Welcome to Europe Week

Monday July 6th, 2015

ROME, Italy — There are a couple firsts with this edition of Monday Morning Quarterback. It is my first submission in this space; Peter King asked me to fill in while he enjoys the final week of his vacation. It is also the first Monday column with the dateline of Rome, Italy, where I am in the middle of a month-long stay. Ciao.

 

One of my other employers (I have a lot of jobs so I don’t have to have a real one) is Villanova University Law School, where I am the Director of the Jeffrey Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law. They asked if I would teach an international sports law course this summer in Rome, to which I responded: Let me think about it ... OKNow at the halfway point of the class, it has been a wonderful learning experiences for me and (I hope) the students, comparing and contrasting the American sports model and its mantra of competitive balance—free agency restraints, contracts, salary caps, etc.—to the European sports model, which promotes and relegates teams based on performance (imagine the Cleveland Browns, say, being demoted to the NFL Series B League for their lack of success). And just in as my stateside course, some of the content has written itself, with the FIFA corruption scandal and continuing aftermath.

 

Today also kicks off Europe Week on The MMQB. Before I continue with my tales abroad—in particular, my involvement in helping grow American football outside of the United States—let me briefly turn the column over to my colleague Jenny Vrentas, who has spent a couple weeks reporting from this side of the Atlantic Ocean too.

 

* * *

 

 

 

The MMQB: Guest Writers
While on vacation, Peter King has handed the keys to his Monday Morning Quarterback column to a series of guest columnists. King will return July 13
 
 
Nate Boyer: On the dream of a 34-year-old Green Beret trying to make the Seahawks.
 
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Robert Klemko: On Charleston, Rob Gronkowski and the Steelers’ successful bust.
 
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Jenny Vrentas: On Carson Palmer, Mike Tannenbaum and inside HBO’s new show.
 
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Greg Bedard: On patriotic footballers, Tom Brady and the NFL’s non-drug problem.
 
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By Jenny Vrentas

 

 

 

In the NFL calendar, this is the quietest time of year. But in other parts of the world, summer is the high season for American football. Last year The MMQB spent a week in June writing about the game being played north of the border, in the CFL. This summer, we decided to go across the Atlantic to explore how, where and why American football is being played in Europe.

 

 

We set out on this journey, in part, because of the NFL’s interest in building on the successful London games and expanding internationally. The NFL has four international offices—in Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and China—and is exploring playing regular-season games or the Pro Bowl in Germany, Mexico or Brazil. The league's plan with the game overseas is sort of a top-down business model, hoping to hook new fans and new American football enthusiasts by staging big events that showcase their very best product, NFL regular-season games.

 

 

But what’s going on in more than two-dozen countries across the European continent is an independent movement, the game being organized and played from a grass-roots level up. In Germany alone, for instance, there are 250 clubs and 500 individual teams playing American football, from youth flag to senior semi-pro.

 

 

“That’s what is going to keep the sport there,” says John McKeon, a 31-year-old former offensive lineman who created a website called American Football International after his own experiences playing and coaching in Finland, France and Italy. “They have taken American football and made it their own, in their own way. American football in France is not the same as it is in Italy or Sweden or Germany. That’s what convinced me that it is not a fad, that American football will not die out and everyone will go back to watching soccer.”

 

 

McKeon was Philip Rivers’s college left tackle at North Carolina State, but he became disenchanted with the sport after a short-lived shot at the NFL and an unpleasant stint playing arena football. When he tried playing in Europe, he found something I heard a lot on my trip overseas—a new love and appreciation for the game. American players in Europe receive a salary and have their accommodations paid for, but the vast majority of team rosters are made up of local players who have regular 9-to-5 jobs and play football in their spare time often for nothing other than—just like the title of the John Grisham novel—post-game pizza with their teammates.

