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Bounty saga still dominating league landscape at owners meetings

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- New Orleans coach Sean Payton arrives at the NFL owners meetings this morning, with only seven days left in his 2012 season. Starting next Monday, Payton will begin his year-long suspension for looking the other way and, commissioner Roger Goodell ruled last week, tacitly approving the out-of-bounds bounty scandal and then misleading the league about it.

I'm told Payton is thinking of speaking to owners and coaches here, and he's undecided about it. But if he does, it won't be to blast the ruling, which he feels is patently excessive. If he speaks, I'm told it will be to say something like, This will never happen again, I'm going to be a good league employee, and let's move on united behind the leadership of the league.

I've also heard conflicting stories about whether he'll appeal the year sanction from Goodell and try to get it reduced. That may come in the form of GM Mickey Loomis trying to convince the league it is he -- Loomis -- who should be punished the most severely because he is ultimately responsible for what happens under his watch. I don't think that has much of a chance, because of the power Payton wields in the organization. But it's at least being considered. Payton has until next Monday, the same as every person sanctioned in the bounty case, to decide whether to appeal the penalty.

Frankly, I don't think appealing would do any good. I spoke with league counsel Jeff Pash here Sunday. Goodell makes the final call on all sanctions, and Pash is his trusted adviser. People I talk to in the league are split on the discipline. Most like it. They like Goodell drawing a line in the sand and point to decisive, iron-fisted action like that as the reason why the NFL will stay on top of the sports world. But some feel Goodell's year sanction of Payton was over the top. I share that feeling, I thought eight games would have been fair. I understand why Goodell did it. He wanted to lay down the law so that, unequivocally, no coach or player would ever be tempted to put a bounty out on a foe again, ever. My feeling is it could have happened with an eight-game ban for the head coach.

"I would respond to that this way,'' Pash said. "The commissioner has been clear from day one that he wants to change the culture of the game. He wants to eliminate the gratuitous hits, and eliminate any excessive violence that has no place in the game. If accomplishing that includes harsh penalties that some people feel are excessive, then so be it. We are comfortable with the sanctions.''

Pash also said the NFL has no current evidence to show other teams have violated the bounty or pay-for-performance rules on the books. "If we found evidence of the same clarity that we found in the New Orleans case, we would take action,'' he said. "We have looked into some allegations. But as you know, allegations and accusations are not proof.''

One final point on the league's work on the Saints case: League investigators first talked to the Saints not after the Super Bowl two years ago, as had been thought -- but between the NFC Championship Game (in which Jonathan Vilma is alleged to have put a $10,000 cash bounty out on Brett Favre) and the Super Bowl against Indianapolis.

***

Now about the "S'' word.

Pash refused to compare this scandal to the Spygate affair in 2007. I believe that by any measure this bounty scandal is more serious and worse for football than Spygate, which involved surreptitious taping of opponents' defensive signals, and using those tapings to gain an unfair edge in figuring out what plays the opponents would call. The bounty business involves violations of the salary cap and tax code by paying players a cash bonus off the book, and, more seriously according to the NFL's case against the Saints, involves players being incentivized to knock foes out of the game. That can't be tolerated in any form. I think we'd all agree with that.

But here is the game-suspension scoreboard in the two cases this morning: Saints Bounty Scandal 46, Spygate 0.

Gregg Williams 16 (maybe more), Sean Payton 16, Mickey Loomis eight, Joe Vitt six.

Bill Belichick 0.

And it will end up being much more lopsided. It's hard to imagine that a multi-game suspension (eight?) isn't coming for Jonathan Vilma, who is alleged to have offered mates $10,000 in cash to knock Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in January 2010. There may be other defensive players who, like Vilma, led the charge. I believe there will be more. At the end of this, the suspensions for Saints players, coaches and staff will likely approach 60 games. Or more.

There are more people involved in this case -- coaches, staff, players -- than in Spygate. So the penalty is going to seem more severe. But two high draft choices, and 46 games, with more to come, is one heck of a message to send.

Finally: I don't believe for a second this is a case of Roger Goodell protecting his pal Bob Kraft (you do a friend a favor by taking a first-round draft pick from him?) and coming down hard on Tom Benson. It's a case of laying down the gauntlet to the Saints, and to any other team foolish enough to keep any such system in place, that Goodell is going to have no tolerance.

