Busy week. Late May, Memorial Day, and still the NFL doesn't slow up. TV deals, a ruling in the StarCaps case, the BrettFavre story (very quietly) heating up, debating the schedule expanding from 16 to either 18 or 17 games, Mike Vick living in home confinement, Tom Brady returning to practice with his team Tuesday for the first time in 37 weeks, Terrell Owens blaming Tony Romo for his Dallas demise, and the best special-teamer in football going on a wildcat strike. Did someone say "offseason?''
Headlines of the week:
Brady's back. In Sports Illustrated this week (no spoilers until tomorrow on SI.com; sorry), I've got the first extended interview with Brady since the Sept. 7 knee injury that knocked him out for the 2008 season. I found him confident that his knee's going to be fine, with a bold thing or two to say about his future ... and an interesting explanation of how he got the staph infection that caused him a couple of setbacks in his rehab last fall. Brady's been throwing to his receivers -- he estimates he's thrown with Randy Moss 12 times -- and I asked Wes Welker what he saw in Brady. "It's been fun for him to throw it around, and he's throwing it good," Welker said. "Rehab gets pretty old. You want to be out there, playing.''
The last time Brady had his hands on this team for a full season, the Patriots set an NFL record, scoring 36.8 points a game, two points a game more than any other team in history. They've had to replace 82 wide-receiver catches from that team, with Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth out, so Greg Lewis and the ancient Joey Galloway are in. I see Lewis, a reliable darter, catching 50 balls. But Galloway had a bad foot (since recovered) last year, started only four games in Tampa, and comes north with doubts that he can stay healthy. On the plus side: He played in 47-of-48 Bucs games from 2005 through 2007.
I asked Welker whether the 2009 offense can be as good as the 2007 offense.
"I feel we've gotten better,'' he said. "Back in '07, Randy and I were in our first year here, and I don't know about Randy, but I was worried about where the hell I was supposed to line up a lot of that season. Now, with so many touches over the last two years, the offense is second nature to us. This is a complicated offense, and getting to know it takes time. But now I think we both know it well, and we're on the same page with Tom every snap. Our goal is to continue to get better. I hope we can. We've got some good new weapons here, and it'll be great for us to get on the field together to see what we can do.''
Funny to think of in this way, but the key to a great offensive season for New England might actually be the fleet Galloway, who I'm told is running in the 4.4s even at 38. Imagine splitting a healthy Galloway and Moss wide to either side, with Welker in the slot and a good receiver like Kevin Faulk in the backfield. There are going to be some tough coverage assignments for a defense with those receivers playing as a group.
The sands in the hourglass are running out for Brett Favre. This is what I know about the odd little mating dance between Favre and the Vikings as of this weekend:
• He's going to have a make a decision whether to join the Vikings very soon, probably by this weekend, because the Vikings want to know what their 2009 future is at quarterback. I'm told the organization won't wait for a decision much longer, and if he has to get a minor operation to snip the damaged right biceps tendon that has been giving him pain, he has to do it soon. Like, within a week.
I get the strong sense that if the Vikings are going to do any deal with Favre coach Brad Childress wants to be assured Favre will report to training camp in game shape, with no restrictions on throwing or his condition. They'd also like Favre to be involved in the mental part of team activities before camp. He has missed the first week of Organized Team Activities (last week), and he's all but out of this weekend's final mandatory full-squad mini-camp before training camp. Ten OTA practices remain for the Vikings -- June 2-5, June 8-11 and June 15-16.
• Favre needs surgery to release the biceps tendon that has been giving him discomfort throwing the ball. I'm told the tendon is hanging on by a thread. One source in the NFL medical establishment told me last week that he understands Favre's tendon is barely attached, and would take a minor arthroscopic procedure to detach it by snipping the tendon. If that happened, Favre would likely be unable to throw the ball for at least two weeks, with a month's rehab before he could throw like the old Favre.
I was also told that severing the tendon would have no impact on Favre's velocity or accuracy. Theoretically, if Dr. James Andrews, who appears to be Favre's orthopedist of choice -- and who is a big fan of Favre's -- does the surgery by the end of the week, Favre would be back throwing by the end of June, which would give him about a month to get his arm in NFL shape.
