Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck was raised in Alabama, and he knows Tuscaloosa and its surroundings very well. At least he used to. He spent two days there last week on a mercy mission after a series of 12 tornadoes hit the area April 27, killing at least 236 people and destroying entire towns.
"Being from Alabama, and playing football, you know that area well,'' Tuck said. "What was amazing to see was two miles west of campus was a war zone. Completely wrecked. You'd have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. House after house, cut down to the foundation.''
Working with World Vision and JP Morgan Chase, Tuck delivered hygiene kits to homeless families, donated $25,000 of his own money and took an assessment of the damage in areas he knows he can help further. He said he'll be back in the coming weeks, hopefully with truckloads of supplies and necessities for the families in need.
"The sad thing,'' he said, "is that building and reconstruction hasn't even started yet, because they still have to get the downed trees out of the way on so many streets and roads and properties. But the one thing I found that was so impressive to me was hope. These people all want to rebuild. They want their lives back and they want to live there. If hope's lost, people won't want to come back.''
Tuck asked for donations through worldvision.org, and he noted how different the coverage was from other disasters. "When the disasters happened in Japan and Haiti, they were so huge that there was ongoing publicity and fundraising for them,'' Tuck said. "And the need in those places obviously was great. But I'd like to see more help for my home state. It seems like a day or two after the tornadoes, people just moved on. Next story. I can tell you: It's not over, and it won't be over for a long time.''
I asked Tuck about how different his offseason has been this year, with the lockout not allowing players to work out in an organized fashion at team facilities. "I don't want our facilities to be closed, obviously,'' he said. But the fact that the Giants and other teams didn't start their normal offseason conditioning programs in mid-March was a boon to Tuck. "It gave me an opportunity to let my body completely heal, and sometimes it isn't completely ready to go when the offseason program starts.'' And he said working out on his own allowed him to work on some areas of strength training "where I'm lacking.''
The more players I talk to, the more I think one of the best things that will come of a new labor agreement is a delayed start to organized offseason training. Tuck's not the first to tell me his body doesn't feel altogether healthy two months after the season ends, particularly for teams that make the playoffs. With the owners already having proposed a shorter offseason program in the contract negotiations, veterans like Tuck may not have to work out with their teams until mid-April or later.
Current offseason programs last from early March to mid-June at team facilities. There's no rule for how long or short they are, but as a general rule, they're about 15 weeks long, with mandatory long-weekend minicamps and 14 days of Offseason Training Activities (OTAs) mixed in. The NFL proposed cutting five weeks off the offseason program, essentially lopping off a third of it, and cutting the 14 Organized Team Activity days down to 10.
Talk about a shift in the momentum in the NFL labor dispute. For a couple of months, Judge Susan Nelson's strongly worded opinion favoring the players and ending the lockout looked to be the magic bullet that would force the owners to cave in negotiations. But when the three-judge panel that will hear the appeal on June 3 ruled 2-1 Monday to keep the lockout in place, the two majority judges seemed to rebuke Nelson's ruling and telegraphed which way the appeal might go.
"We have serious doubts that the district court has jurisdiction to enjoin the league's lockout,'' wrote judges Steve Colloton and Duane Benton, "and ... accordingly conclude that the league has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits [of the NFL's appeal].''
I wrote Monday about how dark it looked in the non-negotiations between players and owners, but the tone of Colloton and Benton changes that a bit. That tone suggests they will take this stay of Nelson's ruling and make it permanent next month. If that happens, the owners can continue to lock the players out and force the players back to the bargaining table.
Now, as my colleague Jim Trotter pointed out, the players should get the benefit of a win in the television portion of the fight with owners. That would give the players a major momentum boost, particularly if Judge David Doty allows the players access to any of that TV money. It would give players a cushion to survive no paychecks in September and, if necessary, longer.
