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Labor issues with officials causing uneasiness as season opens

I start this Opening Day Week with some possible blessed relief for fans, which starts with my earlier than usual stat of the week.

Some 639 active and eligible NFL players did not play in the 16 games on the final preseason week. That includes 17 of 32 starting quarterbacks. In fact, 10 teams thought so little of the final dress rehearsal for the season that they didn't play their first- or second-string quarterback a single snap.

If you bought a seat for Tampa Bay-Washington Wednesday night, 60 players sat it out, including Robert Griffin III. In Philadelphia, 66 players on the Jets and Eagles didn't play. And 62 Bears and Browns didn't get their hands, or uniforms, dirty in Cleveland Thursday night, despite the fans paying regular season prices for the schlock that is preseason football. Sean Canfield started at quarterback for the Saints at Tennessee Thursday. Cut the next day. Quarterback Dominique Davis played 60 minutes for someone Thursday. Guess who? (And no sharing the answer, Falcons fans.)

I mention all of this because I sense the league is finally getting fed up with it. I don't know when it's coming, but I can sense it -- the 32 teams changing their practice of charging regular season prices for some of the intrasquad-scrimmage-quality games we see every August, particularly during the final preseason week.

I can't tell you if it'll be season-ticket holders being asked to buy only nine games instead of the 10 (eight regular season, two preseason) they now purchase, or if the price of the 10th game on every ticket package will be radically reduced. But I can see sometime this fall, once the officiating conundrum is settled, the NFL working on a way to not rip off the customers it says it cares so much about.

My proposal: Charge eight games at full price. Charge a ninth game, one of the two currently scheduled home preseason games, at half price. And the other home preseason game won't exist anymore; it'd be a scrimmage, on one of the first two weekends of the preseason, at a regional venue, for $10 per ticket. Each team brings 50 of the 90 players fighting for roster spots.

Here are some examples using the first weekend of the recently completed preseason: Pittsburgh-Philadelphia at Penn State. Washington-Buffalo at Syracuse. Cleveland-Detroit at Toledo. Tampa Bay-Miami at Orlando. Minnesota-San Francisco at Jim Harbaugh's old place, Stanford. St. Louis-Indy at Notre Dame.

For some games, have fun. Baltimore-Atlanta (with all the Alabama players Ozzie Newsome drafts, and Julio Jones on the Falcons) on the Alabama campus at Tuscaloosa. How about Tennessee versus Seattle at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., with Russell Wilson fighting for playing time for the Seahawks? The possibilities, and potential NFL goodwill, would be endless.

So there's that. And a Happy Labor Day to you all. Maybe next year you season-ticket holders will not be forced to pay for the games you hate so much.

***

Now for the news of the week ...

All officials, all the time.

Another story showcasing these fine, upstanding men in the striped pajamas, aka the replacement officials: I cannot say which game this story happened in, but I can tell you it did happen. Final preseason game for two teams. Official calls defensive pass-interference in front of the penalized team's bench. Head coach lambastes the official. Official picks up the flag, tells the coach he's not going to make the call. Coach is stunned.

Imagine what will happen when something's actually at stake.

I really thought the ref lockout would end when the league sent a memo to every team last Wednesday telling teams that replacement officials would work the first weekend of games. Now the impasse was on the verge of costing each official $8,000 a week, on average. If you recall the way the league dealt with the players in 2011, you recall nothing ever happened until the very last minute. Thursday and Friday were the equivalent of 10 minutes before midnight. Each side knew that to get the real refs back for the Wednesday night opener, the deal would have to be done by either late Sunday or early Monday.

According to a memo sent to all the teams on Sunday and obtained by SI.com, Commissioner Roger Goodell called one of the officials' negotiators, ref Jeff Triplette, and Triplette came to New York to speak with the league's negotiators directly. The league's memo attests that, "In the course of discussions on Friday morning, Mr. Triplette quantified the economic gap between the parties as approximately $4 million per year for compensation and retirement benefits combined. The Commissioner advised Mr. Triplette that in order to obtain an agreement this weekend, so that the regular officials could begin to work next week, we would close the deal by agreeing to provide an additional $1 million per year, which could be used to improve either base compensation or our proposal regarding retirement benefits ...

"The increase offered to settle the labor dispute could be valued in several ways. Assuming a staff of 120 game officials, an additional $1 million would fund an $8,000 increase in the average game official's annual compensation. Alternatively, it would increase the annual defined contribution to an official's retirement account by $8,000. If the officials preferred, the additional money could have been divided between base compensation and retirement benefits ...

"Commissioner Goodell expressly stated that the additional money was being offered to conclude a deal now so the officials could be on the field for the start of the regular season. He said that the officials should not schedule further meetings unless they were prepared to settle on that basis. In other words, the increase in the offer was to settle now -- it was not to set a new floor for a new round of negotiations.''

