49ers DT Ray McDonald's weekend arrest came two days after Roger Goodell established a six-game ban for first-time offenses. What happens next? Plus, examining Alex Smith's extension, the lack of surprises on cutdown day and more
Much to address this morning, three days out from the NFL’s 95th season. I was planning to address the Roger Goodell about-face on domestic violence later in the column, but the Ray McDonald arrest at 3 a.m. Sunday in San Jose, and the 49ers defensive tackle being charged with felony domestic violence, changed all that. So this bit of inside-MMQB for those waiting for my piece on Green Bay GM Ted Thompson: We’re going to run it Wednesday here at The MMQB, when we can give it proper treatment the day before the season. Today’s budget:
- An early test for the new Roger Goodell policy on domestic violence.
- Alex Smith gets what he deserves, a new four-year contract that doesn’t overpay him.
- Theorizing why Michael Sam was still unemployed as of midnight.
- A body double made Champ Bailey outdated.
- A relatively boring cutdown weekend, if you ask me. (Even if you ask one veteran NFL personnel man. “Man, that waiver wire sucked this weekend,’’ he said Sunday.)
- The Browns lead the league in something, anyway. (Defensive backs.)
- Seattle is shallow on the offensive line, and an interesting punt-returner call by Pete Carroll.
- Story of the weekend not named Michael Sam: Ben Garland. (Go ahead. Search him.)
- I talk to Logan Mankins. He doesn’t sound bitter, but how can he not be?
- Why you want Bill Vinovich or Craig Wrolstad to be the ref at your team’s game this weekend.
On with the show.
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News item: Goodell toughens NFL’s domestic violence policy.
Newsier item: Forty-Niner tests it immediately.
San Jose police responded to a complaint early Sunday morning involving San Francisco defensive tackle Ray McDonald and a woman that NBC Bay Area reported is pregnant. She had bruises on her neck and arms, the Sacramento Bee reported, and McDonald was jailed on suspicion of felony domestic violence charges. He was released later in the morning on $25,000 bond and ordered to appear in court Sept. 15.
“Felony domestic violence is a serious charge in any jurisdiction," said Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in a phone interview Sunday afternoon, hearing the news for the first time. “The fact that they are discussing this as a felony says to me the law-enforcement investigators believe it is serious. I expect the commissioner to respond definitively and assertively."
Gandy was one of six national authorities on domestic violence who helped Goodell shape his decisive new policy, first in a lengthy phone call in mid-August and then in a meeting at the league offices in Manhattan on Aug. 21. The MMQB has talked to three of the outside experts called on by Goodell, and all were encouraged by the tougher policy on domestic violence laid out by Goodell: a six-game ban for a first offense (though with some wiggle room for “mitigating factors”), and a year-to-lifetime ban for a repeat offender.
Then came the McDonald news, disappointing for the substance and stunning in its timeliness.
“We are looking into it," league spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday. That was the only statement—but it seemed clear that the league may not wait for final court adjudication in the case. Goodell’s letter to the owners Thursday addressing the new policy said the policy is “effective immediately" and the urgency of the issue could push the NFL to act sooner than the courts. The league’s Personal Conduct Policy opens the possibility for discipline before the courts rule if Goodell feels there is an “immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL."
I think it is probably a good thing for a policy to be tested quickly," says Kim Gandy, "to see if the policy works the way it was meant.
“The [domestic violence] policy is going to be tested quickly," said Gandy, a veteran of the fight to end domestic abuse. “I think it is probably a good thing for a policy to be tested quickly, to see if the policy works the way it was meant to work. I am very sorry to hear this news, but it is a reminder how frequent and common domestic violence in this country is, unfortunately. I believe the commissioner will say, ‘This is our policy and we are going to stand behind it and implement it fairly.’ My experience with him is that he will be fair and even-handed."
But the news about McDonald, a valuable starter on the San Francisco defensive front seven already coping with the nine-game suspension to its best pass-rusher, Aldon Smith, and knowing the team could be without rehabbing star linebacker NaVorro Bowman until midseason, could not come at a worse time. Being in trouble with the law is one thing. But coach Jim Harbaugh has been open with his players about seeing red over domestic violence. The Niners were mostly mum Sunday about the incident, but it will be interesting to see if the Niners act on McDonald once all the facts are in before the commissioner does.
If McDonald did indeed lay his hands on a woman in the tenor of these times, he has just made the biggest mistake of his career—and at just about the worst time possible. Goodell obviously views this issue as one the NFL has to take a lead role. On Thursday—with Russian troops pouring into Ukraine, with a presidential news conference that day discussing crises in Iraq and Syria, with ISIS creating an international scare, with a cease-fire in Gaza holding perilously, with Ferguson, Mo., still simmering—NBC led “The NBC Nightly News" with Goodell’s re-write of the domestic violence policy.