 

 

Over the next few days, The MMQB will give you snapshots of the game being played in different parts in Europe. We’ll start in Braunschweig, Germany, where the powerhouse New Yorker Lions won the Eurobowl, the championship game of a continental series between some of the strongest teams in Germany, Austria and France. Next, we’ll go to Milan, Italy, where former Jets scout Joe Bommarito spent nine months turning around one of the country’s original American football clubs, the Milano Rhinos, taking them to the brink of the Italian Super Bowl. Finally, we’ll go to Örebro, Sweden, where the Black Knights club, coached by Randy Beverly Jr. (yes, son of the Super Bowl III hero), is quite literally pounding the pavement to grow their team and their sport in their small city west of Stockholm.

 

 

What the leagues overseas lack in technique or skill level, they make up for in passion and fun and fascinating characters, in a way that we found really refreshing. We hope you agree.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas crashed Andrew Brandt's international sports law class in Rome in June. (Andrew Brandt/The MMQB) The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas crashed Andrew Brandt's international sports law class in Rome in June. (The MMQB)

 

 

I have visited Rome a few times but never actually lived here for an extended period, especially with my family in tow, a much different and more fulfilling experience. I have my morning runs around the Villa Borghese (and yes, tourists, that is me every morning doing repeats on the Spanish Steps) and picked out my favorite cafe, juice bar, pizza place, pasta place, etc. while admiring the passion and style of the people. Beyond the obvious appeal of the food, there is an admirable reverence for the eating experience here: People linger, waiters never push to clear tables (getting the check takes an affirmative action step) and “takeout” is a foreign concept.

 

On the topic of lingering in Rome, allow me to recall the most leveraged negotiation of my career, with a team right here in Rome.

 

A negotiation like no other

 

I started in the sports business working for basketball superagent David Falk, whose clients included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson and former Duke star Danny Ferry. Ferry was always one of my favorites, as he treated junior level employees like me as he treated Falk.

 

 

 
 
Introducing The MMQB’s ranking of the most influential figures for the 2015 season.
 
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Nos. 31-40: Odell Beckham Jr. is poised to become the dominant force the Giants need to get back to the playoffs, as well as one of the most recognizable faces in the NFLu2026 if he can handle the spotlight. Plus, Jimmy Graham, Andy Dalton, Gronk and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 41-50: Long essay on Mark Rodgers, the man negotiating Russell Wilson's new contract, plus Richard Sherman, Jimmy Garoppolo and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 51-60: Long essay on Bears QB Jay Cutler. Plus, Cam Newton, NaVorro Bowman, DeMarco Murray and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 61-70: Long essay on the late Junior Seau. Plus, Darrell Bevell, Cris Collinsworth and more. FULL STORY
 

Even though Ferry was selected second overall in the 1989 NBA draft by the Clippers, representatives from a team in Rome were fervently trying to talk to us about Ferry playing there. David did not want to waste our time, as no European team had ever come close to paying what the second pick in the NBA draft would make. However, I thought it would be a cool opportunity so I begged to, as the Italians requested, “take a meeting” and David reluctantly agreed. I was taking a meeting for Danny Ferry!

 

 

It was a meeting I will never forget. The team sent a man named Enzo, its representative in Washington D.C., where we were located. He was quite a sight: short and very wide; disheveled with a crooked tie and an untucked, stained shirt; glasses with coke-bottle lenses. Enzo spoke broken English and had zero knowledge of basketball (he had never seen a game) but was there with a task: to sign Danny Ferry. I tried to engage Enzo in small talk about Italy; he wanted no part of it and got right down to business:

 

“Andrew, what will it take to sign Danny Ferry … today!”

 

We had anticipated the question, and I was to answer with an unrealistic number to quickly end the meeting. The Clippers were going to pay approximately $1.5 million a year; the most ever paid to an overseas basketball player at that time was approximately $500,000. Thus, I cut to the chase with my most assertive voice.

 

“Enzo, $2 million a year for five years with Danny allowed to leave after any year.”

 

I will never forget his answer as long as I live.

 

“What is your routing number?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“What is your bank account routing number? We will deposit $1 million today and $1 million when Danny arrives next month.”