***

Looks like Gregg Williams has a road map back to football a year from now.

In his letter to Williams informing him of the sanctions, Goodell has given Williams a clear path how to get reinstated in 2013. The commissioner wrote thusly to Williams on Wednesday: "I will review your status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether, and if so, on what terms, you may be reinstated and again eligible to be employed in the NFL. In making this decision, I will give considerable weight to the extent to which you cooperate with my office in any further proceedings, as well as developing and implementing programs designed to teach players and coaches -- particularly at other levels of the game -- how to play football in a way that is safe, fair, and that respects the game and those who participate in it ... I appreciate that this decision will be difficult for you. I hope you will use the opportunity to reflect on how you can return to the NFL in a way that honors the game and improves it for those who participate in it.''

Sounds like if Williams makes some come-clean speeches to high school and college football teams around the country at the NFL's behest, he'll be back in the game in 2013 -- assuming the Rams will still employ him. That's likely, but not certain.

1. CB Tracy Porter from New Orleans to Denver. The other day in Denver, I spoke to John Fox about the supporting cast for Peyton Manning, and one of the things I gently reminded him was his defense allowed 40 points or more in five of 18 games last season. "I know,'' he said. "We plan to do something about that.''

This is a very solid first move, bringing in a better corner than two (Eric Wright, Aaron Ross) who got richer first-week contracts. The only X factor with any former Saint, however, concerns the bounty investigation, and whether any players will be suspended. We don't know whether Porter was involved, and whether he'll face any discipline.

2. QB Alex Smith staying in San Francisco. This was not a phony, visit-Miami-for-leverage ploy by Smith. If the Dolphins had shown him some more first-year money, he very well could have left San Francisco. Good idea that the Niners stepped up, rather than make the quarterback position on a solid Super Bowl contender a Josh Johnson/Colin Kaepernick camp duel.

3. MLB Curtis Lofton from Atlanta to New Orleans. Terrific insurance for the Saints in the event of a significant suspension for Jonathan Vilma in the center of the defense. I don't see how Vilma's not going away for multiple games for his alleged role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

4. DE Mark Anderson from New England to Buffalo. The Bills' defensive line has a tremendously improved look right now. Keep in mind new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt will switch to a 4-3. He'll have Mario Williams at left end and Anderson and Chris Kelsay (and maybe a draft choice) playing the right side, with Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Torell Troupe in the middle. That's the best line in the AFC East.

5. TE Jacob Tamme from Indianapolis to Denver. A Peyton Manning security blanket, obviously. Check out Tamme's catches in the last 10 games of the Colts' season in 2010: 6, 11, 7, 7, 7, 4, 4, 7, 7, 7. Think Manning's happy to have Tamme in the fold?

6. LB Erin Henderson staying in Minnesota. The Vikings' salary cap is very happy with the one-year, $2 million deal Henderson signed, because he outplayed that number in his first full-time starting season last year. Henderson's not that happy, though. Hope the one-year deal doesn't backfire on the Vikes.

7. C Jeff Saturday from Indianapolis to Green Bay. GM Ted Thompson lost Pro Bowler Scott Wells and replaced him with one of the smartest centers and most mature team players in the league. Saturday, by the way, is healthy. Even if the Packers have simply bought time for finding a replacement center a year from now, it's a good move.

8. MLB Steven Tulloch staying in Detroit. Jim Schwartz wanted Tulloch badly because he's exactly the kind of aggressive, sideline-to-sideline playmaker he wants in the nerve center of his defense.

9. DT Brodrick Bunkley from Denver to New Orleans. The deal is pricey -- five years, $25 million -- but the Saints badly wanted a run-stuffer who can move, and the best one left on the market was Bunkley.

10. Special teams player Corey Graham from Chicago to Baltimore. The Ravens spent wisely in buying one of the league's best coverage players for the next two seasons. Graham made the NFC special teams Pro Bowl slot last season and can be a good backup in the secondary.

Tebowtown.

