Football Insiders:Click here to read Stewart Mandel's College Football Overtime.
Cutdown weekend had its moments. Actually only one big one -- the Richard Seymour trade. But David Tyree, Jeff Garcia and a cast of hundreds packed to leave, and we'll get to their stories in a few paragraphs. But first, the story of the video board that will not go quietly into the night.
IRVING, Texas -- The Most Persuasive Man in Sports sits across from me, in a new air-conditioned viewing room overlooking the Dallas Cowboys practice fields. "Are you coming in for the ballgame against the Giants?'' Jerry Jones asked, referring to the season-opener Sept. 20 at the Cowboys' new $1.21-billion stadium, a half-hour away in Arlington. "I cannot wait for that day.''
Jones motioned to the two coaches' towers on either side of the fields, with spiral white staircases leading up to windowed booths. "Coach Landry had those built,'' Jones said. "That was good for then.'' The implication, of course, is that this place -- air-conditioned, with padded chairs, a huge picture window, cold drinks -- is good for now.
I excused myself for 15 minutes when director of college and pro scouting Tom Ciskowski entered and the two went into salary-cap-and-roster mode. When I returned, Jones and I talked about the team for a few minutes, and about what a quiet spring and summer, post-T.O., that it's been. Jones was excited about Felix Jones, about a free-agent wideout named Kevin Ogletree, about the Deion-like athleticism of tight end Martellus Bennett, and about the all-business Wade Phillips.
Now, about that video board ...
You all know the story. Seventeen days ago, then-Titans punter A.J. Trapasso nicked the board (actually, the MITSUBISHI sign hanging from the board, about 88 feet up from the field), and the debate was on. The video board, stretching from nearly one 20-yard-line to the other, 90 feet above the turf, was on trial for screwing with the integrity of the game. If one punt hit it in the first NFL game ever played there, wouldn't it stand to reason that many punts would hit it? Should the board be raised now? Should it be raised later? Should it be raised, period?
The NFL came out several days later and said the board would not be raised now, but rather it would be monitored to see what effect it would have on the games, and if the board got hit again, the down would be replayed with the time of the original punt put back on the clock. You knew all that.
Jones has been quiet about the issue, mostly, until now. In my conversation with him, he made a couple of things clear: He has no intention of raising the video board, nor does he think he should have to do it under any circumstances. And he thinks it's important for the aesthetics of the $1.21-billion stadium, and for the commitment that Jones himself made to build the place, that the video board stay exactly where it is.
"I once heard [former commissioner] Paul Tagliabue make a speech,'' said Jones. "He said at a new stadium, you should be blending the technology with the game and with the stadium experience. That's what I've tried to do here. I've had one league official tell me when he went through the stadium that it's the most dramatic fan experience and use of technology he's seen in 15 years. I spent millions of dollars to do exactly what we're supposed to be doing as owners -- create a fan experience that will keep the fans coming back, because you just can't duplicate this anywhere else. I'm maximizing the stadium experience for fans. And I think I have helped advance the ball for the NFL. Once you accept the concept of this stadium, and you've seen it and really experienced, then I think we won't have this discussion anymore.''
The discussion of jacking the video board up, he meant.
"When [NFL vice president] Ray Anderson was in the stadium, we talked about it," Jones said, "and he said, 'No one should pass judgment on the stadium 'til they see it.'"
(I asked Anderson if that was accurate, and he said it was.)
"We designed our stadium knowing exactly the right place to put the videoboard, and we knew what the league rules were, about it having to be at least 85 feet above the field." Jones continued. "We put it 90. And so of course you would be sensitive to any alterations. You make a $1.2-billion investment, and it's ... it's ...''
I interrupted him and asked if it really would be a big deal to raise the videoboard from 90 to, say, 105 feet above the field.
"You want the proper aesthetics, but aesthetics is really not the proper word here. It'd work fine. But 'fine' is the operative word.''
In other words, of course the board could be raised. But the gut part of the argument was left unsaid: If Jones complied with the NFL policy, and if Jones spent more money than any single person has ever spent to build an American stadium, and if Jones built the kind of stadium that will get fans out of their mancaves on a nasty Sunday to go watch a 4-8 Cowboy team in some future year, why would he allow the league to raise the video board after one of 25 punts this preseason hit it?