 

I tried to keep a straight face, excused myself to talk to David and bound down the hall: “David, I asked for $2 million and he asked for our routing number!” David was still skeptical and told me to “go get other stuff.” I was stoked; I was not only taking a meeting; I was going to get “other stuff.” I skipped back to Enzo.

 

Enzo was looking at his watch; he was ready to transact.

 

“Enzo, we truly appreciate the offer; we want to talk about other things.”

 

“Andrew, what other things?”

 

“Danny would obviously need lodging.”

 

“He will have a villa in downtown Rome with maid service. What else?”

 

“Um, OK. He will need transportation.”

 

“He will have a brand new BMW. What else?”

 

I now realized that for the first—and perhaps only—time in my life, I could pretty much ask for whatever I wanted. I racked my brain to come up with more perks.

 

“Well, Danny’s family will need trips to come see him.”

 

“Yes, Andrew. First-class for mommy, daddy; coach for brother, sister. What else?”

 

Then, in racking my brain for other perks, I got greedy.

 

“And um, we—David and I—will need trips.”

 

“Ok, Andrew. David: first-class; you: coach.” Understood.

 

 

Danny Ferry in Rome in 1989 (Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated) Danny Ferry in Rome in 1989 (Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated)

 

 

With that I felt I needed to stop. As it turned out, it was the perfect storm for Il Messaggero (the team was named after the daily newspaper in Rome). It had recently been purchased by a billionaire who had set his sights on Danny, and the Clippers were well known to those in the business—including Danny’s father, Bob, then general manager of the Washington Bullets—as an undesirable place for players. The decision was made: The second pick in the NBA draft was going to Italy for likely a year. (The NFL equivalent would be Marcus Mariota rejecting the Titans to play for the Montreal Alouettes for $6 million per year.)

 

Danny and his American teammate, Brian Shaw, lived like, well, Roman Senators, in a beautiful villa—I smile as I walk past it here in Rome—with round-the-clock service. (I saw it firsthand, using my trips on coach.) However, their basketball experience was difficult: The team only played once a week, and teammates were not very interested in improvement; I saw two of them smoking cigarettes after practice. While in Rome, however, David worked a trade to send Danny from the Clippers to the Cavaliers (for Ron Harper) with a 10-year, $40 million deal to boot. It was time to go back to the NBA.

 

Now in Rome and seeing the Il Messaggero newspaper every day, I think back to this negotiation where, at the start of my career, I had the most leverage I might ever have in the sports business. (Football players never have that kind of leverage). I also still feel a sense of guilt in making Enzo pay for my trips to see Danny. As I’ve learned with a decade on each side of the negotiating table, lopsided deals are never good, for either side, and usually come back to haunt.

 

I do hope that somewhere Enzo, with his coke-bottle lenses, untucked shirt and refreshingly direct approach, is still thriving and making quick, effective deals.

 

* * *

 

 

 

The London Monarchs beat the Barcelona Dragons 21-0 in the inaugural World Bowl in 1991. (Mike Feldman/AP The London Monarchs beat the Barcelona Dragons 21-0 in the inaugural World Bowl in 1991. (Mike Feldman/AP)

 

 

Los Dragons

 

 

 

Since this is the beginning of Europe Week at The MMQB, I'd like to share my experience working in football on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. What follows in this section is a reprint of a column I wrote in September 2013 in advance of an NFL game in London.

 

In 1991, I was a few years into a career as an agent when I was presented an interesting opportunity.  I was negotiating a contract for client Chris Doleman with Vikings general manager/part-owner, Mike Lynn.

 

When we finished negotiating Doleman’s contract, Lynn lit up a cigarette (one of a dozen he smoked in our two-hour meeting), eyed me closely and asked: “Do you speak Barcelonan?” 

 

I thought this was an interesting question. “Does that mean Spanish?”

 

“Yeah, Spanish.”  (It turned out he was wrong; Catalan is spoken in Barcelona.)

