Things gleaned in Orlando on the eve of the owners' meetings
ORLANDO -- Dispatches from the NFL's annual meeting in the land of Mickey Mouse.....
• In the wake of Oakland's trade for Matt Schaub on Friday, Raiders coach Dennis Allen said he wouldn't rule out taking a quarterback with the team's No. 5 overall pick in the draft. But I'm here to tell you, the Raiders aren't taking a quarterback in that slot. Not when Allen and Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie both realize the stakes this year: It's time for the Raiders to show significant improvement, or else.
Do the following comments sound like a head coach ready to invest his future employment in the development of a rookie starter at quarterback?
"I think the first piece of the puzzle, the first thing we wanted to try was to get the quarterback situation [settled],'' Allen said Sunday afternoon in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Orlando Great Lakes, where the league is holding its three-plus day owners meeting this week. "We feel like we've been able to do that. Any time you're settled at that position, it gives everybody a sense of confidence, coaches, players, fans, everybody has a sense of direction of where we're going.''
The Raiders sent a sixth-round pick to Houston in exchange for Schaub last week, and while Allen said Oakland wouldn't any position off the table when it comes to the first round of the draft, what he did say left little doubt that Oakland expects to rise or fall on Schaub's shoulders in 2014 -- as opposed to any top-rated QB draft prospect like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles.
"Obviously you have your checklist of we've got these holes we need to fill [in the offseason],'' Allen said. "That's one that we feel like we've been able to check off the list. We filled that. But I still think when we get ready to pick at 5, we're going to pick the best player available. Now, the good news is I feel like there are a lot of players that are good players that will be available.''
Right. The best available player. Who also happens to be the best available non-quarterback. Of that, even with the draft still more than six weeks away, I'm convinced. Schaub's acquisition means the Raiders aren't in the first-round quarterback market any more. He's 32, and Oakland perhaps understandably believes he gives it the best possible chance to win now -- which is the prerequisite this season for the Raiders. A rookie quarterback -- or at least those available near the top of this year's draft -- offers no such assurances, in Oakland's view.
Allen told me he's not worried about Schaub's battered confidence, which took an absolute beating in Houston last season, when the Texans swooned to 2-14 after winning the AFC South two consecutive seasons. Schaub, of course, became the face of the Texans' demise, getting benched after throwing a pick-6 in an NFL record four consecutive games in September and October.
"He knows he can play in this league, and he knows he can still play at a high level in this league,'' Allen said. "There's no shame in getting knocked down. The shame is when you don't get back up. I've got all the confidence in the world that he's going to get back up and he's going to perform well for us. I wouldn't have went out and tried to sign him if I didn't think that.''
Not everyone around the league shares the Raiders' optimism on that front, with league sources telling me that Houston coaches late last year thought Schaub's confidence was shot and would require a major re-building project for whatever team acquired him.
"[Raiders offensive coordinator] Greg Olson is an outstanding coach and quarterback coach,'' Allen said, of the former Lions, Rams, Bucs and Jaguars OC. "That's the position he works with the most and he's done a great job with a lot of quarterbacks in the past, some more talented than others. He does a great job with the mindset of the player, so I think he'll do a great job with [Schaub]. This guy is a two-time Pro Bowl player and he's that for a reason. Because he deserves to be. I think he'll play well for us. I don't worry about that.
"I think Matt Schaub is, and statistics would say it, in the last five or six years, a top 10 quarterback in this league.''
If you think you have a quarterback who has the pedigree of a top 10 quarterback in the NFL, and you just went out and gave up a draft pick to bring him to town, you're not thinking about taking a QB in the first round, to either play ahead of that veteran, or to let that veteran mentor the youngster while the rookie watches from the bench. Not in a must-win season. Not when you may not be around to even fully develop the youngster.
That doesn't make sense. And Allen all but said as much.
• Talking to various coaches, general managers and club executives on Sunday, I'm not convinced any of the rule change proposals made by clubs have a chance for passage at this year's owners meeting.
One club official and longtime league veteran told me that the only two proposals that might gain enough support to be adopted were the moves to allow teams to increase their active game-day roster from 46 to 49 for Thursday night games (precluding the league's season-opening game), and the two-man increase of each team's practice squad from eight to 10 members. Both are in being pushed in under the heading of player safety and greater attention to player development.
But other club officials read the tea leaves differently and say even those relatively small changes won't fly, due to both changes needing to be collectively bargained for in the next round of labor negotiations with the players. The 2014 season is only the fourth year of the hard-fought CBA that was put in place in 2011.
"Having 10 players on the practice squad, and more players active on game days, those are CBA issues that will have be dealt with with the players,'' one club-level source said. "We can't just vote on those. I don't really see any of those club proposals passing.''
Among the proposals that are considered dead on arrival, even before they are introduced and explained to the league's full ownership body on Monday include:
-- The Patriots' suggestion that the height of the uprights be raised five feet, to help clarify field goal or extra point attempts where the ball goes directly over the top of the upright. At first, a league source said, New England suggested a 15-foot increase in height, but later reduced it to five feet.
"There are engineering issues involved that would have be worked out,'' one club source said. "And for one play? It's not a frequent enough issue to act on that front.''
-- New England's proposal to put fixed cameras on the field to capture all plays involving boundary lines -- the sideline, end line and end zone -- to supplement TV camera coverage and enhance the view of replays involving those lines. No big surprise here, but that's viewed as a costly expenditure that owners will not embrace.
"It's a good chunk of change to invest in that upgrade, and we feel with the TV cameras we already have, the field is covered pretty well,'' a club official said. "It's got no shot of being accepted.''
-- Ditto, for now at least, on the Patriots' proposal to move the extra-point spot to the 25 yard line. It has no chance of passage this year, but the league, as previously reported, is willing to experiment with the 43- or 44-yard extra point attempt during one week of the 2014 preseason. Another New England suggestion, to allow coaches to challenge any play via replay review except scoring plays, is also thought to be destined for the no-chance-in-heck category.
-- Lastly, a proposal by Washington to eliminate the 75-man roster cutdown, with clubs instead having only a singular cutdown from 90 players to 53 to deal with at the end of the preseason, isn't considered an idea that will have widespread support among the ownership.
"That's an awful lot of moves to make and a lot of player movement to handle in a very short period of time,'' a veteran club official said. "I'm not sure that will work, having just one cutdown day. It's not something that sounds real feasible.''
One change the league will be making, albeit not at these owners meetings? The move to expand the playoff field to 14 teams, from its current format of 12, is seen as a fait accompli, even by some long-time opponents to playoff expansion. The league will discuss the idea here, but it's not thought to be ready to implement until the 2015 season.
"I'm afraid so, it's going to happen,'' one influential club executive said, having never been in favor of expanding the playoffs. "It's something [commissioner] Roger [Goodell] seems to want, and experience says he's probably going to get it.''
Said another big-market club official: "The support for 14 teams in the playoffs is there now. That's going to happen. It's not a matter of if, but when.''