I buy that. What I'm troubled about, though, is the specter of some of the best legs in the league -- Shane Lechler of the Raiders [on a nationally televised Thanksgiving game] and Mike Scifres of the Chargers -- coming to Arlington this fall and taking aim at the 165-foot-wide target. And this is where Jones will lose some people. He grabbed my pen and paper and drew a primitive diagram of the board, and then drew lines of prospective punts fading to either side of the board.
"Logic tells you if they punt the way they're supposed to -- '' meaning, off to the sides " -- the ball won't hit the board. It won't be a problem. The board creates something unique. In Green Bay, punters have to account for the snow and the wind. We don't have that.''
But you can't equate something God-made with something Jones-made. I see the point, and I've gone from someone who thinks the board has to be raised to a more open position of seeing what impact it has on the eight games there this season. But if eight or 10 or 12 punts hit the board this fall, no matter who pays for it, the board has to go up. If the folks in the upper deck have to adjust their sightlines up 5 degrees, so be it.
Jones loves football. He also loves a good show. "I served on the Competition Committee,'' he said, just before I left. "I have tremendous regard for this game. It's my life and my business. But I also know how important it is for us to grow the pie.''
And that's the crux of this entire argument. Jones has built a monument to live sports. I know lots of Giants fans who, on a crummy day, would much rather eat their tickets to Giants Stadium and stay home and watch on TV. Jones has done everything in his power to make sure pro football doesn't become studio sport. He has invented the world biggest high-def TV, so that up to 100,000 people can look up and see a vivid picture -- a picture so clear it stunned Tony Romo a week ago. "I looked up at one point, and there I was,'' he said. "I said, 'Whoa! I should have shaved today.' ''
Said cornerback Terence Newman: "We all joke about being on the bench this year, that we'll all have strong necks, because we're going to be looking at the board all game. It's the most incredible picture.''
On Thursday, Anderson fell on his sword and said the league erred in their directive for how high to place the board. In 2007, the league's game operations manual mandated that scoreboards or video board not be lower than 125 feet above the field. The next year, Anderson said, the minimum height was reduced to 85 feet. Not after any exhaustive research, he said. But simply because he thought 125 was far too high. "At the end of the day, it wasn't a very wise move to move it down to 85. That's our fault. We, as a department, came to the conclusion that 85 feet was appropriate. That was a mistake on our part. At the end of the day, we didn't have enough communication.'' He said the change did not happen because Jones went to the league and asked for it.
"I think we've got to be a little bit cautious about jumping to conclusions based on one preseason game,'' commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Jerry worked extremely hard to create a great fan experience. But the integrity of the game is the most important factor ... Jerry, as you know if you were down there, has incredible knowledge and detailed understanding of every inch and every movement of the sightlines and the competitive aspects of that stadium.''
So we'll see how much of a factor the video board is. Then we'll see how insistent the league's going to be about moving it, if there are multiple strikes this season. But I'll predict one thing right now: I don't care if 25 punts hit it this fall. Jones will fight to keep the video board right where it is.
Five thoughts on the Seymour trade to Oakland for the Raiders' first-round pick in 2011:
1. In the last six drafts, here's where the Raiders have picked in the first round: 7, 4, 1, 7, 7, 2. If the trend continues, the Patriots will have no worse than the seventh pick in the 2011 draft. For a ninth-year defensive lineman who turns 30 in four weeks and who has missed eight games due to injury in the last two years ... well, let's just say Seymour would have to morph into Reggie White (who had 88 sacks after turning 30) to make this deal worth it for Al Davis and the Raiders.
2. Seymour, I'm told, is angry about the deal. He lives in Foxboro, has children he may have to relocate to new schools as the school year dawns and has to get acclimated to a new defense (and an awful team) a week before the opening game. "I would not be surprised if he doesn't report,'' a good friend of Seymour's told me Sunday. I would. Aside from not earning his 2009 salary of $3.7 million, Seymour wouldn't be able to be a free-agent if he doesn't play this year. As it stands now, his contract is up after this year, and if he plays well and stays healthy, he could hit the jackpot when next year's probable uncapped season plays out.
