But in a football sense, the big news last week had to be the divorce between the Indianapolis Colts and two of the best assistant coaches of this era, offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
What you're about to read is not the same thing you've read in most places, because I don't totally buy what you've read in most places. You've read that Moore and Mudd were forced out by changes to the NFL's pension system. And while there is some truth to that, it's a complicated story that can't be summed up that easily.
"This,'' Indy GM Bill Polian told me over the weekend, "is about 1-percent related to changes in the pension system.''
Not exactly. But I'll get to the pension part in a couple of paragraphs. First, a few words about the amazing streak the Colts have been on. In today's football, imagine your quarterback, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach being the same for 11 years. Those three men, I believe, are the keystones to any offense in the NFL. The quarterback, obviously. The offensive coordinator because he has to work as one with the quarterback and has to be the one who designs and implements what teams are doing on offense every week. The line coach because he's the one designing schemes to keep the quarterback clean -- and, in the case of Mudd, because he and Peyton had such a Yin and Yang relationship and because Mudd figured ways to keep the pressure off Manning when the Colts weren't using high draft choices on offensive linemen.
The Colts have been thinking for the last couple of years that either Moore, 70, or Mudd, 67, would retire. They've been preparing for it. The new offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen, has been the receivers coach for seven years; he'll formulate the game plan in concert with former quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, now the head coach, who has also been on staff for seven years. The new offensive line coach, former Bills tight end Pete Metzelaars, has been on staff for five years, working under Mudd as his apprentice. The successor-in-waiting for Mudd, Metzelaars coached the unit on the field during practice for three weeks in 2008 while Mudd was mostly in the office recovering from a knee replacement. The only relatively new kid on the block will be Frank Reich, who moves from offensive quality control coach to quarterback coach.
This isn't to diminish the losses of Moore and Mudd. It's certainly possible that the Indy offense will struggle to replace them. But with a quarterback who is more a coach on the field than any other quarterback in football, and with three replacement coaches who have been on staff for five years or more, and with a head coach who was on the other end of the ring-down phone for the previous seven years when Manning called upstairs, it's more likely that the Colts will figure a way to be as good on offense as they have been.
"I think these are two of the greatest assistant coaches of their time,'' said Polian. "But when you watch us this year, from a recognition standpoint, you won't be able to tell the difference. The idea of a succession plan has been in place for some time.''
Now about the pension plan. The NFL changed its longstanding pension plan for employees, including assistant coaches, in March. In doing so the NFL allowed teams to either stay in a league plan or, presumably for less money, join a plan for a lower benefit level that teams would find on their own. Nine teams up to now have chosen to do their own plans, including Dallas and New England. Indianapolis likely will not opt out. But even if the Colts stay in the league plan, Moore and Mudd could be affected because of previous teams that employed them, according to Polian.
This is where it gets complicated. Employees who retire and take their pension can take it in one of three ways. One is as a lump sum, which is most desirable because then retirees can take the entire pension and invest the benefits as they see fit. The benefits belong to them and their heirs as long as the money lasts. Two is as an annuity, with annual payouts until the retiree dies. Three is as an annuity with annual payouts until the retiree and his spouse both die.
Obviously, the older a coach is when he retires, the less his life expectancy is. In the cases of Moore and Mudd, both of whom have had recent health concerns, they obviously wanted a lump-sum payment. But neither club or league lawyers could assure them that they'd be able to take a lump-sum payment if they retired beyond this year. Not because of what the Colts would do with their pension plan. ("The Colts will fund our plan fully,'' said Polian.) But because of what their previous employers would do. Mudd worked previously with San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland and Kansas City. Moore worked for Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit and New Orleans.
If any of those teams funded their pension plan at less than 80 percent of the minimum standard for pension plans, Moore and Mudd risked not being able to take their retirement pensions in a lump sum. San Francisco and New Orleans are likely to opt out of the league pension plan; Minnesota might. So even though the Colts are likely to fund, as Polian says, neither the Colts nor advisers to Moore and Mudd could guarantee that they'd be able to take the lump-sum payment.
"This has been going on since February,'' said Polian. "And the fact is we just couldn't answer whether they'd be able to take the lump-sum or whether they'd have to take the pro-rata portion of the pension in an annuity. We think they'd be able to take the lump-sum, but can I look at both of them and say, 'Everyone's going to fund and you'll be able to take a lump sum when you retire?' And the answer was no.''