 

“Yes, I speak Spanish.”  I took it in high school; I could fake my way through.

 

“How would you like to be the general manager of the Barcelona Dragons?”

 

“The what?”

 

“We’re starting a league overseas. We’re going to spread football around the globe. It’s going be bigger than the NFL!”

 

 

Better Than London
 
 
The NFL wants to bolster its presence in the United Kingdom, but moving a franchise there is fraught with risks and rotating teams in and out of Wembley Stadium is a logistical conundrum. Here’s a solution that would allow the NFL to expand its footprint overseas and at home.
 
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Lynn explained that the NFL was starting the World League of American Football (WLAF), importing our product to Europe and, eventually, beyond. Lynn gave me a day to think about it. While I had not thought of leaving the agent business at that time, the chance to run a pro football team at a young age—albeit a developmental league team playing overseas—was too good to pass up. I was in. Three months before opening day on ABC television and with no coaches or players, I became general manager of the Barcelona Dragons. 

 

 

After being turned down by some top NFL assistant coaches, such as Tony Dungy, who was intrigued but not by moving to Spain, I hired former Boston College coach Jack Bicknell. Within a week we drafted 80 players, had training camp in Florida, cut 40 players (some with Spanish heritage) and boarded a plane to Spain.  Instant football team!

 

When we arrived in Spain, our marketing director proudly announced: “Andrew, for our opening game we have sold 173 tickets!”

 

“How many does the stadium hold?”

 

“40,000.”

 

“That’s not good.”

 

“Don’t worry. In Spain, everyone walks up.”

 

Thankfully, the night before our game, we were allowed to have the team run around at halftime of an FC Barcelona match with the public address announcer promoting our game the next night (or at least I think that’s what he said). Those five minutes in front of 100,000 people, combined with our handing out tickets to whomever we met, resulted in 18,000 fans for our opening game, clearing the 15,000 number we had targeted.  On to the game.

 

Our first touchdown was a seam pattern to the tight end, who broke three tackles en route to an exciting 70-yard touchdown.  I jumped for joy, but the stadium only had a murmur of muted golf applause. Hmmm. Then our kicker came on and kicked the extra point and ... the crowd went nuts!  

 

American football, for the fans that came, was a diversion, a curiosity far different than their passion for soccer. They cheered at all the wrong times, did “the wave” and sang “Ole” throughout the game. They just wanted to have some fun. So we made it a party.

 

We changed our entire marketing approach, from selling American football to selling an American event. We sold hot dogs and hamburgers; we brought over marching bands and Frisbee dogs; we blasted American rap music at every stoppage of play. I hired two NFL cheerleaders to teach the women of Barcelona to dance as they did, creating “Las Chicas Del Dragons.” They became more popular than the team and were booked throughout Spain.

 

Logistically, there were some obstacles. When the goalposts were first installed at the stadium, they were mounted in the corners of the end zones. The laundry service ruined our uniforms countless times. Getting equipment out of customs always required some negotiating and a greased palm or two.

 

Perhaps the biggest obstacles were food and lodging. We could never get enough food. The hotel staff constantly complained, They eat so much; they are too big! We put night tables with a pillow on top at the end of each bed so players’ legs wouldn’t flop over. And dealing with the wives and girlfriends visiting players while navigating the new Spanish girlfriends (and one wife) was a full-time job in itself.

 

To borrow a U.S. Navy tagline, the Barcelona Dragons experience was not just a job, it was an adventure. 

 

 

World Bowl XV in 2007 drew 48,000 fans to Commerz-Bank Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. (Martin Meissner/AP) World Bowl XV in 2007 drew 48,000 fans to Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. (Martin Meissner/AP)

 

 

Conflicting missions

 

The World League lasted two short seasons (1991-92), was resurrected in another iteration (1995-1997), then rebranded as NFL Europe and later NFL Europa before being finally put to rest in 2007. The Dragons, coached by Bicknell throughout, lasted until 2003.

