Jack Del Rio means business.
He released problem-child wide receiver Matt Jones, his leading pass catcher a year ago. He declined to re-sign former first-round pick Reggie Williams, another player who underachieved on the field and acted up off it. He turned the page on an era by firmly yet respectfully jettisoning fan-favorite and long-time Jaguar Fred Taylor this spring. He drafted offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton in the first two rounds even though veterans Tra Thomas and Tony Pashos are ostensibly in place as Jacksonville's left and right tackle, respectively. Every move Del Rio has made this offseason has been about changing the mindset within the locker room and re-establishing a hunger within the organization. He isn't messing around.
None of those moves, however, raised eyebrows around the league quite like Del Rio's recent comments about defensive tackle John Henderson. Henderson apparently injured his shoulder during the team's Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices earlier this week and then sat out the rest of practice. As far as Del Rio's concerned, the severity of Henderson's injury is debatable.
"Yeah, it's disappointing to see him pull himself out quite frankly," Del Rio said Tuesday. "What he does, that's up to him. But we have a team out here that's working hard, that's committed and I'm not going to slow down and worry about somebody that's trying to get out of a drill."
If you think that's harsh, keep reading.
"Back when I played, and even prior to that, I don't think anybody would have had to miss a snap for [that injury]," Del Rio said. "I think it's a minor bruise of sorts. I would think Vince Lombardi is probably rolling over right now. It's not something that should keep anybody out of work. But John feels like he can't go, so we'll let him wait until he can."
In the modern NFL, it's extremely rare for a coach to publicly call out a player like that. So, odds are Del Rio knew exactly what he was doing and what the implications would be. Smart coaches in the NFL rarely talk out of turn. What may seem like an angry outburst often turns out to be a calculated move intended to get a team back on track. The Jags' success under Del Rio has been a direct result of the physical, intimidating approach he features, which requires superior line play on both sides of the ball. But last year, that's exactly where the Jags were lacking, and it started with the subpar year Henderson had in his first full season without long-time sidekick Marcus Stroud, now a stellar member of the Buffalo Bills.
Maybe Del Rio shouldn't have made those comments. Most organizations strive to keep all internal conflicts behind closed doors, and Del Rio would surely be less than pleased if a player called him out publicly. Plus, OTA's are supposed to be voluntary; Henderson isn't technically required to attend. If Henderson's shoulder is really bothering him in June -- and since he's claiming he dislocated it, it probably is -- he should rest it, not push it.
But none of that matters to Del Rio, who was likely sending a forceful message not only to Henderson, but to every member of that team. Henderson claims Del Rio warned him before making those comments, so while they likely stung, they didn't come completely out of the blue. What's more, they sent a clear message: Del Rio wants to recapture the magic and momentum the Jags had in the 2007 playoffs, and he's not going to spare any feelings to do so.
Now, the postman cometh ...
Hey Ross, love your articles. I just wanted to know why the media is focusing so much on just Kevin and Pat Williams. I am not pointing you out in particular, but Charles Grant and Will Smith are in the same boat as the Williams'. The media are focusing on the Vikings like nothing could affect the Saints. Thanks.-- Matt, New Orleans
You make a good point Matt, but there are a few reasons for the attention. For one, the all-Williams defensive tackle tandem -- in addition to star runner Adrian Peterson, of course -- is what makes the Vikings tick. Charles Grant and Will Smith both underachieved last season, and even if health issues were to blame, they still don't strike fear into opponents or dominate games like the Williams boys do.
More importantly, Judge Magnuson tossed the Williams' baton back into Minnesota state court and essentially kept their case alive. As a result, the Williams' and their attorney remain confident they won't miss any games in 2009. That's not the case for Grant and Smith.
When I read about players who play for 10-plus years, I often think of their pension. How does the NFL pension work? Years of service must come into play. Can you provide some kind of measuring stick? For example, Runyan has 13 years. How does his pension get paid out?-- Steve Auerbach, Naperville, Ill.
Each vested player (a player with at least three credited NFL seasons of service since 1998) earns $470 per month after he turns 55 from the NFL pension plan.
To simplify: A player with 10 years' NFL experience will receive $4,700 a month when his pension kicks in, which in most cases occurs around 22 or 23 years after retirement. That amounts to $56,400 a year, though the earnings are not adjusted for inflation. Players can elect to receive their pension earlier at a reduced amount or hold off until as late as 65 and receive significantly larger payments.
Keep in mind the average NFL career lasts 3.2 years. And that doesn't include camp fodder, just the guys who actually make a team and earn a credited season at some point. Based on how most friends and fans have reacted after hearing those details, it seems clear an NFL pension isn't exactly the financial windfall many fans assume it will be.
Why does everyone have a problem with the tampering charges against Washington, but no one had a problem with charges against San Francisco a few years back, when the NFL docked them a fourth-rounder on largely circumstantial evidence of tampering with Lance Briggs? Especially considering it was a fairly obvious attempt by the NFL to distract from Spygate.-- Jason, Los Angeles
I'm not sure I agree. I remember the same things now being said about Haynesworth being said at the time about Briggs. Plus, Briggs ultimately re-signed with the Bears; Haynesworth received the largest contract ever for a defensive player while switching teams. Haynesworth is a better player than Briggs and was a more high-profile free agent, which may be why you think the coverage has been so drastically different.