Roger Goodell Lays Down the Axe

Yesterday Roger Goodell handed out player suspensions for their involvement in the “Bountygate” scandal. Goodell previously suspended the coaching staff and management of the New Orleans Saints for their institution of a bounty program on their football team. After further investigation Goodell had to bring the hammer down on the players involved. The punishment that followed would hopefully guarantee that this would never happen again in the National Football League. Here’s how player punishment went:

Jonathan Vilma suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season.

Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, out for the first 8 games of the 2012 season.

Will Smith, who missed the first 2 games last year due to injury, suspended for 4 games.

Scott Fujita, currently on the Cleveland Browns, out for 3 games.

Many suspected that suspensions would be given out. I don’t think anybody thought they would be this harsh. Some may have even thought there would be more players suspended. The report stated that their were up to 27 players involved in the bounty program. Looks like 23 of them got off the hook.

Today Jonathan Vilma sounded like he would appeal the suspension, but I’m not sure that will do him any good. The thing that irks me the most about Vilma’s situation is that he found out about his suspension the same way I found out he was suspended; by watching T.V. I even said to my friend yesterday, I wonder how they found out about their suspensions. Hope they got a phone call. Roger Goodell could have at least had the decency to give them a proper phone call. Roger, come on man you’re better than that.

Yesterday Stephen A. Smith of ESPN New York said that he didn’t like that Goodell suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma for an entire year. The same penalty that his coach had been previously given for his involvement with the scandal. His point was that Sean Peyton had many more years of coaching left in him and that Jonathan Vilma had only a few years left to play. Football players have a much shorter shelf life than their brain trusts. To that extent I agree, but then again these were players that were trying to shorten the shelf life of other players. Nothing good was to come out of this. The message sent by Goodell should be clear though. This shall never happen again or else.

Goodell did what he had to do to protect his players. The NFL is in the middle of former players wanting to file lawsuits against the NFL because of what concussions, head trauma, and other injuries have done to them physically and mentally. Dave Duerson committed suicide last year in February. One month ago a former Atlanta Falcons star of the 70s, Ray Easterling, committed suicide. Former San Diego Chargers linebacker and USC great, Junior Seau committed suicide yesterday in his home in San Diego.

Goodell needs to protect his players in every which way. Football is a rough and physical sport no doubt, but Goodell has taken steps to reduce the physical damages that players endure. Give Goodell credit. As a fan, at first, I did not like the rule changes. Quarterbacks already have reputations as being prima donnas in a sense and the new rules protecting them made it seem all the more true. Penalizing defensive players for making a hit on an opposing player seemed absurd to me. This is why offensive numbers have skyrocketed and I didn’t like it. As a human being, I think that these changes are for the betterment of the game and for player safety. If you love the game of football you have to love the changes to protect the players, the people we enjoy watching on Sundays, the people whose jerseys we buy and wear proudly. On the field we think they are invincible. Off the field they are no different than you or I.

Hearing about all these things about football players years after they play the game will also discourage younger kids from wanting to play the game of football. Most professional athletes are talented in multiple sports. They usually have their choice of baseball, basketball, or football. Who would want to play a sport in which by the time your 40 you will have a great chance of suffering severe depression, head trauma, or other injuries. Most wold wind up picking a much safer sport. The way the league was heading with all the concussions and lawsuits being filed, the NFL has a real chance of being shut down. No NFL fan would want to see that I can assure you. These changes are what is needed to prolong to life of the NFL as well as ensure the health of their current, former, and future players. Roger Goodell is doing what is best for the NFL. You will soon realize it.

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The State of Officials

Officiating is a big part of every sport. Calls can change the outcome of a game or the momentum of a team. In America’s big three sports; baseball, basketball, and football, the officiating is very different. Needless to say the referees or umpires hold some weight when considering the outcome of a game. For the most part they make the right calls, but which league really has calling the game down pat.

Let’s start with baseball, more particularly the MLB, or the show as some would like to call it. Baseball is the most traditional sport we have in America. The rules have changed very little from it’s inception in 1869 with the leagues first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. One of the most notable changes in the rules of recent years is the ability to review home runs via instant replay. Before that the biggest and most distinguishable rule adoption was the Designated Hitter (DH) by the American League, or Junior Circuit, in 1973. Replay is used in the NBA and NFL, but MLB was reluctant to add the use of replay because of baseball being so traditional. Bud Selig, however felt that it would not hinder the game but only aid in making the right call. That’s helping the officials make the right call when it may be hard to determine some 325-plus feet away.