3. This is a deal for Davis to try to win now, obviously. But how many more desperation deals can one team make? Last year, it was $55 million for Javon Walker (who's been a total non-factor), $72 million plus two draft choices for DeAngelo Hall (cut midway through his first Raider year), $39 million for Gibril Wilson (cut after one year), and $50.5 million for Tommy Kelly (a starting defensive tackle still). This offseason, the Raiders made Shane Lechler the highest-paid punter in history, more than doubling the previous record, and gave cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha more guaranteed money than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in their current deals. As crazy as all that is, you know that Seymour will want to get out of Oakland if he can make big money anywhere else, so the Raiders almost have to try to sign him long-term to avoid the embarrassment of him being one-and-done in Oakland.
4. For New England, it simply reinforces that Bill Belichick will keep you as long as you're worth keeping, and when he's done with you, or when you can be of no more value to him, you're gone. With second-round defensive tackle Ron Brace and sixth-round DT Myron Pryor both showing well in the preseason, and knowing the Patriots weren't going to pay a 30-year-old defensive lineman the $9-million-a-year in free agency some team certainly would have if he had a productive 2009, the decision couldn't have been a painful one for Belichick.
5. Defensive leaders lost in New England in the last 12 months: Mike Vrabel and Seymour (traded), Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison (retired), and Junior Seau (not re-signed). I can't think of another team that's lost as many cornerstone players and leaders in one year since I've been covering the league.
A sentence or two on every team's cutdown day:
ATLANTAGM Thomas Dimitroff made a fan-unfriendly decision, keeping the Alabama third-stringer (John Parker Wilson) over the Georgia third-stringer (D.J. Shockley) to back up Matt Ryan and Chris Redman. The Falcons, who'll keep looking for secondary help this week, began Sunday night by signing the salary casualty from Jacksonville, corner/safety Brian Williams, who started 16 games for the Jags last year.
ARIZONAKept seven wideouts, an oddity considering that the two starters and third receiver, Steve Breaston, are such workhorses. That could change this week with roster shuffling.
BALTIMORENo news here, though there will be if, as needed, David Tyree is claimed and added to the special-teams ranks and as a sixth receiver. Tony Moll, acquired from Green Bay, is a nice swing guard-tackle sub.
BUFFALOJames Hardy is becoming a lost soul. Bills put the '08 second-rounder on the PUP list (physically unable to perform), which sidelines him 'til at least late October. Dominic Rhodes getting cut was odd, but the Bills liked the youngster Xavier Omon instead.
CAROLINAPanthers claimed, and were awarded, the Steelers' waived sixth-round pick, Ra'Shon Harris of Oregon, on Sunday night. Unless the Steelers struck out on Harris, it's a risk any team with a DT need would take. And Carolina needs a run-stuffer.
CHICAGOBears kept four tight ends, surprising when you consider the best one, Greg Olsen, will be on the field 80 percent of the offensive snaps and the backup, Desmond Clark, will play a lot too.
CINCINNATISmart move to keep both Brian Leonard -- who can play fullback -- and summer star DeDe Dorsey.
CLEVELANDJamal Lewis is staying, which is no surprise if you look at the rest of the ball carriers here. He's the only proven back who can get tough yards inside.
DALLASMichael Irvin gets a finder's fee for Jesse Holley, the wideout who beat the competition on Irvin's reality show to make the Cowboys' 80-man camp roster. Holley was signed to the Dallas practice squad Sunday. Neatest keeper: Undrafted Virginia wideout Kevin Ogletree, who forced the Cowboys to cut a player they liked, Isaiah Stanback, with a faultless preseason.
DENVERLaMont Jordan over Darius Walker at running back didn't surprise me, but I was surprised that Walker didn't make the team. He was a force this summer.
DETROITTalked to Jim Schwartz Saturday. "We're not going to do much that'll surprise anyone,'' he said, and he was right -- except maybe for the waiving of defensive tackle Shaun Smith, the unhappy ex-Brown.
GREEN BAYTed Thompson's really good at this job, but he's got to be cringing, having put the semi-wasted top pick of a couple of years ago, Justin Harrell ( back), on IR; he couldn't have made an impact on the three-man front anyway. And last year's second-round QB, Brian Brohm, was cut and signed to the practice squad. What a comedown.