So Mudd and Moore, sure they'd be able to get the lump-sum if they opted out before the clubs changed, decided to retire now and take the full benefit. As one retirement planner without direct knowledge of the NFL's system told me over the weekend, it could be the difference between getting $1.2 million and being finished with your pension, or taking $60,000 a year until both a retiree and his spouse died. Under this scenario, if a retired coach took the annuity and died after seven years and his wife after eight, they'd get a total of $480,000 from their pension, instead of a lump-sum payment of $1.2 million, which presumably they could grow into a larger nest egg through investments.
It's likely, Polian thinks, that both men would get their lump sums regardless of when they retired. But because the Colts couldn't tell them with certainty, they retired. Technically, it's because of the change in the pension system that Moore and Mudd did what they did. But Mudd has been a pro coach for 35 seasons. One of those years was for a team (San Francisco, 1977) that will likely opt out of the system. Is there any way on earth that a federal pension analyst would deny Mudd's attempt to take a lump-sum retirement payment if he worked one more year with the Colts, and in only one of the 36 years he worked in pro football did a team not fund its pension plan fully? Highly, highly doubtful. It's almost absurd to think Mudd would have gotten turned down trying to take his pension all at once. But because no one could tell him absolutely, he retired.
It's a strange, technical, ugly story. It's also one, in my opinion, that won't impact the Colts very much.
"If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, he would have invited Arizona if they had won.''--Steelers linebacker James Harrison, explaining why he will refuse to accompany his team on a trip to the White House to see President Obama, in quite possibly the most nonsensical quote ever uttered by a professional athlete.
I'm just speechless over that one.
"With all the support from everyone, we will get through this. He will walk again.''--Michelle Behm, the wife of fallen Dallas scout Rich Behm, who was paralyzed when the Dallas Cowboys practice bubble collapsed 16 days ago.
Michelle Behm recently lost her mother. And she just had the couple's third child seven weeks ago. Talk about a challenging time for a family.
"Elvis is back in the building.''--Miami football czar Bill Parcells, to Jason Taylor when the 34-year-old pass-rusher and one-time Dancing With The Stars participant re-entered the Dolphins football complex in Davie, Fla., after re-signing with Miami in the wake of his ill-fated sojourn to Washington in 2008.
"I understand that the role I have basically assumes going into Oakland knowing that JaMarcus Russell was drafted to be the starting quarterback there. But I think there has to be some realization at some point as to putting the best players on the field that are you going to give you the best chance to win. Now, if JaMarcus is that guy, then he definitely deserves to be on the field and should be on the field.
"But if for some reason with what I bring as a player, from a competitive nature, and just the intensity and emotion that I bring to the field, and the knowledge of the game that I have ... if that gives us a better chance to win football games, then that decision is going to have to be left up to the coach and hopefully he can make the right decision for the team. Because that's really what it's all about -- it's about the team, it's not about protecting egos, or protecting investment dollars, it's about what's going to give this team a chance to win football games. And honestly, if JaMarcus can be that guy, then more power to him, because that's what he was drafted to do for the team. But it doesn't always seem to work out that way."--Presumptive Oakland backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, on KLAC in Los Angeles, via sportsradiointerviews.com, discussing how he'll treat the competition between he and Russell in Oakland this summer.
You do not bring Garcia onto your team to be a quietly supportive backup. You bring him on your team to be a nettlesome challenge for the incumbent, and to make sure the incumbent flies right. And if the incumbent does not, there's a solid alternative in place.
I'm like you: I like the Dolphins getting Jason Taylor for one more year at a very reasonable price -- $1.1 million in real money, with $400,000 in incentives. It's a terrific move by the Dolphins. Think of it. They gave up Taylor for one year -- an ineffective, injury-riddled year in Washington -- and got a second-round pick in 2009 and a sixth-rounder in 2010, and then got him to play outside linebacker for them for one year for less than the going rate.
Now, I thought the Redskins were making a good deal last year in getting Taylor. But he got hurt, never was himself in Washington, and then, nobly, chose family over money in going back to Miami for 2009. Taylor could have made $8.5 million this year by being a full-time Redskin in the offseason program; but he wanted to stay close to his South Florida home in the offseason.