What was so impactful to Goodell and to those in the league who worked on this issue was the staying power of the outrage after the commissioner suspended Ray Rice of the Ravens just two games for an incident in which his then-fiancée was knocked unconscious in an altercation with Rice in February. Five days after the Rice decision, CNN led its morning newscast with a panel ripping the league over the light sentence. Five days. In his letter to owners last week, Goodell recognized the outcry, and the league’s role in society that he underestimated. Goodell wrote: “The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard, and properly so. Much of the criticism stemmed from a fundamental recognition that the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we can project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football. We embrace this role and the responsibility that comes with it."
In his early fact-finding, Goodell talked to experts inside and outside his office—mostly outside. “When we talked," said Gandy, “he said, basically, that he wanted to educate himself. He was genuine in wanting to understand the causes and wanting to know the best role for the league. At one point, we were talking about law enforcement, and he said to me, ‘Why isn’t everyone angry at the judge and the prosecutor in the Rice case? We actually did something, rather than nothing.' I said, ‘These are your fans who are angry. They are not fans of the judge and the prosecutor.'"
The three advocates interviewed by The MMQB were pleased with what the NFL did last week, but clear they will be watching to see how the league implements its discipline and outreach programs. “If they address domestic violence at the level they are capable of, it can be game changing," said Rita Smith of the group Violence Against Woman. She was in the meeting with the league Aug. 21. “I feel pretty strongly, as of right now, that Commissioner Goodell and the NFL are committed to this. I believed they listened to us and took our advice with weight. It took a while, and a lot of outward pressure, but we are here. They need to follow through. So I hope I feel as good about it in six months, or a year. If I don’t, I have no problem applying a little more pressure. That’s what it took to get them here."
Said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence: “At the end of the day, the letter the commissioner released is a very strong letter. But the work now begins. That was just a letter. That was day one. Now the commitment of resources and time is how we will evaluate how committed the NFL is to this issue. We certainly applaud the NFL for the letter, and for increasing the penalty and laying out a program. Now they have to do the program. And they need to see it through. The letter is a strong letter. And it goes beyond just the penalty, which is a good thing. Because that’s how you change culture and that’s how you change behavior. We get that. But now a serious commitment to time and resources has to accompany that outline."
At one point, Goodell said to me, ‘Why isn’t everyone angry at the judge and the prosecutor in the Rice case?'" Gandy says. "I said, ‘These are your fans who are angry. They are not fans of the judge and the prosecutor.'
One more point. One of the late additions to the letter Goodell sent to owners was trying to leave the league some flexibility on a hard-and-fast six-game ban for first offenses. Aggravating factors—assaulting a pregnant woman, for instance—could make the sanction harsher. But there also is no guarantee that the ban could be as long as six games. Read the letter:
“Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child."
So I think any confirmed assault will merit more than two games, but there’s no guarantee every one will be at least six. “We were clear in our meeting with the commissioner: One size doesn’t fit all, and one size rarely fits all," said Gandy. “We recognize there are greatly different levels of violence."
We’ll see how steadfast the league is on the issue, both in discipline and education, but last Thursday was a start. The McDonald case tests it immediately. “Movements are made of moments," said Soler, “and this is a moment." It won’t take long to find out if the movement is working.
Alex Smith’s deal: Smart for him, smart for the team.
Kansas City GM John Dorsey did the right thing Sunday evening, putting the finishing touches on a four-year contract extension for Alex Smith that will pay him, on average, $15.1 million over the next five years. (That includes his $7.5-million salary this year, the last year of the contract he signed in San Francisco before being traded to Kansas City 17 months ago.)
The way I figure it, Smith is now the 11th-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in terms of average salary in the existing contract. I have these quarterbacks ahead of him: Aaron Rodgers ($22 million), Matt Ryan ($20.8 million), Joe Flacco ($20.1 million), Drew Brees ($20 million), Peyton Manning ($19.2 million), Jay Cutler ($18.1 million), Tony Romo ($18 million), Eli Manning ($16.3 million), Matthew Stafford ($15.3 million), and Philip Rivers ($15.3 million). Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick each have newly minted deals that could surpass Smith, but they have too many qualifiers here to include. Suffice it to say if they’re both really good over the next few years, they should exceed Smith.
So let’s answer the questions many of you have this morning about the deal and about the player.
Q: Why did the Chiefs pay Smith now instead of waiting for him to get to the market after this season?
A: Logical question, because they could have franchised Smith at the end of this year and paid him about $25 million over the next two years instead of the $45 million he’ll now make over the next two years, according to Pro Football Talk, assuming the Chiefs pick up his $15-million option next spring. But do you want to enter a year-to-year deal with the leader of your team, telling him: We don’t really trust you, and we’re going to pay Dwayne Bowe and other key guys to our future but not you? Not a good business plan, and not a good business plan to risk Smith having a very good year and potentially hitting restricted free agency next March at age 30.
