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As bounty fallout continues, Goodell to make example of Saints



On Friday night of Super Bowl weekend, I met Steve Gleason, the former Saint now suffering with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), at a restaurant in downtown Indianapolis. There was a big group at the table. Gleason, as part of his foundation to help ALS patients live meaningful lives, brought a fellow patient from Louisiana with him, and I brought along a couple of guests, including a friend, Field Yates, once an intern with Bill Belichick's Patriots. Yates told a story of a Patriots game against the Saints during Gleason's career, and how Belichick had told him to watch Gleason on the field, because he was one of the best special-teamers in the NFL. "Just watch,'' Belichick told him. Sure enough, Gleason creamed a Patriot, legally, on a kicking-team play during the game.

Someone brought up the crushing hits by James Harrison of the Steelers, and Gleason turned wistful. "I used to love those hits,'' Gleason said. "Now I don't love them so much anymore.''

Gleason is 34. His brother, Kyle, fed him that night because ALS has robbed Steve of the ability to completely control his muscle movements. No one knows for sure if a life in football caused the ALS that ravages Gleason now, but at least one study has made a direct link between ALS and the hard hits of football, and Gleason has his suspicions. As do I.

I found myself thinking about this scene over the weekend, with the news that the Saints of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, two years after Gleason left the team, began paying defensive players bounties to knock opponents out of games, and for making difference-making plays.

Steve Gleason is around this team a lot these days. He has talked to the players. The Saints have rallied around this warrior who, very possibly, is now paying the price of his future for hitting people so hard when he played. And I thought of Gleason because the game of football is vicious enough with the legal hits Gleason made sprinting downfield on special teams. Imagine players tempted by a cash bonus to be even more vicious, to knock important foes like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre out of games.

This does such a shameful disservice to Steve Gleason that I almost puke thinking about it.

I keep coming back, over and over, to something I first reported Friday evening, something I saw in a confidential four-page memo sent to the 32 teams (and obtained from one of those teams) late Friday, detailing the abuses.

"At times, players both pledged significant amounts and targeted particular players,'' the memo said. "For example, prior to a Saints playoff game in January 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked Favre out of the game.''

Anyone who thinks the Saints defense didn't go over the line to try to do just that wasn't watching the game -- and didn't see the three plays I reviewed over the weekend. Early in the game, Favre handed off to Percy Harvin, and after the handoff -- a handoff, mind you, a running play -- defensive lineman Bobby McCray ran at Favre and hit him flush in the chin. That brought a 15-yard unnecessary roughness flag from referee Pete Morelli and a fine from the league five days later.

In the third quarter, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove got 15 yards for pile-driving Favre into the ground after a pass. Four plays later, Morelli missed an egregious high-low hit from McCray and tackle Remi Ayodele; maybe Morelli figured he'd just flagged Hargrove and he couldn't throw a flag every time Favre got mugged. "I thought my ankle was broken after that play,'' Favre told me after the game. "I felt a lot of crunching in there.''

That week, McCray got fined a total of $20,000 for two hits -- the hit on Favre's chin and the hit below his knees after he'd released the pass. Hargrove got $5,000 for slamming Favre to the ground.

There are many reasons Roger Goodell has to act decisively here, but I keep coming back to leader-of-the-pack Vilma speaking up in a team meeting, with, I'm assuming, his teammates already at a fever pitch for the biggest game of their lives, and Vilma throwing $10,000 out there if one of them would knock Favre out. By a concussion from nailing him in the chin after a handoff? Fine. From a bruised kidney after pile-driving him into the ground? Fine. With a torn ACL from diving at his exposed knee and lower leg? Fine. Whatever. Just get him out of the game.

No one's naïve enough to suggest the Saints are alone here, or that Gregg Williams-led teams are the only ones to practice this act. I don't doubt other teams in full desperado mode have had and still have bounty systems in place. But it's like doing 72 in a 60-mph zone and seeing other cars zip past you, and having the cop pull you over. Officer, what about the cars passing me! They're speeding faster than I was! True. But you're guilty. And you're the one that got pulled over.

There's a reason why one prominent football official I spoke with over the weekend said to me, "The league finally got one. This is one of those stories you always hear about -- teams giving bonuses to knock players out of the game and, really, to circumvent the salary cap with these bounties. Now there's no way any coach with half a brain will allow this to go on in his building ... assuming Roger will be tough enough here.''