Four points on Tim Tebow's arrival in New York:

1. In a strict football sense, Tebow as a Jet makes sense. He allows a risk-taking coach, Rex Ryan, and his Wildcat-loving offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, to experiment with different ways to use Tebow. Wildcat quarterback. Spreading the field on the two-point conversion. Maybe even the personal protector on the punt team where imaginative special teams coach Mike Westhoff can throw some changeups at the defense. But it's not always about football with Tebow.

On Saturday, he went to a Broadway play. The New York Daily News put Tebow's attendance at the play on the front page of the Sunday paper. As of Sunday, he'd been on the front or back page of at least one of the two tabloids every day since the trade. This is a backup quarterback we're talking about -- at least now it is. I think Tebow's potentially a good asset to a struggling offense. I just don't know if the accompanying headaches will make it a plus overall for the Jets, never mind what it does to the psyche of the starter. I don't care what Mark Sanchez says publicly. This ticks him off.

2. Tebow and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, absolutely had a choice on where the Broncos would trade Tebow, despite Tebow's statement that only Denver controlled that. The Jags had a better fourth-round pick on the table than the Jets were offering -- by seven draft slots. The Jags were offering $500,000 more than the Jets in compensation for the advances paid on his contract. But Denver was willing to deal Tebow to either team. And it was a very difficult choice for the young quarterback, because he is from Jacksonville. But the decision made sense. The Jets wanted him more, and would use him more, ostensibly. It's simple.

3. One Jag quarterback point: the leash will be short on Blaine Gabbert this year, and Chad Henne will be the quarterback at some point if Gabbert is as bad as he was last fall. Why would Tebow want to be a third-string quarterback, with coaches who aren't big fans of the gimmicky stuff the way the Jets are? It would have made no sense, regionalism notwithstanding, for Tebow to go to Jacksonville.

4. I will be shocked if, one day before the end of his career, Tebow is not a member of the Jaguars -- assuming the Jags remain in Jacksonville long-term. When? I don't know. But unless he establishes a solid starting beachhead in New Jersey or elsewhere soon, he'll be a Jag one of these days. Just makes too much sense for a franchise that needs the juice of Tebow.

***

Message from Manning.

I completed a story for Sports Illustrated on Peyton Manning's weird two-week free-agency journey earlier this morning. One thing worth noting that didn't fit:

"The NFL's in really good shape with these good young offensive minds,'' Manning said from Denver late last night. "I've got to say that's one thing that impressed me as I went from team to team, especially meeting a lot of guys I either didn't know or didn't know very well. Smart guys. I was really impressed.''

Manning's got a knack for remembering names, but this was impressive. As he went team by team, he picked out young coaches he liked. "Tennessee's got a good up-and-coming young quarterback coach, Dowell Loggains,'' he said. "Chris Palmer [Titans offensive coordinator] I know and really like, and Munch [coach Mike Munchak] ... I really like Mike. A lot. I would have loved to play there. Seriously, I would have loved to play at a lot of these places. Arizona's got a good young offensive coordinator, Mike Miller, who impressed me. Good quarterback coach, Mike McNulty. [Line coach] Russ Grimm and Whiz [coach Ken Whisenhunt], I love those guys. Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin were great when I talked to the Dolphins. And I just texted [49ers offensive coordinator] Greg Roman today. That guy's sharp now. And coach [Jim] Harbaugh is so sharp. That would have been a great place.

"But I'm really happy about Denver. Mike McCoy [offensive coordinator] is really flexible and smart. We'll work well together. [Quarterback coach] Adam Gase, I look forward to working with him. Seems really smart.''

After we finished talking, Manning sent an email about his mentor from the University of Tennessee, current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who's been spearheading Manning's workouts and throwing program this winter on the Duke campus.

"Last thing,'' he wrote. "Cutcliffe is the best coach of quarterbacks in America right now, college and pro. I can't thank him enough for all he has done to help me during this time.''

The recall Manning has -- and I mean about every coach he was met with over two weeks -- is remarkable.

***

RIP, Ron Erhardt.

The former Patriots head coach and Giants and Steelers offensive coordinator died in Florida Wednesday at 80. I'll always remember him for the great coaching job he did in Super Bowl XXV as the Giants' offensive strategist, one of the great game-planning and play-calling days I've seen in the years I've covered the NFL.