• Will he or won't he? I don't know. My best guess is he'll have the minor surgery if the tendon is still nagging him by week's end, and that he'll get his arm right and do a deal with the Vikings. But it's only a guess. As I've said through this whole thing, I've been wrong about Favre staying retired twice, and so I'm out of the Favre prediction business. Let's see what this week brings. We ought to have a better idea by the weekend.
The StarCaps case leaves two very valuable Vikings on an island.Still. I detail a little later the value of defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams to the Vikings and how much Minnesota would miss them if they were to miss the first four games due to a positive test for taking the diuretic StarCaps last year. Federal district court in Minneapolis upheld the suspensions Thursday, and the Williamses now turn to a lower court in Minnesota for legal redress, claiming the league knew there was a banned substance in the pills and didn't tell the players union about the tainted stuff.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, echoing the league view obviously, seemed certain in an e-mail to me Saturday that the league won't lose the appeal. "We believe there are very significant barriers to a successful suit in the Minnesota courts against our collectively bargained program with the NFL Players Association that covers 32 teams and all NFL players," he wrote. "We are not concerned with the case as it now stands."
At issue is the core principle of the NFL program -- that a player is responsible for what goes in his body, and if anything is ingested that's on the NFL list of banned substances, regardless of who knew about it and when they knew about it, the positive test is the fault of the player. Pat Williams, though, believes that because league doctor John Lombardo had full knowledge of the banned substance bumetanide in StarCaps, the players will be found innocent.
"I feel good about our chances,'' he told Howard Balzer and Alex Marvez on Sirius NFL Radio on Saturday. "It's in God's hands.''
I understand the asterisk here, and I'm sure the NFL and Lombardo will behave differently about tainted-supplement knowledge going forward, but I can't see the players winning this case.
Michael Vick's chance to succeed is due to how the game has changed in the last three years. I'll detail some good X-and-O stuff about Vick's future in Tuesday's column. But here's a preview: My little panel of experts -- former quarterbacks and current coaches -- think the way the game has changed actually helps Vick ... assuming he's still the energetic, frenetic presence he was when he last played in 2006.
"Teams are playing the spread more, and playing things like the Wildcat more, running more gimmicky plays,'' said Trent Green, the longtime quarterback trying to get signed somewhere. "If anything, the game's gotten faster since Mike left. If he's still the same player, that could play into his hands.''
IF he's still the same player. Pretty big if.
This sounds familiar. In San Francisco, Jeff Garcia couldn't throw the ball deep enough and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp didn't appreciate Terrell Owens' talent. In Philadelphia, Owens wished Brett Favre and not Donovan McNabb was his quarterback, and he instructed coordinator Brad Childress not to speak to him anymore. And now, Owens has Tweeted some true feelings about the end of his time with the Cowboys, answering sentiment from a fan who was not happy to see T.O. leave Big D. The Twittered response from Owens: "Neither ws i, blame the OC & romo!! but i'm happy 2 b where i am but i miss the other guys tht were & r true teammates!!''
My response to that response: B afrd Trnt Edwrds and Trk Schnert. B vry afrd.
Josh Cribbs needs to get paid. Dangerous business getting involved in these financial tete-a-tetes. Here's the problem with Cribbs' holdout, as I see it. He's one of the six or eight most valuable players on the Browns, but he's being paid like the 20th. The new administration hasn't seen him enough yet to know that.
In 2006, Cribbs signed a seven-year contract extension with a $2 million signing bonus and salaries of less than a million a year a year for the life of the deal. In the first three years of the deal, he's made $3.4 million. In the next three years, he's slated to make $620,000, $635,000 and $650,000, with escalators each year that could push the contract closer to $1 million annually.
Let's say you've got the best special-teamer in football, which is what I consider Cribbs. By any measure, I don't think the following can be argued. He is the best two-way --punt/kickoff -- return man in the game, without question.
(Two years among players with at least 40 kickoff returns and 25 punt returns, he was the best all-around returner in the game, first in kickoffs and third in punts. Last year, he slipped to 10th and eighth, respectively. But the only player in football in either year who also was in the top 10 in both categories was Carolina's Mark Jones last year. Plus, Cribbs is the best pursuit man on Browns special teams by far, leading the team with 70 special-teams tackles over the past four years. Clearly, Cribbs is special. He brings a spirit and exuberance to the team, and plays the game the right way.)
When you have a player as important as Cribbs is to the organization, you want to treat him right and show the rest of the team that you're paid on merit, not just based on the loftiness of where you were drafted. Normally, I don't think playing three years of a seven-year deal is enough to merit a re-do, but given Cribbs' output, it seems like the right thing to do.