I've heard the nutty the-league-has-it-out-for-the-Saints theories over the weekend -- Goodell wants to put cocky Sean Payton in his place, the league wants to corral a team playing by its own rules. Nonsense. Goodell brought the hammer down on one of his closest league allies, Bob Kraft of the Patriots, four years ago in Spygate. Goodell, on many occasions, has brought the hammer down on his single closest league ally, Dan Rooney of the Steelers, by a steady stream of fines for excessive hits by Steeler players.

Fair or unfair, whether everyone does it or not, the Saints got caught urging their players to hurt players on other teams -- and paying them through a players' slush fund to try to do it. It's beyond reprehensible. If Goodell doesn't come down very hard, just what will he come down hard on?

Goodell has a few reasons to issue a string of suspensions the likes of which the league has never seen. (Don't think Spygate sanctions here, folks. Think Alex Karras-Paul Hornung sanctions. The Patriots got fines and lost a first-round pick for illegal videotaping. In 1962, Karras and Hornung got a year for gambling.) He has to worry about the message he sends to other teams and make sure they scurry to stop all such off-the-books payment and bounty systems. He has to defend the league against head-trauma-related lawsuits and show that the NFL is aggressively trying to make the game safe. And there's the specter (idiotic, in my opinion) of the 18-game schedule, which only has a chance if somehow the league can prove through safer equipment and maniacal attention to erasing things like bounty programs that more games won't be an overt safety risk to players.

Regarding the penalties: I'm not saying Williams will get a year. He might; I don't know that. But Williams, now the Rams defensive coordinator, is due back in the league office today to address accusations he ran the same kind of bounty programs in Buffalo and Washington. He's in the biggest trouble and will likely get a significant suspension, at least half the season. Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis will be banned for a time too, for not exercising the kind of institutional control they should have.

Vilma is going down, and I suspect other player leaders could be banned for games too. Not that they're all still Saints, but I have to wonder how the league will manage the suspension if, say, six Saints are banned for a game or more. Will Goodell stagger them? Or will the Saints be missing half their defense for Week 1?

If you're a Saints fan today and you're worried about Goodell's discipline, you should be. Recall this Dick Ebersol story from the end of my Goodell profile 13 months ago in SI. The story ran on the eve of the start of serious negotiations between the players and owners last year for a new bargaining agreement.

In 2004, when Ebersol was mourning the loss of his 14-year-old son, Teddy, in a plane crash, Goodell got Paul Tagliabue and then-NFLPA head Gene Upshaw to each fund a suite in the dormitory the Ebersol family had donated to Teddy's private school in Connecticut. Dick Ebersol was overcome with emotion when he toured the dorm and saw little plaques outside the two rooms, side by side, noting the NFL's and NFLPA's generosity. It's a gesture from Goodell the Ebersol family will never forget.

Fast-forward to the 2009 negotiations for a two-year extension, through 2013, to NBC's contract with the NFL. The NFL, according to Ebersol, was stuck on a rights fee of $600 million year for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, though NBC wasn't getting a Super Bowl in either season. Ebersol and Goodell had a few back-and-forth discussions, and Goodell finally said the NFL wouldn't accept a dime less. "There was a coldness and a 'that's it' kind of tone in Roger's voice that was chilling,'' Ebersol said.

"At his heart,'' said Ebersol, "Roger can be a cold son of a bitch. I think the people on the other side of the negotiating table are going to hear that in the coming months. This really nice man is going to show mettle, and he's going to do what he thinks is best for the National Football League. It's what he's always done.''

Favre isn't that angry -- but he is glad the truth is coming out. I caught Favre at the end of a day planting soybeans on his ranch in southern Mississippi Friday. The story had broken two hours earlier, and his cell phone kept vibrating. That's how he knew something was up. When I told him the extent of it, and the Vilma story, I waited for his reaction. "Hmmmm,'' he said, and paused. "That's about it.''

