When you read this article about the strength of the case against Aaron Hernandez, you realize immediately that the New England Patriots had little choice in releasing him after he was arrested for murder. It’s hard to cover your tracks in today’s world, and it appears that the police have a witness along with a ton of information regarding the timeline that implicates Hernandez. The defense seems to have an uphill battle in this case.
This decision by the Patriots also spares Roger Goodell and the NFL from having to deal with a suspension. Hernandez has been released so there’s no need to go through a process that will demand even more media attention.
1. How about Roger Goodell pouring a big cup of antifreeze on everyone’s fun this past weekend? Due to a rule change that allowed teams to gauge the interest of prospective free agents, football fans hovered around Adam Schefter’s Twitter page thinking that free agency was essentially going to start at Midnight on Saturday morning. But Goodell’s memo to teams earlier that day killed everyone’s buzz. Here’s part of the memo, tweeted by Schefter that night: “Clubs are advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year.” Deathly afraid of tampering, can you imagine how those conversations went on Friday night between teams and free agents? “Hi Mike Wallace, this is Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. I just wanted to call and see if you liked the color teal in combination with white and a splash of orange. Yeah, no, I’m not asking you if you want to be a member of the Dolphins. That would be tampering. I’m specifically asking you about color scheme. You do like that color scheme? How about Joe Philbin? Do you like Joe Philbin’s face? Maybe you’d like to see more of Philbin, say, on a daily basis in the fall? Grrrrrrrrreat. Do you also hate purple and the entire state of Minnesota like most reasonable human beings do? Excellent. I’ll see you and your agent at 4:00PM ET on Tuesday then…”
2. People are getting caught up in whether or not the Chiefs should draft Luke Joeckel with the first overall pick when they just placed their franchise tag on Branden Albert. While it would be unprecedented for a team to draft a right tackle with the first overall pick, it doesn’t mean that Kansas City will shy away from arguably the safest prospect in this year’s class. Albert was one of the best pass-blocking offensive tackles in the league last year, but he also missed three games due to a back injury and who knows if the Chiefs will be able to lock him up long term. They could draft Joeckel, play him at right tackle and then re-asses the situation a year from now. If Albert’s back once again becomes an issue or the two sides can’t agree on a long-term deal, then the Chiefs have their left tackle of the future in Joeckel. If they lock Albert up long-term, then at worst they have two book-end tackles for the next six-plus years. Considering defensive coordinators constantly move pass rushers around in effort to create mismatches, that’s not exactly a worst-case scenario. And with no true No. 1 overall talent in this year’s draft, there’s no reason to bypass Joeckel with the top pick just because he could wind up playing right tackle.
3. The best thing for both the Jets and Darrelle Revis is if the cornerback drops off the map and shows up to OTAs healthy and in shape. Owner Woody Johnson isn’t being cheap – he just can’t pay Revis what he wants long-term because his former GM put the team in cap hell by handing out ridiculous contracts to players like Mark Sanchez. And since the Jets can’t afford him, Revis could help himself by not destroying his own trade value. This includes avoiding telling the media that it would be “awesome” to play for the 49ers and reiterating how you want to be the highest paid defensive player in the league. Potential trade partners are already leery about Revis’ knee, parting with premium draft picks, and clearing the necessary cap space to sign him long term. He doesn’t need to provide teams with more reasons to tell the Jets ‘thanks but no thanks.’
4. Percy Harvin’s situation in Minnesota seems combustible, but GM Rick Spielman has wisely suggested that the disgruntled wide receiver isn’t going anywhere. Some fans have opined that Spielman should trade Harvin and then sign a free agent receiver like Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings. But the Vikings are on the rise and thus, parting ways with a playmaker makes little sense. He’s already under contract and the team could potentially line up next year with Harvin, Jennings, Jarius Wright, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, as opposed to some combination of Peterson, Rudolph, Jennings, Wright and an unproven rookie. And maybe a veteran like Jennings could have a profound impact on Harvin, who has seemingly alienating himself from coaches and teammates. While the defense and offensive line proved to be underrated, the Vikings made the playoffs last year almost solely riding Peterson’s coattails. Unless the situation is so bad that the team needs to wash its hands completely of Harvin as soon as possible, addition is key – not subtraction.
Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league.
+ Let’s hold judgment on Adrian Peterson before all of the details have been released following his arrest. This is a player with no history of off-field issues and it’s extremely bizarre that he was only charged with resisting arrest. The current details of the situation are that Peterson and some family members were out at a Houston nightclub when police entered the building at closing time. When they instructed people to leave, Peterson apparently wanted some water but an officer told him no and AP headed for the exit. At some point an officer was pushed, causing him to stumble and then three policemen had to “detain” Peterson. What’s unclear is how a push led to three officers attempting to detain the running back and then escalating to an actual arrest. Again, we should hold judgment until the full details have been released because something doesn’t sound right here. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Houston police overreacted and didn’t handle the situation properly.
+ Many have argued that the Saints players involved in the New Orleans bounty scandal were simply following the orders of Gregg Williams and thus, they had little to no choice but to follow their coach’s orders. I get that. If you’re a fringe player looking to stick with a team because your career and livelihood is on the line, then you may be more apt to get along and go along then to cause waves. But what everyone seems to overlook is that Roger Goodell was lied to, and that’s why he came down hard on these participants. When Goodell went to Williams, Sean Payton and Anthony Hargrove asking if a bounty program was in place, they all told him no. Then, instead of stopping the program right then and there, they continued their pay-for-performance system. And while players like Hargrove, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fuijta insist that Goodell has no prove that a bounty program was in place, has everyone forgotten that Williams has already apologized and thrown himself at the mercy of the court? He already admitted that he was putting bounties on opposing players. So yes, maybe the players were simply following orders. But at one point Goodell asked the participants to tell the truth and nobody spoke up, so they remain in a hell of their own making.
+ Dick LeBeau remains one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, so don’t think for a moment that the Steelers’ defense is going to fall apart. That said, there’s no question that Pittsburgh is old on that side of the ball. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will continue to be the focal point of the defense but younger players like Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu to make an impact (especially with Casey Hampton recovering from ACL surgery).
+ It’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers’ offense develops throughout the 2012 season. The run blocking wasn’t very good last season and the pass protection was below average as well, which led to Philip Rivers make a fair amount of mistakes. Ryan Mathews is an emerging star and if the blocking improves, then obviously the running game on a whole will be better than it was a year ago. But the question is how effective will Norv Turner’s coveted vertical offense be. Can Robert Meachem finally have that breakout year that many have expected since he entered the league as a first-rounder? What will the absence of Vincent Jackson have on the passing game? Can an aging Antonio Gates stay healthy? Will Malcolm Floyd be as effective this season without Jackson on the other side? Rivers made the passing game flourish without V-Jax two years ago but he needs help, mostly from his offensive line. Again, it’ll be interesting to see if Turner, who is undoubtedly on the hot seat once again, can blend the new elements together to make the passing game thrive.
+ It’s easy to make the argument that the Texans’ window to win a championship in the next three years is wide open. Even with the loss of Mario Williams their defense has a ton of talent and is coached by one of the best in the game in Wade Phillips. But Matt Schaub has still yet to play in a postseason game and Andre Johnson, now 31, will have to remain healthy or Houston will fail to take the next step after making the playoffs last year. Losing Joel Dreessen to the Broncos in free agency hurt. Not only was Dreessen a solid blocker last year for Houston, but he also averaged 12.6 yards per play in the Texans’ big-play offense. That said, if Schaub and Johnson can stay healthy then Houston will make the postseason again this year. Thanks to the offensive line and the explosiveness of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the running game will be enough to win games on its own. It’s just a matter of whether or not the Texans can stay healthy long enough to make a deep run.