Q: Smith isn’t worth $15 million a year. Never has been. Why cave to him and give him that money?
A: Look at the market. Flacco got paid $5 million per year more than 13 months ago. Matt Ryan got paid $5.7-million per year more over a year ago too. Rivers signed his deal four years ago and his deal still slightly exceeds Smith’s. The cap is going up by leaps now, not trickles. Is the starting quarterback, the centerpiece of a returning playoff team, worth 11.4 percent of your salary cap? I think so.
Q: Why such love for a game manager?
A: You mean the game manager who put up 44 points in the playoff loss at Indianapolis last year, who completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, with four touchdowns and no picks—and ran for 57 yards too? The game manager who put up 38, 28, 45 and 56 points in four late-season games last year, with 12 touchdown passes?
Folks, it’s okay to change your minds about a player. Alex Smith of 2014 isn’t Alex Smith of 2007. He’s a pretty good player. Not the best quarterback in football. Not in the top five, or the top 10 probably. But on a given day, he can play with any quarterback, and he’s certainly not the impediment to winning that so many people in Football America view him to be. He’s going to complete 64 percent or so of his throws, he’s going to limit mistakes, and he’s going to give Kansas City a good chance to win most Sundays. In this current landscape at quarterback, with the alternatives the Chiefs faced (Aaron Murray in 2015 or ’16, or Chase Daniel, or some other draftee or retread), Dorsey made a smart move.
* * *
Thoughts on cutdown weekend.
Most notable about cutdown weekend, when 704 men lost their jobs and/or were assigned to various practice squads: There were no shocks. A couple of surprises, but can you honestly say it was a stunner to see Michael Sam cut? Champ Bailey? Nate Burleson? No. Nothing really strange happened, but here’s what caught my eye:
1. Found it interesting that the average age of the Denver Broncos’ final 53 is 25.8. I would have guessed 28.8. John Elway has done a good job of keeping an eye on the future while putting a team on the field with veterans of a certain age (Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Jacob Tamme, Manny Ramirez) to contend for the Super Bowl now.
2. Most interesting position group in the NFL: Cleveland’s secondary. GM Ray Farmer kept 12 defensive backs. Hmmm. Twelve of 53 men, including seven corners. Coach Mike Pettine liked using some strange sets when he worked with Rex Ryan and the Jets, particularly against New England. Remember the divisional playoff game in the 2010 season? The Jets dressed 11 defensive backs that day out of 45 active players, and my memory of the game is Tom Brady pat-pat-patting the ball in the pocket, unable to find an open man. The Jets opened in nickel that day, with three extra corners and three extra safeties, and they all played. Here’s an interesting story for the Cleveland beat writers to dig into: One of the unexpected keepers in Cleveland, safety Jim Leonhard, was on IR that day in New England but helped Pettine and Ryan design one wrinkle of the gameplan against Brady that helped the Jets win. I’ll be interested to watch what Pettine throws at Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
3. Let history show it was a player with the exact dimension of the 6-0, 193-pound Champ Bailey—6-0, 193-pound free-agent Brian Dixon of Northwest Missouri State—who essentially took Bailey’s job with the Saints. Dixon does have one edge: He’s healthier (Bailey had some plantar fasciitis in training camp), and he’s 12 years younger. Bailey will catch on somewhere, likely in time to play this week.
4. Green Bay never keeps three quarterbacks, but Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn played well in the preseason and forced GM Ted Thompson’s hand. With Aaron Rodgers missing seven games last year, and with Thompson knowing Tolzien or Flynn likely would have been claimed elsewhere by a team needing a solid number two (or three), the Packers did the right thing and kept Rodgers, Tolzien and Flynn active.
5. Fallout from the 2012 draft begins. Check out this ugly 32-pick span between No. 22 and 53:
22: Cleveland—Brandon Weeden waived after last season, now a Dallas backup.
26: Houston—Whitney Mercilus slated to be a backup with Jadeveon Clowney in the house.
30: San Francisco—Gave up on A.J. Jenkins last year, and Jenkins made the Chiefs as either the fourth or fifth wideout. Jenkins could get cut when Dwayne Bowe returns from his one-game suspension.
42: Miami—Jonathan Martin set free to seek a new life after the Incognito hazing. Backup tackle in San Francisco.
43: New York Jets—To move up four spots on draft day, from 47 to 43, the Jets traded fifth- and seventh-round picks to Seattle. New York picked combine star and NFL flunkout Stephen Hill, the Georgia Tech wide receiver who was waived Saturday. So Hill, who produced zilch in two seasons, cost the Jets three picks.