With Favre, the reaction is rarely three words long. "I'm not pissed,'' he said. "It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys. I would have loved to play with Vilma. Hell of a player. I've got a lot of respect for Gregg Williams. He's a great coach. I'm not going to make a big deal about it. In all honesty, there's a bounty of some kind on you on every play. Now, in that game there were some plays that, I don't want to say were odd, but I'd throw the ball and whack, on every play. Hand it off, whack. Over and over. Some were so blatant. I hand the ball to Percy Harvin early and got drilled right in the chin. They flagged that one at least.

"I've always been friends with Darren Sharper, and he came in a couple times and popped me hard. I remember saying, 'What THE hell you doing, Sharp?' I felt there should have been more calls against the Saints. I thought some of their guys should have been fined more.''

As for the story finally seeing the light of day, Favre said: "Now the truth comes out. That's good. But that's football. The only thing that really pisses me off about the whole thing is we lost the game. That's the thing about that day that still bothers me. And that's the way it goes. If they wanted me to testify in court about this, they'd be calling the wrong guy.''

Tom Benson is out of the woods on this one, mostly. But should he be? In the four-page confidential memo to league teams that I referenced earlier, the league makes it clear Goodell buys the Saints' owner's contention that he asked Mickey Loomis to make sure the bounty program stopped, and Loomis didn't do it. But that's not going to take the Saints off the hook here. The organization will be fined, and likely have draft picks taken. In the conclusion of the league memo, the league makes it clear the players, Williams, Payton, Loomis and the organization as a whole are guilty of conduct detrimental to the league.

Specifically on Benson: "While it is clear that ownership was unaware of the bounty program, and strongly disapproved of it and directed that it be discontinued once it was disclosed, the club nonetheless is guilty of conduct detrimental by virtue of the actions of its employees, which continued over a period of years, and the failure of its senior executives to address the matter in a responsible way. The Commissioner has repeatedly held that clubs bear a responsibility for the conduct of their employees, and that misconduct by employees -- particularly by employees in responsible and leadership positions -- will be attributed to the club for purposes of discipline.''

This gives head coaches and general managers a teaching point. One coach said to me over the weekend that he had nothing like this going on with his team -- but he'd be sure at his next full staff meeting to tell everyone in the room that if that goes on at any point in the future, the offending assistant coach should expect to be fired. Imagine the guts a coach would have to possess to continue a bounty program now. He'd have a death wish.

Can Peyton Manning's neck injury be traced to Gregg Williams? Williams was the Redskins' defensive coordinator on Oct. 22, 2006, for the Washington-Indianapolis game. Last fall, during an NBC telecast, Tony Dungy said Manning's current neck injury stems from that game. Manning's neck got wrenched and his helmet ripped off on a hit by two Washington defenders. We showed the highlight on our show. Manning, after being hit and crumbling to the ground awkwardly, lay there for a second, and when he rose, he stretched his neck and shook his right arm for a second, as if trying to get the feeling back in it.

Afterward, as I wrote last fall in this column, Dungy told me: "Earlier in the game, I'm outraged that there was a flag for roughing-the-passer on Dwight Freeney for just grazing the quarterback's helmet. So I'm yelling at the ref [Scott Green], 'Where's the flag! Where's the flag!' And I don't yell much, but I did then. So I didn't notice Peyton calling timeout and being shaken up. Peyton came to the sideline and said to [backup] Jim Sorgi, 'Jim, start warming up.' As the timeout went on, he said to us, 'I can stay in, but we need to run the ball here.' '' Which the Colts did, settling for a field goal deep in Washington territory.

"Then we sort of forgot about it at halftime, and Peyton seemed fine," said Dungy. "He lit it up in the second half. He was on fire [throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns]. But that's the year we started cutting back on his throws at practice. I'm not putting two plus two together. I just figure he's getting older and he needs some time off, he's made enough throws. But now, as I look back on it, there's no doubt in my mind that this was the start of his neck problems.'' There's no evidence that Washington's defenders had a bounty out on Manning that night. But it's a question, surely, that begs to be asked. And if I were one of the league investigators interviewing Williams today, it's certainly something I'd explore.