But there's an asterisk around Doty's ruling. Tulane sports law professor Gabe Feldman said that even if Doty grants a significant award to players in the TV case, the owners would appeal whatever award the players would get. It could be months before the players get access to the money. The players would obviously want an expedited appeal, but it's far from certain that they'd get one. Some close to the case believe that without an expedited appeal, the case could stretch into 2012. That means the appeal would freeze the money due the players so it couldn't be touched until well past the opening of the 2011 season. However, Feldman said an expedited appeal is "not unlikely" given its potential impact on the talks between players and owners.
So, is there enough leverage on either side right now for real negotiations to happen? I quoted Cris Collinsworth at length Monday in the column, and he predicted a shortened season beginning around Nov. 1. After the ruling, he tweeted on Monday night: "Opportunity is now for a deal. If it doesn't happen in the next week, I still think we miss the start of the season.''
Maybe, but I don't think the players will feel any real pull to negotiate seriously (nor will the owners give up anything meaningful now) until they know for sure that Nelson's ruling has been overturned.
And on it goes. Training camps are supposed to open 10 weeks from now.
Strange story Monday that I referred to in the column, the one about Washington owner Dan Snyder being on a radio show and saying the Steelers were trying to trade up with Washington into the middle of the first round of the April 28 draft. All parties denied this ever happened, and the story is apparently not true.
While trolling for notes for Monday's column, I saw this one online, from a veteran Steeler reporter, and assumed it was true, particularly after it got some traction over the weekend on Twitter.
Some of you have wondered why I didn't name the source of the report, Jim Wexell, in my note Monday. If a reporter sources a radio show in a tweet or news story, I source the radio show, not the reporter who (I assume) either heard the radio show or saw quotes from it. And I assumed this one was factual. The fact that it apparently was not is now going to add another layer of checking to what I do before I report something. What goes in my column is my responsibility, regardless of the source of the information.
Now for your email:
PLAYER FINANCES. "Regarding the assertion I've heard multiple times from multiple experts (including Cris Collinsworth in today's MMQB), can you explain a little more why they're certain some players will be broke by mid-September when their game checks aren't coming in? I'm not saying I disagree, I just don't understand.
"First of all, I never realized players were only paid during the season until this labor unrest started. I guess I assumed their salaries were split up over 26 or 52 paydays annually like the rest of us. That said, how is it players somehow are able to subsist every year from February to September by planning (or delegating an advisor to plan), saving their game checks to cover them the rest of the year, but now they miss one or two checks and they're broke? I trust the opinions of Collinsworth, et al, but I am just honestly confused as to how players can presumably plan for seven months of no income every year, but somehow can't tweak their planning a bit this year to account for, say 10 or 11 months.''-- Brian Busenbark, New Fairfield, Conn.
Many of them plan very well. I talked to highly respected Colts linebacker Gary Brackett recently, and he intimated strongly to me that, lockout or not, he was already saving well over 50 percent of his annual income anyway. But not everyone is in Brackett's tax bracket (he's in the midst of a five-year $33 million contract), and there's the rub. For every Brackett, there are six or eight $500,000-a-year players per team -- at least -- and those are the guys who plan to start getting their checks again at the beginning of September. When the checks don't come, those guys are going to get restless.
Even some of the guys who made a lot of money last year aren't immune to financial hardships come September, and even though those hardships are of their own doing, that's not going to stop them from reaching out to try to make sure the deal gets done in time for them not to miss paychecks. If you doubt that, Google "Dez Bryant ... bad financial decisions ... jewelry'' and you'll see what I mean. In short, just like the rest of us, not all football players are good at budgeting their money. Collinsworth has seen that, during and after his NFL playing days.
THE OCHO DILEMMA. "I am happy to hear you say that you don't hate Chad Ochocinco; however you go on to say you tire of his me-first antics. I used to think the same way until I realized he's not striving for attention. He's sharing his wisdom. He knows what's truly important in life. Enjoy what time you have here whenever you can and never be afraid to try new things as opportunities come. It seems that is what we all wish for. What would you do today if there was no tomorrow? I'd dance a little, laugh a lot, and go for the thrill of 8 seconds on a wild bull. I'd absolutely be sure to share it with anyone who cares, too. I bleed Black and Gold, but I will always laugh with Ocho Cinco because he gets it.''--David, Mill Hall, Pa.