+ The reports out of San Francisco this offseason have not be positive for first-rounder A.J. Jenkins. He reportedly has made some difficult plays but he’s also had a hard time staying on his feet during workouts and is viewed as a major project. But let’s keep in mind that if Jenkins struggles this year it won’t be the end of the world. It used to be that players could take their time developing but nowadays teams need their first round picks to make an immediate impact. That said, considering the 49ers have veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss manning the outsides, they don’t necessarily need Jenkins to be on the fast track to NFL stardom. Is it good that the kid can’t stay on his feet and is viewed as a major project? No, but it wouldn’t be life or death if he needed a year. Besides, the 49ers will make sure that Jenkins contributes one way or another, including getting him involved in sub packages. Just don’t expect him to be a No. 1 as a rookie.
+ Good for Joe Philbin and the Dolphins coaching staff for taking it slow with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Reports out of Miami are that the starting job is between David Garrard and Matt Moore because Tannehill is currently struggling with the speed of the game. Last year in Jacksonville, the thought was that Blaine Gabbert would be allowed to take his time while observe ring Garrard in his first year. But Garrard was released before the season and Gabbert was rushed into action way too soon. The results were disastrous and now observers are already questioning whether or not Gabbert can develop. Tannehill shouldn’t have been a top 10 selection but the Dolphins needed a quarterback and they went with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s guy. Fine. Now let the kid learn the game for a year before the weight of the franchise is thrust onto his shoulders. It’s not like the Dolphins are expected to compete this year so there should be no qualms about Garrard or Moore starting while Tannehill observes in his first year.
+ It looks like it’s going to be all or nothing this year for Montario Hardesty. Says ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi: “If Hardesty gets injured again, it’s easy – he will be gone, in my opinion. But if Hardesty stays healthy and is the productive player [Browns GM Tom] Heckert saw at Tennessee, I think he checks in at No. 2.” So essentially Hardesty will either be the first running back off the bench when Trent Richardson needs a blow or else he’ll be in another city at some point this year. Hopefully Hardesty isn’t another talented prospect that never developed because he was held back by injuries. He has all the talent to be a productive player in a two-back system but because of various injuries he hasn’t shown the same explosion he had coming out of college. Maybe this is the year he’ll finally stick.
New Orleans Saints Sean Payton works the sideline against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on January 14, 2012. The 49ers defeated the Saints 36-32. UPI/Terry Schmitt
On Wednesday the NFL suspended New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton for one year and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams “indefinitely” for their roles in the team’s “bounty program.” General manager Mickey Loomis was also suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 NFL season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of next season, and the team will lose its second-round pick in 2012 and its second-round pick in 2013. Below are four key takeaways from this scandal.
Goodell was harsh because he was lied to.
Remember back in 2007 when Roger Goodell threw the book at Michael Vick after the quarterback pled guilty to federal dog fighting charges? Part of the reason why Goodell was so harsh was because Vick admitted that he provided most of the money for the gambling side of the “Bid Newz Kennels” operation. But Goodell also dropped the hammer on Vick because the quarterback lied to his face about being involved with the scandal. The same thing happened with the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton lied to Goodell, Gregg Williams lied to Goodell, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt lied to Goodell. If the commish has taught us anything since he assumed office on September 1 of 2006 it’s that the NFL his league and he will go to extreme measures to protect its integrity. I fully admit that I was surprised by the rulings but once the league had enough evidence to convict the Saints of wrongdoing, you figured Goodell was going to rule with an iron fist. And I think it’s telling that Payton’s suspension doesn’t begin until April 1 when all NFL coaches have to attend a meeting on Monday for a coaches’ breakfast with the media. Think Goodell wants to send a message to Payton by having the suspended coach have to face the media that day?
Here’s the difference between the “bounty program” and “Spygate.