Pete Carmichael Jr., get ready. Lots of jobs around the Saints could change for the short- or long-term, depending on how Goodell rules. It's possible if Payton misses some time he'll make assistant head coach Joe Vitt the interim coach, which he was when Payton was out with his knee injury last fall. The new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, will do the job he's prepared to do, but he'll certainly have to adjust if and when his defensive players are suspended. But the pressure will likely be most felt by offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who came with Payton to the Saints in 2006. Payton is the normal play-caller on gamedays, and Carmichael had some play-calling duties last fall when Payton was recovering from his knee surgery. But if Payton is ordered not to have any involvement with the team for a specified period, Carmichael will take on the game-planning and play-calling duties that Payton has been so good at. Last fall, Drew Brees downplayed -- as he would, of course -- the temporary absence of Payton. "There are plenty of times in practice when Sean will say, 'Hey, Pete, you've got it,' and Pete will be calling it off the script or making adjustments. The fact that Pete is the one giving me the play isn't all that unusual, because we've done that many times before. This will be an adjustment, but then again when I do come to the sideline my communication is usually with Pete. We're looking over at pass pictures together. I'll get up and talk with Sean a little bit, but a lot of the communication happens in the headset between Pete and Sean and then back to me. I think we have a good flow as far as how we communicate on game day, anyway, and a lot of it comes through Pete. I think the fact that it's going to be Pete's voice now and he'll actually be relaying the plays to me, that won't be all that unusual for me." Brees said that last fall. He might be saying the same thing this fall, for a while.


Good sign for Houston.

Early this morning, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported the Texans saved their franchise tag by agreeing to a five-year deal with running back Arian Foster. Big, big deal for Houston. Foster was going to be a restricted free agent, which means there was little pressure on the Texans to get a long-term deal done this year. But Texans GM Rick Smith was smart. Foster's 25. He's the perfect back for coach Gary Kubiak's preferred one-cut-and-get-upfield rushing style, with a good mix of power and speed around the edge. In the last two seasons, since taking over the starting job, Foster has 2,840 rushing yards in 29 games, and he's shown the ability to take the kind of pounding a coach like Kubiak likes. Which leads us to ...


Good sign for Seattle.

The signing of Marshawn Lynch to a four-year deal last night -- actually, Seattle GM John Schneider had the deal all but done after a negotiating session at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that ended at 3:15 a.m. nine days ago -- is a boost for a team on the rise. Lynch is a young player still; he doesn't turn 26 until next month, so when he finishes this contract he'll be 29 years old. In his five NFL seasons, he hasn't been beaten up; he's averaged 227 carries a season. The Seahawks went on a strong run with him late in the season, going 5-4 (with all four losses by 10 points or less) and beating Philadelphia and Baltimore in the process. In those nine games, Lynch, who revels in being called "BeastMode'' for his style of running, gained 104 rushing yards a game, on average, and changed Seattle's identity. A fun-loving, Skittles-chomping player, Lynch even got the sedate billionaire owner of the Seahawks, Paul Allen, excited early this morning on Twitter. "BeastMode will be back!! Great news for this young, exciting team & 12th Man."

Newsiest thing about this deal, from the standpoint of how it influences the running back market: On one hand, it provides very little benefit to Ray Rice and Matt Forte, on the surface. Lynch got a deal averaging $7.75 million a year. The franchise tags Rice and Forte will play under -- unless they sign long-term deals -- is for $7.7 million a year. On the other hand, Rice, for instance, has outgained Lynch by 1,532 yards over the past three years. So shouldn't he say he's worth significantly more than Lynch in a four-year deal?

The reality for Rice is he's probably not going to get a deal in the Adrian Peterson neighborhood, which he'd like to do. He may be forced to play this one-year deal out or take a deal he doesn't love to get anywhere close to the guaranteed money any running back would want in a profession where backs flame out young.


Who is Will Wilson?

You'll be hearing a lot of Will Wilson in the next few weeks. He's Andrew Luck's agent. Luck is Wilson's first client. Luck is also Wilson's nephew. Wilson, 44, joined the Wasserman Media Group of California as the executive vice president of football when Luck signed on with him. Luck is Wasserman's first client. Wilson, a veteran executive of several sports ventures (World League of American Football, Arena League, Major League Soccer, CART auto racing) got his agent certification within the last year and suggested to Oliver Luck, Andrew's father and the former NFL backup quarterback, that he be considered Andrew's agent. "I never had a discussion with them until after the Fiesta Bowl [in January],'' Wilson said. "I suppose there's a lot of trust in my abilities. It's pretty compelling he'll be our only football client, and I'll be able to devote all my time on his representation.'' Wilson said he "hasn't even thought about'' building a client list. Wilson's easiest job likely will be the contract he negotiates with the Colts, if Indianapolis makes Luck the No. 1 overall pick as expected. The rookie deals under the new CBA will have some incentive wiggle room, but are nearly locked in; Luck will make about $23 million over four seasons as the top pick. It's off-field apparel, merchandise and endorsement deals that will be Wilson's concentration -- and making sure the demands of being the first pick in the draft don't interfere with Luck's football.