With Taylor back in the Miami fold, let's look at the reality of his situation now, compared to other top linebackers Bill Parcells has had in his career. And the reality, these numbers show, is that anything Taylor will give the Dolphins this year will be absolute gravy. Name the last pass-rusher who had a great year at 35. It's not impossible. Reggie White had a 16-sack season at age 36 as a 4-3 defensive end. Kevin Greene, who played a 3-4 outside linebacker most of his career, had 37.5 sacks in three seasons after turning 35. But Taylor will have to prove to the Dolphins he can rebound from calf and plantar fascia injuries to be anything like his 2007 Defensive Player of the Year self, as these numbers of top linebackers Parcells coached either as an assistant or head coach show:
Jason Taylor has played 185 games. He'll be 35 opening day. Miami's two starting outside linebackers in their 3-4, Joey Porter and Matt Roth, combined for 22.5 sacks last year. Two-time CFL defensive player of the year Cameron Wake, who signed a four-year, $4.9-million deal two months ago, had 39 sacks in the last two years up north, and he'll surely find some pass-rush role in Miami. So I'd be surprised if Taylor plays more than 15 or 20 snaps a game ... or some role that gives him the best chance to stay healthy for the season, and a role that gives the younger talent on the Dolphins a chance to mature.
Things like this press release come across my desktop quite often, maybe 50-75 times a year. "PeyBack Foundation awards more than $500,000 in grants to 104 community agencies.'' It was an item about Peyton Manning's annual distribution of money to needy groups in Indianapolis, Tennessee and New Orleans, the three places he's lived, been schooled and worked in his life.
What was different about this one was the magnitude of it. Food banks, local arts centers, tutoring and mentoring groups, youth centers, the New Orleans Ballet, the Knoxville Zoo, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Trees Indiana (a steward group overseeing the planting of enough trees in the state), and more kid-related support groups.
I want to make it clear that Manning is not the only player who does good charitable works, and if the press release came from the charities of Jason Taylor or Brian Dawkins or Drew Brees or Derrick Brooks, I'd have taken a look at it and maybe made a note of it, or maybe not. I think what caught my eye were the 104 groups getting a chunk of change, and how disparate they were.
I called a couple of them to see about what the money meant to them. School on Wheels, which tutors homeless school children in Indianapolis, got $5,000. Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans got $8,000.
"You'd be surprised at the number of homeless children in Indianapolis,'' said Janet Hiatt of School on Wheels. "In any given year, it's about 1,500. We have 11 locations around the city, with about 400 volunteers, and we're tutoring about 400 to 450 children each year. The $5,000 from Peyton's charity is valuable because it gives us the endorsement to go to other foundations to get larger gifts to help us exist. His $5,000 covers one month of tutoring at one of our centers. Then, once a year, he gets the kids out to the local Children's Museum, and he meets them and interacts with them. He's been really valuable to our agency.''
"The money we get from the [Manning] foundation, we put into our backpack program,'' said Heather Sweeney of the Second Harvest Food Bank. "We put together backpacks of food to send home with children for the weekend who would be at high risk of chronic hunger. There will be maybe 10 to 12 meals and snack items in there, kid-friendly and nutritious. This year, we have 678 children in the program who will benefit from the weekend backpack program. The foundation has been really good to us. We got a grant from them right after Katrina, which helped a lot.''
Just thought you'd like to know about some good being done out there.
And speaking of good things, how about Michael Irvin raising $140,000 -- including $40,000 of his own money -- for the family of paralyzed Dallas scout Rich Behm the other night?
Miles driven in the past seven days: six.
I love driving. Always have. In fact, I plan to drive for about two weeks of my 18-camp training-camp trip this summer, as I have the last couple of years. But one of the things about urban living that is a little more surprising than I thought is how great it is to not have to drive. I like the luxury of having a car, but at one point it sat, unused, for 11 days in its parking spot while we walked in Boston and took the T and grabbed the occasional cab. You New Yorkers never told me how great it would be to be auto-less. All of this is apropos of nothing; I just keep thinking how strange it is to love driving yet not miss it while living in a city.
We'll be driving down to New Jersey today for the Paul Zimmerman fund-raiser at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, N.J. (6:15 p.m. open bar, 7 p.m. dinner, The Flaming Redhead speaks at 7:10, and a 7:40 p.m. panel with Tom Coughlin, Rex Ryan, me ... then much other fun to follow). Quite excited about it. Ticket sales to the event are now closed -- if you don't have a ticket, please do not come -- but if you've got one, simply go to Mayfair Farms, and there will be a table in the lobby of the place where you will be able to sign in and enter.
Linda will do this at the event, as will I, but we're exceedingly grateful to those of you who have contributed, particularly in such a hard time in our country. It's humbling. Beyond humbling. And it's also been a great boost to Zim's spirits and his unflagging desire to get back to doing what he does best -- write about football. I have to tell you how touched Linda is by your generosity. "These people are amazing!'' she said to me Saturday. "We are so fortunate!'' And if you know Linda, you know she's fighting with Paul every step of the way. (Corny, I know, but absolutely true.)