HOUSTONRex Grossman beat out Dan Orlovsky at backup quarterback (I am still blown away by the Al Davis-like contract -- three years, $9.15-million -- the Texans gave to Orlovsky), which is significant because Matt Schaub has missed five games due to injury in each of the last two years.
INDIANAPOLISSixth-round QB Curtis Painter from Purdue, a third-quarterback luxury with the durable Peyton Manning, made it, which says a lot about what the Colts think of him -- and maybe something about Jim Sorgi's job security long-term.
JACKSONVILLETackle Tony Pashos ($4.34 million salary) and DB Brian Williams ($4 million) whacked, and sorry, I'm not buying that those were football decisions alone for a franchise that tarps the upper deck. Ernest Wilford makes the team as a backup tight end. Interesting.
KANSAS CITYBernard Pollard out. Chiefs GM Scott Pioli thought he might get a seventh-round pick for him, but no one stepped up. The waiver-wire pickup of tackle Ryan O'Callaghan continues to show how dissatisfied Kansas City is with its incumbents on the offensive line.
MIAMIBrandon London waived. That's a surprise. He's a big receiver and a solid special-teamer. Defensive contributor Matt Roth, who disappeared all summer, was put on non-football-injury, and clearly he's in the Dolphin doghouse.
MINNESOTABrad Childress really wanted John David Booty to emerge this summer, but Booty never played better than a marginal guy.
NEW ENGLANDIn the spring, Shawn Crable was the leader in the clubhouse for the role of pass-rushing linebacker. But he'll miss his second straight year; he's on IR with a groin injury. In dealing a low pick for 270-pound tight end Michael Matthews of the Giants, the Patriots may be thinking they need a sixth blocker to protect Tom Brady.
NEW ORLEANSThe Saints keep saying Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are just fine, though they played about as much in the preseason as I did. If I were you, I'd monitor the two backs they kept on the roster in reserve -- the semi-capable Mike Bell and the unknown Lynell Hamilton.
NEW YORK GIANTSThe David Tyree waiving was two things: sad and inevitable. Sinorice Moss saved his own bacon with a strong preseason and will have a chance to prove he wasn't a wasted draft pick this year, because Eli Manning is going to be an equal-opportunity distributor.
NEW YORK JETSNo, the Jets did not get Kevin O'Connell just to trade him right away. They had O'Connell as a top-75 guy on their draft board in '08, wanted to pick him, and when they saw last week that they could get him for a seventh-round pick, it affected their final 53. They'll keep four quarterbacks and develop O'Connell and Erik Ainge and, they hope, deal one of them or Kellen Clemens for a pick before the draft next year. And the Jets got the Serial Videoboard Hitter, A.J. Trapasso, the former Titan, to punt in Houston on Sunday, preferring him over Reggie Hodges, who was cut.
OAKLANDRaiders cut a fourth-round pick, Slade Norris. They paid defensive tackle Terdell Sands a $1.9-million bonus last spring and cut him Saturday. That's just the cost of doing business in Oakland. Jeff Garcia? You've got to be kidding me. If you're afraid of giving JaMarcus Russell some competition, you've got the wrong starting quarterback.
PHILADELPHIAEverybody asks, Why didn't the Iggles trade for one of New England's tight ends? Simple answer: Andy Reid liked his own backup, Tony Curtis, better than Alex Smith or David Thomas, the guys New England was peddling. And in the One Team's Trash Is Another Team's Treasure Dept., Philly thinks it can get some outside rush out of Jason Babin, something Houston never saw out of him.
PITTSBURGHGreat scouting here, as usual. Return man Stefan Logan -- 28 years old, 5-foot-7, from South Dakota, via the British Columbia Lions -- averaged 37 yards per kick return and 21 yards per punt return in the preseason and made the team. He'll be a nice weapon. Surprised to see '08 third-round linebacker Bruce Davis cut so soon.
SAN DIEGOHeaven knows how the charge against Shawne Merriman will affect him, or the team, heading into the Monday night opener. For now, the only thing the Chargers did that surprised me was cutting Kynan Forney, a blue-collar, respectable NFL starting guard.
SAN FRANCISCOMove along, folks. Nothing to see here. There was not a single significant move of any sort by the 49ers. Sorry. Harris Barton's not coming out of retirement. Nor is Randy Cross.