As usual, some good nuggets in the Giants' Super Bowl DVD.

One of my favorite video events of the year is the hour-long Super Bowl winners' DVD, which goes on sale tonight at midnight and will debut in Times Square in New York this evening. We've already seen some of the good moments previewed on shows like "Inside the NFL'' on Showtime, and on NFL Network programming, the best of which was Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl imploring his defense -- right before Eli Manning rainbowed the greatest throw of his life into Mario Manningham's arms down the left sideline -- to watch out for Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and let the Giants throw it to Manningham or Bear Pascoe.

The other points I enjoyed about Vivendi Entertainment's Super Bowl XLVI Champions: New York Giants:

• Good NFL Films slo-mo angles of stopping Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. Tight, compelling shots. And a perfect angle on the ball grazing Kyle Williams' knee on the poor returner's muffed punt.

• Victor Cruz on the field before the Super Bowl, speaking to himself incredulously, sounding like a perfectly programmed Tom Coughlin football player. This Cruz talking to Victor Cruz: "I used to think it was all about me. It's about this team. THIS TEAM.''

• The mechanics of officiating on the early-game safety in the Super Bowl. After Tom Brady, standing in the pocket in the end zone, sails a pass way over any intended receiver, umpire Carl Paganelli rushes in to speak with ref John Parry in the end zone. "Nobody down there!'' Paganelli said. And Parry looked downfield and said, "He's [Brady] in the pocket.'' Good scene of how officials work together.

• Telling camera shot: After Chase Blackburn intercepted Brady, Brady sat glumly on the field. For three or four seconds, a teammate offered a hand to help Brady get up. Brady didn't.

• Cruz, again, watching the replay board after the incredible catch by Manningham down the sideline, during the replay review, seeing if Manningham did indeed make a legal catch: "Catch ... right ... left ... YEAH!!!!''

• New England linebacker Jerod Mayo in the huddle with a minute to play, telling his defense to play dead: "Huddle up! Huddle up! Gotta let 'em score! Gotta let 'em score!'' And they did.

• Finally, Tom Brady, with urgency, just before his Hail Mary on the final play of the game, to Aaron Hernandez: "Run to the goal post and catch it!'' That's exactly what Hernandez tried to do. And failed.

Good stuff, though I'm guessing it won't sell so well in the 617 area code.


Fifty-one days 'til Christmas -- actually, the first round of the April 26 draft -- and here are my odds of who gets the big prize, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, via a trade with the Rams for the second pick in the draft:

1. Washington, 3-1. But this means GM Bruce Allen, as I suspect, will lose out on Peyton Manning because he won't bid as much guaranteed money as star-famished Miami owner Stephen Ross.

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2. Cleveland 4-1. Makes the most sense. But GM Tom Heckert will hate to deal away the draft pool it will take to move up to get Griffin.

3. Miami, 5-1. If Miami misses on Manning, it will be conflicted. Full-bore for Griffin or pursue Matt Flynn in free agency?

4. Seattle, 10-1. Too far to come (the Seahawks pick 12th overall), too many draft picks to sacrifice.

5. (tie) Philadelphia and Kansas City, 25-1. Never eliminate Andy Reid in the quest for a quarterback. He loved RG3 when they met at the combine, as did Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. If Pioli has some Thomas Dimitroff riverboat gambler in him, he just might risk it all to go get Griffin.

"In a sick way, I guess it's flattering. If you had a bounty on you, you were a good player and they wanted to get rid of you.''

-- Former Washington quarterbacks Joe Theismann, to the Associated Press.

"Part of what makes sports great, part of what makes March Madness great, the NFL playoffs great, is every once in a while, something happens during the playoffs that shows the character of a team. Look at the Giants this year. Nobody would have picked them. They wouldn't have been crowned as champions if you had a coaches' poll at the end of the year. But they made the plays when it counted.''