Triplette, according to the NFL, said another negotiating official, Scott Green, and attorney Michael Arnold would come to New York to continue the negotiations on Saturday -- to, as the NFL memo said, "conclude an agreement within the parameters that had been discussed earlier on Friday."

Later Sunday, the officials' union, the NFL Referees Association, said the NFL's claim that Triplette made any agreement with the league was "absolutely false.''

"The NFLRA was prepared to discuss all remaining issues to reach a fair CBA,'' the officials' statement said. "However, the NFL provided an ultimatum that the NFLRA abandon its positions on all issues other than compensation in return for the possibility that the NFL would modestly increase its offer. The NFLRA put forth a compensation alternative that was immediately rejected by the NFL .... The NFLRA asked the NFL to discuss other alternatives to resolve the pension issue. The NFL rejected that request. Having refused to negotiate until the 11th hour, the NFL has chosen a tactic of personal attacks on the leadership of the NFLRA.''

The pension part of the negotiations, I'm told, is a non-starter for the league. The large majority of full-time NFL employees have 401k-based pensions, not the defined-benefit pensions the officials have now, and the league wants to change over to the 401k model. The NFL doesn't want part-time employees, many of whom have pensions at their other jobs, to have a better pension system than full-time NFL employees.

If the officials would drop their pension demand -- that the current officials be grandfathered in to the more advantageous pension plan, while newly hired officials would have 401k pensions -- this dispute would probably end quickly.

There's one more hurdle. The NFL wants to hire a farm system of about 20 officials to train new officials and also to provide a "bench'' so the league could replace underperforming officials if their performance warranted. But it doesn't sound from either side like that's a deal-breaker, because the league dismisses underperforming officials after every season anyway.

Stay tuned. It seems highly unlikely the logjam will break before Wednesday.

***

Two days until football. Real football.

The Giants and Cowboys play Wednesday night, opening the NFL's 93rd season. One of the best conversations I had on my camp tour this summer was with Dallas coach Jason Garrett about Eli Manning.

Garrett, being a former quarterback himself and tutoring a pretty good one in Tony Romo in Dallas, has strong opinions about what makes a quarterback good. Garrett thinks surviving adversity and being able to bring your team back late are two of the biggest signposts to quarterback greatness. For instance, he thinks one of the great games Romo's ever played is a five-interception job at Buffalo on a Monday night five seasons ago. "Because he struggled for a long time in that game, he hung in, he came back twice in the fourth quarter from deficits, and he found a way to get it done,'' Garrett said.

Manning, Garrett said, has a reputation for being the perfect fourth-quarter quarterback. "People write all the time how great Eli is late, like he's never lost a game in the fourth quarter,'' Garrett said. "That's inaccurate. He has. He's made some bad mistakes late, with some bad interceptions at the wrong times. But it's the NFL. The NFL's hard. And Eli has come back to play well so many times in big games, which is one of the things I really admire about him.

"As much as the big plays -- like the throw he made against the Patriots down the sideline late for [Mario] Manningham -- what impresses me are the little plays. The consecutive passes he completed in the first half of the Super Bowl, just keeping [Tom Brady] off the field and moving the ball so efficiently. He plays the game so well from the shoulders up.''

Seems to run in the family.

Could this be the year Baltimore's offense actually is better than the D?

I can see it. The Ravens don't have a strong pass rush without Terrell Suggs. I'm through writing off Ray {Freak of Nature] Lewis, but he's 37, and Ed Reed turns 34 next week. At some point, if Joe Flacco's going to convince the world he's a big-timer, he has to play big with an offense that doesn't lead the league in weaponry.

That sometime might be this year. And Flacco might just be his best this season because he should be playing no-huddle, and playing fast, for much of the season. Flacco ran the no-huddle most often in college at Delaware, but hasn't done that much of it as a pro. He told me last week he's "looking at our offense as total no-huddle ... as 100 percent no-huddle.''

Look at the advantages this could bring Baltimore. Count them:

1. Jim Caldwell, the new Ravens quarterback coach, has come from the laboratory of the no-huddle with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. For seven years, from 2002 to 2008, he was Manning's quarterback coach; for the following three, he was head coach of the Colts. That's nine prime seasons (not counting 2011, obviously) that Caldwell was heavily involved the best no-huddle offense the NFL has ever seen.

2. Flacco looks faster in the no-huddle this preseason, in part because he likes it so much. You'd never put Flacco in the top five of quick quarterback decision-makers, based on what you've seen to this point in his four NFL seasons. He's not plodding, but he's not RGIII-like either. But he's looked rhythmic in the preseason in this new offense.