That season, 1990, there wasn't an off-week between the championship games and the Super Bowl. In the AFC title game, Buffalo steamrolled Oakland 51-3. In the NFC title game, the Giants, heavy underdogs, got five field goals from Matt Bahr at San Francisco and won 15-13. Forget the later heroics against the superior Niners. Now the Giants had to figure some way to stop the Buffalo offensive avalanche. When Bill Parcells got on the team bus at Candlestick Park after the game, he saw Erhardt and said three words: "Shorten the game.''

Keep the ball in Jeff Hostetler's hands and away from Jim Kelly. Play power football. Power football wins, the Giants preached all week. Snap the ball at the end of the play clock. Stay inbounds. Run the clock. Erhardt kept the plan simple. He didn't ask his backup quarterback to do too much, preferring to let his big back, Ottis Anderson, execute the Giants' elementary plays in the running game.

The Giants were so brute-force in that game that bruising Buffalo linebacker Shane Conlan had his facemask snapped on a running play. "That never happened to me before,'' he said after the game. New York had scoring drives of 11, 10, 14 and 14 plays. The Giants held the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds. The Bills, of course, were mashed up by a physical Giants defense and missed the field goal at the end of the game that would have won it. The Giants survived 20-19.

The other day, after Erhardt died, I asked Parcells about "Shorten the game.'' How big of a reason was it in the outcome of the game?

"It wasn't a reason,'' Parcells said the other day. "It was the reason. Ron had a terrific plan that day. He was a great football coach.''

Postscript: When Dick Vermeil took the Chiefs coaching job in 2001, he brought in one offensive coach to talk offensive philosophy to his staff and his team: Erhardt. "I loved the way he coached basic offensive football, done right all the time,'' Vermeil said.

From knowing him, I can tell you Erhardt would love that to be his legacy.

***

What it feels like to have your world turned upside down.

I asked new Kansas City tackle Eric Winston, who was unexpectedly cut by Houston and signed a four-year deal with the Chiefs, to write a short piece about what happens when a veteran player gets whacked and has to find a new home. His thoughts:

"The general manager needs to see you" is about the worst thing any professional athlete can hear. Very seldom does any good, at least in the short term, come of it. Around this time of year, as well as the end of August, pro football players hear it too much. When it happened to me the day before free agency began, a few things ran through my mind. They can't be calling to cut me, I thought. But I also doubt that they would call me to the stadium to ask me how my trip overseas to see the troops went.

So I became a statistic. One day before my wife and I were set to leave on an anniversary vacation -- and three days after my return from Afghanistan visiting the troops -- I was called into coach Gary Kubiak's office so he could tell me that they were experiencing problems with the salary cap, had to make some tough decisions, and were therefore releasing me. After that meeting, I got to go see Texans general manager Rick Smith. In all fairness, I appreciate the way the Texans' organization handled it. They didn't tell me over the phone, let me find out through a media release, or hand me off to one of their subordinates to deliver the bad news.

So I was off to free agency for the first time in my career, to Miami and Kansas City. Fortunately for me, I have put together quality tape, and my agent started receiving calls as soon as I was officially available. We immediately started whittling down the list to teams that wanted to bring me in for visits.

These visits for teams are used primarily to give the player a physical and for you to sign off on the team so they can get your medical records and also for you to meet the coaches and see the facility. For obvious financial reasons these teams want to know about every injury and take new X-rays of nearly your entire body just to make sure there isn't anything new to find. After the half-day worth of doc visits, an intern drives you to the facility to follow up with the coaches and to see the facility. It doesn't quite compare to college recruiting; there's not nearly as much hand-holding and kissing up. While all of this is going on, your agent and the GM or team negotiator are talking numbers and seeing about a deal.

Kansas City was aggressive from the start. When a team schedules a visit, you usually receive a call from the general manager, head coach or position coach telling you how excited they are that you are coming in and how interested they are in you. With the Chiefs, I received calls from all three of them. They made it clear that I was a priority and that I needed to make sure that I got on the plane from Miami and make it to Kansas City.