 

From my perspective, our dual—and sometimes conflicting—missions clouded our chances for success. We were trying to both: (1) incubate NFL talent as a developmental league (we were not to use the word “minor,” as the NFL did not like that connotation; and (2) introduce American football into new markets with fertile revenue streams.

 

Juxtaposing the football and the business sides resulted in some conflicts. For example, our backup quarterback Tony Rice was well known in the U.S. for his accomplishments at Notre Dame yet unknown—as all our players were—in Barcelona. He was simply Antonio Arroz. The NFL gently asked me if we would trade him to the World League's New York franchise to boost its marketing efforts, as U.S. fans would certainly know him. When I brought that request to Bicknell, he graphically told me how I could respond to the NFL.

 

As for the talent base, we would send several players to NFL training camps a year, but they were often dead-legged in the key latter stages of camp. I later saw this from the team perspective with the Packers: NFL Europe players were impressive early in camp but worn down as their bodies felt the effects of an NFL Europe season and travel.

 

Another problem was the unwillingness of NFL coaches to send over their most attractive young players, especially backup quarterbacks. Despite the NFL “encouraging” teams to do so, coaches generally wanted their ascending young players to stick around during the offseason (which was much more involved than it is now) to attend OTAs, minicamps and quarterback schools. Teams operated very territorially regarding their players.

 

As for international marketing efforts, the NFL had some success in selling with these new marks and logos, but not nearly enough for its lofty standards. And while I did see people in Barcelona wearing Dragons gear—it is now quite a collector’s item—our region was overwhelmingly invested in FC Barcelona.

 

As limited as the Dragons were in popularity, however, we were all that the fans knew about the NFL. Thus when the NFL scheduled a preseason game in Barcelona between the Steelers and 49ers, fans wondered why the Dragons weren’t playing in the game. They had no concept that we were a different level of play, as we were certainly the top level they had seen.

 

Ultimately, the efforts of the international leagues did not produce an appropriate bottom line for NFL owners. Now, player development will have to come from within teams and perhaps a domestic developmental (don’t say “minor”) league to come. As to the NFL’s international focus, that has shifted to one city.

 

 

The Jags have embraced the opportunity to play in London, hosting games there the past two seasons—with another  two coming in 2015 and 2016. (Nicky Hayes/Getty Images) The Jags have embraced the opportunity to play in London, hosting games there the past two seasons—with another two coming in 2015 and 2016. (Nicky Hayes/Getty Images)

 

 

London calling

 

Following its European adventures, the NFL has focused its international efforts on simply staging regular season games in London. What started as one game per season became two and now three games that, as the NFL happily informs, are sold out. Television networks are adding the morning window in the U.S., and Yahoo has jumped in to stream one of the games, the Bills-Jaguars, for what I am told is “an eight-figure sum.”

 

Despite the inevitable carping from coaches about the disruption to routine (although teams are given bye weeks following London games), more owners are buying in. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has been the most aggressive player in the London space, pouncing on the opportunity and signing up his team for games every year the league will have them. Khan sees upside in exposing his brand to a new audience (and he purchased the English soccer club Fulham FC along the way).

 

As to where the NFL goes from here in London, three games could become four; four could become five, five to six and so on, leading to a potential eight-game NFL home schedule at Wembley Stadium. As to who plays in those games, my sense is that it is more likely that 16 different teams would participate in a London home schedule rather than having a team based there, but I do not discount the latter possibility.

 

I know, I know: There are logistical concerns of travel, taxes, food, etc. But as someone who ran an NFL international league team with substandard lodging, insufficient food and homesick players, I think things would be a bit different. NFL teams have charter travel, stay in luxury hotels and could have two- or three-game road trips to balance out travel. As to player concerns on exchange rates and taxes, that would be collectively bargained to give a potential London team proper competitive balance.

 

Whether a team is coming or not, the NFL in London is “a thing” and only becoming a bigger one.

 

 

Quotes of the Week

 

Rather than traditional quotes, let's revisit my spin on generic quotes in what I call “Brandtslations.”