Against Jacksonville in the Ravens' third preseason game, Flacco ran 48 plays in 36 minutes, about 41 of them in the no-huddle offense. (First plays of series, or play after timeouts, are usually run after huddling.) Jacksonville's defense is pretty good -- sixth in the league last year -- but Flacco raced to a 20-3 lead against them by the time he exited, with just over 24 minutes to play. The Jaguars, from the looks of the Baltimore pace, just couldn't match the Ravens' tempo.

3. Baltimore has the personnel to run the no-huddle, and to stretch the opposing D. The Ravens will start two speed receivers on the outside -- second-year man Torrey Smith and ex-Texan Jacoby Jones -- with Anquan Boldin in the slot and Ed Dickson and red-zone threat Dennis Pitta at tight end. And from the first of OTAs, the team has been concentrating on the no-huddle, practicing it constantly.

4. Baltimore's arch rival, the Steelers, has some age on defense. The Ravens think it's an advantage to keep Pittsburgh's defensive starters on the field. Why? Seven of them are past 30. It's an obvious edge to the no-huddle: Tire foes out.

5. The side benefit of the no-huddle, other than to tire out the defense, is to limit substitution and make the defense simplify what it does. Without the substitution, and with the fast pace of the offense, defenders probably aren't going to be as imaginative in play-calls. They just want to survive.

"I think the no-huddle can add a couple of minutes to the game for us,'' Flacco said. "I think we could get another possession per game out of it. The bottom line is, I'm happy we're doing it. Very happy. Defenses have gotten so complicated. When you slow it down and get into a huddle before every play, you're playing into their hands, allowing them to dictate the tempo of the game. This way, we take control of the game.''

Another reason quarterbacks like the no-huddle is it puts so much in the quarterback's hands. "I never dreamed I'd be giving the quarterback so much independence,'' said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, which I wrote about in the SI NFL preview issue. But that's just what McCarthy's done. And I think he'll give Aaron Rodgers more of the no-huddle this year. "We just might,'' Rodgers said with a sly smile at training camp.

In Baltimore's no-huddle, when Flacco has a three-by-one look -- three receivers to one side, one to the other -- he'll have a choice of four or five passes to throw. He knows which one is likely to work depending on which defense he sees across the line. He can back up from center and change the play. He can back up and change the protection. He can dictate a change simply by how he calls the cadence.

"It puts a lot on the quarterback,'' said Flacco, "but that's something I really like.''

One more thing: Ray Rice is a very good receiver out of the backfield.

With a system Flacco prefers to run, I wouldn't be surprised if he raises his mediocre completion percentage (57.6 last year) and looks like a different player. When you like doing something, you throw more of yourself into it.

I also don't see it as much of a possibility that Flacco plays anywhere else, at least in the foreseeable future. His contract expires after this year, and there's been some gnashing of teeth in Baltimore that he's entering his final year without a deal being done. "I'm not obsessing about it,'' he said. "If I was obsessing about it, I'd have held out. I'm optimistic I'll get paid one way or the other, and I anticipate I'll be here a long time. Once I sign, I'm pretty sure I'll be here for the long haul.''

***

The NFL and the Army make a pact, but will it work?

Last Thursday, an hour up the Hudson River from NFL offices in New York, the Army and the NFL signed an agreement to share medical research about concussions and head trauma. The theory is simple: Soldiers in battle are dealing more and more with the impact of concussions, and all military branches are training their troops to know the warning signs of head injuries. In football, players are being taught to recognize the signs of head trauma and concussions, and are being told to leave the game when they've been concussed.

When Goodell and Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, met at West Point Thursday, they had much in common. Both are dealing with employees who, left to themselves, most often won't admit they're having trouble after being hit in the head. Guess which man, Goodell or Odierno, said this during a panel discussion about head trauma in football and the military: "I worry about our leaders more than anything else. They're the ones who won't take themselves out. They feel the burden of leadership.''

It was Odierno speaking, but those are the sentiments that have worried those in the NFL who legitimately want to address the problem. Odierno and Goodell both said they had programs in place that would make it easier for employees to self-report a problem, and, in fact, encourage them to report a problem. "We need these policies to protect us from ourselves,'' former player and now NFL executive Troy Vincent said Thursday. "You stay on the field in the heat of battle.'' And former Giants and Niner Bart Oates said he'd stay in the game if he had a concussion, and would try to hide it from teammates if need be.

"Culture changes don't happen overnight,'' Goodell said.

For them to happen at all, technology will have to help. The Army is spending liberally now to do some research that interests the NFL very much. One of the areas: trying to discover if biomarkers can determine through small blood samples from pin-pricks whether a person has been concussed or is undergoing head trauma.

The merging of medical minds makes sense, and the technology on the Army's side should help NFL players in recovery from, and treatment of, head trauma. But it won't be a perfect solution until players do what Kurt Warner did during his last year in football -- leave one game and choose to sit the next despite not being forced to sit by a doctor. Warner feared the long-term impact of head trauma, and he remembers the questioning looks from his teammates, as in, Are you really hurt? But he thought more of his future than his present. It's a lesson players and soldiers need to learn better.

