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Saints open camp with Vilma; ref squabble no big deal yet; mail

Five thoughts for June 5th, three months away from opening night of the 2012 NFL season:

• The Saints opened their mandatory minicamp this morning without Sean Payton and Drew Brees -- but with Jonathan Vilma. The suspended linebacker is with the team while his appeal goes through the legal process, and this morning he was with the defense during a walkthrough portion and stretching before adjourning to the trainers' room where he'll rehab with injured teammates during the normal practice sessions. Vilma underwent an arthroscopic knee procedure after the season and would be available at the start of the season in the very unlikely event the year-long suspension over his involvement in the Saints' bounty scandal is overturned. Curtis Lofton, acquired from Atlanta in free agency, anchored Vilma's middle linebacker slot today as he likely will this season, with Scott Shanle likely to start on the strongside and Seattle transplant David Hawthorne at weakside.

• Catching up on Steve Gleason: The former Saints safety, 35, a victim of ALS, traveled to the United Nations last week to talk about how technology can aid ALS patients. He picked up a $25,000 donation from the charitable arm of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, and he spoke about having a new passion he's aiding. He wants to raise $750,000 to build the second residence in the country -- Boston is the first -- for ALS patients. "My dream is to have an ALS residence with former NFL players,'' said Gleason, whose disease has progressed to the point where now he has to get around in a motorized wheelchair. At the Super Bowl this year, he still was able to walk with the aid of a cane. His vision is to have the residence serve between 10 and 20 full-time residents, most likely on a separate floor of either a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. "We want them to be able to live as independently as possible, and technology is important in realizing that goal. We don't want it to feel like they're institutionalized.'' Through his website teamgleason.org, Gleason will soon formulate a fund-raising plan to help him work toward his goal.

• A few of you got the impression -- probably advanced by the way I wrote my section on the Texans in MMQB yesterday -- that GM Rick Smith is some ruthless, unfeeling executive looking solely at the bottom line in building his team. If I left that impression, let me even it out a bit here. Smith is smart, and he knows there comes a time when the plug needs to be pulled on every player. But I don't think he does it callously. He had to pull the plug after the 2011 season with two important defensive pieces, Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, as I explained in the column yesterday. Williams was going to be far more costly than the Texans would have agreed to pay; that was a relatively simple decision. When Smith was about to trade Ryans to Philadelphia, he asked to have dinner with him. Smith explained exactly why he wanted to make the deal -- that Ryans was more of a pure 4-3 middle linebacker who was going to come off the field on third downs in the 3-4 scheme of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and that Ryans would be a perfect fit with the Eagles, who needed a middle 'backer. "Our relationship demanded that,'' said Smith. "I realize how much DeMeco has meant to the team and to the organization, and we want to be sure we did this the right way.''

• Good to see Rex Ryan looking so healthy on "Costas Tonight'' on NBC Sports Network Monday night. Ryan told Costas he's lost 90 pounds since undergoing weight-loss surgery last year, 40 since the 2011 season ended.

• Regarding the NFL "locking out'' its game officials: Wake me when something important happens. Three months before opening night is no time to get panicky about scab zebras working games that matter.

And now for your email:

WHY DID THE BOUNTIES INCENTIVIZE PLAYERS? "I liked your financial argument about the Pro Bowl. Why doesn't the same argument apply to the Saints' bounty scandal? The incentives were far less, and the risk of suspension for an illegal hit are far higher than the risk of injury during an exhibition game. And, to be honest, for the program to be effective, assuming no cheap shots and illegal hits that would be caught on tape and fined, it assumes that the players are holding back when they are not being offered a chance at an extra few grand. They are already going all out to build game tape to support the next contract.

As with the Pro Bowl, I just can't see that someone making $800,000 a week, or even $100,000 a week, is going to be thinking, 'You know, I am going to be a free agent in a year (or two, or three), and I know I need to perform to really land a contract. But that's not enough motivation. Good thing the team is offering a few hundred bucks extra. Otherwise I might not have played as hard.' Just don't see that the bounty program actually did anything other than serve as a misguided locker-room bonding effort.''-- From Jeff, of Seattle

Players love cash. (Don't we all?) And when a player can make a big play in a game -- just doing his job -- and be rewarded with $400 of found money, that is an incentive to some players. Maybe we don't understand it. But we're not in the exclusive male-bonding club of an NFL locker room every day either. Why do players play cards on team planes for $50 or $500 pots? Because it's fun, and because they compete against one another, and because it's a bonding practice.