50: St. Louis—Isaiah Pead would have been on the outside of a roster spot looking in had he not torn his ACL and been put on IR by the Rams. Very little chance of sticking next summer.
51: Green Bay—Jerel Worthy, a total washout, was traded to New England for a conditional late-round pick last month, and cut by the Patriots on Saturday.
53: Cincinnati—Devon Still was cut Saturday by the Bengals. Another wasted pick.
6. Seattle waives Terrelle Pryor. Who’s taking a shot at a mobile guy with some talent?
7. Quite a career Tyler Wilson is working on. In the past 12 months, the former Arkansas quarterback has been waived by Oakland twice, waived by Tennessee once and—now—waived by Cincinnati. The Bengals re-signed him to their practice squad Sunday. He was good enough to beat out Matt (Vomited Three Times On The Field In Kansas City) Scott, however.
8. Duke Ihenacho was good enough to start all 17 Denver games at safety last year, including the Super Bowl. But he wasn’t good enough to back up T.J. Ward this year. Waived.
9. Two of the great wheelers/dealers worked out a trade Saturday: Indy GM Ryan Grigson sending street free-agent cornerback Marcus Burley to Seattle GM John Schneider for a 2015 sixth-round pick. Interesting for a couple of reasons. Burley’s not the big corner prototype that Seattle likes; he’s 5-10 and 185, pretty small to flourish in the land of the Seattle, where the other corners on the roster this morning are 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 and 6-0. And in the last 12 months, Burley couldn’t crack a roster but did play on the practice squads of Jacksonville, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Indianapolis.
10. When I visited Seattle’s camp, there was no question offensive line was the biggest weak spot in the Seahawks’ quest to repeat. And it’s a group that bears watching Thursday night. Second-round rookie Justin Britt beat out NFLPA president Eric Winston for the right tackle job, and Winston was cut; Seattle kept two backup undrafted tackles instead: Alvin Bailey and Garry Gilliam. So the Seattle line, left to right, will be Russell Okung, James Carpenter, Max Unger, J.R. Sweezy and Britt, and the group can’t afford many injuries.
11. Buffalo entered camp with Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon backing up E.J. Manuel, and exited with none of the three on the roster. Kyle Orton, signed Saturday after an offseason of inactivity after quitting the Cowboys, is the only quarterback backing up Manuel now. Not the most comfortable situation entering the season, particularly with Manuel's shaky preseason. Get in that playbook quickly, Mr. Orton.
12. Tight end Tony Moeaki: IR in Kansas City, 2011 … IR in Kansas City, 2013 … Waived with an injury settlement in Kansas City, 2013 … IR in Buffalo, 2014. I sense a trend.
13. I have never seen a more misleading 5-0 preseason than the one the New York Giants just had. Eli Manning completed 49 percent of his throws, Odell Beckham (hamstring) wasn't healthy all summer, and the passing game looked just as sickly as Beckham. Yikes. Giants have to win a scoring contest with Detroit a week from tonight. I don’t like their chances.
14. Earl Thomas returned four punts at Texas, but since the Seahawks drafted him in 2010, he hasn’t returned a punt in a real game. Tune in Thursday night against Green Bay. Looks like Thomas could return punts and Percy Harvin kicks—now if that’s not the most famous return tandem in recent NFL history, I don’t know what would be—in the NFL’s season-opener. Interesting stage for a first-time NFL returner.
15. Alfred Morris, 173rd pick in 2012, by Washington. Alfred Blue, 181st pick in 2014, by Houston. Not saying Blue’s going to have the kind of rookie season Morris had in Washington (1,613 yards), but with Arian Foster’s durability in question and Blue having a great camp, let’s just say I wouldn’t wait until the last round to take Blue in my fantasy draft this week.
16. That’s the hot breath of Zach Mettenberger (47 of 68 in the preseason) you feel on your neck, Jake Locker.
17. Kansas City liked 22-year-old free-agent Brazilian kicker Cairo Santos (from Tulane) anyway. But when you compare salaries of Santos and the incumbent, Ryan Succop, you see one good reason why Santos was Andy Reid’s pick Saturday. Succop was due to make $1.95 million in salary this year. Santos is due to make $1.53 million altogether over the next three years.
18. None of the Rams’ last five draft picks is on their 53-man roster, including Sam. That’s either a sign of a much better roster in St. Louis, or the sign of some bad drafting late.
Belichick strikes again.
Patriots fans are used to the cold reality of NFL life. They’ve seen Bill Belichick trade Drew Bledsoe and Richard Seymour and cut Lawyer Milloy and let go Ty Law and Adam Vinatieri and Brandon Spikes in free agency, and so who would be surprised if next in line was the consistent Pro Bowl guard, Logan Mankins, who once played on a torn ACL for the good of the team?