"Pride has no place for certain injuries,'' said Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Hibbard, who has taken troops into battle in Afghanistan. "You get hit by a 500-pound bomb, you probably have to come out.''

Same goes for getting hit in the head by a 260-pound middle linebacker. That's why the NFL and the Army make a good match.

***

Odds and ends entering the season.

I wanted to let you know about my weekly schedule, and when you can expect to read, see and hear me, and how you can help me make this column better in 2012.

First, Monday Morning Quarterback enters its 16th season on the web, making it -- I believe -- the longest-running Internet column on the NFL. I'll have a couple of new things this year. One: In cooperation with ProFootballFocus.com, I'm going to have a piece of the column each week focusing on one of the key matchups of the weekend. Maybe it's a receiver-cornerback matchup, or how a defense tries to pen in a mobile quarterback, or how an offense tries to use no-huddle to dictate to the defense. Each week, I'll find a subplot you'll all be talking about, and ProFootballFocus.com will do the studying and provide you an inside look at one of the compelling angles of the NFL weekend.

Two: This is where you come in. I am going to allow readers of this column -- via email or on Twitter @SI_PeterKing -- to suggest a segment of the column you'd like to see. Maybe it's Good Guy of the Week, Overrated Bum of the Week, Invisible Offensive Lineman of the Week, Coaching Decision You'd Never Have Made, etc. You suggest it to me, and next week, in the first regular season week of the column, I'll pick one and implement it, and we'll see how it goes. (The examples I just gave ... just throwing things out there. Come up with any idea you'd like.) Send me your ideas by Thursday of this week and I'll pick one. Thanks for that.

So here's the weekly lineup:

Monday: Monday Morning Quarterback, posted weekly by 8:30 a.m. (I hope.)

Tuesday: By noon, my Tuesday column and email bag should be posted on SI.com ... And late in the afternoon, the SI NFL Podcast with Peter King will be up on iTunes and SI.com. My special guests for Week 1: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Arizona wideout Larry Fitzgerald. I'll have a guest spot in the morning on Colin Cowherd's radio show on ESPN, and a longer one in the afternoons (4 p.m. Eastern, most likely) with Chris Russo on "Mad Dog Radio'' on SiriusXM Channel 86.

Wednesday (This week only): Debut of Football Night in America before Giants-Cowboys at the Meadowlands. Every week, I'll also be doing a Midweek Report video for SI.com.

Thursday: My weekly game picks on SI.com (By the way, you have the chance to take me on in fantasy each week this year in our new Peter King Fantasy Challenge) ... Radio spot with Mitch Levy on KJR in Seattle at 7 a.m. Pacific.

Friday: My Friday Game Plan column previewing the weekend's games will be posted on SI.com, along with my Final Word video ... Radio spot with Mut and Merloni on WEEI in Boston at noon Eastern ... NBC Sports Network NFL programming, live from NBC Sports Network studios in Stamford, Conn., from 5-7 p.m., with Mike Florio, whose Pro Football Talk Live show will air from 5-6 p.m., followed by an hour of football talk with Doug Flutie, Hines Ward, me and others.

Saturday: In the NBC Studios in New York for seven Notre Dame football halftime shows, with Mike Florio.

Sunday: In the NBC studios in New York for Football Night in America prep work, and the show, at 7 p.m. Eastern ... Then a night of writing.

Should be fun. Send me your ideas for MMQB. Excited about getting my 29th season covering the NFL underway.

***

The kid went and did it.

Well, in the span of seven months, Ohio's beaten Michigan in basketball and Penn State in football. That's a little heady for my alma mater. Actually, it's a lot heady. I introduced you to the kid in the middle of the football headiness, quarterback Tyler Tettleton, last week, and I figured you'd want to hear his reaction after Ohio 24, Penn State 14, with Ohio churning out 499 yards of total offense and Tettleton a 31-of-41 afternoon.

Tettleton was, well, reserved Sunday afternoon, 24 hours after walking off the field in Unhappy Valley.

"It really didn't hit me 'til today, what we did,'' Tettleton said from his apartment in Athens. "I got back and watched the highlights on TV and said, 'Wow, we beat Penn State.'

"The day, the whole scene, was great. When we got to the stadium, you could just feel how they were ready to move on and start a new era. They were so into it. So spirited. They were some of the best fans, all of them. In the pregame, I felt the emotion, but once the game started, all of that went out the window. It was another game. You're just playing.''

Down 14-3 in the third quarter, the 6-foot Tettleton had OU at the Penn State 43. Third and seven. He threw a ball off his back foot, slightly behind wideout Landon Smith. As soon as the ball left his hand, Tettleton wanted to slap himself. He said he thought, Oh crap. Why'd I do that?

