The Week 17 Mailbag

Tuesday December 30th, 2014

I was surprised Monday afternoon when the NFL handed Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a one-game suspension for stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ leg in Sunday’s game at Green Bay. The effect of the suspension is huge. Other than Matthew Stafford, no Lion is more significant in Detroit’s chances of winning Sunday against Dallas, which features the best running game in football. 

Suh is appealing NFL disciplinarian Merton Hanks’ ruling. That appeal will take place Tuesday afternoon with the decision likely coming from hearing officer Ted Cottrell on Tuesday evening. The NFL and the players’ union jointly appoint hearing officers for discipline cases such as these and Cottrell is not a rubber stamp for league rulings. Two years ago, he overruled Hanks and reinstated Baltimore safety Ed Reed after Reed was suspended for one game by the league following his third violation in three seasons of the rule against helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers.

Hanks ruled that when Suh stepped on Rodgers’ leg, he did not immediately move to get his foot off Rodgers, but instead lingered as if to apply pressure. It is also curious that Suh never acknowledged with any sort of apology to Rodgers that he had stepped on him. But the entire case does have shades of gray to it, as I said on the NBC pregame show Sunday night. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Cottrell ruled for Suh and allowed him to play Sunday.

• Also on The MMQB: A college stats professor charts NFL wins, comparing all 32 teams to Vegas and statheads predictions going into the 2014 season

Two final interesting points. In the statement issued by the NFL on Monday, no mention is made of Suh’s previous discipline history, which early in his career was lengthy. So it’s obvious that the NFL viewed this as a serious enough offense to stand on its own without needing any prior incidents to bolster its case to suspend Suh. Secondly, I doubt the NFL will be exceedingly disappointed if Cottrell overturns the ruling. Why? Because the league has made its point about violent and capricious behavior, sending a message to Suh that they’re watching him very carefully. If a third party overturns the sanction, the NFL will at least know that it sent a message.

Now onto your email…

THE SPLIT VOTE MESS. I think you are voting MVP more with feeling than fact.  If you ask yourself one simple question, it will change your mind. You are the GM for the Texans, and the Packers offer Aaron Rodgers for J.J. Watt straight up.  Do you take the deal? Without a doubt.  The Packers without Rodgers are barely a .500 team; Watt didn’t even win the sack title this year. I don’t mind you voting Watt, but be a man and make a decision.  Splitting your vote is very juvenile.

—Bob, Rockville, Wisc.

The MVP race is expected to come down to J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers, shown here in 2012. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) The MVP race is expected to come down to J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers, shown here in 2012. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

I didn’t really see it as juvenile. I saw it as fair and democratic. In a period of NFL history when every rule is tilted towards the offense, if one of the all-time best defensive seasons is not worth MVP recognition, then the award should be renamed Most Valuable Explosive Offensive Player. Every week I watch Aaron Rodgers make four or five huge plays to help his team play to its maximum level. Every week I watch J.J. Watt make four or five plays to help his team play to its maximum level. I totally understand the rancor and the anger from people who say, “Be a man. Pick one.” I’m not going to do that. Many quarterbacks, led by Rodgers, are deserving of the award this year. One defensive player is deserving of this award by virtue of scores of plays that add up to an incredibly valuable player—and one incredibly hard to stop. I appreciate your sentiment, but it hasn’t changed my mind.

HARBAUGH'S BEHAVIOR. Your article didn’t actually explain anything about why Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers split, other than “he was hard to work with."  That doesn’t say anything.  No one seems willing to publish any examples of his behavior that was apparently so terrible that management decided to fire one of the winningest coaches in the NFL.  You would think that would have to be some pretty horrible behavior. How about some real reporting on what happened in this very unusual case?

—Mike M., Tampa

If I knew some examples, I would have printed them. The 49ers have done a good job of keeping this thing in-house but going back to last winter, there has been the consistent message leaking from the organization that Harbaugh is difficult to work with and the current administration would rather have a more harmonious relationship with the head coach. I’m sorry I can’t tell you any more. I do know that Harbaugh and the 49ers could never reach a satisfactory financial agreement on a contract extension, and that was the cause of some angst between the two sides. I am in no way defending Jed York and Trent Baalke wanting to make this change. But you asked why I didn’t give examples of what happened and I’m answering that I don’t know specific examples.