When I met with Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, I got a little surprise. I had mentioned at dinner the previous night that when I came out in the draft in 2006, I didn't think the Patriots (where he was working at the time) liked me when I was entering the draft. Scott started laughing out loud and said, "No way, we liked you a lot.'' So the next day he showed me my Patriots psychological evaluation from 2006. To my surprise, it was very complimentary of me and was actually pretty spot on. I thought it was kind of crazy that someone could talk to me for 30 minutes and in that short time sum up what kind of player, worker and overall teammate I would be. Scott said that this is just one of the reasons why he wanted me. He went on to say that winning wasn't just about getting guys that could play, it was about getting high-character guys who come to work every day and were willing to grind.

Obviously that is always nice to hear, but more importantly for me, it let me know that the Chiefs were going to follow a formula that I believe is the only way to be successful for a long time in the NFL. Draft guys who can do it on the field, but also guys who are fun to be around, work hard and care about things like practice and trying to get better every day. Needless to say, I was sold on the fact that the Chiefs not only had a good chance to be a strong team next year, but for years to come.

But I needed to know where I'd fit in the offense. When I spoke with the coaches I was pleasantly surprised. The head coach, Romeo Crennel, has a great reputation around the league. Knowing that a new offense was being installed had me wondering what kind of offense would be coming in. The offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, has traditionally run more of a "power or gap" blocking scheme and the line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr., who just came over from the Giants, has done the same. Now, I feel like I could be successful in any scheme, but I really have grown to love running the zone scheme and understand it well. So going in I wasn't expecting to hear that the Chiefs would run a zone-blocking scheme, but that's exactly what I heard. That was like icing on the cake to what had been an already positive visit. I spent one more night in Kansas City and we worked out a contract to make me a Chief for the next four years.

Single guys can make a move like this easily. But having a family, and moving a wife, a 10-year-old daughter with plenty of friends and a 6-month-old son is another matter. To make it easy to understand for my daughter, I told her I had gotten traded to the Chiefs. She said, "Really?" (Which, of course, if you have kids, you know that's not a rhetorical question.)

"Who did you get traded for?'' my daughter asked.

I laughed, then came clean about getting released. She had a better understanding about the NFL than I thought, and certainly better than when I was her age.

In many ways, football's the easy part when it comes to switching teams. The life stuff is more difficult. Do we sell our house in Houston that we spent so much time making our own? Rent or buy in KC? How long will we really be there for? Will my kids adjust to the new part of the country? Will my wife have good friends on the new team? The questions linger.

I'm definitely not asking you to feel sorry for me. We get paid a lot of money to play a great game, but I am just trying to bring you into what is presently going on in my uncertain world right now. Plenty of guys around the league didn't get a four-year contract. Many of them got a one-year deal and will be facing the same visits and the same questions again -- if they're lucky. Each player's career is so fragile. Just look at Peyton Manning, maybe the best ever, is now on a different team after not playing last year when he injured his neck. The roller coaster ride that is the NFL doesn't stop at the end of the season. For most players, it's just begun.

"He liked my performance. I hope I like his performance.''

-- P.J. Benjamin, who plays Oz in the Broadway musical Wicked, to the New York Daily News Saturday night, after Tebow finished his first official day as a member of the Jets by attending his first Broadway show. Tebow went backstage after the show, according to the newspaper, and lauded all of the performers.

"Okay, so Peyton Manning was a tremendous MVP quarterback, but he's been injured. If that injury comes back, Denver will find itself without a quarterback. And in my opinion, it would serve them right."

-- Evangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, talking about Denver's decision to sign Peyton Manning and trade Tebow.

"[Ross] said they had been shopping him for a couple weeks. Nobody would return their phone calls about getting him. If Chicago didn't take him, they would have ended up cutting him very shortly after that."

-- Miami Dolphins season ticket holder Jason Lawrence, to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Him'' is wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Lawrence talked about a phone call he got from owner Stephen Ross, who, according to Lawrence, said the team was lucky to get two third-round picks for troubled wideout Brandon Marshall.

"Did you hear Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos? When Tim Tebow heard the news, he dropped to one knee and prayed, 'Don't trade me to Cleveland!' ''

-- Jay Leno, in his "Tonight Show" monologue last Tuesday.