REVIS SHOULD HONOR HIS CONTRACT. "With respect to the Jets setting up Darrell Revis' contract with a (mere) $6.75 million in each of the last two years, I think we can look at it the other way: Revis signed that contract thinking or knowing that he could try to claim some moral high ground claiming he was underpaid. Not dissimilar to Lance Briggs front loading (at his own request) the early years of his contract, then claiming he was underpaid at the end. Still comes down to not wanting to honor a contract.''-- From Greg Chornoboy, of Calgary, Alberta

Right, but if your boss paid you two-thirds of your money in the first two years of a four-year contract, and your boss is happy with how you've performed, and you're getting rave reviews with how you've performed, and then your boss pays you the same for the sum of the last two years that he paid you in either of the first two years, you're going to think, "This isn't very just." I do understand a contract's a contract, and in my world, if my employer wasn't willing to go into the deal and re-work it, I'd work for what the bottom line said. Athletes are different in many cases, though.

HE WANTS A COLD-WEATHER SUPER BOWL. "You wrote, 'I think I have to agree with Dan Pompei, the respected NFL columnist for the Chicago Tribune and National Football Post, when he writes: "The chances of a Super Bowl being granted to Chicago are roughly the same of a Super Bowl being granted to Jupiter.'' '

This is super unfortunate. I'd pay a heck of a lot of money for a game in an open stadium. Soldier Field, Lambeau, any of the other northern fields where the game comes from. I am so tired of prissy pretty games being put on for the corporate sponsors. How about one game for the real football fans? Just one before it all gets cleaned up and sanitized into little more than the pretend game the Arena League plays? Just one before it is nothing but the advertising the whole time with a little box in the corner telling what the score is during the next 'great' ad?''-- From William Barnett-Lewis, of Hayward, Wisc.

I'm not a fan of Super Bowls being held in the cold. Never have been. I'd like the championship game of the sport to be contested without the weather (except rain) as a factor. I want to see the game played with the best athletes in the best conditions. Now, I love playoff games in the elements. Home teams have deserved, by virtue of their regular season record, to be in the position to play games at their home venue, with the fans on their side and possibly the weather too. But the title game, I've always thought, should be played in conditions that are fairest for both, and fairest for the fans.

I AM AN IDIOT WHEN IT COMES TO RATING PLAYERS. "I am AMAZED at the value the non-player media place on the value of your own opinions concerning the Top 100 players. You, the ones who have never played a down of NFL football. You, the ones who have never had to go head up with an opposing player and feel their strength, will, power or grit. You, the ones who have little to no experience of what it takes to excel at the highest level of football, or ANY sport.

The players go up against the best week in, week out. They hit, tackle, catch, intercept & battle each other for 16 weeks. I think through their personal interactions (not observed, from afar) they have a little better grasp on how good a player is, relative to other players in the league. Its not just about what stats they put up for a fantasy league, or how many snaps they play. Football is more than just stats and name recognition in between the lines. Mr. King you write great pieces every week. I wouldn't expect a player to be able to write anywhere near your ability, but I think when it comes to players judging themselves, they may know a little more than you about what makes a player Top 100.''-- From Jon Pierre, of Houston

Fair enough. But how, possibly, can a fullback who plays roughly half of his team's snaps on offense (which, averaging the two fullbacks included in the NFL Networks' Top 100, is what the percentage is) be judged to be a more important player than very good quarterbacks and very good left tackles, which Vonta Leach was? I have no problem lauding Leach for being the best fullback in the game, if that's how you judge him. But I just feel it's not very smart to think a fullback playing much less than full time can be in the same ballpark with, say, a left tackle or a quarterback playing every snap. There's not a scout alive who would equate the contributions of a quarterback and a fullback as being equal. So the ranking makes no sense to me.

***

And now for the section of mail on my feeling that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is right in trying to combat the obesity epidemic in the city by banning the sale in fast food chains and city stores of all soft drinks of more than 16 ounces.

AREN'T WE THE LAND OF THE FREE? "Re: Bloomberg and his soda-nazi attempts: You're just wrong. If America is truly the land of the free, then it must be the land of freedom, even if that means being stupid enough to drink too much soda. That may be a downside that Mayor Bloomberg (and you, apparently) don't like, but the very definition of living free is being able to make your own decisions - not having the government make those decisions for you. What will be next? Daily calorie limitations? Everyone must report each morning to the Government Breakfast Center to eat their bowl of bran cereal with skim milk? And about your beernerdness: nobody ever heard of soda-guts, but beer guts are a real problem. Should we limit everyone to one beer a week to prevent obesity? Still love your column--as I drink my 20-ounce soda.''-- From Jon Miller, of Currituck, N.C.

Thanks, Jon. And I love Currituck, by the way. Bloomberg's program is pointed at everyone, but he's clearly trying to get kids to cut down on their sugar intake. Even the land of the free has laws many of us don't like. There was a near-revolution in restaurants in many cities when politicians all over the country banned smoking in restaurants. But now it's clear that it was a good idea, and has resulted in a heathier eating environment. People complain about the speed limit all the time, but statistics show that when people drive slower, fewer people die on our highways. Bloomberg's not banning soda. He's simply putting a limit of twice what people like me used to think was a regular amount of the soft drink.