"Probably one of the dumbest throws I've made in a while,'' he said.

The ball ricocheted off a Penn State defender's hands, into Smith's, and Smith ran for a 43-yard touchdown. "You saved me!'' Tettleton told Smith.

More Tettleton: "After the game I kind of thought I might be all emotional, but I wasn't. I saw my mom, and she hugged me. She was in tears. She knew this was what I wanted, the chance to play in games like this. Then we got on the bus. It was five and a half hours back to campus.''

Tettleton and his mates were the toasts of Court Street, the main street in Athens where the team went to be patted on the back around 11 Saturday night. Rumor has it the students had had a few beers before the team arrived.

"What's the weirdest sight you saw on Court Street?'' I asked.

He thought a few seconds. "The weirdest thing ... well, I'd say seeing people wearing my jersey. I mean, I can't get used to that. It's crazy. I don't like the spotlight much. I'm just glad we were able to do this for the university. I'm blessed to be here. I always think of the programs that passed on me because they didn't think I could do it. These coaches took a shot on me.''

Tettleton sounded like an NFL quarterback, the more he talked. "Penn State's over,'' he said. "Now it's time to focus on New Mexico State.''

***

Cause of the Week.

I'll be running my second half-marathon on Sept. 29, the Hamptons Half-Marathon on eastern Long Island ... assuming I don't break something (like my spirit) in training beforehand. I'm running to benefit retired NFL special-teamer Steve Gleason's efforts to build an ALS House in the city of New Orleans -- an inpatient residence to serve patients with neuro-muscular diseases and allow them to live as independently as possible.

Gleason is living with ALS, having been diagnosed with the disease in 2011, and figures the residence will cost between $750,000 and $1 million to build and maintain. He has plans to open it within the next six months, but he needs money to do that, and that's where you come in. (Actually, JP Morgan Chase is on the verge of chipping in a good chunk of the funding, but much more is needed.)

My goal is probably a silly one: I want to raise $50,000 for the ALS House. But I figure quite a few of you read the column, and I'll promote it here and on Twitter, and if you can give $5 or $10 or $100, I'll take anything you can muster and be eternally grateful.

I'm pledging a minimum of $1,000 to the cause -- that's if I finish the run in 2 hours 20 minutes or less. I'll give an additional $1,000 if I either don't finish or run slower than 2:20. I've already thrown in the first $1,000. As Gleason has said to me: "Hope you're really slow that day." Here's how you can contribute.

Thanks for your support. If you can't contribute, send some good conditioning karma my way. I'll need it. In my last race, in New Hampshire in 2010, I finished a few seconds faster than 2:20. Judging by my 10-mile plod through Central Park and beyond Saturday, 2:20 would be a dream race for in 26 days.

We've already had a few donations, for which I'm hugely grateful. But I'm not sure I can grant the wish of a Mark Hughes, who donated $100 to the cause. "I'll donate $1,000 if Peter King chugs a beer at every mile,'' Mark wrote.

Perhaps another time.

"I think it's cool because you'll be the unique Dad.''

-- Channing Miller, the 8-year-old daughter of Jacksonville scout Marty Miller, reacting to the news that her dad had Parkinson's Disease, in a story by Ryan Robinson on Jaguars.com. Miller, 43, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2009 but continues to work at finding players.

Miller, the son of long-time NFL personnel man Les Miller, comes off as a good scout and a better man. He told Robinson he would let GM Gene Smith know when he is becoming a detriment to the organization, which seems to be far off: In 2011, his 10th season as a scout, he wrote more player reports than during any other year of his scouting career.

"My knee just isn't the same anymore. It's never going to be the same."-- Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, to FOX Chicago, about the status of his balky left knee, which he injured late last season, re-aggravated early in camp, and had surgery on Aug. 12. He swore that he'd play in the season opener against Indianapolis.

"I was hoping it would have been just an all-out college party. It would have been worth it. I would have been there all night. I would have gotten hammered. I'm not kidding."

-- Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, in the illuminating story by Chris Ballard in the Sports Illustrated NFL preview issue (shameless plug here).

Now, that's going to make Gronkowski sound like a stupid party animal, but read the story. On the day The Gronk went out to a paid appearance at a 21-year-old woman's birthday party, he was limoed home to his condo near Gillette Stadium, and, on a prime Saturday night in the offseason, went to work out for two hours and then, apparently, straight to bed.

The Patriots may have read the story and rolled their eyes at Gronkowski chugging beers and playing beer pong with total strangers for money, but I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were Bill Belichick. Gronkowski's 23. He's living the dream. He realizes where his bread's buttered. And I doubt he's going to mess that up.