-- President Obama, in a podcast with Bill Simmons of last week.

Is it my imagination, or is no politician in the history of the world in favor of the college football season ending the way it does right now?

"I had nine great years. It just sucks that it has to end this way.''

-- Retiring San Diego guard Kris Dielman, who retired Thursday because of a concussion suffered Oct. 23 in a game against the Jets. The concussion was followed by a seizure on the charter flight home.

Watching not only Dielman speak, but also his teammates speak and look on at the retirement ceremony, I found it to be a great example of the love teammates have for each other. Philip Rivers got emotional about it. Dielman's line coach, Hal Hunter, got emotional too. Dielman was voted one of the best 50 Chargers of all-time three years ago, and it's not only the talent he had in keeping Rivers clean and blocking for LaDainian Tomlinson. It's the dedication and toughness he showed for nine seasons. He'll be missed -- and he'll miss the game.

"Peyton has probably, over the last couple of years, seen four of the top neurosurgeons in America. As a father that's what I feel good about. He's been involved with the right people. One of them did the surgery. Now they cleared him to play. His neck is no different from any player out there. It's a danger to anyone. That's football. As a parent we feel good where he's at."

-- Archie Manning, father of Peyton, refuting the commonly held belief that Peyton Manning is at more risk than the average player because he has had four neck procedures in the last two years.

Sad to see the Steelers divest themselves of Hines Ward as a cap casualty. While we wait to see if he plays somewhere else in 2012, it's interesting to compare Ward to his two Pittsburgh predecessors who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Each was a better deep threat than Ward. Ward blocked downfield better than either. And though they played in different eras (mostly) -- Stallworth retired in 1987, 11 years before Ward was a rookie -- it's notable that Ward caught more passes than Swann and Stallworth combined. The odd comparison:

Call it the Month of Living Dangerously for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A month ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, they were $25 million over the projected 2012 salary cap. This morning, they are approximately $12 million under.

How they got there: They shaved $25.86 million by restructuring contracts of five veterans -- Ben Roethlisberger ($8.03m savings), LaMarr Woodley ($6.56m), Lawrence Timmons ($5.14m), Ike Taylor ($3.28m) and Willie Colon ($2.85m). The Steelers then saved $14.26 million by cutting five players -- Hines Ward ($3.39m), James Farrior ($2.83m), Bryant McFadden ($2.50m), Chris Kemoeatu ($2.39m) and Aaron Smith ($2.11m).

Total cap savings in one month: $40.12 million.

But you say, If the Steelers were $25 million over the cap and they cut $40 million, why are they only $12 million under and not $15 million under? Do the math, King!

Because to replace the five players that were cut, the Steelers have to put five players in their place. The cap is based on the top 51-salaried players on your roster. So let's assume that the five new players on the cap --and I'm being generous here -- have second-year NFL minimum salaries of $540,000. (Some probably would have first-year numbers.) Those five players, combined, would make about $2.7 million total, meaning that you'd subtract that number from the cap savings of $40 million and come up with a number close to $37 million. That means they're about $12 million to the good, assuming there are no more re-signings or restructurings.

That doesn't mean the Steelers will be able to sign a lot of players, or any players, to improve their team. It does means the Steelers will have the money to sign their restricted and unrestricted free agents to the tender numbers they'll need to use. For instance, the first-round receiver tender on invaluable restricted free agent Mike Wallace is $2.75 million, meaning if a team signs him to a contract, the Steelers have the right to match the offer, and if they don't, the signing team would forfeit its first-round pick to Pittsburgh.

Could it happen? Theoretically yes. If the 49ers signed Wallace to a front-loaded five-year, $40 million contract, and the Steelers didn't match, the Steelers would either agree to pay Wallace an onerous contract that would force more cap restructuring, or get the Niners' first-round pick in this year's draft, the 30th overall.

In other words, the Steeler worries aren't over. Wallace is a 25-year-old speed demon with good hands who runs good routes and has been productive, averaging 57 catches and 18.7 yards per catch in his first three years as a Steeler.