SEATTLESomeone has to sign kicker Brandon Coutu, who never misses. Thought he might have a chance to unseat Olindo Mare, but Seattle went safe there. Seahawks also cut three receivers who played for them last year.
ST. LOUISThe guy who had the best practice day when I saw the Rams, cornerback Quincy Butler, played well enough to basically unseat Tye Hill and allow the Rams to trade Hill for a seventh-rounder to Atlanta. Adam Carriker, the disappointing defensive tackle, went on IR instead of getting an injury settlement and getting cut because his salaries are guaranteed for the next two years. Might as well hope he can rebound and make something of his career in 2010.
TAMPA BAYDealing Luke McCown of the Flying McCown Brothers means that now the Bucs can take their time developing both Josh Freeman and last year's QB hope, Josh Johnson. Freeman's the nominal quarterback of the future, of course, but they can either make a good backup of Johnson or, like the Jets, try to get something for him next April.
TENNESSEEIt was never much in doubt, but Vince Young won the backup job over Patrick Ramsey. Know what I wonder? Why not let Young take five Wildcat snaps a game? And how about the Tennessee wideout corps behind Justin Gage and Nate Washington (whose tender hammy may sideline him in Thursday's opener)? Kenny Britt, Lavelle Hawkins, Dominique Edison. Career NFL catches for the three: seven.
WASHINGTONMarcus Mason worked hard and won the backup role behind Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts; the former Youngstown State Penguin should be a good relief back in midseason when Portis, as usual, is beat up.
"The truth of the matter is ... somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It's going to happen.''
-- Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, in my quarterback roundtable discussion this week in Sports Illustrated.
I found that comment chilling, to say the least. The other quarterbacks at the table -- Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers -- didn't dispute Palmer's words, and when he said them, the table got very quiet. They know. They feel the same thing happening in this game, too. And the fact that this statement has gotten zero traction in the last four days tells me something that all of us should find frightening: People read that line and just said, Yup, someone's going to die. We accept that. Now bring on football, dammit!
I gathered the five quarterbacks after their Friday round of golf at the celebrity golf tournament at South Lake Tahoe in mid-July. [If you think that was easy, for my next trick I'm going to pull a rabbit out of this MacBook Air.] It was a loose group. The light beer flowed, and it was the kind of scene you wish could have lasted five hours, not one. And so occasionally, a Roethlisberger would grab his phone and text someone, or chat with Rodgers about something that happened out on the course, but when Palmer said what he said, the table got quiet and everyone listened.
My question was about the endless defensive grousing concerning the overprotection of quarterbacks by the NFL, and Palmer went on, stridently, for a couple of minutes. "I don't mind [the league's protection of passers],'' he said. "In fact, I love it.'' In SI's preview issue, we edited some of his comments for space reasons, but here's much of what he said:
"Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive,'' Palmer said. "The game's so violent. Now that they're cutting out the wedge deal on kickoff returns, those guys [are] coming free, and at some point somebody is going to die in football. And I hope it's not anyone at this table, and I hope it doesn't happen, obviously. Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time, but back in the day, there weren't defensive ends that were Mario Williams -- 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40.
"The game has changed, the game is getting bigger, faster, stronger, and there needs to be more protection. If I weren't a quarterback, I would be mad about the rules. If I were a safety or a defensive back, I would be mad about the new rule that you can't hit your helmet above their shoulder pads or whatever it is because it does take some of the ferociousness out of the game, but somebody is going to get seriously hurt, possibly die.
"I don't think you can change it. It's the nature of the world. The ways that guys train now, the way that guys eat and take vitamins and take supplements and all these things, guys are getting more muscle mass, more explosiveness, faster. Like I said, I hope to God it doesn't happen. Since I've been in the league, I feel like the D-Ends that come into the league, they're freaks, they're freaks of nature, and I hope it doesn't happen, but the rules need to be adjusted a little bit because [the violence] is getting a little out of control.''
"He told me the offense wasn't simple enough for him. He wants a Pop Warner offense. He limited me in formations and limited me in plays. He's been on my back all offseason.''
-- Fired Buffalo offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, on the constraints he felt were put on him by coach Dick Jauron, in an interview with Buffalo TV station WIVB.
"I like it. I like it. I mean, it's man-eat-man out here.''
-- Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, on the illegal crackback block administered by Brett Favre on Houston safety Eugene Wilson last Monday.
