Thoughts and picked-up pieces while I count down the hours until a period of NFL radio silence I’ll mostly spend running to baseball fields and coaching girls' softball:
• As we prepare for a new season, it’s hard to believe that the fifth anniversary of the end of the 2011 lockout is coming up on July 25 (the new collective bargaining agreement was officially ratified on Aug. 4). If this is what labor peace looks like, with all sorts of courtroom fights and bitter words from both sides, we could be in for another rocky five years until the agreement expires after the 2020 season.
I don’t really care what happens near the end of this agreement—my role is to cover stories, not to root for peace or a strike. But I’ll say this: The next four-plus years will be put up or shut up time for the players. They’ve complained ad nauseam about commissioner Roger Goodell and his role as independent arbitrator. We’ve also heard a lot of pushback against the franchise tag, complaints about the use of the commissioner’s exempt list, gripes about the revenue split, etc. Well, guess what? If change is what the players want, then they have the power to get it if they are willing to go the distance by not playing football and foregoing paychecks in the fall of 2020.
The NFLPA should be spearheading an effort now to have the players set aside money in the event of a lockout/decertification/strike. Considering the poor track record of players holding onto their money just a few years after leaving the game, good luck with that. If the NFLPA board can’t convince the players to save for that rainy day, then nobody should hear any complaining from players if they cave in on any of the issues that apparently really matter to them.
Same goes for the fans. They clamor for labor peace so they can have something to do in the fall and winter (there are fantasy titles to be won, people), but they’re the first ones to take to talk radio and Twitter to rip Goodell and another one of his doofus decisions after the fact. Fans can’t have it both ways, either. If you want to support the players and their want of change, that means you have to be prepared to go without football as well. Everybody has to make meaningful sacrifices, after all.
• Congratulations to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen for winning the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick McCann Award, which honors a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through his or her coverage. Mort has absolutely been one of the pillars of our little circle going back to his days as an ace beat man at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and he deserves the honor. Of course, that didn’t stop a loud minority in New England from chirping up about the announcement. It’s a lifetime achievement award. Get over yourselves.
• When I made my annual pilgrimage to the Coaches of Offensive Linemen Clinic in Cincinnati last month, a popular sentiment was that the Cowboys’ struggles on offense didn’t just have to do with the injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Several coaches said there was a noticeable drop-off in the play of the offensive line under first-year OL coach Frank Pollack, who was promoted from assistant OL coach last off-season when Bill Callahan left town to join Washington. Something to keep an eye on as the Cowboys enter year two under Pollack, whose only previous experience in charge of an NFL unit was in 2013 with the Raiders (he was an assistant for five years with the Texans before that).
• In the realm of player development, the agreement between the NFL and NFLPA to keep the size of practice squads at 10 players but allow two more players with two accrued seasons of pro experience to be eligible was a small but necessary step in the right direction, but much more is needed. It’s no secret that with less padded practice time and the chasm between college and pro football growing by the day, more and more players are falling through the cracks and quickly bouncing out of the league sooner than they should be. This move will help a little bit in that area, but it’s way past time for the NFL to do something meaningful by bringing back a developmental league. I can’t think of a single other professional sports league that doesn’t have some sort of developmental league (even golf has a few). It’s shameful that the most powerful sport in this country doesn’t.
• Spent a few days with the Panthers earlier this month. Second-year running back Cameron Artis-Payne is one player to watch in your fantasy drafts. He ran with much more decisiveness and showed really good burst.
• Still can’t believe the Broncos, with a loaded roster for at least one more season, are likely going to start their title defense with either Trevor Siemian or Mark Sanchez at quarterback and rookie Paxton Lynch waiting in the wings. And everyone’s cool with that.
• I love this time of year. Everyone’s offense is going to be much better with added wrinkles and more ball distribution. Every defense has a new secret plan to pressure the passer and unleash hybrid players. Every rookie is going to put their team over the top. Every player who struggled last year is poised to bounce back. Every coach who botched his team’s preparation has discovered the secret texts of Vince Lombardi. And then early October rolls around, and half the league starts eyeing the off-season to start the process over again. That time, it’s going to work.
• You know the off-season has officially kicked in when ProFootballTalk czar Mike Florio picks a Twitter fight with J.J. Watt over the latter’s love of self publicity. What, did J.J. back out of too many scheduled PFT Live appearances?
• Everybody else should give up on 2016: Rex Ryan said the Bills won the off-season. Not even sure why they’ll play the games. Rex is never wrong (sort of like Woody Johnson and his presidential picks).
Good night, and good luck. See you all next month. Behave yourselves.