 

I

 

“We are gathering information and have no further comment at this time.”

 

—Team issuing a press release when a player gets in trouble

 

Brandtslation: “We’re pissed.”

 

II

 

“We will let the legal process play out...”

 

—Team issuing a press release when a star player gets in trouble

 

Brandtslation: “This is a player we need; we’ll use the due process line.”

 

Due process is selective depending on talent.

 

III

 

“I’m not thinking about it; I let my agent handle that.”

 

—A player in a contract dispute 

 

Brandtslation: “I’m thinking about it all the time; I talk to my agent every day.”

 

IV

 

“I haven’t talked to anyone about that.”

 

—A coach, asked about being linked to another job

 

Brandtslation: “My agent is talking to them.”

 

V

 

“I’m willing to make the contract very cap-friendly to the team.”

 

—An agent

 

Brandtslation:“I’m willing to make the contract very cash-friendly to the player.”

 

VI

 

“I’m weighing my options.”

 

—A player, considering an appeal of a fine or a suspension

 

Brandtslation: “There will be lawyers.”

 

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

 

I

 

On my flight from Philadelphia to Rome a couple weeks ago were Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Archbishop Chaput and a group of Philadelphia business leaders and priests. They were going to visit Pope Francis to prepare for his September visit to Philadelphia. While my wife and one of my sons were seated next to Nutter (not to worry, Philadelphians: He was in coach; the city’s funds were judiciously spent), I found myself sitting among the men of the cloth, also in coach. Although I am far from Catholic (Jewish), I had a comforting feeling that nothing was going to happen to that plane.

 

II

 

Also, as a regular and usually satisfied customer, here's a note to my friends at Amtrak: Please follow the Italian model of train tickets, no matter the class, being issued with reserved seats and reserved train cars. It seems an easy value-add that could eliminate the usual crowding at the door and the musical chairs rush to find an empty seat.

 

III

 

A final travel note about Rome: as I take my 35-minute walk to teach every day, I am constantly impressed at the convergence of cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians through historical, narrow, mostly-cobblestone streets. Somehow, someway things move along and no one gets mowed down. It just works.

 

Ten Things you may not know about me

 

1. I grew up a diehard Washington Redskins fan, going to games at rollicking RFK Stadium with my father and brother since I was a toddler. My favorite player was running back Larry Brown, who was the epitome of toughness.

 

2. I once had a date with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, who attended the sister school of the boys’ school I attended. Actually, it was a double-date and she was with my friend, but details...

 

3. I once represented Ricky Williams, with whom I developed a close relationship before he left me to sign with Master P. He is one of the most interesting football players I have met.

 

4. My favorite client from my agent days is now entering his 17th season in the NFL when most thought he wouldn’t have one. I could not get Matt Hasselbeck invited to the combine before he was drafted in the sixth round by the Packers, but he’s done OK despite it. Matt is one of those rare people whom you know—you just know—will be successful in whatever he does.

 

5. I try to practice jazz piano every day, forever working on the same pieces by Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans or Dave Brubeck. I do all my writing with jazz playing in the background, unless I need the classical “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber for inspiration. For pure listening and singing along, though, my favorite song is “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter” by Pearl Jam.

 

6. My favorite television shows are Modern Family (irreverent) and Family Guy (beyond irreverent). My favorite television actors are James Spader (The Blacklist) and Jason Beghe (Chicago PD). The book I’m now reading is “Natural Born Heroes” by Christopher McDougall.

 

7. I never say never, but I haven’t had any interest in returning to work for an NFL team. It was a nice chapter in my life, but I’m really enjoying the chapter I’m in now. I get more inquiries from the player side—agents, agencies and an approach this year to run for the NFLPA executive director position—but that is another chapter from the past. Life is too good to mess it up.

 

8. I still find myself looking around for someone else when I am referred to as media. I don’t cover games or look for scoops in the traditional football “media” role, but I realize that is only one slice of the pie. I suppose I am by default in the category of media, but I think of what I do—whether on television, radio, writing, speaking or teaching—as simply offering a practical, experienced and hopefully unique perspective on an industry I have seen from different angles.