The block, of course, was reprehensible, because Favre could have seriously injured Wilson. But it was also one of those things that gets a player closer to his teammates. I was in the Vikings locker room after the game, and the players clearly appreciated that Favre was blocking for Percy Harvin instead of ole-ing a phony block. It's like a pitcher in baseball who "protects'' his teammates by hitting an opposing batter. It might not make sense to people on the outside, but it's part of the culture of the locker room. And Favre won over a few guys the other night by doing that.
Monday dawned with the Patriots having two quarterbacks from Big Ten arch-rivals on their roster. Tom Brady you know. Brian Hoyer you don't, probably. But they weren't very different coming out of college, as their college stat lines show:
Now, don't go saying, "King thinks Hoyer's the second coming of Tom Brady.'' I have no idea what Hoyer is. But the Patriots have never cared much about what the public thinks of their quarterback situation. They abandoned Drew Bledsoe for Brady, then in 2008 went on a playoff chase with Matt Cassel, who hadn't started at quarterback since high school.
Think Josh McDaniels doesn't carry Bill Belichick in his hip pocket every day? In the team meeting room of the Denver Broncos are two huge pronouncements on either side of the video screen. They say the same thing.
DO YOUR JOB.
That was always the mantra in New England. In other words, don't worry about the guy next to you; if everyone does the job he's been assigned to do, and does it well, we'll win.
Two reasons why I'll be looking to fly AirTran this season after returning from Dallas to Boston the other day on the off-the-beaten-track airline:
1. Ninety stations of free XM radio on board. Listened to Dan Patrick for two hours. Nice to see you've got all those ads, Dan. Love the Matthew McConaughey spot. "Beef. It's what fer dinner.'' And I didn't know you had a 1967 car.
2. WiFi. My first Internet-on-the-airplane experience -- $5.95 for a two-hour, 30-minute segment from Dallas to Baltimore. Not sure long-term whether that's a good thing or bad. Got a lot of net-surfing stuff done, but I could have been writing instead of i-chatting about [Hideki] Okajima with Jon Heyman. Not to mention the salt-and-cracked-pepper kettle cooked potato chips. A pleasant flying experience, AirTran -- and that's a rarity these days.
"I'll bet Thanksgiving at the Richardsons is gonna be a blast this year!''
-- jrolson1013, John Olson of the Twin Cities, after Panthers club president Mark Richardson (unexpectedly) and stadium president Jon Richardson (who'd battled cancer and told confidants he'd be leaving soon) resigned from the team last week. Reportedly, the two men were at odds about the future direction of the team.
It's now understood that Jon Richardson was going to be moving on this year, even though it hadn't leaked 'til last Tuesday. But Mark has been one of the two backbones of that team, and the fact that he was leaving shocked even his close associates around the league. I was with Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who is close to the Richardson family, 30 minutes after the news broke, and he was blown away by it.
Two personal points underscore the value Mark Richardson had to football in Charlotte. In 1989, I went on a trip for Sports Illustrated to several cities exploring franchises in the proposed new minor football league run by departed Dallas executive Tex Schramm. In Charlotte, Mark and(Panthers owner) JerryRichardson met our traveling party, and Jerry went to meet with Schramm at length. Mark took me out for a bite to eat and we ended up shooting pool until the wee hours.
He'd been a defensive end at Clemson -- we talked about him being a teammate of Andy Headen on Tiger bowl teams just seven or eight years earlier -- but now was transitioning to the family business, which he and his dad hoped would be football. They wanted to bring an NFL franchise to Charlotte. Level-headed, very smart, sharp dresser. Four years later, at a suburban hotel in Chicago, the Richardsons were awarded the franchise, and Jerry Richardson and Mark emotionally discussed getting a team for the Carolinas with a few writers.
I just always assumed Jerry would run the team for a generation, then Mark would take over. As one league exec told me the other day, "We all assumed that. No one saw this coming.'' But I also hear inside the Panthers that Mark Richardson had grown full of himself over the years and the father just had enough.
The Panthers have had an awful last eight months, starting with a 33-13 home playoff debacle against Arizona and continuing with Julius Peppers trying to abandon ship for months (that failed; he's back), the family/executive flap and an 0-4 preseason. It won't be easy to turn it around, with games against Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas -- the last two on the road -- to open the season.