"The first pass I threw in Denver was to Helton. I did not want people seeing me. It becomes a private, sensitive deal. It was not good. He actually thought I was joking when I threw it to him. The ball nose-dived. He was like, 'That's funny.' I was like, 'You don't understand.' ''

-- Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, in New York Times NFL writer Judy Battista's strong Sunday story about the return of Manning. Manning was referring to the summer of the lockout, when his shoulder and neck hurt, and he couldn't throw the ball well, and he had no one to confide in about the weakness of his arm, and so he went to Denver to visit good friend and former Tennessee football teammate Todd Helton, the first baseman on the Rockies. They threw privately, and you can understand why Manning was throwing privately: He didn't want anyone to see what a disaster his right arm had become.

Now, of course, Manning is throwing the ball nearly as well as he did before he got hurt. (I didn't say nearly as well as he did in 2000, but nearly as well as he did three years ago.)

One other thing: I like that Manning told Battista, a respected national writer for a top newspaper, a very good nugget like that. He realizes that when the New York Times comes to town to write about you, you shouldn't just rehash the same stuff you've been saying for six weeks. That's a good thing.

"You have to blow me away. You called me."

-- Miami general manager Jeff Ireland, on his cell phone after hearing from the Indianapolis Colts, who were interested in cornerback Vontae Davis, on HBO's Hard Knocks last week. Then Colts GM Ryan Grigson proceeded to blow him away, giving Ireland a firm second-round pick and a conditional sixth-rounder in the 2013 draft for the underachieving but talented 24-year-old Davis.

"I never coached a smarter player. He goes down as one of the great all-time Eagles.''

-- Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, at the retirement-as-an-Eagle celebration of Brian Westbrook Wednesday in Philadelphia.

I don't think I've ever heard of a team that had such a major roster turnover from one year to the next as the Rams from 2011 to 2012.

• Exactly 60.4 percent of the roster is new: 32 of 53 men.

• Exactly 60.4 percent of the roster is comprised of first-, second- or third-year players.

• That means of the Rams' 53-man opening day 2011 roster, 20 players are still on the team this morning ... while 24 are out of the league. (The 21st Ram on the roster both years wasn't on the roster opening day last year -- Justin Cole, a linebacker signed from the Chiefs' practice squad in November.) So apparently a very young team in 2011 was not very young and talented if one year later, 45 percent of the men on the opening day roster aren't in football a year later.

GM Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher will have one honeymoon season and another season where progress must come quickly. And then Missourians will want results, and they'll want them now.

More a slice of New York life than a true travel note, mostly because I didn't travel over the long holiday weekend:

I was walking in Manhattan on Friday afternoon, approaching the corner of Park Avenue and East 54th. A young family, apparently, with a 35ish couple and a boy and a girl (I'm guessing the girl was 9 and the boy 5 or 6, and it was their mom and dad with them) climbed into their Range Rover after loading a few bags in the trunk. Going somewhere for the weekend, I guessed. Before the left rear passenger door was closed, and just as I passed within a few feet of the vehicle, the boy climbed into his backless car booster seat and said to his mom: "Can I have my phone?''

I did a near-double-take. A phone for a 5- or 6-year-old? And the mom pulled out what appeared to be an iPhone or an Android phone, with a rectangular screen, and handed it to the boy.

Not to show that I'm in the prime of my hey-kid-get-off-my-lawn life, but do 6-year-old kids have iPhones in America? It can't be.

"The Arizona-Toledo game featured no huddles and a remarkable 182 plays. Only once was the qb under center.''

-- @Thebaumerphx, Associated Press sports reporter Robert Baum, after covering a college game in Tucson Saturday night.

"Don't feel bad, my black a-- messed up, I made the bed now I gotta lay n it.''

-- @ochocinco, former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson, responding to a sympathetic tweet over him getting cut after having a domestic dispute with his wife.

That's ... so mature.

"Something that just struck me: If the Saints go 16-0 this season, who wins coach of the year? Joe Vitt? Aaron Kromer? Both?''

-- @JeffDuncanTP, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan. Vexing question, one I'm sure the franchise would love to have answered.

"Thanks for relighting the shortman torch @DangeRussWilson congrats & best of luck this season''

-- @DougFlutie, and you've got to believe Russell Wilson loved that. In fact, Wilson re-tweeted it.

"Forget 40 lashes for the guy who came up with idea of 9 p.m. cutdown deadline. Boil the [expletive] in oil."

-- @pdomo, long-time Philadelphia football writer Paul Domowitch, covering the Friday night cuts on deadline, tweeting at 8:51 p.m.

1. I think I'll let you digest a few notes about my preseason predictions:

a. Picked the Packers to beat the Broncos (with three road playoff wins to get there) in the Super Bowl, 33-30.

b. I know, I know. Peyton Manning has his arm attached by a single tendon and he's one hit from never throwing anything but a crust of bread to a robin again. But go back and see how he threw it against San Francisco eight days ago and tell me his arm stinks.