That's a fair way to look at it, and you might be right, but do you know him? Are you certain he's not "striving for attention?'' I'm not sure, and I know the man. I know this: I'd have a little more regard for his desire to get on a bull if I saw him practicing and training to do it, rather than getting on the back of the bull, and, as soon as the gate flew open, appearing to want to get off the bull absolutely as fast as he could. As one of the pro riders observed Saturday night, his appearance was akin to a non-skier going to the top of a huge steep mountain and asking to start on a double-diamond trail. As soon as you fall, you say, "I tried skiing,'' and technically you did. But did you do anything more than put skis on and tumble at the first sign of trouble?
EASILY. "Can you please explain how Eli Manning ranks higher on your list of the 100 best than Tony Romo? I don't believe either one to be the "elite" QBs in the league, but how does a quarterback with a career rating of 80.2 and completion percentage of 58% rank better than a QB with a 95.5 rating and a 64% completion ratio? Please don't give me the Super Bowl win as an example. Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't rank them higher than Dan Marino.''--Chris, Albany, N.Y.
Quarterbacks need to be judged in a variety of ways. Accuracy is important, and I'm a big accuracy guy. Rating is significant but less important to me, because it gives quarterbacks credit for playing it safe rather than taking some of the chances a quarterback needs to take. But winning the big games, and playing big when it matters the most, are big factors to me.
Eli Manning's track record of playing well in the biggest games is far better than Romo's. Manning was an underdog for four road playoff games in 2007 (Tampa Bay, Dallas, Green Bay and New England at a neutral site) and won them all. Manning was brilliant at Green Bay, playing as well in a bad-weather championship game as any quarterback has played. I can't sit here and say Manning will have a better career from this point on than Romo, but I can say he's certainly shown signs of being a better playoff quarterback than Romo.
I'M NOT SURE THIS MATTERS MUCH. "Peter, I'm going to try to be clearer than mud on this question, so hopefully you can decipher it. The crux of my question is: How much are both sides spending on the lockout? With attorney fees, travel, hotels, and the added expenses of having to maintain staffs who don't have the normal NFL duties, I'm curious what the final bill will be for both sides. They tell me the owners are smart businessmen, but I'm curious how many years it will take them to recoup the costs of the lockout, even if they get a better deal."--Shane Richardson, Los Angeles
What's at stake here is pretty high, and worth the expenses both sides are spending, I'd say. I take it your stance is: the owners should give the players what they want, settle this thing and stop spending money on non-football things. The problem is, if they're jousting over $9.3 billion this year, and that pie is going to grow markedly in the coming years, what happens if the NFL makes up the gap between the two sides -- which is now $320 million per year plus a percentage of the profits the NFL makes this year over a growth rate of a certain percentage?
Let's say, conservatively, that they're arguing over $450 million as a league this year, and more than that annually going forward. How much do you think the NFL's lockout expenses are -- for lawyers, hotels and the like? I'm sure it's more than the league would want to spend, but take a guess -- $20 million? Just a guess to this point. But I'd be fighting, not caving, if I believed in my cause.
FACE IT. 'THE OFFICE' HAS JUMPED THE SHARK. "You need to accept that 'The Office' is a lot like Brett Favre (or LaDainian Tomlinson, or Terrell Owens). Once they were good, great even. But it becomes obvious to everyone watching that they just don't have it anymore. Let it go.''--Scott Dean, Clyde Park, Mont.
But they had it the other night, when Dwight Schrute ran the joint. I agree -- the show's not what it was. But it can still be great if the writers don't try too hard, which is what they clearly did, and failed, with Will Ferrell.