as the best wideout tandem in football.
The Cards won't go to the $10-million-a-year Boldin wants. And if a team -- Philadelphia seems most likely -- calls and offers a mid- to late-first-round pick for Boldin, Arizona would listen. If Boldin is willing to do a deal for between $8 and $9 million a year, a T.J. Houshmandzadeh- or Plaxico Burress-type contract, I think he could get something done with Arizona.
On the surface, it seems ridiculous Philly and others aren't running to try to dislodge the best physical wideout in football from the Cardinals. I think it has to do with separation speed. Boldin can't run past most corners. Fitzgerald can. That's what separates them. And that might be why, at the end of the day, the Eagles won't hand over the 27th pick in the draft for him. I don't like that logic at all, because Boldin's a great playmaker, and he'd be a difference-maker in a physical division like the NFC East. If I'm the Eagles, I don't walk to make that deal (if it can be made). I run.
News Item: Michael Oher is beginning to allay the fears of teams that big money would ruin him.
The Mississippi tackle is probably the second- or third-most athletic tackle in this draft, and the book among some teams after the scouting combine was big money in the first round would ruin him, because of his well-publicized upbringing on the poor side of Memphis. But Oher has impressed teams with his maturity and intelligence, and the fact is, he was adopted by an upper-class family in Memphis during his high-school years.
Some teams left the combine with the impression Oher, after a tough childhood, would be so overwhelmed by the money it might sap his desire to be great, as it did with several recent high picks (like Mike Williams the tackle and Mike Williams the wide receiver). Now that teams are investigating Oher more thoroughly, they're finding a more grounded kid than they'd previously thought. Oher is scheduled to visit the Bengals, who pick sixth in the first round, and it's not a reach to think he could go in the top six or eight.
News Item: Condoleezza Rice tells the NFL to look globally.
Two interesting things from her talk to the league here, one football and one not.
She said she thought Great Britain, Germany and Australia would be good candidates for NFL franchises. "Find countries with a mass sports culture,'' the former Secretary of State said, "and where they play either rugby, Australian Rules football or soccer.''
And responding to a question about the world's most dangerous hotspots, she said we should look much closer to home than we have been -- to the war being fought between Mexican law enforcement and the drug cartels threatening all strata of Mexican society. So I looked up a few things early this morning on the drug war, and I found this, from this morning's New York Times, about how Tucson is being invaded by the drug culture and the resulting conflicts:
"This city, an hour's drive north of the Mexican border, is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexico's drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out. Since officials here formed a special squad last year to deal with home invasions, they have counted more than 200 of them, with more than three-quarters linked to the drug trade. In one case, the intruders burst into the wrong house, shooting and injuring a woman watching television on her couch ... Tucson is hardly alone in feeling the impact of Mexico's drug cartels and their trade. In the past few years, the cartels and other drug-trafficking organizations have extended their reach across the United States and into Canada. Law enforcement authorities say they believe traffickers distributing the cartels' marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are responsible for a rash of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, brutal assaults in Birmingham, Ala., and much more.''
What a world. Interesting to hear a football fan with a global view of what we should all be concerned with.
"I'm prepared to answer questions on Russia, on the Middle East ... and why no one should ever run a prevent defense.''
-- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her talk to the NFL population at the league meetings Sunday night , inviting questions from the group.
It was an interesting session. Houston owner Bob McNair asked whether Russia has become more of a rogue nation, and whether she thought Russia would join OPEC. Chicago's Mike McCaskey asked about the dangers of his daughter, 20, practicing her college-learned Arabic in Yemen. But the highlight for me was the most dogged of scribes among us, Bengals.com editor and writer Geoff Hobson --in a sidebar after Rice's talk, with Steelers owner and U.S. Diplomat to Ireland-nominee Dan Rooney waiting to speak with her -- asking about Rice's affection for Paul Brown and one of her favorite teams, the Bengals. Hobson asked Rice if she ever did "The Ickey Shuffle.'' No, she said; but she loved watching it.
"I would be pissed if I got my ass shipped to Cleveland.''
-- Washington tight end Chris Cooley, who apparently is not in the market for a vacation home in Shaker Heights.
"I couldn't go to the drugstore, I couldn't go to dinner, I couldn't stop at the gas station without someone asking me whether we were going to re-sign Ray. So now I can have my life back.''
-- Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, at the Ravens' announcement of Ray Lewis' three-year, $22.5 million contract last Thursday.
The league will not address overtime here, in part because when a select group of veteran players met with the Competition Committee at the scouting combine in Indianapolis last month, there was no sentiment whatsoever to change the current system. "They were rock-solid, dead-set against changing the rule,'' Colts GM Bill Polian said Sunday. "We were all surprised how adamant they were, but their attitude basically was, the game's exciting enough, it can end on one play, and we don't need to be adding plays to a game when we might go to 17 or 18 games anyway.''