Clarifying one thing about the Red Zone Channel on Comcast. Last week I said the league's smart deal with the cable giant would put the Red Zone Channel (the one that jumps from game to game on Sundays, showing scoring opportunities) on Comcast's digital tier. No so, most likely.
Other cable outfits who make deals to put NFL Network on their digital cable tiers will probably place Red Zone on a pay tier similar to the one the league argued the NFL Network shouldn't be on. The reason is because the Red Zone Channel is added value, not something the league wanted to give Big Cable as part of the deal to make the Network more widely distributed on the regular digital tier. So if you've got Comcast and you want this premium channel, you'll likely have to pay an additional $7 or so per month to get it, which, over a four-month term, is probably a reasonable cost if you're an NFL devotee who loves immediacy and can't wait for the halftime or post-game highlights
Stupid me. You readers are correct: I omitted a shout-out to all veterans of this special day in the original publishing of this column. Memorial Day is a day we should all give thanks to everyone who died serving our country. Pardon me for the glaring omission, and thanks to all past and present service people for keeping us free.
"I think the Super Bowl will certainly stay in the United States. I wouldn't look for that to move.''-- Miami owner Stephen Ross, to Bob Papa and Randy Cross on Sirius NFL Radio, asked about the chances that the NFL could export its championship game to London in the next few years.
I'd say it stronger that that. Unless a Murdoch type or some sheikh pays a sick sum to play the game in London (why would they, really?), the game's not moving outside the U.S. in the next decade. Two, probably.
"Now I just gotta stay there 15 years.''-- Lions coach Jim Schwartz, commenting on the beautiful 12,000-square-foot home on four acres that he purchased from former Red Wing Pat Verbeek in the suburbs north of Detroit. It's not the beauty of the home that counts to Schwartz, but the length of time he spends in it. Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli had great houses too. Mariucci's was a sweetheart of a place, on a lake, and no coach east of Mike Shanahan lived any better. Ask him if that matters now.
In the last three seasons, since the Williamses -- Viking defensive tackles Kevin and Pat -- have teamed together to systematically stop the run better than any other two men in football, Minnesota's defense has been first, first and first against the run in NFL rankings in 2006 through 2008, a rare trifecta of greatness. And the only time Pat, the stout nose man, and Kevin, the knifing three-technique tackle, didn't play together was the final three games of last season -- two in the regular season and one in the playoffs, when Pat suffered a broken right scapula and missed the rest of the year. In those three games, the Vikes allowed 24, 19 and 26 points, respectively, and without Pat Williams pushing the pocket, allowed 134, 229 and 300 passing yards. In the three games, teams rushed 85 times for exactly 300 yards.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Vikings never played a game with both Kevin and Pat Williams missing. For a team supposed to be in the thick of the NFC playoff picture this season, playing without them for the first four games of the season could be a death blow.
The luckiest thing for Minnesota? The Vikes open with three weak offensive teams -- Cleveland, Detroit and San Francisco -- before hosting Green Bay in Week 4. If they have to play without them, the Vikings will be mortal, but against the likes of the Browns, Lions and Niners, that might be good enough.
To say New York Jets special-teamer Larry Izzo enjoyed his time with the Patriots is an understatement. He played with New England for eight years, won three Super Bowl rings, was a fixture in Boston social and community events, and was a selfless volunteer (raising more than $600,000 for military families with an annual karaoke event called "Larryoke''). In the offseason, he signed with the Jets. Not exactly Johnny Damon to the Yankees, but notable.
He and wife, Mara, had a son this spring. They named him Boston.
Might want to keep that one to yourself when out in the Village, Larry.
Tom Speicher of Williamsport, Pa. (who Tweets under the name tomspeicher), asks this about Michael Vick: "Will someone in the media please point out that even at the 'height' of his career, Vick was at best a mediocre QB!''
Well, as a quarterback, Vick was decidedly mediocre in his four full seasons starting for the Falcons. His completion percentages when he started at least 15 games -- 54.9,56.4, 55.3 and 52.6 -- were poor; he had 36 fumbles and 38 interceptions in his last 46 starts. He was electric and exciting, but Speicher's right.