FORCED DRAFT-DAY TRADE? When Eli Manning refused to sign with the Chargers and forced a draft-day trade, I thought it was an unnecessary move.  However, we now have a situation where I believe Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston should absolutely refuse to play for the Bucs.  More specifically, I would refuse to play for Lovie Smith if I was either one of them. 

In his 10 seasons as a head coach, Lovie has demonstrated a stunning lack of understanding of offensive football and the quarterback position.  I would be surprised if he did not ruin the quarterback he drafts within two years.  That leads me to two questions: do you think either one of these QBs would refuse to play for Lovie?  And if you were in the position to counsel them, would you recommend they hold out and force a trade if drafted by the Bucs? 

—Jared, Portland, Ore.

Is He Worth the Trouble?
 
There’s so much to like about Jameis Winston—his strength, playmaking and toughness—but his off-field behavior is so distressing. Greg A. Bedard discusses the scrutiny the FSU quarterback will face if he declares for the NFL draft.

FULL STORY
I wouldn’t be as concerned about Lovie Smith being the head coach as I would be with knowing who the coordinator and quarterbacks coach will be. The Bucs are in the market for a new offensive coordinator after the departure of Jeff Teford earlier this month. Smith is not a guy who’s particularly hands on with his quarterback, and so I don't view the influence of Smith as the most important element in whether a quarterback succeeds or not. The Bucs offense stunk this year for several reasons, and I don’t think a primary one was because Lovie Smith was the head coach. Tampa was without the ailing Tedford, who was the only experienced offensive hand on the staff in terms of calling plays and creating an offensive structure. (Tedford had a heart ailment that limited his participation in team activities for most of the season.) An assistant ill-suited to be Tampa Bay offensive coordinator this year, Marcus Arroyo, was the biggest reason for the poor offense, followed by poor quarterback play most of the year, and a leaky offensive line. I also think you have to remember that very seldom does a franchise quarterback entering the draft go to a good team. If I were Mariota, I’d actually want to go to Tampa with a relatively small media presence and its offensive weapons (Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins).

PLAYER-COACH INTERACTION. Regarding Reggie Nelson's low hit on Le'Veon Bell, it looks like Mike Tomlin had some pretty choice words for Nelson after the game, to the point that they had to be separated.  Should there be any fines or other league policing of post-game interaction, especially between a coach and a player?  There certainly are for similar interactions between coaches and referees.

—Seth, Dayton, Ohio

If Mike Tomlin approached a referee after a game and barked something, I doubt he would get fined. Of course, if he harangued an official or screamed a bunch of obscenities at him and wouldn’t stop, that’s different. I don’t think the league needs to make rules about interactions between players and coaches after games. This happens, what? Once a year? Once every two years? I don't think it’s a big deal.

BACK TO THE MVP SPLIT VOTE. Choosing two players feels like a cop-out. I’m sure many writers that vote have the same thought, and many years there's more than one worthy candidate, but it’s not Most Valuable Players. Sometimes you gotta just make a call. 

—Loren S., Denver

In the voting for MLB's most valuable player, baseball writers choose 10 candidates. Each writer goes 1-10, with most valuable being 1, and then other valuable players going in order from 2-10. In football, we are asked to pick one. That's very difficult, especially in a season like this, when I could easily make a strong case for seven or eight quarterbacks, and for DeMarco Murray or Le’Veon Bell, and even for the incredible receiving season of Antonio Brown. And of course for J.J. Watt. And so I have always felt that the Associated Press, which runs the awards, should have a multi-player ballot. Maybe we vote for five. Maybe we vote for 10. Elsewhere on this site today, I polled some media and football people to ask for their 2014 awards, and I allowed each to vote for five candidates for each award. I think some years the MVP is absolutely obvious. Some years, it is a muddled mess. That is this year. I think it more reflects the diversity of opinion if you could recognize several players, in order, rather than simply picking one. Not everyone agrees with me, and that is fine. But that’s the way I feel.


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