Dolphins’ voter drive, Goodell’s contract, a suggestion on Steelers-Bengals viciousness, RIP Ron Meyer
A few things you should know this week...
• Surprise! Registering to vote is controversial. The Dolphins announced late in the week that all 75 players under contract to the team—active, injured reserve and practice squad—are now registered to vote, either in Florida or in the place they consider their permanent home. I spoke to one of the first-time registered voters, 23-year-old running back Kenyan Drake, on Saturday for this column, and then praised the Dolphins on Twitter for their efforts to make their players more enlightened citizens. Drake first, then our populace.
Drake is from Atlanta, used to go with his mom as a child to vote, but said he never got around to registering while a player and student at Alabama, or in his rookie year in Miami. But the Dolphins brought in Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the slain civil-rights leader, to address the team on the importance of voting, and Drake was convinced.
“It was very impactful to hear him speak, especially coming from Atlanta like I do,” Drake said. “I’m not the most political person. But I do appreciate the fact that not everyone through the course of our history has had the right to vote, and I think it’s important we take advantage of it. To have a positive impact as a football player is important, but you can have a positive impact by being a citizen also.”
I asked Drake about the importance of one more voter—and he says he’ll definitely be one now, in the state of Florida. “It’s not just about the national elections,” he said. “It’s about the local elections too. The people we elect locally are important in our lives too.”
Now for the reaction from more than 31,000 people on my Twitter feed. Take a scroll through the replies to this tweet and you’ll see the mixed bag. Some called it a P.R. stunt by the Dolphins. We’ll find out, in time, if it was. But to criticize an organization for trying to make its players more responsible citizens takes a special kind of oaf.
• NFL scheduling is flawed. Green Bay played at Cleveland on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers, the superstar Packers quarterback, was hurt and did not play. So, if you live in Cleveland and want to see Aaron Rodgers, you could have done that in his 13th NFL start, in 2009, when Rogers was 25. The next time you’ll be able to do that, if Rodgers is still playing football, and if he is still playing for the Packers, will be in 2025, when Rodgers will be either 41 or 42. I’ve said it forever: The arcane scheduling model of the NFL needs to cut down the time between interconference games. As it is now, it’s eight years between an AFC team’s visit to a given NFC team. The way to cut it down? Make all 28 non-division foes interchangeable. It’s nonsensical for instance that, between 2008 and 2017, Cleveland plays Jacksonville seven times and Green Bay twice. It’s simple to fix. You play twice a year against your division foes, and the other 10 games are a rotation, home and away, of the other 28 teams in the league. Instead of the Packers coming to Cleveland once per eight years, they’d come once ever five or six. Still a big gap, but not as egregious as it is now.
• You may still think Roger Goodell would be overpaid at $4 million per, and I get that, but I’m told it’s highly unlikely he’ll make $40 million a year in this deal. I hear the same thing about Goodell’s contract that Albert Breer does, and it’s basically that there’s no way the extension will net Goodell $200 million over five years. The deal, essentially, guarantees Goodell about $3.9 million per year in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 before expiring in March 2024, with an estimated 88 percent of the deal incentive-based. The fact is that if Goodell hits a few grand slams every year and reaches the max incentives in league success metrics such as attendance, TV ratings, income, etc., he’ll hit or approach $40 million. That’s unlikely to happen. At least not regularly. As Breer was told by one smart league person, Goodell’s likely to earn somewhere in the high 20s in a typical year, with a very good year in the low-to-mid-30s.
• How Goodell should handle the Steelers-Bengals situation. Most times these teams play, there are two or three or four over-the-top hits that we all watch and say: Shameful. This is going to make parents shudder and prevent their kids from playing tackle football. Or something like that. The fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster waylaid the despised (by the Steelers) Vontaze Burfict and then, with Burfict possibly knocked out, taunted him is despicable. The fact that Smith-Schuster did it with beloved teammate Ryan Shazier laying in the hospital, with no idea if Shazier would walk again, exacerbates the problem. The Steelers and Ravens have a bitter rivalry. The Steelers and Bengals have an out-of-control rivalry. Goodell should call both coaches together at the league meetings in March and say, calmly but firmly, that the league has tried stiff fines and player suspensions; now, if those don’t work and the bush-league behavior continues in either of the 2018 meetings between the teams, a suspension of a head coach or head coaches is next. I can’t figure any other way to stop what has been become a stain on the game. Let me also say that both of these coaches are very good men. I have been with Mike Tomlin and his family, and I have the highest regard for him. But this has to stop, and stop now.
• Kudos, Bono. I’m a week late praising Kyle Brandt of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show for his interview with Bono, the front man for the Irish rock band U2, which played the Super Bowl after 9/11. In that halftime show—Patriots-Rams in New Orleans—Bono wore a jacket with an American flag liner, and opened it up in his last song to show the flag, and the place went crazy. Brandt got Bono to say some interesting things about the NFL. “They say, ‘Don’t meet your heroes,’” Brandt told me. “They’re so wrong.” Before the interview, in the pre-production meeting with Bono’s people, they said Bono would like to speak about players kneeling during the anthem this season. “He was very graceful, and said some meaningful things,” Brandt said. Bono’s take on those demonstrating during the anthem: “America is not just a country. It’s an idea. It’s a great idea. It’s the best idea the world has ever had. And that’s why it’s okay for people to get carried away … and on that subject, if people want to show their patriotism a different way, you know, taking a knee and all that—I think people who care about their country can never be a problem. They want to make it better. The way they’re respecting their country, I wanted to pull out my jacket, stand by this country, say, ‘I believe in it.’” Bono also said Tom Brady went to Africa with him in 2005, no cameras present, to do some humanitarian work for Bono’s “One” campaign. “That, to Bono, made Tom Brady a saint,” Brandt said.
• RIP Ron Meyer. The former coach of SMU, the Patriots and the Colts died last week after playing a round of golf in Texas. I worked with Meyer after his coaching career on CNN’s NFL Preview show on Sunday mornings in the late ’90s, me on the road at a game site and Meyer, Vince Cellini and others on the set in Atlanta. Meyer was a barrel of fun. I really liked him. He didn’t study the game much after he left it—most often a one-hour phone call with NFL impresario/ace reporter Len Pasquarelli comprised much of his weekly homework—but he was fun to work with because he never took himself remotely seriously. Which brings to mind some of his best lines while he was in football. A few:
• On his impatience to win, when he was hired to coach the Colts in 1986: “Leave the five-year plans to Joe Stalin.”
• When young Dallas Morning News reporter Tim Kurkjian went to the Meyer house in 1982 to see if he was planning to take the New England coaching job after leaving SMU, to his wife: “Honey, did we pay the newspaper bill this month? The paperboy’s here.” (Hat tip, Gary Myers.)
• As a Colts coach: “It is not a crime to be beaten. It is a crime to stay beaten.”
• On his football wisdom, which he often made light of: “It isn’t like I came down from Mount Sinai with the tabloids.”
• In the midst of his Colts tenure: “I never applied for the job, but I don’t think Lee Iococca applied for the job at Chrysler, either. One day, someone just said, ‘How about the guy they just fired at Ford?’”
• Don misses Tom. From Sunday’s long New York Times piece from inside the Trump White House: “Mr. Trump still takes shots at Mark Cuban, a fellow rich-guy reality star, and expresses disappointment that Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has distanced himself.” Hmmmm.