Touching on four teams as we reach the final week of the preseason:
Arizona: I buy the speculation on Matt Leinart's shaky status.
I still think it's more likely Leinart is on the opening day roster than he isn't. But he's not doing himself any favors by speaking out against the decision to give Derek Anderson snaps with the first unit over him -- either with the coaching staff or in the team-chemistry department. In the end, whether the Cardinals cut him -- which is possible -- could come down to a factor few people outside the team would think is even fathomable at this point.
The two rookie quarterbacks, fifth-round pick John Skelton from Fordham and free-agent Max Hall from BYU, have been so impressive in training camp that the Cardinals probably don't want to risk losing them by putting one on the practice squad. It'll be interesting to see who goes after Leinart in the coming days. If Pete Carroll hadn't dealt for Charlie Whitehurst in the offseason, I'd have put him at the front of the line.
Cleveland: The Browns-Jim Brown mess.
`The Hall of Famer says he won't appear when the Browns induct their inaugural 16-man class in the team's Ring of Honor this season. In a situation getting uglier by the day, Brown wrote a letter to the Browns obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that was highly critical of new club president Mike Holmgren for, in essence, marginalizing him. But this has been building for years.
I remember when the Browns were searching for a replacement for Phil Savage a couple of years ago that there was concern about the public statements Brown made -- often when those in the organization wished he wouldn't speak. The new way in the NFL, modeled by the Bill Belichick way, is a one-voice philosophy. That's not every team's way, and George Kokinis didn't have the juice to tell Brown to zip it. Holmgren does. And Holmgren may be guilty of handling the situation without the kid gloves that maybe he should have used. But telling Brown his role was going to be reduced in the organization -- whoever was going to be the one to do it -- was not going to end well.
New Orleans: I don't see Darren Sharper playing opening night.
Slow to recover from winter arthroscopic knee surgery, Sharper is on the physically unable to perform list. Mike Florio wrote about this on profootballtalk.com, and it struck a chord with me because Sharper was such a valued member of that defense last year; his physically imposing performance in the NFC title game was a big reason, I believe, Brett Favre threw that interception that cost Minnesota the game. Sean Payton said in New Orleans yesterday that Sharper could start the year active, or stay on PUP, or be cut. I believe there's very little chance he'll play in the opener. There's a much larger chance he'll stay on PUP or be cut. Stay tuned -- and watch for how Malcolm Jenkins performs as the new Sharper.
Buffalo: The Bills look to be Trent Edwards' team, as if there was any doubt about that.
Talked to coach Chan Gailey on our Sirius NFL Radio show this morning, and he told Bob Papa and me he made the quarterback pecking order Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm, in that order, headed into training camp. "What has happened in the preseason is that nobody has faltered,'' Gailey said. "Unless something changes drastically, I don't see anything changing entering the regular season.'' Edwards has thrown only one interception and completed 65 percent of his balls in the first three preseason games, and he's been very good on the intermediate throws that Gailey relies on so heavily.
Now onto your e-mail:
• PLAYERS SHOULDN'T BE BANNED FROM THEIR TEAMS DURING SUSPENSIONS. "Media discussions of Roethlisberger's suspension over the weekend reminded me of a question I've always had about NFL policy. If I understand correctly, while suspended, a player cannot practice with the team or even visit the team's facilities. This always struck me as odd and even self-defeating. Given a significant majority of suspensions are based on "off-site" behaviors, it would seem a troubled player would benefit from the greater structure and support the team can provide. I get the consequence angle of loss of paycheck and playing time, but a four-week exile would seem to leave a player vulnerable to just the sort of temptations and misadventures that got them suspended in the first place. Can you explain the reasoning behind the policy?''-- Tim Lieberg, Brooklyn Park, Mich.
Many people agree with you. I do too. But I think the league is trying to do three things. One, scare the player straight. Get him out of his football comfort zone, and get him to deal with the problems in his own life. Two, give the public the impression that this is a serious offense, and the player is being banned from the team to reinforce that. Three, the penalty to the team is much more severe if Roethlisberger is banned from meetings and practices for 28 days, and it puts the team at an obvious disadvantage when he returns; if the player is around the facility and practicing every day, he's at full-speed in all ways when the suspension is over. There's an element of a penalty to the team here that I think the league wants to be part of the sanction.