Thursday, 5:20 a.m., JetBlue Terminal, JFK Airport, New York: Hundreds of travelers, maybe 2,500 or 3,000, snake around the kiosks in the terminal until they reach the labyrinthine maze to get to the open X-ray portals. It is a stunning sight. Only once in my travels -- at the airport in Paris a few years ago -- have I seen a security line like this. People enter the terminal and jaws hit the floor. The JetBlues scurry to open more security lines, and finally, after maybe 35 minutes, the line starts moving pretty well. Time to get through security: 66 minutes.

Friday, 5:25 a.m., Baton Rouge (La.) Airport: I am ninth in line for the morning rush (four early planes) at the lone security gate. There is nothing noteworthy to report. No jousting with TSA people. Nothing. Time to get through security: five minutes. The time from my rental-car drop to sitting at the gate: 13 minutes.

"I got a very big statement to make tomorrow at 1 o'clock.''

--@ChrisJohnson28, the Tennessee running back, who had an off-year in 2011, at 2:13 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday.

"Statement is I'm gonna lead the league n rushing this year save this''

--@ChrisJohnson28, at 1:15 p.m. Saturday.

Stop the presses.

"Dolphins' Joe Philbin, in the row behind me on flight home, spent hours reading Pat Riley's The Winner Within, taking notes on yellow pad.''

--'s @JeffDarlington, on his plane-mate on the way home from the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week.

"Tek is the epitome of hard work and dedication... he will be missed in our clubhouse. It's been an honor to be his teammate. #captain

-- @JacobyEllsbury, Red Sox center fielder, on the retirement of catcher Jason Varitek.

"People who tell me they're tired of reading about Peyton are same ones who said they got tired of OJ coverage -- and watched every minute''

-- @bkravitz, columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, on the apparently insatiable desire of his readers for more Peyton Manning coverage.

1. I think I'm more convinced than ever: The Patriots, who need major help on defense, should be at the front of the pursuit pack for Mario Williams, assuming the Texans don't put the franchise tag on him.

2. I think if any of the 22 players implicated in the Saints' bounty program ever ends up in one of the burgeoning concussion or football-as-long-term-damage lawsuits 10 years from now, I hope the judge takes one look at the suit, chuckles, and says, "Are you kidding? Get out of here.''

3. I think kudos are in order for former Cardinals and Seahawks center Ed Cunningham, who won an Oscar eight nights ago as the producer on the best documentary, Undefeated, which tells the story of a coach and players who lift a downtrodden Memphis high school football team to prominence. In the process, the kids learn some great lessons. That's the vast oversimplification of it. "It's not a football movie,'' Cunningham told me. "It's a movie about what sports can do for people when they need something done for them.'' Interesting that when Cunningham was asked who he wanted to thank for the award, he thanked coaches in his life -- Bruce Patrick from his Virginia high school, Don James and Keith Gilbertson from his college days at Washington, and Howard Mudd from the pros. "Coaches,'' he said, "are so incredibly influential in all aspect of so many lives.'' Can't wait to see how this coach in Memphis molded the lives of boys who needed him so much.

4. I think there's one player who should be affordable, available and sought after by any team needing a nickel rusher or maybe an every-down rush end: Jeremy Mincey of the Jags. With four sacks and 18 quarterback hits/pressures in the last four weeks of the season, Mincey, 28, put on a good free-agent rush. His name has come up three times since the end of the season with personnel guys looking for help pressuring the quarterback.

5. I think I had this reaction to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report Sunday that the Browns are balking at including their second first-round pick, No. 22 overall, in a trade for the No. 2 overall pick: Let the posturing begin. Cleveland can't seriously think RG3 can be had for anything less than two first-round picks and at least two additional picks or an additional pick and a player.

Now, if the Browns are talking about a one this year, a one next year, a two this year and something else, that's a good starting point. Just remember -- in 1998, the Chargers moved up one spot, from three to two, in the first round by dealing two ones, a two, a three and a Pro Bowl running back. Ryan Leaf was talented with baggage. Griffin is talented with no baggage.

6. I think Tom Coughlin deserves a back-pat for doing the right thing and naming Kevin M. Gilbride the team's receivers' coach. Coughlin had denied Gilbride, who served as the team's offensive quality control coach and was the son of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, the opportunity to interview for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback coaching job. And he didn't immediately give Kevin M. Gilbride a bigger job, but he did late in the week, which was clearly the right thing to do.