A former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals Ben-Gal squad, Laura Vikmanis, has written a memoir. It's called It's Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-Year-Old Mom Became the NFL's Oldest Cheerleader -- and Found Hope, Joy and Inspirations Along the Way.

(Some of you might say, The Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me should end right there. A cheerleader writing a memoir. But I will plow forward.)

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Vikmanis wrote that the Ben-Gals were not always one big, happy family. "The most prominent division on the Ben-Gals is not between the young girls and the older girls,'' the memoir-penning cheerleader wrote, "but between the Real Boobs and the Fake Boobs. This is despite the fact that at any given time, a third of the Real Boobs are considering implants.''

If there were a Kardashian Best-Seller List, this War and Peace of cheerleader memoirs would be No. 1. Or 36. I'm not sure.

I wish I had a better travel note than this, because I traveled to Denver and Florida in the last seven days, but I cannot top ESPN reporter Josina Anderson's, as she returned on American Airlines from a trip to New Orleans reporting the Saints bounty story.

As she sat eating Corn Flakes on the plane Saturday morning, the man sitting next to her took his shoes off and, barefooted, put his feet on the wall in the bulkhead seat in front of them.

That is worth combat pay, ESPN. Reward the woman.

"Pretty funky visual during breakfast,'' Anderson observed.

I can think of a couple of words stronger than funky, Josina. I know travel is increasingly sardine-cannish, but I draw the line at four things:

1. Excessive security lines. Twice since January I've waited in a 50-minute or longer line. If airlines are going to schedule so many packed flights out of the same terminal at times close to each other, they should open up more security lines. Advice: Ask the Indianapolis airport people how they do it. Even those returning from the Super Bowl and using the airport late in the week marveled at how quickly the lines moved, and how many lines were open. Obviously that's a smaller airport. It's going to be worse at JFK or O'Hare or Atlanta, naturally. But JFK ... it's a total guessing game whether you need to get to the airport 100 minutes early or 40. So of course you have to get there almost two hours before flying.

2. Bare feet on display, and placed on seats or bulkheads.

3. Nail-clipping.

4. Being an idiot to flight attendants. As in the woman on my United flight to Denver early Tuesday morning, who twice rang her flight-attendant call button to ask for a blanket, which, in coach, often either doesn't exist anymore or only does if there are extras from first class. The second time, she said, "It must be 55 degrees in here. Can you please do something!'' It wasn't. And happily, the flight attendant did nothing, and the woman shivered in normal temperatures most of the way across the country.

"Jets scrambling furiously to set up Tebow presser. Pews for beat writers only''

-- @NYPost_Serby, columnist Steve Serby of the New York Post, 21 hours before the scheduled noon press conference Monday in New Jersey for Tebow.

Good chance it'll be the first backup quarterback's press conference in NFL history carried live on ESPN.

"So Tebow goes back to where 1/2 of Florida is from.''

-- @sethpayneNFL, former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne.

"There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last....''

-- @mattforte22, the Bears running back, after Chicago signed free-agent running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract, with $7 million guaranteed. The Bears and Forte, the no-doubt No. 1 back on the team, are still trying to get a long-term deal done.

1. I think there are three bylaws that need to be passed at these meetings. The trade deadline needs to be moved from Week 6 to Week 8 (actually, it should be Week 13, but any movement is progress). Each team should be able to use one exception to the injured-reserve list, and bring one player per year back from IR after eight weeks. And overtime rules should be uniform all season -- in the regular season and in the playoffs. Those are three fixes that will help the game.

2. I think the league, in the future, should mandate the rules if there's ever an uncapped year. Having an unwritten rule that says teams can't dump contract accelerations into the uncapped year of 2010 is now costing the Redskins $36 million and Dallas $10 million, and whether or not the two teams win their appeals of the sanction, the NFL has to be clearer, with written rules, about what's allowed and what isn't when they write provisions in future CBAs -- if there's ever a provision for an uncapped year or years.