• HE WANTS A BIGGER BAN FOR BIG BEN. "I so very much enjoy your column every Monday. It is the only column that I read on a regular basis about the NFL and it is because you truly have insight about the league's news. I am perplexed though about why Ben Roethlisberger's suspension will be reduced? When I read your column you indicated that it would in all likelihood be reduced because he has been "a good boy" since his last sexual assault accusation. Seriously? That is why it would be reduced? I understand that league has an interest in its best players being on the field but what kind of message does the reduction send? The guy allegedly assaulted a 20-year-old girl while his cronies protected his ability to do so. The fact that he hasn't done it since really doesn't matter to me. What I would like to see is the following.... suspend him for three games now and three games in 2011. If he behaves well through training camp next season, waive the three game suspension in 2011. This gives the player an incentive to behave, allows the league to get him on the field and sends the message that a penalty is a penalty. What do you think? Keep up the great work.''-- Andrew Kessler, Philadelphia
Thanks for the kind words. The reason I fully expect the Roethlisberger suspension to be reduced is because when Goodell imposed the ban, he gave Roethlisberger a pathway back to the game. He told him if he complied with all the conditions of the suspension -- in effect, if he turned his life around and showed evidence that he was not the lout and possible sexual deviant that he'd been shown to be in the last couple of years. A month ago, Goodell said Roethlisberger had done what had been asked of him "and more.'' So I can't see, barring some new, disturbing evidence in the Ben case, Goodell not reducing the ban to four games.
• JOIN THE CLUB. "I have no sympathy for Bill Polian and Peyton Manning whining about the new rule. Don't forget it was Polian and the Colts' whining that got the no contact with receivers rule implemented after the Patriots continually dominated them in the playoffs. Don't change one rule that works in your favor if you can't take it when another rule works against you.''-- Dave, Fairfax, Va.
Yours is one of about 100 such comments I got on Twitter, on the phone and in e-mail in the last 24 hours. And I know no one wants to hear the Colts bleating about the change in position by the umpire. But let's go back to the rules clarification issue after the playoff game in which the Colts complained about contact with the receivers past the five-yard bump zone. That wasn't the Patriots' fault. The Patriots played smart that day. That was the fault of an officiating crew that let the game be played like the Patriots were the Detroit Pistons in the Laimbeer era. If a crew is going to let defenders get away with contact, then the defenders are going to contact the receivers as much as they can.
• CHRIS WANTS THE NFL TO IMITATE COLLEGE. "On the whole officiating issue: Why not consider using the college rule of stopping the clock until the ball is set (whether only for first downs, ala college; or for all plays). No-huddle still works, as teams can line up while the clock is stopped and start as soon as the whistle is blown. That way the issue of "snap infringement" is moot, and it also solves the time wasted waiting on a ref to put the ball down and get out of the way.''-- Chris, Pittsburgh
But in the college way, teams trying to run the no-huddle would still be slowed by the officials. If the offense is ready to go, and the ball has not been placed and the clock started, it's going to be the same effect as the umpire in the current system spotting the ball and scurrying back to his position.
• THIS IS NOT A BAD SUGGESTION. "Great column this week. Has the NFL tried doing what the NHL does currently when tweaking rules? The NHL currently has a camp with actual players that play simulated games to take a look at various proposed rule changes and the impact it has on the game. I'm thinking that if the NFL adopted this philosophy that it could both create safe rules and ones that make the most sense before preseason starts. I would suggest doing it in the combine so players can show actual real skills while the GMs and coaches can evaluate rule proposals.''-- John, Chester Springs, Pa.
Very interesting. I think it would be hard to do that because of the physicality involved in offseason scrimmages. The rule I think that would really help is an extra official on the sideline being, in essence, the spotter of the football. He'd be a more well-conditioned guy, and able to run on and off the field quickly between snaps.
• HE LIKES JEFF. "You can never give me too much Jeff Fisher. After reading your notes as to how he handled the Stafon Johnson injury there is a reason the Titans are competitive each season and why he gives up on no one and why no one gives up on Coach Fisher. Perhaps no Super Bowl wins, but Fisher is a "Super" Coach. Thanks for the info.''-- Brian Field, Atlanta
Fisher's one of the good humans in the league. He's handled a bunch of situations in his career the way he handled Johnson, and that's why he has players who swear by him.
• HE LIKES TIM. "Totally disagree with your assessment of Tim Tebow's performance against the Steelers. And I'm not sold on him yet, but here's what I see. 1. Makes quick decisions, very fast player for the position. Doesn't hesitate. Arm motion fine. Can't see what all the hullabaloo is about. Gets the ball to receivers in tight spots. 2. Reads quickly, especially for a rookie. Sure, he made a mistake on the interception, but the receiver hung him out to dry and he'll learn. Soon, you'll see a pump fake when he reads the coverage correctly and a quick six. 3. Didn't run much (smart move against the Steelers) and got rid of the ball, even when pressured. Remember, he's coming off sore ribs, so he played it smart.''-- Rick, Aurora, Colo.
In my three sentences on Tebow, I may have been too rough, but I can't get the third-down-conversion worm-burning miss to Eddie Royal out of my mind. That's a gimme you have to hit 100 out of 100 times in the NFL. I still am bullish on Tebow and think he'll succeed. But he looked tight to me the other night.