All good points. I'll just make three more that emphasize why the coin toss to start overtime has taken on far, far, far too much importance in who wins and loses overtime games:
1. In the last five years, 28 of the 72 overtime games played ended on the first possession of overtime, with the teams losing the coin flip not getting a chance to touch the ball. That's 39 percent of the games ending with one team touching the ball in overtime.
2. In the last five years, 72 of the 72 teams that won the coin flip to start overtime chose to receive. I keep hearing how the coin flip doesn't win or lose the games; teams do. True. But if the coin flip is so insignificant, why has no team since Marty Mornhinweg's Lions in 2001 chosen to kick off after winning? I always hear that good defenses can win in overtime. But the Ravens and the Bucs and the Steelers -- teams with great defenses of this decade -- never won the toss and chose to let their defenses play first. Why? Because the winner of the coin flip has a far, far better chance to win the game than the team that doesn't win. And all that would be needed to fix it would be the chance for both teams to touch the ball once overtime begins.
3. "We'd like to see each team get one possession,'' said Steelers president Art Rooney, but he was drowned out by those not wanting to add plays to the best game in the world. Heresy! More plays!
That's the Super Bowl champion talking. Anyone listening?
The pro-overtime forces went out meekly this year. So this is what I root for: In the Super Bowl next year, I hope the game is tied after four quarters, and I hope the team that wins the toss to start overtime returns the kickoff to the 39, and I hope they advance the ball 21 yards in five plays, and on fourth-and-six from the opposing 38-yard line, the winners kick a 57-yard field goal. And I hope a 5-foot-9 kicker goes pirouetting in the air, pumping his fist while most of the free world shuts off the TVs feeling disgusted and 79,000 fans and one very ticked-off team leave the field feeling totally deflated. And I hope Roger Goodell -- though he would never say this -- walks onto the field after the game and the losing coach says to him, "Commissioner, championship football games should not end this way.'' Maybe then we could have a sensible debate about overtime.
The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa must be doing quite well in the face of the economic downturn. I attempted to eat breakfast at two of its restaurants Sunday. I was turned away at one, with the place half-empty, because I was not a guest in the hotel. I was turned away at another because I was not a guest at the hotel and I did not have a reservation.
All those without a black AmEx card had better be full when they walk in the door here.
Some of the media, SI included, chose not to fork over the $425 a night at the St. Regis and ended up a couple of miles down the Pacific Coast Highway at the Marriott Laguna Cliffs, a lovely place in its own right.
With one serious flaw.
Sunday morning, 6:17, I stumble down to the lobby, desperately needing coffee. Any coffee. I look in the quiet lobby for a coffee urn, a coffee station, a coffee shop open to get a to-go coffee.
"Sorry, sir,'' the front-desk guy said. "No coffee on the weekends 'til 7 a.m.''
That's what I call a full-service hotel. Want a coffee at 6:30 on a Saturday or Sunday? Get in your car and go find one.
1. I think it's not a surprise to see no change in the Thanksgiving Day schedule, but I can tell you this isn't set in stone. The Lions and Cowboys will host games; there's no groundswell for a change, in part because there's no recent evidence that hosting the game (and the resulting mini-bye week that follows) is a competitive advantage.
Detroit stinks, obviously, but the Cowboys are only 6-6 in their last 12 Thanksgiving Day games. I suppose it's no time to kick Detroit (the city and the franchise) when it's down, but if Jim Schwartz doesn't turn this team around, how many more bad football games are we going to be subjected to? The league doesn't want to put a bunch of 44-10 games on national TV.
2. I think the Lions won't really know what they want to do with the first pick in the draft until March 31, or later. That's the date the Lions will go, en masse, to Athens, Ga., to work out Matthew Stafford. In Stafford's carefully orchestrated 19-minute throwing session for coaches Thursday ("This wasn't real football,'' Stafford said of the session, conducted in shorts, T-shirts, no pads and no defense), he displayed a strong deep arm and good touch on intermediate throws. But when the Lions work him out, they'll have him throw their routes, with their coaches calling the shots.
3. I think there's no consensus on the first round in the draft, with the draft 33 days away. But the lobby guesswork after a long Sunday of pigeonholing NFL people and agents leaves this top five: Detroit, Georgia quarterback Stafford; St. Louis, Baylor tackle Jason Smith; Kansas City, Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe; Seattle, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo; Cleveland, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.
4. I think you look at that and say, "Aaron Curry fifth? I thought he might go to Detroit first.'' Well, he might. But here's the question you ask yourself with Curry: Do you want to take a linebacker who doesn't sack the quarterback first overall and hand him $34 million? Can you justify that financial outlay for a three-down linebacker, but a linebacker who doesn't rush well, a linebacker who averaged one sack for every 17 quarters of college football he played?
5. I think I keep hearing Marvin Harrison is finished. He's not being pursued by any teams now, and I think he'll never play again. He's too proud to be someone's third receiver, he doesn't love the game enough to play third or fourth receiver somewhere, and he has no interest in limping through a season for $3 million plus incentives.