 

9. I am not a big quote guy, but two of my favorites are: “Not all those who wander are lost,” by J.R.R. Tolkien; and “Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” by George Adair. I also think that when eminent philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” he gave a valuable life lesson to all of us. Life never goes according to plan; the most successful people are adaptable, balanced and allow for serendipity in their lives. Most people have an ability to focus; the most successful people have a continuing ability to refocus.

 

10. My favorite sports moment was when I was about 15 and, as the smallest (and only white) player on the court, was the last player chosen in a pickup basketball game near my home. The other team saw no need to guard me until I somehow hit my first three shots, at which point their alpha dog gave me the highest compliment I have ever received: “Guard him. Shorty can ride.” Whenever I stumble in life, I just think, “Shorty can ride.”

 

 

 

Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly injured his hands in a fireworks accident over the holiday weekend. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images) Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly injured his hands in a fireworks accident over the holiday weekend. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

 

 

Ten Things I Think I Think

 

1. I think, as the Jason Pierre-Paul accident reminds, this time of year is the most worrisome for front offices. Players are free from any team obligations until training camp, when they enter “the submarine,” as I call it, for six months. I used to cringe when I saw an unrecognizable number on my phone this time of year; that could only mean bad news. One time a tourist from New Jersey called to tell me our player was being wheeled into a hospital in Cancun after a jet-ski accident. (He was banged up but eventually OK.) Another time, in a story I have told before, I was golfing when a Miami police officer called to matter-of-factly say they had just arrested one of our players for “defecating in a woman’s laundry hamper.” I was on the seventh hole when I yelled, “HE WHAT??” (A friend later told me he heard me on the 10th hole.)

 

2. The NFL announced four player suspensions on the eve of the holiday weekend last week—San Diego's Antonio Gates (four-game suspension; performance-enhancing drugs), the Jets' Sheldon Richardson (four; substances of abuse), Dallas' Rolando McClain (four; substances of abuse)  and Green Bay's Datone Jones (one; substances of abuse).  The three substance suspensions represent some of the first positive tests under the new revised guidelines. (Thresholds were raised, making it harder to trigger a positive test.) The NFL and NFLPA  can't agree on the color of the sun, but they did agree to a new drug policy that includes this and HGH testing. As for questions about states with legalized marijuana and changing societal attitudes toward the drug, these collectively bargained standards trump state law. As for the positive test for Gates, the strict liability formula has not changed; the “I didn't know the substance was in my medicine/shake/supplement/etc.” excuses will not work.  And, according to the revised policies, if the player/agent gives false or misleading information about the reason for his suspension, the NFL is now armed with the power to refute that. It is a bit of a new age for the drug policies, one with greater transparency than before (despite the league trying to hide the suspensions on a holiday weekend). 

 

 

 
 
Introducing The MMQB’s ranking of the most influential figures for the 2015 season.
 
THE LIST SO FAR
 
Nos. 31-40: Odell Beckham Jr. is poised to become the dominant force the Giants need to get back to the playoffs, as well as one of the most recognizable faces in the NFLu2026 if he can handle the spotlight. Plus, Jimmy Graham, Andy Dalton, Gronk and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 41-50: Long essay on Mark Rodgers, the man negotiating Russell Wilson's new contract, plus Richard Sherman, Jimmy Garoppolo and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 51-60: Long essay on Bears QB Jay Cutler. Plus, Cam Newton, NaVorro Bowman, DeMarco Murray and more. FULL STORY
 
Nos. 61-70: Long essay on the late Junior Seau. Plus, Darrell Bevell, Cris Collinsworth and more. FULL STORY
 

3. I think that, despite the vast disparity between guaranteed contracts in leagues like the NBA and MLB compared to the NFL, there are some misconceptions at play. There is nothing in the CBA restricting guarantees on contracts; guarantees are a function of individual negotiations, not collective ones. Gains in this area have to come from superstars willing to negotiate aggressively to change the status quo. Players such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson could break the seal on fully guaranteed veteran contracts, but that would have to be next year, as they don’t have that leverage this year with a reasonable contract year remaining.