And I realize he's never been a January road warrior. But here's the point about picking Super Bowl champs, as I note in SI's preview issue: In the last 15 seasons, 10 teams have leaped from .500 or below one year to the Super Bowl the next. If you're going to pick the teams that seem most logical in August, you'll not get many Super Bowl matchups right. You're not getting many Super Bowl matchups right no matter what method you use, but I'm not much for picking two chalk teams.

c. And about Manning being my MVP and Comeback Player of the Year? Well, if the Broncos do what I say they're going to do ... duh.

d. I picked four new division champs (Chiefs, Bears, Falcons, Cowboys), and if history tells us anything, I wasn't outrageous enough. Not nearly.

e. Every year there's a last-to-first story. The Chiefs are mine, though it's a flimsy last to first, seeing as how they were a game out of first in the AFC West last year.

f. As for the Cowboys over the Giants and Eagles in the NFC East, two reasons: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne.

g. As far as Brooks Reed being my Defensive Player of the Year: Connor Barwin and Reed, as the outside pass rushers in Wade Phillips' opportunistic 3-4, are going to meet at the quarterback early and often this season. Having J.J. Watt playing in front of him and Brian Cushing alongside him makes Reed (2.5 sacks in the playoff loss at Baltimore) a good candidate for a breakout season. (He said hopefully.)

h. How could I pick the Pack to lose five games if I like them so much? Tough slate. Open with two games as physical as they come (Niners then Bears on a short week), Drew Brees in Week 4, at Houston on a Sunday night in Week 6, at Detroit and the Giants back to back in November, Detroit and Chicago back to back in December.

i. Toughest five days in football, 2012: Seattle, with the Patriots at home Oct. 14, and at the Niners the following Thursday.

j. I did manage to please Cosmo Kramer in the preview issue. "O.K.,'' I wrote in the Super Bowl prediction story, "I've been seduced by the Peyton Manning kevorka.'' Joe Philbin's got Costanza, I've got Kramer.

k. I overlooked Chandler Jones and Quinton Coples and Whitney Mercilus and Morris Claiborne and Andre Branch to pick Bruce Irvin of Seattle as my Defensive Rookie of the Year. I hate being Mr. Obvious, but after watching Andrew Luck be more precocious in his rookie preseason than Peyton Manning was in his, it was hard to give the Offensive Rookie of the Year to anyone else.

2. I think this is my reaction to Allen Pinkett's moronic good-teams-need-criminals point last week, concerning Notre Dame being better off when it fields more guys who get in trouble on and off the field: Last season, the world champion Giants had zero players arrested. And the team New York met in the Super Bowl, the Patriots, had one -- Julian Edelman, for improper touching of a woman, a charge that was dismissed five weeks later. What a bunch of criminals on the two best teams in the football universe. What was that you were saying again, Allen?

3. I think Bill Belichick put it well Sunday when asked about the difficulty of letting veterans he likes and trusts go. So I'll just let him speak:

"It's the hardest part of the job. It's the hardest part of the job to take players that have played for you, won for you and players that have been with us since the spring, the whole offseason, done everything we asked them to do, worked hard, sweated, been banged up, kept going out there, kept playing, kept trying to do everything they could to make the team, to do what we asked them to do, to do it in a team-first attitude and fashion ... and to tell those players that they can't be a part of the team is very difficult.

"On the other hand, we all know when we get into this business that that's the way it's going to be. [As former coach] Jerry Glanville [used to say, the NFL stands for] 'Not For Long.' A lot of coaches, including myself, have been through that. A lot of players have been through that. It's a production business. There's not too many of us who have been in this game for very long that haven't experienced that in some form or fashion. It's part of the business.

"It's not a great, real happy day as a head coach when you have to give that news to any players. You could exchange the names but you're still affecting somebody's life and somebody's career and basically somebody who has worked hard and given all that they can to try to earn a spot on your team. It's disappointing for them and it's not fun to deliver that news.''

4. I think here's one good reason to never, ever, ever take any kind of surgery lightly: the case of Trent Richardson. Three weeks ago, those in the know totally, absolutely diminished the significance of Richardson having minor arthroscopic knee surgery. Now Richardson is very iffy for the Browns' opener Sunday, which is 31 days following what ESPN quoted a team source as saying was a "two-week deal'' for recovery. (I am in no way criticizing ESPN for the report, because it was clearly what everyone from the owner to the janitor at the Browns facility thought to be the case.)

I was in Detroit for the preseason opener the day after the 'scope to remove some cartilage from Richardson's left knee, and no one thought there was a chance this loomed as a big thing. Richardson has yet to practice with the Browns. He was spied on a stationary bike at practice Saturday, not yet ready for the practice field, and coach Pat Shurmur said he was close to being able to practice with the team. Maybe he plays the opener against Philadelphia, maybe he doesn't.