In my opinion baseball does the best job of officiating out of the three sports. Ok so there are some blown calls here and there, but the umpires are only human and everybody, yes everybody makes mistakes. The most notable blown call of late came on June 2, 2010 where umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base which would have cemented Armando Galarraga’s in baseball history by pitching a perfect game. Jim Joyce later, in tears, admitted he blew the call and apologized to Galarraga. At least he was man enough to admit he blew the call and clearly he did miss out on making the right one. Like I said before were all human and humans make mistakes. It happens. Had the call come in a game where someone was not pitching a perfect game I’m not so sure people would remember Jim Joyce for that call.

Baseball has the best officiating because it’s a slower paced game and therefore less likely to continuously make bad calls. The home plate umpire may be scrutinized by fans and even managers, but for the most part I’d have to applaud the job they do. Is it hard to tell exactly where a 98 mph fastball landed? Yea I’d say so. A 12-6 curve ball that makes even a hitter flinch could be hard for an umpire to see, but they do and they do it well. The main reason why I think that MLB does the best job is because they are consistent. Each umpire may have a different version of the strike zone, but they stick to that strike zone. Sure an outside pitch just off the plate may be called a strike. Some umpires are pitcher friendly while others are hitter friendly. When there are 2 strikes on the hitter maybe the pitcher gets a little more breathing in terms of the strike zone. Ever here the phrase protect the plate with 2 strikes? You shouldn’t be looking at close pitches in that situation. At the end of the day MLB umpires do a great job of calling a consistent and mostly justified game.

The NBA and NFL are probably the harder games to officiate with the fast-paced uptempo style of play. I will give the NBA referees a slight edge in difficulty of officiating. There are two factors that make me believe this and here’s why: It’s a fast-paced game in constant movement where referees have to run up and down the floor with the players for the full 48-minutes. Also, the league has been plagued by “flopping” and in real-time it may be hard to distinguish whether it was actually a foul or a player acting to get the call. This is a part of the game that I can’t stand and I think most would agree, especially when it’s pretty blatant. A smaller guard running into the paint with a forward or center in their way, then contact, the larger player falling to the ground, the foul call. I mean come on, that same player who flopped was getting bumped in the post on offense by a big defender and now he’s falling to the ground with slight contact from the smaller opposition.

My biggest gripe with the NBA officials is the lack of consistency. I fully and completely understand that it must be hard to run up and down the court with these athletes and make the right call every time, but at the same time at least call it the same both ways. Like most fans if there are two NBA games on I’ll surf between channels and watch both games. I remember watching one game with the score being fairly close and the game clock around 30 seconds. The team losing was trying to foul a simple touch of the player that received the inbound a foul call was made. Free throws. Flip to the other game almost an identical situation. This time though the defender repeatedly grabbed the other player before a foul call was made taking a good 3 seconds off the clock. A foul is a foul is a foul, no?

Then there is the superstar call. Hey, I get that rookies don’t have the same credibility that veteran players, particularly superstar caliber players have, but sometimes its just ridiculous. Thunder vs. Lakers 2010 playoffs. A defender falls down while guarding Kobe Bryant. Kobe pulls up hits the shot. A whistle. A foul call. Free throws. Wait what? Shout out to Bill Simmons for that one. Where was I? Foul really? His defender was on the floor how could he foul him? Kobe gets all the calls. I dislike Kobe for this reason and it’s not even his fault. I’m not a Kobe hater. I respect his game and can’t deny he is one of the greatest basketball players that I’ve ever seen and that ever lived. I’m not denying that, but when someone gets calls like that and he thinks he should get calls like that since he often wants the foul when he misses, I can’t stand it. On my own New York Knicks I often hear A’mare Stoudemire screaming, “AND 1!!!”, whenever he goes up in the paint. Come on guy that’s not gonna help your case. That’s right in line with flailing your arms and throwing your head back to draw the call. Let the ref do their job and next time you get fouled make the shot and the free throw, I think that’s way more productive than screaming and then slowly getting back on defense with your palms to the sky.