Not Logan Mankins.
(History, by the way, has proven that Belichick is rarely wrong in these cases. But this one will be interesting—subbing an undrafted college free-agent, Josh Kline, for a declining but still stalwart guard.)
“I have been around a long time,’’ said Mankins, 32, entering his 10th NFL season. “I’ve seen just about everything. So I was shocked, but I wasn’t shocked.’’
More Patriots: The MMQB’s New England training camp page
Interesting gambit by Belichick. He’s gambling the Patriots can make do on the offensive line and use the resources from the trade, offensive tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick next year, to continue what the Patriots have been for 13 years—a near-playoff lock and consistent double-digit winner. To do that, Belichick has to be impervious to the grenades tossed when he gets rid of such top players. But with Belichick and the Patriots organization, it’s about the continuum. It’s not all about today. In this case, he obviously feels he needs Rob Gronkowski insurance. And even if Gronkowski is healthy, the Pats haven’t replaced the offensive skills of Aaron Hernandez in their attack.
Mankins said he and the club discussed a pay cut but, “We couldn’t come to terms. I just felt this didn’t make sense for me. We agreed to disagree on it. And eventually it came to this. I have nothing but love for New England. I played for a great family [the Krafts], and I got to play for the best offensive line coach [Dante Scarnecchia] in the game for nine years. I got to play with Tom Brady, and I have so much respect for him. It’ll be tough to not be on his team. Tom, he’s one of those guys a lineman will do whatever it takes to protect him. If I had to give up my body for him, whatever, I’d do it. So now I’m a Buc.”
"Oh, Bill?’’ Mankins said. “I still have tons of respect for Bill. He’s an awesome coach. I loved playing for him. He was the best coach for me to have—he got a lot out of me.’’
It’s a great deal for the Bucs, with one big if. If Austin Seferian-Jenkins matures into a great player and keeps his head on straight, Tampa Bay should have a tight end of the future. Otherwise, they could regret giving up on a bright prospect like Wright. And about the Mankins-in-decline angle, two points: No team was as needy at guard as the Bucs, and so even if Mankins gives Tampa Bay one or two adequate years, it’s still a big upgrade in skill and experience over anything the Bucs had. And remember that Tampa Bay’s new director of player personnel, Jon Robinson, just came from scouting for Belichick. He knows everything about Mankins, the good and the bad.
I like the deal for Tampa. And I assume history will show the trade’s smart for New England too. It usually does.
* * *
The NFL needs more stories like this one.
This is the brief story of one of the 1,696 active players on NFL rosters this morning:
Ben Garland, a college defensive tackle, grew up in Colorado. He worshiped the Broncos. One of the great days of his life was one Sunday as an elementary school kid, watching John Elway shock the Packers in the Super Bowl. He loved football. He loved Colorado. Garland, an all-American-boy type, was proud to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and learn piloting, and he flew F-16s as an undergrad. He graduated from Air Force in 2010, a marginal football prospect for the pros, and had two full years of military service to do. He signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free-agent, and was released after camp to do his duty. He was stationed in two spots to fulfill his obligation, earning the rank of captain. In 2012, he reported back to the Broncos and made the practice squad as a defensive lineman. The next spring, the Broncos asked him to move to the offensive line, where they thought he had potential as a guard. Garland made the practice squad again, learning a brand new position. On Saturday, he was told he made the team. He’ll back up both guard positions, and he’ll attempt in the next few weeks to learn enough about center to be an emergency fill-in there.
I was told Garland would call me at 6:30 Mountain Time Saturday night. The phone rang at 6:27.
“What an amazing turn of events,’’ he said from Denver. “I go from watching the Broncos, watching John Elway, to now playing for them.
“I faced so many challenges. The chances of me making the NFL were tiny. Tiny. Do you know how many times on my two-year [Air Force] commitment the alarm rang at 4 a.m. and I got up and worked out before I had to do my duty for the day? Every day. Not one day did I miss. I’d make up football drills and go out in the middle of winter in Illinois and do them, day after day. I would think, ‘Who am I trying to kid?’ But I wanted it. And the Air Force helped me so much. You’re on an elite team in the Air Force trying to be the best they can be at a certain specific task. And that’s the same thing in football. The training I did for those two years perfectly prepared me.
More Broncos: The MMQB’s Denver training camp page
“People asked me, ‘You had a good career path in the Air Force. A guaranteed career. Why leave that for something that’s not guaranteed?’ Because I loved it, and because I felt it was something I just had to do. Even if I didn’t make it, I’d be a better person for it.”
“So," I wondered, “what are you going to do to celebrate?"
“Get to work on Indy,’’ Garland said. The Broncos play Indianapolis in Week 1. He’s not even sure he’ll be active for the game. “Get in the hot tub, cold tub. Watch tape. I got this opportunity—barely. I am not about to give it up.”