If you're looking for any last-minute bargains in the auction area -- which can be found here -- I'd recommend the Martin Brodeur autographed jersey, the Joe Namath autographed jersey, the Coughlin/Eli/Accorsi signed photo from draft day 2004, and a beautiful piece of Steve Sabol artwork done for this event. And if you know any fight fans, or Filipino sports fans, you might want to send the link of this column or the link to the auction site so they may bid on the boxing glove signed by the most exciting fighter on earth, Manny Pacquiao.
More news on the event will follow in Tuesday's column. Looking forward to the football event of the offseason in north Jersey.
1. I think the story of August in Miami might well be second-round pick Pat White (taken, by the way, with the choice the Dolphins got from Washington in the Jason Taylor trade last year) passing Chad Henne on the depth chart ... with an asterisk.
Henne's the quarterback of the future in Miami; I'm fairly certain of that. Henne's learning at the feet of Chad Pennington, and I'm told he's been a classic student of the game. But it's possible that the quarterback depth chart in September could read Pennington one, White two and Henne three -- even though Henne would be the clear No. 2.
This is because the Dolphins could have more use for White to play every week in odd formations like the Wildcat than they'd have for Henne. In the NFL, as you know, a third quarterback can dress as the 46th active player, but if the third quarterback plays before the fourth quarter, neither of the first two quarterbacks are eligible to play. So it makes sense to have White be the second if the Dolphins have him in the game plan every week to take three or four change-of-pace snaps. Given that White rushed for more than 4,400 yards and completed 65 percent of his collegiate throws, it's ridiculous to NOT use him somehow in pro games.
2. I think there is no good reason why Michael Vick, who's scheduled to be released to a halfway house in Virginia this week, should not be reinstated to play in the NFL this fall. None.
3. I think, however, that I would do one thing as a final wrist-slap to Vick if I were Roger Goodell: I'd suspend him for the first four games of the 2009 season for lying on at least three occasions to his employer (Arthur Blank and other club executives) and Goodell about his involvement in dog-fighting. His serial lying and coverups should not be forgotten. I'd whack him four games. By the way, Tony Dungy, who visited Vick in jail in Kansas earlier this month, has an interesting take in this week's Sports Illustrated on Vick's release and his future. Smart stuff.
4. I think the biggest two things I take from the Comcast/CBS/Fox triple play Sunday are that fans won, and the way ought to be smoothed for a deal with the players association now -- assuming both sides don't get too greedy about having to win it. Read what I wrote last night about it just to get the parameters of the meaning of the deal. But the gist is that the league is on the verge of making a deal with the biggest cable company, Comcast (in 24 million American homes), that should serve as a template for other cable deals.
Expect to see NFL network on Comcast digital cable, not the Comcast pay sports tier. Assuming the other cable deals fall into place, all fans with a digital cable package should see the nightly NFL Network news show at 7 (well worth it if you need your football fix in the middle of the offseason, or in-season) as well as the other programming (some meaningful, some filler) and the eight games each fall.
In addition, the cables that make a deal before the start of the season should also be able to show the Red Zone Channel on cable and not just on DirectTV. This channel bounces fans from game to game, depending on which team is closest to the goal line and the biggest threat to score. By the start of the season, I expect all the networks -- CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN -- to be aligned in their TV contracts, all with expiration dates of 2013. And there should be no excuse for the league or the players to stage any sort of work stoppage once the last year of the current CBA, 2011, expires.
The pie is huge and recession-less. There's no excuse for a deal not to be made so football goes on uninterrupted.
5. I think, as I made my calls on the TV story Sunday, one name kept coming up as the man with the white hat: Roger Goodell. He got personally involved with the Comcast negotiations, forged a strong personal relationship with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, and said to his TV people, in essence: Five years is too long for this stupid war with big cable to go on, and we've got to solve it now. That's what a good leader does.
6. I think these are the things I expect to be on the minds of the league owners as they meet in south Florida this week:
a. The 2013 Super Bowl. New Orleans is the favorite to get its 10th Super Bowl because the team recently made a deal with the state to stay in the city through 2025. But the underdogs, Arizona and South Florida, could argue the Louisiana legislature hasn't officially rubber-stamped the deal, and so one of those venues should be picked for 2013 and New Orleans could get the following year's.
b. A rookie wage scale. Just talk, no action. Owners want to see the players association chip in to rein in powerful agents who keep pushing high first-round picks to astronomical salary heights. The new PA boss, DeMaurice Smith, says it's not his job. It's going to be up to owners to police themselves, and there's not enough sentiment among them to get disciplined.
c. Expanding the schedule. There likely won't be a vote in Florida, but it's only a matter of time before one is taken. Expansion of the schedule is coming, folks, much to my chagrin. It's a freight train roaring down the tracks. The overwhelming majority of football people want 17 games (with three preseason games) because it won't cause massive disruption in the way they do business. Some owners -- and I don't know if it's the majority, but I think it probably is -- want 18 (with two preseason games) because they can make more money than with 17.