I don’t really have much to say with the NFL, except that they do a pretty good job particularly with all the new rule changes for player safety. They blow calls yea of course. They do a pretty good job thought officiating especially in the playoffs. A lot of no-calls go a long way in the playoffs. More is at stake and it’s a physical game, so I’m glad they let them play. For the most part they are consistent with their officiating, calling a past interference the same way for each team. Good no-calls in some cases. They almost always get false start and neutral zone infraction calls right. Yea there are some games where I say wow they just want the other team to lose. The recently headlining Saints and their whole “Bounty-Gate” scandal was started in their 2009 Super Bowl run. I remember watching the Saints vs. the Vikings in the NFC Championship game and saying wow they are really letting them play as more often than not Brett Favre was on his rear-end. A lot of no-calls in that game, but like I said before they call less penalties in the playoffs so you can’t really get stuck on that game. The thing that bothers me most and it’s not even the fault of the officials is that the league is so invested in protecting their players that it hinders the defensive side of the ball. You can’t hit the quarterback like you used too or you’ll get a fine. Hit a defenseless receiver, yea that’s another fine. Numbers don’t lie and that’s why this season saw 3 quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards. Eli manning was only 77 yards away from eclipsing that mark too. Only 2 players before this year have ever done that and Drew Brees was one of them along with Dan Marino. So for 3 players to do that this year is remarkable or is it? Yea it’s a real pass happy league now and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see 3 more people do again this year. Hey that’s not the officials that the rules and the officials are supposed to uphold the rules.

Peyton Manning Sweepstakes

Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts earlier last week.  For the first time in Peyton’s career he is a free agent.  He seems to be doing his due diligence as he looks for his next team.  Even before his release many teams seemed to be in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, which included the Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks, Broncos, Browns, 49ers, and Titans.  Since his release some of these teams have made moves that would seem to take them out of the running for Peyton’s services.  The Jets have given their 4th year QB, Mark Sanchez, a contract extension.  So it’s safe to say they are out of the mix.  The Redskins have made arguably the biggest offseason move thus far trading up in the draft with the Rams for the 2nd pick.  All indications are that they will draft Robert Griffin III as he is considered the second best QB after Andrew Luck whom the Colts are planning on drafting.  That’s another team out of the running.

The remaining teams have a fighting chance.  Or do they?  Manning has met with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals this past weekend.  Many sources consider those two teams the favorites to land Peyton Manning.  Although Manning has said he prefers to stay in the AFC he took a tour of the Cardinals facility in what was reported as being a 7-hour trip.  The reports that the Denver Broncos feel they have a 95% chance of landing Manning have appeared to be false.  There will be a lot of false rumors coming out as this is a media coverage delight and the speculation won’t end until Manning himself comes out and says what jersey he will don in the 2012 season.

The only teams really left besides the aforementioned favorites are the Dolphins and the Titans.  Manning reportedly has declined visits to with the Seahawks and the Chiefs.  That leaves four teams: Dolphins, Titans, Cardinals, and Broncos left in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.  Let’s take a look at where Peyton could wind up waying the pros and cons of each team.

The Broncos have a good defense and can run the ball very well, something Manning did not have much during his tenure with the Colts.  Their defense came on late in the season last year even though that didn’t appear to be the case when they met the pass happy Patriots in the playoffs.  They have an average Offensive line giving up 42 sacks last year, but that must be a credit to running the option with Tim Tebow.  Any option run he had for a loss would count for a sack.  Willis McGahee also benefited from the option running the football, but the Broncos should get back a healthy Knowshon Moreno.  The receiving core for the Broncos features Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.  Keep in mind that Reggie Wayne could join Peyton wherever he lands and it is rumored that Dallas Clark could also follow.  That would make a good receiving group and Peyton has been known to make receivers better than the are a la Austin Collie.  The AFC West was not particularly good last year with the Broncos winning the division with an 8-8 record.  Manning could easily make them the division favorite and a chance to go to the playoffs.  The cons of joining the Denver Broncos is that Peyton Manning has just come off of 3 neck surgeries and the cold weather will not help.  The cold weather will give him aches and pains in his surgically repaired neck.  The turf will get harder as the season progresses and one thing Manning has to think about his continuing to stay healthy.  He is accustomed to playing 8 games during the regular season in a dome where weather is not a factor.  Look for that to play a huge role in where Peyton Manning lands.  

The Arizona Cardinals have one of the top receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and a very good tight end in Todd Heap.  Add Reggie Wayne to the mix and they have one of the best one-two punches at receiver.  They can run the ball pretty well considering that their offensive line has been nothing to brag about giving up 54 sacks last year.  Maybe   they can address that issue in the draft and in free agency.  A trade is possible but not likely to help fix that offensive line.  Of all the teams left they are the only team to play their home games in a Dome where weather will not play a factor.  Their defense was in line with the league average.  The Cardinals started the season off at 1-6, but had an amazing second half going 7-2 in their final 9 games to finish the season at 8-8.  The downside of Peyton Manning is that he has said he prefers the AFC over the NFC and that is the only con I see about him signing with the Cardinals.