Five years ago the Patriots were found to have been videotaping the signals of opposing teams. Goodell fined Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the club $250,000, took away the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2008, and then had all of the documents from the scandal destroyed. As we came to find out, Belichick had been taping opponents’ signals since his days as a head coach in Cleveland and the “only” punishment New England received was essentially the loss of $750,000 and a first-round pick. So why did Goodell come down harder on the Saints than he did on the Patriots? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, Goodell had just taken over as commissioner of the league when he doled out the punishment for the Patriots so he was still green at that point. It’s also widely known that he and Bob Kraft are very tight, so he wasn’t going to stick it to his buddy. But the biggest difference between the two, at least in my eyes, is that “Spygate” didn’t cost the league a dime. For the past three years Goodell has tried to make the NFL a safer game. And with more and more lawsuits emerging from former players, he has to be able to walk into a courtroom and say, ‘Hey, we’ve done everything we could to make our game safe.’ That message is awfully hard to convey when one of your coaches has a program in place to reward his players for taking out certain opponents. Not only did this bounty program scandal tarnish the league’s reputation and integrity, but it also had the potential to hit the NFL’s wallet down the line…repeatedly. And Goodell simply can’t have that.
This is only the first wave of punishment.
If you’re wondering why none of the Saints players have been suspended but their coaches and general manger did, just wait. This is more than likely just the first wave of punishments that Goodell will hand out. As the reported leader of the bounty program, Jonathan Vilma will probably receive a stiff punishment and you have to believe others will face discipline as well. It wasn’t just Vilma carrying out Williams’ “orders.”
Don’t make Shockey out to be “Deep Throat.” As ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas points out, the NFL started investigating the Saints when they tried to take Brett Favre’s head off during the NFC title game in 2009. Tight end Jeremy Shockey, whom Warren Sapp said “snitched” to the league about the program, was playing for the Saints at the time. While Shockey may have ultimately told the NFL what he knew about the bounty program, he isn’t the reason the Saints eventually were investigated. Thus, there was no “snitch” here and for what it’s worth, Shockey has denied Sapp’s claims on his Twitter page.
Ndamukong Suh was kicked out of the Thanksgiving battle between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers had just failed to convert on third down inside the Lions’ 5-yeard line, setting up a fourth down and a likely field goal while holding a 7-0 lead over the Lions. Suh got tied up with offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith and then proceeded to deliver what seemed to be a blow to the face to the linemen while they were on the ground, and then as he was getting up he clearly stomped Dietrich-Smith with his foot. Suh was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and then ejected from the game. The entire episode was caught on television.
Instead of going up 10-0, the Packers were awarded a first down as a result of the penalty and then were able to get into the end zone, resulting in a 14-0 lead. We’ll see if this impacts whether the Lions can win the game, but Suh’s stupid play will definitely make things more difficult. Plays like this can be turning points in a game and even a season. As I’m writing this the Packers have gone ahead 21-0, so Suh’s bonehead play may have opened the flood-gates for the high-octane Packers. You don’t give Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Packers extra chances to beat you.
Apart from that, this will have a lasting impact on Suh’s reputation. This was clearly a dirty play from a player who has developed a reputation as the dirtiest player in the NFL. Suh is clearly a great lineman and a big reason for Detroit’s resurgence, but this play on national television during Thanksgiving will follow him for a long time. He is very possibly facing a suspension as well.
Suh recently met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at Suh’s request to get a better understanding of the rules. Suh isn’t the only player baffled by the NFL’s attempt to protect quarterbacks and defenseless wide receivers. In many ways the NFL is ruining the game as legitimate hits are being called as personal fouls. These calls have huge impacts on the game, and we saw one today with a lame call on a clean hit on Aaron Rodgers.
But Suh’s penalty today had nothing to do with a new push to protect the quarterback. The game was already marred by some silly skirmishes and Suh wasn’t the first player kicked out, but Suh’s penalty was old-fashioned dirty play from a player who seems to let his aggression get the best of him. By doing it on a national stage, he’ll be an even bigger target for the officials going forward.