1. I think this is the best sign of the times of the past week: A group of about 20 NFL writers was in a conference room at NFL headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan Thursday -- me among the bunch -- and Roger Goodell announced that Michael Vick would be eligible to play after the second week of the season. There was a slight pause, and then Goodell said: "Yes. So you can go ahead and Tweet that.'' And I believe eight of us thumbed out the news to America.
2. I think, regarding the Vick penalty, that Goodell got it right. He has to go with his gut on this. He has to give Vick some penalty for being a serial liar; I thought four weeks would have been more just, but Goodell went with two because he's convinced Vick is serious about trying to save his own skin and is not snowing the commissioner or Tony Dungy.
"Hopefully,'' Goodell told us, "we can have a success story here, which would be good for our society and good for the NFL. Michael realizes he still has to prove himself every day ... He has to earn that [trust] back again and that is not going to be done by telling me anything. It's by demonstrating. He's repeated to me that, 'I have to make better judgments going forward.' I think he fully understands that and is prepared to do that.''
3. I think the Eagles could go a few different ways with Vick's roster spot. Right now, he doesn't have to be counted on the 53-man roster 'til Week 3, versus Kansas City. Before then, if he continues to be exempt from the 53-man roster, he can go to meetings with the team and work on individual things before and after practice, but he cannot practice. If the Eagles are able to trade a receiver (Reggie Brown or Hank Baskett most likely) this week, they'd probably reinstate Vick this week and he'd practice as normal. If not, then who knows? I don't see Brown or Baskett fetching a future draft choice, so they may have to cut one to get Vick to practice with the team.
4. I think I still can't get over how great middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans played last Monday against the Vikings. In 41 minutes, he had 16 tackles, a sack, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble. Ridiculous. The Texans have to make sure they sign the looming restricted free agent. He's the heart and soul of that defense.
5. I think the thing that interested me most in the 80 minutes we spent with Goodell the other day was his comment about the future of football outside the United States. "The experience we've had over there [in London] ... has been extraordinary ... We're going to continue to feed that, frankly. And we are considering the idea of playing multiple games in London as early as next year. And I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that we might have a franchise in London at some point in the future.'' I've said it forever: When the current crop of owners thinks there's no lucrative market left in the United States, they'll turn to Europe or Mexico.
6. I think the London Jaguars has a nice ring to it.
7. I think I've been negligent in praising HBO's Hard Knocks series this summer, because I hadn't seen it until last week, when I caught up on the summer of the Bengals. But it's a great series, obviously, with real football stuff and an incredible education for fans (and media) who'd never have a chance otherwise to see what the NFL Films show us. The three things I'm glad we've been able to see in this series:
a. A window into the contract negotiations for a first-round draft choice. We see interaction between Katie Blackburn, the Bengal negotiator, and Alvin Keels, the agent for first-round pick Andre Smith. When the scene showing Smith signing the deal last week was shot, the kid looked like a house. Clearly overweight. You got the feeling he was going to be no help to the Bengals for a few weeks, until he lost 30 or 40 pounds. And when Smith signed, Keels shook the rookie's hand and said something that I'm sure made owner Mike Brown disgusted when he saw it. "Congratulations,'' Keels said to Smith. "You are now a multi-millionaire.''
Not, Congratulations. You're now an NFL player. Or, Congratulations. Now let's get out there and earn it. And when Brown saw Smith after the signing, he was characteristically blunt. "You're not in good shape, from what I hear. You've got to get your nose to the grindstone,'' Brown said. Great stuff. And of course, two days after signing, Smith broke his left foot.
b. The unique way the Bengals operate. Right or wrong, Mike Brown runs the show, giving the coaches much leeway on who stays and who goes, and runs the personnel meetings with the coaches and scouts around a long rectangular table. One of the reasons I'm sure the Bengals used internally in deciding to allow the cameras to see their operation is that they wanted to deflate the myth that it's a loony way to do business. Now people can think what they think; at least they've got an idea how the Bengals run their shop
c. How good a coach Mike Zimmer is. It's going to be tough for Zimmer to climb the ladder from defensive coordinator to head coach unless his Bengals play a lot better than they have, and because most free agents don't have Cincinnati at the top of their list, Zimmer has to make do with lesser veterans. He's a smart, forceful, no-nonsense teacher (you see it over and over again through the lens of the NFL Films cameras) with an excellent defensive approach. I hope some owner sees him on this show and says, "That's the kind of guy I'd like running my team.'' I've known Zimmer for a long time, and I can tell you, he deserves a shot at the next level.