The Dolphins have long said they want Peyton Manning to help the very talented but young team.  They proved last year that they can run the ball with the likes of Reggie Bush.  With Manning under center Bush could even return to his old form when he played for the Saints.  Brandon Marshall is a talented receiver but after that the receivers are average at best.  Again Manning could make them all look like Pro-Bowlers and the addition of Reggie Wayne would also be helpful.  Sorry, I’m just going to assume Reggie Wayne will follow Manning to wherever he goes since the two have played together for many years.  The Dolphins defense is one that late last year seemed to get better with every game.  Defense should be a key factor in where Manning ends up as well as the team’s offensive line.  The Dolphins gave up 52 sacks last year and like the Cardinals they could use some help in that category.  Peyton Manning also has a house in Florida where he resides in the off-season, but I’m not so sure that will be much a factor in his decision.  Manning may have to decide if the offensive line and whether or not Joe Philbin will give him full reins of the offense.  Philbin was previously the QB coach to Aaron Rodgers, so I’m sure Joe will already have an appreciation for an elite player at that position.  

The Tennessee Titans will get to meet with Peyton Manning and the owner Bud Adams has already shown his desire to bring in Manning.  The biggest pro about signing with the Titans is they only gave up 24 sacks this past season which was tied for second in the league along with the Saints.  Only the Bills had given up less sacks with 23.  Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, whose seasoned ended early due to injury, are good receivers.  They still have Chris Johnson, who will only benefit from have Peyton playing in front of him, who ran for over 1,000 yards with a little more than 400 receiving.  Those receiving numbers could rise with Peyton Manning.  The Titans have one of the better defenses only giving up 19.8 points per game.  The weather is warm for a majority of the season and Mike Munchak will undoubtedly have to give Peyton control of the offense.  The extra factor in deciding on this team would be that he gets to play the Colts twice a year.  Any player that is cut by a team wants to go back and prove to them that they made a mistake and this is no different.  I think that this might be the best decision for Manning to make.  Good offensive line, good defense, warm weather, and a chance to beat your old team twice.  The only negative I would give the Titans is that they don’t have a lot of firepower on offense, but like I mentioned before Peyton can raise the game of your offense.

That all being said I believe that Manning’s two best options are the Titans and the Cardinals.  Manning can’t afford to play in the cold weather with the Broncos or get sacked that many times with the Dolphins.  The warm weather and the dome will have to be in Manning’s best interest.  Before he was released I thought that the Cardinals would be the best fit for Peyton, but since then I’m going to give a slight edge to the Titans because they have one of the better offensive lines in the league, it’s warm, and he gets to get back at the Colts….twice.  Neither team signing him would surprise me, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Titans.  Until then everybody is going to keep speculating on where his decision to go will be.  Where do you think he will end up and why?

Roger Goodell…Bounty Hunting Hunter?

The biggest news around the NFL this offseason has been deflected from the scouting combine, the draft, and where Peyton Manning will land.  All because of what is being called as “Bountygate”.  It has been leaked out that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had implemented a bounty system for the defense to injure or get key players on the opposing teams offense to take to the sidelines.  Williams is also being linked to a similar situation during his tenure with the Washington Redskins.  Williams has even come out and said that the allegations are true and is not denying anything.

Since this news broke many ex-players and current players have commented on “Bountygate”.  Even Charles Barkley has come out and ripped the “punk” who “snitched” on Gregg Williams.  Many players have said that there are common situations on a lot of NFL teams.  Maybe that’s true one cannot deny that, but only one team is being accused and investigated with another to follow in the Redskins.  It’s possible that any team Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator will go under the microscope.

Brett Favre, who was the starting quarterback for the Vikings who played against the Saints in the 2009 NFC championship game, has spoken out.  It was reported that linebacker Jonathan Vilma put a $10,000 bounty on Favre.  “I’m not pissed,” Favre 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.”  He even said that thinking back on that game that he wouldn’t call it odd, but he remembers thinking during that game that he was being hit on every play.  Handoff. Hit. Pass. Hit.  He is friends with Darren Sharper and even said to him on a late hit during that game, “What the Hell was that Sharp?”