Quotes of the Week
“Mike's got the ability. Mike played well. He has the ability to play some place. It's got to be the right place … It was a football decision back in May to draft Mike. And once again, it’s been all about football. I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike. I really was. I don’t say that very often, but Mike came in here and did everything that we asked him to do. He got a chance to play a lot of snaps. He had the second most snaps on the defensive line, to Ethan Westbrooks. He had well over 120, 130 snaps and was productive. But as we said when we drafted Mike, this was going to be a tough road. Those four defensive ends that we have on the roster are good and they play a lot and they’re very productive, as well as the tackles. It’s the strength of our football team.’’
—St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, announcing the team waived defensive end Michael Sam 16 weeks to the day after the Rams made Sam the first openly gay draftee in NFL history.
“We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.’’
—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, acknowledging Thursday he erred in suspending Baltimore running back Ray Rice two games and not more for his domestic-violence incident with his then-fiancee, and setting forth a more stringent policy to deal with players who abuse women.
“My love for my family and the need to be there for them outweighs my desire to play the game. I have missed too many experiences with them because I devoted SO much time to my career. My love for the game isn’t strong enough to make up for missing one more birthday or first day of school. I am retiring as a man who is truly grateful for all of his blessings.”
—Former Steeler and Bengal James Harrison, announcing Saturday on Facebook that he is retiring at 36. He won the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year award—the only undrafted player ever to win the award—and he was one of the most feared defensive players in the game between 2004 and 2012. His 100-yard interception of Kurt Warner for a touchdown in Super Bowl 43 is one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.
“Why would his teammates feel uncomfortable taking a shower with Michael Sam? Does he use Axe Garlic and Rotten Egg Body Wash?"
—Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart on his “Daily Show,” after ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported a St. Louis teammate “seems to think Michael Sam is waiting to kind of take a shower as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable” in the locker room.
Stats of the Week
Big, Bad, Penalized Seattle Seahawks Dept.:
With two major points of emphasis boring a hole through the preseason—illegal contact and defensive pass-interference—and putting the spotlight on every defensive back in the league this summer, let’s see how the poster children for the new rules behaved in the preseason. All eyes were on the Seahawks’ starting secondary, and this is how they fared in their four preseason games with the yellow flags:
|Player||Snaps played||Penalties earned/Yards penalized|
|FS Earl Thomas||86||0/0|
|CB Byron Maxwell||86||0/0|
|CB Richard Sherman||83||0/0|
|SS Kam Chancellor||30||0/0|
Games New England played in the preseason: 4.
Games played by a healthy Tom Brady at quarterback in the preseason: 2.
Series played by Tom Brady, total, in the preseason: 7.
Price paid by fans in Washington and East Rutherford, where Brady did not play quarterback in games: full.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
All NFL officials, as part of their standard uniform, wear a nameless half-inch black wristband around their right wrists, with a black elastic attachment they wear around their fingers during the game. I say nameless, but some officials call it the “down-keeper." In essence, that’s what it is.
On my training-camp trip, I saw referee Clete Blakeman on the sidelines of a Titans scrimmage in Nashville, and he was almost reflexively playing with the black thing, and I asked him to tell me how he used it. His explanation:
On first down, he slips the elastic around one finger. On second down, the elastic goes around two fingers. On third down, three fingers; and on fourth down, all of his fingers minus the thumb.
Easy enough. “But then," he said, “you’ve got the ability to keep track of where the ball should be spotted on the field."
Blakeman moved the elastic band over his index and middle fingers. “That’s second down on the left hash," he said. Now he moved the elastic over his middle and ring fingers. “That’s second down in the middle of the field," he said. Now the elastic over his ring and pinky fingers: “That’s second down on the right hash."
Learn something new about this game every day.
Minnesota, coached by Mike Zimmer, waived linebacker Mike Zimmer on Saturday.
It would have been fitting if Zimmer cut Zimmer, but GM Rick Spielman did the deed.
Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week
Kelly, the Eagles’ coach, on handling the cutdown:
“When every guy that's here is part of the 90-man roster, their lifelong dream is to be an NFL football player and to be the one that tells them that it's not going to happen here is difficult. It's something that is inevitable. You have to go from 90 to 75 and 75 to 53. It's part of the job but it's not a fun part of the job. We make sure every player meets with me, every player meets with their position coach and every player meets with the coordinator on their side of the ball and you try to be as human as you can be with it. But it's always a difficult time when someone's goal is to play in this league. We told those guys on day one: I hope that goal one for us is that you make this football team, but then goal two is that you get an opportunity to make another football team with the exposure that you get here. Hopefully we prepare you for that.