Mark Seymour of Melbourne, Australia (packer4 is his Twitter handle), responded thusly to my Tweet complaining about a possible 18-game schedule: "In Aussie Rules Football, we have a 22-round sked. 18 is a snack.''
Perhaps. Not sure how tasty it would be.
1. I think, for those of you speculating that Vick could end up with his former NFL coach, Jim Mora, in Seattle, partly because there's no quarterback of the future behind Matt Hasselbeck, I can assure you that Vick and Jim Mora will never be on the same team again. Let's just say it didn't end too well the last time they were together. Not just the ending, but the middle part, too. The entire Atlanta organization wasn't crazy about Vick's work ethic in the offseason. It's illogical to think Mora would stake any portion of his future on Vick.
2. I think, though, when the Seattle quarterback depth chart is looking as if it will be Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace and the immortal Mike Teel, it's pretty logical to wonder why you wouldn't consider bringing Vick in-house.
3. I think it's ludicrous the NFL draws such a hard line against gambling in a state -- like it is in Delaware right now -- and at the same time the league is making deals with states around Delaware to put team logos on lottery tickets. I know one form of gambling is illegal (in 49 states) and the other is legal countrywide. But the rush to put your helmet on an instant-lottery game, as the Patriots did last week, quite literally on the same day the league had lawyers in Delaware arguing against sports gambling is somewhere between ridiculously ill-timed and totally disingenuous.
4. I think I don't expect the NFL to find the Redskins guilty of tampering with Albert Haynesworth -- Jason Cole of Yahoo! reported the investigation Saturday -- because I believe much of the investigation will center on the very public displays of affection Washington owner Dan Snyder had with Haynesworth's agent, Chad Speck, in Indianapolis at the scouting combine. Snyder and Speck had dinner in full view of half the coaches and scouts in the city. You'd be naïve to think they weren't discussing Haynesworth; that's one of the reasons the league's owners are considering a new rule that will make it legal for teams to speak with agents and looming free-agents in the week before the free market opens.
I understand the Titans think Washington poisoned the water for Haynesworth and made it impossible for him to even consider coming back to Tennessee, but the flaw in that logic is that the Titans were never, ever going to pay Haynesworth the landmark contract he got from Washington.
5. I think, even including the gambling ambiguity, Roger Goodell could be commissioner for a long, long time and never have the kind of week he just had.
• The NFL solved a mega-problem with cable giant Comcast after five years at war with the media kingpin, getting Comcast to move NFL Network from a sports tier to digital cable, meaning maybe 10 million more fans will see the channel; in addition, the deal becomes a template for other cable firms to get NFL Network on regular cable.
• The league got slight increases from CBS and Fox in extending their contracts two years, through the end of the 2013 season.
• The league won the StarCaps ruling in Minnesota, which, if upheld in the Williams cases by a lower court, would be a huge win for the league in enforcing the basic tenets of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
If Goodell's had a better week in his 33-month tenure as far as leadership, results and presenting a united front to the players heading into the start of serious negotiations next month for a new labor agreement, I don't know when it was.
6. I think I'd never have written the previous entry if the NFL had voted to expand the schedule to 17 or 18 games last week. I still hate the idea for reasons I've beaten into the ground already. But I'll add this one. Let's say the league went to an 18-game schedule with a bye week. (Some league people want two byes, so teams can try to stay healthy. But for the purposes of this exercise, I'm using only one bye.) Under that scenario, in the 2009 season, for example, there'd be a 19-week regular season, up from 17 weeks, and these would be the key dates:
Aug. 22, 29: The two preseason weekends.
Sept. 5: Bye weekend following the preseason.
Sept. 10-14: Opening week.
Jan. 17, 2010: Week 19 ends.
Jan. 23-24: Wild-card weekend.
Jan. 30-31: Second week of the playoffs
Feb. 7: Conference title games.
Feb. 21: Super Bowl XLIV, Miami.
Notice the date of that Super Bowl. It would be 20 days later than last year's Super Bowl, which was Feb. 1 in Tampa. If I'm a TV executive, what I'm thinking when I look at that schedule is: How am I going to sell four regular-season weekends of pro football AFTER Christmas?
7. I think that schedule would push the scouting combine into mid-March, followed quickly by the start of free agency. It could push the draft into May, and, in general, would do what so many of the marketers and ad men in the league office would positively love -- make the NFL even more of a year-round obsession than it is now. I cannot find a single football person who thinks it's a good idea. Go ahead. Find me a player, a coach, a scout, a GM who wants the season to last until late February. Try. You'd be opening training camp a little later, but not much, because teams would still need prep time with full squads in pads.