Eli Manning was asked about the Saint’s bounty system.  A team his father played with for 11 seasons.  Eli said, “Obviously it is a big deal, what’s going on. It’s not good for football and can’t be a part of football. I know Roger Goodell will do a good job figuring all this out and making sure this doesn’t happen again.  “I’m kind of sitting there and I say, ‘I know the opposing teams are saying the same thing about me,’ ” said Manning. “But when you start talking about injuring a guy and carting him off and trying to end his season or career, that’s not what this game is about. I think we should have more respect for the game than that. It can’t be a part of football.’’  That is coming from a current offensive player. A tough one at that who was hit 20 times in the NFC Championship game this past season.

On ESPN, a panel of Tedy Bruschi, Marcellus Wiley, and Mike Golic discussed the bounty system that the Saints are being investigated for.  Marcellus Wiley and Mike Golic took a similar stance.  They both agreed that bounties are “meaningless” if clean hits are being applied and some money is collected along the way.  Golic like Barkley is more upset with the person who “snitched” on Gregg Williams than the actual accusation of head hunting for money.  Tedy Bruschi, however took the stance that there is a difference between hitting hard and trying to injure someone.  Money incentives can change anybody’s motivation to go out there and take someone out of the game.

I have never played football, actually I have, but I have never played full contact football.  So my opinion is not that of someone who has played the game and knows how it is in the locker room etc.  I also think depending on what side of the ball you play on will have an impact of your opinion as well as what era you played in.  Favre for instance played during the early 90’s, before all these new tackling and quarterback protection rules.  It is understandable that he is “not pissed”.  He played the game differently from quarterbacks now.  He also never got hurt enough to not start the next week as he holds the all time consecutive starts streak.  The quarterbacks of today may have a different feeling today, because they have been raised in a league that is expected to protect them.  Anything resembling a late hit will be called on the field and fined by Roger Goodell.

Another point that was brought up by Wiley and Golic was whose to say that a clean hit won’t injure someone compared to a “dirty” hit.  Players get hurt on clean hits all the time.  I have to agree with that statement.  In today’s game a “dirty” hit will be exploited by the NFL and that player will be fined and quite possibly suspended a la Ndamukong Suh and his foot stomp.  Late hits are often called on the field and later fined, the Steelers linebackers can tell you about that.  So as long as the hit is clean nobody should have a problem with it.  What most will have a problem with is that a player would receive monetary compensation for injuring someone.  I like to think that any athlete would respect their peers and would never want to intentionally injure someone.  Let’s put it in a bit more of perspective.  Injuring someone is one thing but let’s just say that a bounty had been put on a quarterback and players were motivated to injure said quarterback.  They put a hit on the quarterback and paralyze him.  Would the defensive player still want that money?  Was it worth the extra change?  Not at all and I think that’s something that should be taken into consideration with all of this.  Wanting to injure someone has probably crossed the minds of many players before, whether or not they to action on it is another thing.  I often sit in front of my TV yelling to kill the opposing quarterback.  Yes, I’m guilty, but I’m sure I’m not the only one.  I don’t in fact wish that the other player is severely injured or that their career ends or that the player that did in fact sideline them get paid for such an accomplishment.

Many NFL players as well as other sports figures are role models to younger kids and players.  They are supposed to set a good example for the youth that watches and idolizes them.  This does not set a good precedent for them.  Roger Goodell will get all the facts together in his investigation.  At the very least they should lose a first-round draft pick if not more, be fined quite a bit of money, more than the collective bounties paid out, and possible suspension for the coaches involved.  The latter will probably not happen being that Bill Belichick was not suspended nor fired for his “Spygate” scandal several years ago.  The Patriots lose a first-round pick and were fined upward of a half million dollars.  This scandal is being described as worse than the one the Patriots committed so the penalties should be more harsh.  At the same time I think the Pats and “Spygate” had more of an impact on the game than the Saints and “Bountygate”.  The Patriots won 3 Super Bowls before word that they were taping the opposing teams walk through became public.  They have since been to 2 Super Bowls and have walked away empty handed both times, thanks to my Giants.  The Saints have won 1 Super Bowl in a season in which the bounty system was most likely in place.  In the Championship game in 2009, a  few late hits and in my opinion a few terrible calls later and they were on the way to the Super Bowl.  Great play calling in that game brought them home their first Lombardi Trophy.  Now that the scandal is out and looking in retrospect to that game against the Vikings many might say, much like people say of the Patriots, that championship should have an asterisk next to it.  HIndsight is 20/20, but Roger Goodell’s bounty hunting is clearly in the future.