“[Free agent defensive end] Alejandro Villanueva, I'd buy stock in him as a human being. He's going to be successful. I talked to him about the reasons we were cutting him loose. He said, ‘Coach, successful people have to make difficult decisions. You don't have to explain anything to me.’ ”
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Hunkered down last week and did some writing for 1.5 days in one of the prettiest places I’d never seen: the coast of Maine 90 minutes north of Portland, on the Pemaquid Peninsula. Thanks to the Bradley Inn there for a swell time, and to the Atlantic Ocean for being so beautiful, and to the area for being so quiet and unspoiled. I can’t believe I spent the first 18 years of my life in Connecticut and my New England experiences included only one trip to Maine that whole time—an American Legion baseball game in South Portland. I’ll be back in Maine for another sanity break, and soon.
Tweets of the Week
The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues.
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) August 30, 2014
I've said it before, but Mike Sam has an ideal name for a linebacker. Only better thing would be if his middle name were Will.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) August 30, 2014
For those who don’t know what Sam means about Sam, NFL parlance in a 4-3 defense for the linebackers is Mike for the middle linebacker, Will for the weakside outside linebacker, and Sam for the strongside outside linebacker.
I spoke with 49ers GM Trent Baalke before game. He revealed to me the team will keep the 53 players that give them the best chance to win.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) August 29, 2014
Reporter Matt Maiocco of Comcast-Bay Area, with the exclusive Thursday night at the Niners’ final preseason game.
Fun @MichaelSamNFL note: @espn crew didn't use a mike flag when interviewing him after @STLouisRams v @MiamiDolphins game. Not an accident.
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) August 29, 2014
Informative note in so many ways. The Rams were angered when ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported some Rams teammates said they appreciated Sam, the first openly gay player the NFL, respecting their space by not showering at the same time as them. A “mike flag" is the identifying network band around the microphone when a correspondent is interviewing a player. And I don’t think I have ever seen an ESPN crew not use ESPN identification when talking to someone on camera.
FYI today sucks
— DECManagement (@davidcanter) August 30, 2014
Canter, a major football agent, told me 12 of his clients have been waived, waive-injured, released or retired in the last week. “I hate it for the young kids," he said. “They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s hard for them to accept. Vets understand the business, but for some it could be over and they know the older they get the harder it is to get back in. Not being able to walk away under their own terms is always tough.”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think Michael Sam being waived by the Rams came down to four factors:
- He was outplayed in camp and in preseason games—though not in a rout—by a more versatile player, undrafted free-agent Ethan Westbrooks, who the Rams think can play at defensive end or defensive tackle. Sam was strictly a defensive end.
- All four incumbent defensive ends who made the team—Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims—plus Westbrooks, who showed better pass-rush ability in training camp and games, are signed at least through the end of the 2015 season. It’s not impossible that Sam could develop and take advantage of injuries at the position if they happened, but the Rams had other depth needs that were more pressing.
- Sam was on just one special team, kick coverage. He wasn't valuable in the kicking game.
- St. Louis wasn’t impacted by any external pressure, because Jeff Fisher and the team played the story right the entire way—from bringing in NFL LGBT adviser Wade Davis to speak with the team right after the draft to being upfront with Sam about his chances all along.
2. I think NFL teams are seeing ghosts on Michael Sam, who, as of midnight Sunday, was still on the street looking for a practice squad to join. If a team plays a 3-4, as many do, he’s not a fit. But Sam is a 257-pound defensive end in a 4-3 system who has a chance to create a little havoc and a chance—a chance, I say, not a sure thing—to be a growth stock for teams. But I talked to three team architects over the weekend. They’re concerned about the circus coming to town with the first openly gay player trying to make an NFL roster. What circus, exactly? A little ESPN story about shower habits? That’s been the big controversy of the last four months with Sam. He’s had two press conferences, peaceful and uneventful ones, and met the press briefly after each of the St. Louis preseason games, as any player would be subject to doing. And that has created exactly zero problems for the Rams. Point is: If you scout Sam in the preseason and like what you see, don’t go looking for ghosts. Bring him in, subject your coach to six or eight questions about him, let Sam talk to the group, and then the big controversy will disappear. End of story.
3. I think if you get the crew of veteran ref Bill Vinovich or rookie ref Craig Wrolstad, you’ve got the best chance to avoid a ticky-tack game this weekend. Wrolstad’s guys had a six-flag game (Washington-Tampa) last Thursday, and a 13-flag game the week before in Denver against Houston. Vinovich’s crew had a combined 21 flags in its last two games—Saints-Colts and Pats-Giants.