7. I think the admirers for Ryan Tannehill continue to grow, despite the fact he was a part-time wide receiver at Texas A&M. This from GM John Schneider of the Seahawks: "The guy was a quarterback in high school, just a football player. First and foremost, that's what we're looking for. Especially at that position. Guys that have always been in the quarterback schools, the special camps, and all that kind of stuff -- they make me a little nervous to a certain extent. This guy is a real football player. He played defense. You could see him last year when he stepped in, he just went out and played. He had this natural toughness about him that the players really rallied around and went on a winning streak. And he did a great job.''

8. I think that was a good hire of Bill Polian, ESPN. You'll be able to get him to talk, and about important things.

9. I think this comes from one agent, who is ready to retire early because of the sharkiness of the business (235 new agents are registered this year in an already-jam-packed pool: "After about the first 15 picks in the draft, the rookies don't even need agents. The slotting system for every pick eliminates the need until a player is finished with his rookie deal. Pretty soon, the smart kids are going to realize they should just pay an attorney $750 to go over the contract just as insurance. It's a myth that we're going to be able to get more money for a kid picked in the third or fourth round.''

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Our neighbors in the Midwest and south are reeling from the tornadoes of the past few days, and if you can find it in your heart to donate $10 or more, here's the American Red Cross site. The human suffering looked so awful last night on the news. Ninety reported tornadoes, 38 deaths. Lord.

b. Toured the expanded Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair (N.J.) State the other day. What a treat. The place is a treasure trove of baseball history -- with Berra's jersey from the Don Larson perfect World Series game, rings from throughout his career, used bats and gloves from the '50s. And the love letters from Yogi to his future wife are so charming. The place is used for coaching clinics, educational seminars, speeches, book signings and readings, but it's worth it to just drop by and spend two hours soaking in baseball history up close.

c. Dick Ebersol has urged me not to mention anything about politics in this presidential-election year. And so I won't. But as a college grad and father of two college graduates and a husband of a college graduate, boy, am I dying to.

d. Rotisserie time looms. I've swapped Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Howard for Adrian Gonzalez and Buster Posey, which leaves the Montclair Pedroias with Posey, Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia as keepers heading into my draft later this month. As usual, I've done no homework on the draft, and the only non-Sox thing I've read about baseball in the last couple of weeks is that Mike Stanton is now calling himself Giancarlo Stanton. I'd better get on with the serious business of draft prep.

e. I can't believe you didn't know who Adrian Gonzalez was, Adam Schefter.

f. RIP, Davy Jones. Third and fourth grade, Enfield, Conn., saving allowance to buy 45s of Last Train to Clarksville and I'm a Believer and Valleri. I never got into the silly TV show, but the music for little punks like me was gold. Gold, Jerry!

g. I've seen a couple of ads for the Masters, which starts a month from today. After going last year and crossing it off my bucket list, I strongly, strongly urge any of you who've thought twice about doing it to act on it, if you can afford it. One of the things I recall is being impressed with the course not being overcrowded, and being able to get pretty close to most any tee box and certainly having room to stand in the fairways right next to players hitting shots.

h. The Hank Haney book gives me the creeps.

i. Trading Rondo, Danny Ainge? Linsane.

j. Go get him, Rachel Maddow.

k. I am either old or out of touch with modern sports or both, because these first two paragraphs of a USA Today story confused me: "This weekend's title bout for Strikeforce will mark the first time a major promotion leads a card using a women's division with staying power. Bantamweight champion Miesha Tate and challenger Ronda Rousey will enter the cage Saturday (10 p.m. ET, Showtime) at Nationwide Arena more than 2 ½ years after Christiane 'Cyborg' Santos defeated Gina Carano in the main event of s Strikeforce card in August 2009. This time the women have a realistic chance of producing future headliners.''

What is "Strikeforce?'' And the third graph tells me this is MMA (mixed martial arts). But I still have no idea what the first sentence in this story means. I guess I must be lower than the lowest common denominator the paper is trying to reach. I don't get it.

l. Coffeenerdness: Terrific PJ's latte in Baton Rouge, just off the LSU campus, the other day. Now that's some good, rich, eye-opening espresso.

m. Beernerdness: Don't know how good you've had it until you walk into a restaurant in Manhattan, far from Portland, Maine, and they have Allagash White on the beer menu. Heavenly.