6. I think, on the other hand, Torry Holt is bound for Tennessee. He's going to like running under those Kerry Collins bombs.
7. I think, as one executive I respect pointed out Sunday night, older players have been like kryptonite this year in free-agency, except to those on the Bill Belichick tree. The Patriots sign thirtysomethings Fred Taylor, Joey Galloway, Shawn Springs and Al Johnson. Kansas City (with former Pats VP Scott Pioli now the GM) signs Bobby Engram and acquires Mike Vrabel. Denver (with former Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now coaching) plucks Brian Dawkins from the Eagles and LaMont Jordan from New England.
These guys are mostly one-year fixes at sub-$4-million-a-year salaries, with immense pride and leadership on their résumés. In the cases of Vrabel and Dawkins, the Chiefs and Broncos are paying about $3.5 million for example-setting in the offseason program and the locker room that new administrations find vital.
8. I think it's a strange sight, and definitely a changing-of-the-guard sight, to come to a league meeting and not see Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Herman Edwards (and the AWOL Belichick, who hates these things like old buddy Bill Parcells did and stayed home). Changing-of-the-guard time, folks.
9. I think there are better days ahead for Paul Zimmerman, and I'm hoping you, my marvelous readers, are going to be a part of them. I've had so many people approach me since Paul's three strokes around Thanksgiving asking, "What can I do to help?'' Next week, I'm going to give you a way. But first, I want to send along a nice bit of writing Paul's wife Linda has done, talking about improvements for Paul, who remains unable to speak intelligibly, read or walk without assistance, but has returned home to his New Jersey residence, with Linda caretaking full-time. Next week I'll have details for how you can help in the effort for the Z-man's full recovery.
Linda writes: "I read a column in the New York Times. Layng Martine Jr. wrote about taking care of his paraplegic wife for the last 15 years. I figured if he could do it for 15 years then I could give it a real shot! One very important thought that he conveyed was the fact that all it has really taken is EFFORT. He felt that was a small price to pay. Somehow looking at it that simply helped me immensely -- gave me a new perspective! It was a turning point for me. I wrote a thank you to him.
"What started out rough has ended with joy! I can't tell you how excited we are about all of Paul's progress. Hmmm, where to begin? How about finding a bottle of dessert wine in the fridge? I looked at Paul and asked him, 'How the hell did you get this here?' It had been in the family room. Somehow he got it and tucked it into his wheelchair and hauled it two rooms to the fridge. I haven't been further than 10 feet from him in weeks. I realized that for days he had been trying to tell me that he wanted to chill a bottle and have it with dinner ...
"Paul is whipping through flash cards. He in now organizing the 'sequencing action cards.' Cards that I find confusing -- I keep second-guessing which event comes first, the walk in the orchard, or eating the apple? He has become annoyed at the picture flash cards and is working his way through identifying the alphabet. You can't imagine my joy. I have been going over the alphabet 'till I'm ready to pop. I thought it was useless. Now he can identify 70 percent. We also put together the puzzle of the United States that [Paul's daughter] Sarah sent. A few weeks ago, impossible.
"He insists on 'reading' the daily papers. For months I have gotten them. He looks at them. I really think that all of his concentrating is paying off. He spent over an hour working on a Suduko puzzle; he only filled in two numbers, but I'm sure that he was really figuring things out and that we'll see the results in a few days! The occupational therapist bought a booklet of diagrams illustrating his daily arm/hand exercises. After she left, I found him at the table with the booklet open and he was going through each one. I know this all sounds like small potatoes, but you have no idea how long we have been working on picture identification. It is miraculous!''
Is there any doubt we're going to see the good doctor back in business one day down the road with someone like Linda piloting the rehab train? Looks promising to me.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I guess I missed 24. Shows like that, when you don't watch from the beginning, seem like way too much of an investment to pick up in season four or five or six.
b. Springsteen did a great job on The Jon Stewart Show the other night. Did Working on a Dream, alone, with a guitar and harmonica.
c. You can't pay cops enough. You just can't. Three cops dead, and a fourth gravely wounded, after a routine traffic stop in Oakland on Saturday. We don't tell police officers enough how much we value their service.
d. Coffeenerdness: Peet's may be outnumbered by four Starbucks here in Dana Point, but the drive to find the lonely little Peet's is worth it.
e. They over-built in Orange County. So many people want ocean views that they crammed hundreds of units on the beautiful, weather-whipped hillsides and cliffsides of the county abutting the Pacific Ocean. And now the beautiful, weather-whipped hillsides aren't so beautiful anymore.
f. Couldn't you just feel a nation pulling for Siena on Sunday?
g. I still think the best way to have a chance to win your tournament bracket every year -- after the research the NCAA does putting the brackets together -- is to take the team with the better seed in every game. That wouldn't be as fun, but it would give you the best shot to win.
h. Dave Goldberg and Paul Zimmerman, you are sadly missed, by many, here.