Moral of the story: When a guy has an arthroscopic procedure, and every report says it's absolutely nothing, and the player will be back in two or three weeks, you should say, "We'll see.''

5. I think I read with amusement the other day when wideout Mike Wallace reported to the Steelers that he had no regrets over his long holdout. Oh really? No regrets? You mean other than playing for $2.7 million this year instead of for a long-term deal in the $10 million a year range, risking getting no long-term deal when he let Antonio Brown get the relatively big money from Pittsburgh a month ago? Wallace could -- and probably will -- end up earning in the neighborhood of $8 million a year somewhere, but he probably has two times in his career to strike while the iron's hot. This season was one of them, and it still might happen. But one major injury and everything's in flux.

6. I think I had a similar reaction to the end of Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout on Sunday -- with not a dime of profit in it for Jones-Drew and maybe a huge penalty with the Jags' ability to fine him heavily if they wish. "I have no regrets,'' said Jones-Drew. That's right. Worked out exactly the way he wanted. Missed five-plus weeks with a new coaching staff. Never met the head coach until a week before the opener. Made zero progress toward a new contract. Lost, most likely, his ability to start the first game of the season. A perfect ending!

7. I think I got a kick out of Daniel Thomas, the Miami running back, complaining about his portrayal on Hard Knocks the other day. He told the Miami Herald he was embarrassed because he'd never gotten in trouble before with the team. But these truths are true: Thomas was late for two team functions, one team flight and one workout. What, Daniel, you didn't know your team was going to be on a national program with TV cameras taping everything in sight?

And for those who think the Dolphins aren't doing themselves any favors by putting scenes of the coach getting angry at players on TV ... hey, you knew it was coming before training camp started. The players can either like it or not, but they'd better adjust to it if they want to be on the team and don't want to be embarrassed.

8. I think if I had to guess who starts opening day for the Redskins at running back, I'm looking at Mike Shanahan's Olandis Gary-ian history, and I see him playing sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris for nearly the entire first half of the third preseason game, and I see Morris rush for 7.6 yards a carry in the game, and I say: I'd probably go with Morris.

9. I think it's a big game and all, but there are 15 more, and if I were Dallas, I'd err on the side of caution and keep Jason Witten on the sidelines for another 11 days.

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

a. I don't know Bill O'Brien, but I have very high regard for him. I feel for him. However, he's going to end up with an ulcer, or worse, if he takes what will be a long string of losses as hard as he took his first.

b. Not saying Oregon's helmets lead the nation in weirdness or anything, but there aren't any mirrors left in Eugene.

c. First six games of West Coast Trip For What Used To Be The Red Sox: Opponents six wins, Sox none. Opponents 54 runs, Sox 15.

d. I don't blame Bobby Valentine (much), and I don't know who could have managed this menagerie. But after the Alfredo Aceves nonsense Saturday night in Oakland, how does Bobby V hang on?

e. The Padres and Red Sox have the same (62-73) record.

f. The A's and Yankees have the same (76-57) record.

g. Phil Hughes must drive the Yankees nuts.

h. AGone! A walkoff!

i. Pitt loses to Youngstown State at home by 14 and Maryland beats William & Mary 7-6 in College Park and Penn State loses to Ohio by 10 at home and Syracuse loses to Northwestern, which built a 22-point lead at Syracuse and won by a point. Sounds like a heck of a year for those Eastern (and I'm borrowing Maryland here) powers.

j. Could we please not have another labor stoppage in hockey? Please? The game's too good. I don't want to miss a season, or even part of one.

k. I had some family in for a visit over the weekend and we rewatched much of the first season of Veep. Must say it was better the second time around. Great, great characters.

l. Overall, I liked The Newsroom, but among its flaws was the maddening and constant shoving "relationships'' down our throats. I mean, tell me one news network at which one of the lowest-level producer types -- during a break in the newscast on election night -- would hustle over to the anchor and tell the most important person at the network that he shouldn't be bringing all his girlfriends into the newsroom to show off to his former girlfriend. It's like some 25-year-old kid one level up from the intern at NBC telling Brian Williams on election night, between reports from the Romney and Obama camps, about how he should handle his love life. The absurdity is absurd times 12.

m. Coffeenerdness: Great coffee order at Starbucks in midtown Manhattan the other day. "Six shots of espresso in a grande cup, with a couple of pumps of hazelnut.'' That's one tired sugar-monger.

n. Beernerdness: Have to hand it to the Yankees, having Goose Island IPA at the downstairs bar behind home plate. Very, very nice.

o. Good luck at Penn State this year, Emily Kaplan ... and at Marquette, Tess Quinlan. And please, don't be in too much of a hurry to graduate. I still like my job.

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