8. I think that one of the reasons I rated New Orleans at No. 24 in my power rankings a few weeks ago was wheeled out of a Las Vegas hotel on a stretcher yesterday. I don't trust Jeremy Shockey anymore to stay healthy for 16 weeks. The Saints have to hope that Sunday's shenanigans in Nevada are not a precursor of things to come.
9. I think you can start firing up the e-mails about this right now, but I won't back down: I laugh when I hear fans of the pit bull breed say pit bulls are no more harmful than any other dog on the planet, and they only turn bad when they're trained to be bad. Yeah, right. Why do I never read about golden retrievers attacking, maiming and killing people? I do not understand why families with children use pit bulls as guard dogs or pets.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I am amazed at how many empty seats I see on TV when I watch the Yankees play at the new stadium.
b. You may not want to play the Yankees at all this season, but you definitely don't want to play them now.
c. My buddy Jon Heyman thinks A-Rod not only had his hip fixed out in Colorado, but also his heart.
d. I'm not blind. I see DavidOrtiz being beyond awful. He is owed more than seven bad weeks, people, before being buried.
e. Wake up, Ryan Howard. You are wreaking havoc with my rotisserie team.
f. Coffeenerdness: The way the locals love Dunkin' Donuts coffee, it's almost as though you must be a Yankee fan if you step into Starbucks.
g. The final Dr. Z-related fundraiser note: I have one more debt of gratitude to try to repay. I want to thank the Internet. Fifteen years ago, if Paul Zimmerman had three strokes and we tried to raise money for him, I'm guessing we'd have gotten $35,000, maybe $40,000, from a dinner and auction. We'd have gotten the word out locally, and maybe through some talk shows, to buy tickets, and we'd have brought some autographed jerseys and maybe a couple of game experiences to the site and we'd auction them off with the people on hand for the fundraiser. But with the reach of this column, and the reach of online auction site CMarket.com, we were able to connect with tens of thousands of people.
A fellow from Kuwait bought the Joe Namath-signed jersey. We had as many as 39 bids via the auction site for entries. And we found a donor from Colorado who was so taken with the auction that he bid up several big-ticket items, won them, and then donated them back to the cause; he'll write a check for what he bid, then he'll let the second-place finishers have the items for their bids. An incredibly classy move -- and possible only because he learned about it from the web.
Finally, we'll be over $200,000 if all our projections are correct and everyone pays as expected. I could say more, but I'll only say thank you, thank you and thank you some more. I'll keep you informed over the summer and fall about Paul's progress, but for now, if you'd like to read about one writer's experience with Zim Monday night, check out this from the New York Times' pro football blog, penned by respected film analyst and writer K.C. Joyner.
h. Even a non-basketball fan such as myself has to admire the greatness of LeBron James. What an indomitable force.
i. I admire the Red Wings a lot. I'm rooting for the Blackhawks. You remember the story of Dale Tallon's father's wake, when the team spent a day off trekking way up into Ontario to pay their respects because it was the right thing to do? That's why.
j. Hey, all you who got so ticked off because I revealed Pam's pregnancy four days after The Office season finale ... I mean, come on. Are you telling me you hadn't the time in four entire days to watch the TiVoed version of the last show of the season in a great series?
k. I see a former presidential intern for JFK is writing a book about her story, 47 years after sleeping with him. Now there's something the planet can't live without.
l. I've set up my schedule for the summer, so you can make your plans now for my four dark weeks. I know it's the annual intolerable month of all of your lives; I just want to make sure you're prepared.
My Father's Day shopping column will be June 15, six days before Father's Day; I'll be giving you book advice so you can buy your dad something other than a tie he'll immediately deposit at the bottom of his closet. My final columns before vacation are June 22 (Monday) and 23 (Tuesday). No columns the weeks of June 29, July 6, 13 or 20. I'll resume MMQB on July 27 and write a Tuesday edition July 28.
For the month of August, I'll write Mondays only because I'll be on a camp tour and will be writing for the site with news or postcards or blog entries five or six days a week. In addition, once the camp tour starts around July 28, you can catch me daily on Twitter at SI_PeterKing.
Too much information, probably, about too much information. But I thought I'd throw it out there for those of you keeping score at home.