8. I think for those Bears fans worried about my pick of Chicago to make the Super Bowl, relax. I've been right on my predictions a lot. The last time was 1994.
9. I think the league shouldn't be so hardened about the blackout rule. I'm not sure what the right way is to lift a few blackouts, but I do know this: It's unrealistic to expect that Detroit, with a tragic 29 percent unemployment rate, to fill a 64.500-seat stadium regularly. I wouldn't lift the blackout entirely this year, because once the genie's out of the bottle, it's going to be hard to get it back in. But I would say it would be a grand gesture for the league to give the truly deserving franchises a couple of games with home TV for non-sellouts.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Had lunch with Paul and Linda Zimmerman Friday afternoon in New Jersey. A lovely two-hours-plus with them, along with Jarrett Bell of USA Today, another friend of Zim's. He looks great. He's lost 40 pounds and is down to 220. I've got to say he's never looked better. "He's doing so much physical rehab that it's gotten him in good shape,'' Linda said.
Here's the lowdown: Paul is still severely limited as far as reading and speaking goes; he can now say "yes'' and "no,'' and he does mouth exercises every morning -- hours of them per week -- to re-shape his mouth in the proper form to say words. Arduous. His right side, including vision, is still mostly impaired from his three strokes and subsequent seizures. Three days a week, he does six hours or so of therapy, and the money your donations and auction bids raised for him is allowing him to see the best people in speech- and occupational-therapy fields.
He eats like a horse. What an appetite! He finished a huge cheeseburger and some fries, then began to pick at my Kung Pao chicken, and still had room for a good slab of the bread pudding. Just before Linda put him in the car for the trip home, I reached out to shake his hand and wished him well. He grabbed my hand and pulled me close to him and put his left arm around me and bearhugged me. He tried to say something to me, but I couldn't understand. Never has he done that. If you know Zim, you know he's not an emotional sort. But he was Friday. Powerful moment. It's hard to say what all he's taking in, but whatever it is, he's feeling emotions he's never felt before.
b. How did I spend my last Sunday of freedom? Read the Globe, the Herald and New York Times. Spent 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer. Took a nap on the couch. Wrote a lot. Made a bunch of phone calls. Listened to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me'' on NPR. Watched Jon Lester dominate the Pale Hose. Ate a terrific bowl of pasta. Wrote some more. Tweeted. Wrote some more. Went to bed.
c. Nice week, Hideki Okajima. The 13 batters he faced since last weekend went double, single, single, walk, single, single, single, strikeout, home run, popout, single, walk, groundout.
d. Coffeenerdness: There might not be a better cup of coffee in the world than Starbucks Italian Roast. Haven't had it in some time, maybe a year. And just the smell of it brewing Sunday was fantastic. Dark and delicious.
e. Happy Labor Day. Hope you don't have much labor to do.
f. Here is Boston, we had about 6 weeks of summer. Now it's autumn. Got down to the low fifties overnight. God, you owe me a summer
g. A few column notes as we get the season revved up:
I'll be starting a new column this week. The column will last through the end of the playoffs and will be posted on SI.com each Friday. It's going to be a look ahead at some aspect of what I find compelling about the weekend's games, along with a few other departments. You'll be able to plow through it a little easier than the Monday monster, though. The Friday column will be 1,000 to 1,200 words.
In advance of the first one, I've got a job for you: Name the column. I'll take the best suggestion you send by Wednesday afternoon, and that'll be the name of the Friday preview column this year.
What a country. What a democracy.
One last thing: I'll also be making my annual game-by-game picks and posting that column by Thursday for the Peter King Pickoff Challenge. I believe half the free world beat me last year, and the reason the other half didn't beat me is because they didn't enter the contest. Anyway, we're doing it again, and you can win cool stuff just by kicking my prognosticating behind.
Week 1. It's here. Three days until kickoff.
Now that you've got your pro football fix, click here to satisfy your college craving with Stewart Mandel's Overtime column.