I shed tears for the game because of this stupid decision, whenever it happens. I wish you could go into an NFL locker room in December and see how beat up the average team is. It's easy for owners to say, "Oh, just throw another game or two on them! They'll be fine.'' I guarantee this: Some owners -- not all, but some -- will rue the day they go to 18 games if it happens, and I think 17 still is too much. Too many injuries. And for what? Because a $40-million profit is too little and owners want $50 million?
d. Allowing teams to talk to free agents before free agency. The biggest open secret in the league is that teams and agents talk at will in the weeks before free agency begins, contrary to league rules. The league is proposing giving each team a window of maybe a week to talk to players and agents (but not sign contracts) before the market opens in early March. Probably a good idea. If 23 teams tamper, why not just make it legal to tamper, and allow 32 to do it?
7. I think this is one last thought about a 17- or an 18-game schedule: What about the stats? Do you realize in an 18-game slate a running back would have to average 55.6 yards a game to gain 1,000 rushing yards? What a milestone! Wow! A thousand yards! In an 18-game season, a starting back should get cut for gaining ONLY 1,000 yards.
8. I think there shouldn't be much of an impact to the league with the salary cap $5 million higher than originally forecast. The cap is due to be $128 million in 2009, not $123 million. The reasons it won't be much of a factor is that, from the looks of the cap sheets, there's only one team -- Kansas City -- that will have to spend more than it wanted to this year in order to get to the 86.4-percent-of-the-cap salary floor. The Chiefs are $31.1-million under the cap now, without any incumbent veterans to spend the money on because none have proven themselves to the new administration. They probably need to spend about $15 million in cap dollars to get to the floor.
9. I think it's a pretty weird world when sportswriters are quoting agents in news stories ... with quotes not from the agents themselves, but from Twitter. Drew Rosenhaus has cornered the market on it. One day last week, I counted six mentions of Rosenhaus quotes about his clients in papers around the country. The quotes allow the agents to control the flow of information, obviously, by not returning phone calls (assuming calls to them have been made) and forcing writers to use the quotes the agents themselves can control. I'd like to see the Columbia School of Journalism get hold of that one.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week (Spoiler Alert: On The Office season finale in item G)
a. David Ortiz had to have made a deal with the devil in 2004. Give me two World Series titles and then you can have your way with me. You can embarrass me and turn me into the worst hitter since Rafael Belliard. I don't care. Two Series. Then whatever.
I take you to Thursday in Anaheim.
First inning: Tied, 0-0. Runner on first, one out. Ortiz strikes out looking.
Third inning: Tied, 1-1. Runner on second, no out. Ortiz flies to right.
Fourth inning: Tied, 3-3. Bases loaded, two out. Ortiz strikes out swinging.
Sixth inning: Tied, 3-3. Runner on second, two out. Ortiz strikes out looking.
Eighth inning: Tied, 4-4. Runners on first and third, two out. Ortiz flies to left.
10th inning: Tied, 4-4. Runner on second, two out. Ortiz flies to left.
12th inning: Tied, 4-4. Bases loaded, two out. Ortiz dribbles a nubber in front of home plate and is thrown out at first.
Twelve runners stranded. Oh-for-seven. Six straight times Ortiz came to the plate needed a single to give the Red Sox a lead. Six straight times he flailed. Has a batter in the three hole ever come up six straight times in one game with runners in scoring position and failed to deliver any of the eight? Ortiz is batting .208. He last hit a home run 144 at-bats ago.
b. I'll be at Fenway on Tuesday night. Plan to give Ortiz a standing O in his first at-bat.
c. Hey NESN: I like Dave Roberts over the weekend as a sub for Jerry Remy. Amiable. Informative. Needs to sharpen his analysis a bit, but I liked listening to him.
d. I'm sure the Red Sox are sad to be missing Roy Halladay in the rotation this week.
e. Johnny Damon won't make the Hall of Fame, but he is one heck of a baseball player.
f. Media Note of the Week: From Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, on a story from Brett Favre's agent saying there's no truth to reports that he's returning to football: "According to the Hattiesburg American [as opposed to its primary competition, the Hattiesburg Frenchman], agent Bus Cook says that 'there's absolutely no substance to all the speculation regarding quarterback Brett Favre.''
g. Can't believe Pam's pregnant. What a way to end The Office season. At least it's more believable than Pam the volleyball star.
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