 

 

4. I think NFL agents and players have much less appreciation of the value of free agency than their counterparts in other sports. Yes, the risk of injury is higher in the NFL (I used that line as a team negotiator) but how many players truly suffer serious, career-ending injuries in their contract year? One every couple of years, maybe? Ndamokung Suh has the most valuable non-quarterback contract in the NFL—and is paid considerably more than J.J. Watt—and Byron Maxwell is a highly paid cornerback not because of their talent compared to other players, but because they avoided early deals and became free agents.

 

5. I think the franchise tag has become a powerful management weapon. Originally designed to protect teams from losing true “franchise” quarterbacks—John Elway, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, etc.—in the mold of the NBA’s “Larry Bird rule,” it has become much more sinister. Teams now use the tag to take their best free agent—regardless of position—off the market, especially if they have concerns with motivation and/or maturity (like Dallas and Dez Bryant). Teams can go year-to-year with the player (date him) rather than sink loads of guaranteed money into him (marry him). And, by putting a ceiling on earnings of players at the top of the positional markets, there is a trickle-down effect to all tiers of position players below.

 

6. I think we will see a correction coming from the year of over-punishment from the NFL offices. Stung by layers of criticism over the lax discipline of Ray Rice, the NFL has erred on the side of over-discipline in subsequent cases involving Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Tom Brady. Nothing happens in a vacuum; the NFL is very sensitive to what is in the air around it. The sting of the Rice rebuke has had repercussions; these players are the “bridge” cases from the Rice era to the next one, although it is not clear when that era will be here.

 

7. I think the NFL ultimately got what it wanted with Rice, Peterson and Hardy even as it took its lumps in court and arbitration: they were removed from play from the vast majority of 2014. Many league executives echoed the same example from law enforcement in their diligence last year: A police officer accused of shooting an innocent person is put on administrative leave and surrenders his weapon while the fact-finding occurs. The NFL has now adopted its equivalent “leave” while sorting out the facts. While suffering legal setbacks, the NFL got the players off the field as fans and media seethed and sponsors brayed. The NFL then patronizingly ignored the NFLPA as it developed its new conduct policy. 

 

8. I think, regarding the Packers honoring old friend Brett Favre, it's about time. During my time in Green Bay, there was no bigger star in the league; he moved the needle locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. When I traveled both in the United States and abroad and told people I lived in Green Bay, the two most common reactions were: (1) “Brrr!” and (2) “Do you know Brett Favre?” He influenced the careers of a lot of people and is deserving of these honors.

 

9. I think another well-deserved honor is the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction of Ron Wolf, whose pearls of blunt wisdom still resonate. In our first meeting when he offered me a job, I asked about the weather in Green Bay, to which he was typically blunt: “There’s two seasons: winter and the Fourth of July.” Early in my time in Green Bay, he called me in the wee hours of the morning, only saying: “Get to Milwaukee. Chmura. Young girl.” When I would watch film with him, he would see things no one else would see. And when someone would mess up, he would take responsibility for the mistake. He taught me a lot about leadership.

 

10. I think my favorite Packer story was when I was in a Wisconsin state park calling in a trade to the NFL when my cell phone died. I walked into a park ranger’s office and said I was making a trade for the Packers and needed to use his phone to complete it. He laughed me off. “Making a trade for the Packers? That’s a good one.” I then told him the terms of the trade—we were trading defensive linemen David Bowens to Buffalo for tight end Bobby Collins—and said I HAD to use his phone. He hesitated, and then replied: “Wait, we’re trading Bowens? Why are we trading Bowens?!” Packer fans are a special breed.

 

The Adieu Haiku

 

It's called Futbol here

Only the feet are allowed

It's soccer to you.

 

 


 

 

 

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