START WITH SCHOOL MENUS. "Liked your comment on the NY Mayor trying to fight obesity. I've got three kids (8, 9 and 10) who all attend public schools. Have you seen a menu lately? Not good! It stood out even more when friends of ours went to a European school in Italy and their schools menu was all fresh. No pizza, cheese bread, tater tots (although I like tots) etc. You want to stop obesity, start with kids menus in schools.''-- From Steve, of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Great point, Steve. Thanks for making it.

A DOCTOR DISAGREES WITH ME. "You are just as wrong as Mr. Bloomberg. Prohibiting or taxing sugary sodas is an impingement on personal liberty and freedom. Benjamin Franklin told us that trading security for liberty would give us neither. I would extrapolate that to include good health. We should even have the freedom to be wrong and the liberty to be stupid. No gain in health or security is worth the loss in liberty. That includes the federal government's claim to try to insure "fairness" to all. Poppycock. The US government at one time proclaimed slavery to be acceptable and on another occasion it initiated the lock-up of Japanese Americans. The government, local or federal, should not make choices based on their whims. Government does not ever know best at the expense of liberty. They all intrude on our liberties too much as it is. Enough.''-- From Bill Hodges, of Morgan Mill, Texas

Are any laws restricting behavior good, then? When I was 25, people could smoke on airplanes, and it used to drive me crazy. Thank God people can't smoke on planes now. That law restricts personal freedom. Is it a bad law? Should there be a speed limit? I was at the dentist Monday, and I asked her about the Bloomberg effort. She's been a dentist for a couple of decades, and she said it's not just the obesity in children that is an epidemic now -- though she said that's really increased. It's the alarming increase in the number of cavities in young children. The enamel of the teeth is being worn away by the sugar and the chemicals in things like soda, she said. Limiting it only makes sense, particularly for young people.

OH NO! MY LATTES ARE UNDER ATTACK!!! "Since you're in favor of His Highness Bloomberg regulating sugary drinks, how about you include the amount of sugar in coffee based beverages on that list? I can't believe that your Grand Pumpkin Latte (or whatever the hell its called) has less sugar than a 20 oz. Coca Cola. Care to give away your freedom to choose your beverage of choice too, Peter?''-- From Dave Henson, of Tampa, Fla.

Did a little research for you, Dave. The drink I get at Starbucks, the triple grande hazelnut latte (meaning it has a third shot of espresso and less milk) is 16 ounces, with 36 grams of sugar and 230 calories. The Big Gulp at 7-Eleven has, on average, 28 ounces of soda and four ounces of ice. That has 91 grams of sugar and 364 calories. The 44-ounce Super Big Gulp has 128 grams of sugar and 512 calories. Now, around the holidays, I do get -- maybe six or eight times a season -- the pumpkin latte or the egg nog latte, and those numbers are much higher. But my daily coffee drink has 37 percent fewer calories and 60 percent less sugar than the Big Gulp. Just for the record.

JOE MAKES SOME VERY GOOD POINTS. "I do enjoy your column, but I must offer a piece of advice: Stay out of the political commentary sphere. Don't get me wrong - I agree with the intent [of Bloomberg's effort]. Doesn't take a GED to figure out that huge quantities of sugary beverages per day are bad for you. But it shouldn't take a GED to figure out that banning things, particularly with as many loopholes as Hizoner has left in place regarding Big Gulps and all their relations, has absolutely no chance of success and dilutes his political capital.

History and experience are the best teachers. Prohibition didn't work, the banning of recreational narcotics hasn't worked, and banning Big Gulps won't work. Education, over an extended period of time, is the only genuine solution.

My kids don't smoke, a fact I'm quite happy about. And I would love to be able to report that this is due to my spectacular parenting skills. It is not. It is because over time smoking has been (rightfully) demonized in the schools and civic organizations they attend and participate in. Peer pressure and common wisdom are amazing things - they cause the majority to do whatever the rest of the majority is doing. And right now, where I live, the majority of kids the ages of my own are not smoking. Again, I enjoy your column. When it is about football.''-- From Joe Donahue, of Springfield, Va.

Good job, Joe. Congrats on your kids being smoke-free. Good for them.

THE LAST WORD, FROM BRYAN, TEXAS: "So you agree with the mayor's attack on sodas? What if next he decides that donuts are bad for you and bans anything except donut holes? Since there is too much salt in this country, what if he then bans chips and pretzels? Obviously there is nothing healthy about alcohol either, so what if next he bans your precious beers and you are forced to change one of your column headings to "waternerdness" or "organicallygrownfreshsqueezedjuicenerdness"? It's not that his intentions are bad or evil, but he is trying to regulate personal behavior to an extreme and as prohibition and the war on drugs have proven, you can't do it.''-- From Patrick Kammerer, of Bryan

All the guy is doing is saying: Ban the 44-ounce sodas. It's simply not healthy. the 16-ounce sodas aren't either, but he's not talking about banning them.

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