3. I think if I'm a Bengals fan, and I'm trying to analyze what they're doing in free agency, the conclusion I would come to is this: They are plumbing the depths of the lower-middle-class and seeing what, if anything, sticks. Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson are two of the most disappointing highly drafted pass-rushers in recent years. Check out their stat line on profootballfocus.com. In the last two seasons, Anderson and Harvey have combined for eight sacks and 34 pressures in 1,307 combined defensive plays.

Imagine getting drafted in the first round, and barely producing, and there are the Bengals, with a nice soft landing spot. The only saving grace is the money, which is minor.

I'm not crazy about Cincy giving $3 million a year for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is not a make-them-miss runner and whose biggest attributes are that he catches the ball well and doesn't fumble. But he's a good, unselfish guy to have on the roster.

4. I think, regarding Jeremy Shockey being accused by Warren Sapp of being the snitch in the Saints bounty scandal: I didn't like it. One: I'm hearing there's a good chance the informant was not Shockey. Two: Given that the bounty system rewarded players for deliberately injuring other players, the informant should be celebrated, not castigated. Throwing stones at someone who outed such a program is like ripping Deep Throat for exposing the crooks in the Nixon White House.

5. I think you can look at Peyton Manning's contract in several ways. If he plays one year and doesn't pass his physical after the 2012 season, the Broncos played the lottery, got Manning for $18 million for one season, and then went in search of their quarterback of the future. If he plays the 2012 season and then passes his physical next winter, Denver is on the hook for a guaranteed $20 million in 2013 and a guaranteed $20 million in 2014. However, even if Manning is hurt in season two and cannot answer the bell in year three, there's an out to that 2013/'14 guarantee: If Manning hurts his neck in the same area where his September 2011 surgery was in the first 10 games of the 2013 season, the 2014 salary is not guaranteed.

What it comes down to is the Broncos need Manning to give the team three mostly injury-free seasons for this contract to be worth it for them. Three years, $58 million for Manning is fair -- if he's Manning of old, or a reasonable facsimile.

6. I think, judging by the well-worn NFL draft choice value chart, I like what Philadelphia got more than Houston in the deal for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the former centerpiece of the Texans defense. Houston got a fourth-round pick and moved up 12 spots in the third round. That, according to the trade chart, is the equivalent of getting the 86th pick in the draft for Ryans. If Ryans can be a three-year starter in the middle of the defense for Philadelphia, it's a steal for Philly. Of course, the Texans are gambling Ryans, who wasn't a great fit in Houston's 3-4 defense, doesn't have that much good football left.

7. I think I never thought the Saints should have their Super Bowl title vacated because of the bounty scandal. No way, no how. Many of you apparently do. But there's no evidence at any level that the bounties won or lost a game for them.

8. I think I'd love to see Sean Payton work the studio for FOX, or work games, as Judy Battista reported was possible Sunday in the New York Times. There's no head coach who can explain offensive football better than Payton right now, and he's at the fore of so many offensive innovations in the game. He'd be a great one-season hire. I understand the downside -- FOX would be criticized for giving Payton a forum when he's been banned from the NFL for a year. My opinion: What Payton could add in football intelligence would outweigh what he'd subtract in image.

9. I think the coolest matchup of the week last week was Joe Namath, at the behest of Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, a longtime Namath fan, visiting with the Rays before their game with Miami near Namath's home of Jupiter, Fla.

Namath has lived in Florida for more than 30 years, and before this Rays-Marlins game had never attended a spring training or regular season baseball game in the state. That's one notable note from Namath's day with the Rays.

The other: While in high school in Beaver Falls, Pa., Namath was good enough to be drafted by the Cubs. And his team once played a state playoff game in Forbes Field, right around the time the Pirates were the hot ticket in town for beating the Yankees in the 1960 World Series, four games to three. When Beaver Falls took batting practice before the state playoff game, Namath homered over the fence at the venerable park.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. North Carolina 73, Ohio U. 65, overtime. Imagine your best player (D.J. Cooper) shoots 3 of 20, you get outrebounded by 30, you lose, and the best player on the other team, Tyler Zeller, says after the game, "Ohio played the better game.''

An odd game by my alma mater, but a nobly played one. Proud of the Bobcats. That doesn't mean the end of regulation is something soon forgotten.