4. I think the 49ers set a dangerous precedent for their team in a few ways Sunday, bringing back guard Alex Boone from his summer-long camp holdout, as Adam Schefter reported. One, they chose to not collect his fines for going AWOL from camp despite having two years left on his contract. Two, they told him they wouldn’t put the franchise tag on him when his contract expires after the 2015 season. Three, according to Pro Football Talk, the club raised his pay over the next two seasons from $3.7 million to $6 million total. With the first team offense looking offensive in Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason, GM Trent Baalke obviously swallowed hard and did some objectionable things (for him) in bowing to Boone. But the protection of Colin Kaepernick was an issue, and Boone was badly missed. Boone rattled his sword and won. Will the next Niner unhappy with his contract (Vernon Davis?) be able to do the same?
5. I think Tom Coughlin, who turned 68 Sunday, had this reaction when I told him in camp he was one win from passing Paul Brown and two from passing Joe Gibbs on the all-time NFL victories list: “Wow. Really?” Then he said that was nice. And that was all. But I do know this: Coughlin loves pro football history, and whatever happens this season with the Giants, he has no interest in retiring anytime soon. Which begs the question about what happens to Coughlin if the Giants have a really bad year. From watching them this summer, it's possible. I think you have to wait to see the circumstances first. But club president and CEO John Mara does not take kindly to mediocrity. He was very prickly after last year’s 7-9 season, and there’s no question he liked the fact that Coughlin wanted to shake up his coaching staff. But if the offense is awful and Eli Manning struggles, I don’t know if Mara will say he wants back Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, who have presided over two recent Super Bowl wins. My gut feeling is they would return, but we can’t tell until we see how the season looks.
6. I think the league is not going to press a tampering case against Jerry Jones for his remarks in the great ESPN profile of him about Adrian Peterson. “Tipsy and waiving his arms,’’ Jones, according to the story, got handed a cell phone with Peterson on it after a George Strait concert at the Cowboys’ stadium, and seemed to be speaking with Peterson about making him a Cowboy someday. Talking to a couple of people with knowledge of the league’s view of the story, I didn’t sense much interest in the league pursuing anything against Jones when he was seriously into the Johnnie Walker Blue Label near midnight. Reading the passage, I wonder how much of the conversation with Peterson he remembers. Now, that isn’t to say he should be talking to any employee of another team about anything other than having a nice day. And I’m sure he’ll get a reminder of that from someone in the league office. But it doesn’t sound like the league’s interested in whacking Jones for it.
7. I think Saturday must have been a tough day in the Ventrone family, with two brothers on the bubble. Niners cut safety/special-teamer Ray Ventrone. Steelers cut defensive back/special-teamer Ross Ventrone.
8. I think Saturday must have been a great day in the Fells family, with two brothers on the bubble. Giants kept tight end Daniel Fells on the final 53-man roster. Cards kept tight end Darren Fells on the final 53-man roster.
9. I think Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin won’t need to send out his résumé when he goes in search of an NFL head-coaching job. Teams will be drooling to get him. Maybe not quite Chip Kelly-style drooling, but it could be close if his team keeps playing the way it did in routing South Carolina the other night, putting up 52 against the ninth-ranked team in the country, on the road, with a new quarterback.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. A college football thought: That catch by Appalachian State wide receiver Simms McElfresh, I dare say, is one of the greatest catches I have ever seen.
b. Shouldn’t it be North Dakota State that plays the first week of the college football season at home, offering guarantees to the poor major-college schools the Bison have been routing? The Bison were missing 12 starters from last season, and their head coach, and still beat Iowa State by 20 in Ames on Saturday. North Dakota State now has a five-game winning streak against major colleges, by an average of 11 points per win … and every one of the five has been on the road.
c. That’s an incredible story, what they’re doing at North Dakota State.
d. The Red Sox traded Kelly Johnson to Baltimore on Saturday in a deal that will have absolutely no effect on either team. But the upshot’s interesting. Johnson’s now been on every team in the AL East over the last 23 months.
e. Story of the Week (and many other weeks): Don Van Natta Jr.’s insightful profile of Dallas owner Jerry Jones. “I get madder every day about missin’ him," Jones told Van Natta, “him” being Johnny Manziel in the NFL Draft. “I was the only guy [in the organization] who wanted him."
f. So there’s that.
g. Coffeenerdness: There is no better drip coffee in the universe, at least for me, than the Italian Roast at Starbucks. That's an exclamation point driven home to me every morning with a jarring cup.
h. Beernerdness: Had the pleasure of experiencing the Maine Beer Company’s IPA while up north. One of the hoppiest I’ve had, which made me very hoppy.
i. Happy Labor Day, everyone. I’m going to celebrate this great day by working.
j. Looking forward to my trip to Seattle on Tuesday, to begin prep work for the NBC telecast Thursday night. This is the ninth season I’ll be a part of the NBC team, and it’s flown by.
The Adieu Haiku
Three days till kickoff.
NFL’s 95th year
will be offensive.