I'll remember the missed foul that should have been called on a Cooper drive to the basket, when he got hatcheted in the face in front of the trail ref. The ref called nothing, Cooper fell to the floor and North Carolina got a 5-on-4 and a vital last-minute three-point basket.

I'll also remember Walter Offutt's missed free throw that likely would have been the winning point with 27 seconds left; and Cooper's halfcourt rimmer at the buzzer of regulation.

But that's sports. OU would never have been in this game had it not been for Offutt's great shooting against South Florida in the round of 32 -- and OU would never have been close in this one without Offutt's 26. But as coach John Groce said afterward: "There's nothing I can say to them at this point that's going to take away the sting of getting beat in that one.''

b. I guess this means Groce is a prime candidate for some big job now. He certainly deserves one, but I hope he stays in Athens.

c. This week's sign that journalistic priorities are out of whack or I am a ridiculously old fart: The Denver Post ran an eight-paragraph story on Baylor's win over Florida in the NCAA's women's tournament last week, and six of the paragraphs concerned star Brittany Griner's dunk in the game, which was neither the first of her career or the first in a big NCAA game. I can understand a mention. But six graphs?

d. Wait. I am an old fart. It is official. In a Sunday morning SportsCenter show, ESPN showed 15 replays of the five-day-old dunk. Fifteen. Hey, why not 35? Then ESPN showed six replays of a two-handed dunk Griner did on Saturday.

e. If Fred Wilpon really loved the Mets, he'd sell them.

f. What would possess a man, other than having feelings of hatred or vengeance I suppose, to tweet out another man's cell phone number? I don't get the joke, C.J. Wilson.

g. Are you serious, Pirates? Erik Bedard the opening day starter? Whoa.

h. I feel for Joba Chamberlain. And for those wondering why he'd do such a "hazardous'' thing as be on a trampoline with his 6-year-son, two things: Ever have a child? Ever play with your child? Those are the kinds of things you do with a 6-year-old child. And don't tell me you've ever heard of an accident the type of which Chamberlain suffered on a trampoline. Weird, freaky, one-in-a-million. If you want to call him irresponsible for driving under the influence, fine. If you want to call him irresponsible for jumping on a trampoline on an outing with his son, just stop.

i. My rotisserie team, after last Thursday's draft for our 12-team league in New Jersey, which none of you care about: Buster Posey catching, Adrian Gonzalez at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Elvis Andrus at short, Chase Headley at third, Michael Bourne, Jayson Werth, Carlos Beltran, Corey Hart in the outfield, David Ortiz as DH/extra hitter, a rotation of James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Beachy, Shawn Marcum and Max Scherzer, and Jordan Walden, Grant Balfour and Brandon League as the main closers. (Silly rules of the league -- three relievers.) I know, I know. I am trusting Werth to rebound too much. But by the time I picked him, I needed power so much I was desperate.

j. Thanks for the drafting help, Matthew Berry, in between watching the Syracuse game the other night. Interesting preaching by the roto expert: I kept telling him about the run on closers. "Sixteen closers are gone,'' I told him. "I've got to take one.'' He said, Don't worry. You'll find closers you can use. You always will. He was right. Closers in fantasy baseball are made and broken every May. This year I'm counting on Addison Reed of the White Sox to be my midseason ace-in-the-closer-hole.

k. Coffeenerdness: Best $2.05 I spent last week: the medium French Roast at the Caribou Coffee in Terminal B at the Denver Airport. Best French Roast I've had.

l. Beernerdness: Thanks, Colorado Avalanche, for having New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire on draft at your games. Albert Breer of NFL Network and I were very grateful for your beer-stocking choice last Tuesday at Avs-Flames.

m. Don "Donnie Brasco'' Banks tells me I missed a great show Friday night in Tampa, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band finished a three-hour concert with Tenth Avenue Freezeout. I am very jealous, Brasco.

n. RIP, Bert Randolph Sugar, one of the great raconteurs in sports history, and certainly the pre-eminent boxing historian. He died Sunday at 75 of cancer. Too many good people dying. It's depressing. Sugar was a friend to all in the boxing game and the media, and he loved football. A fixture at the NFL Draft every year, he was no one-trick sports pony. He knew every game, and his stories will live on.

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