For years, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been a whipping boy for critics of the Bengals, and those who skewer the franchise for a perception of years of penurious spending habits. To suggest that outsiders consider Brown and the Bengals as cheap would be a gross understatement.
But Brown, who was one of only two owners to vote against the expired collective bargaining agreement in 2006 (Buffalo's Ralph Wilson was the other), looked a lot smarter when, just two years after approving the labor deal, league owners voted unanimously to opt out of it. And he might be slowly changing his perceived stance on the NFL's latest supposed proposal, unveiled on Tuesday to owners.
The widely held assumption has been that Brown, because he is a small-market owner, might oppose many of the financial tenets that were presented Tuesday to owners in Chicago as the possible foundation for an agreement. But word from the meeting, where there was admittedly little leakage about the sentiments of some individual owners, is that Brown is actually on the fence about several of the elements of a possible accord.
According to the presumptive details first reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, and subsequently confirmed by several owners, one of the proposed stipulations is that clubs spend close to 100 percent of a year's salary cap "FLOOR" number in terms of real payroll. The spending floor would be about 90-93 percent of the total cap limit. And, of interest - and, frankly, surprise -- to many of his critics, Brown already has done so.
Unlike many of his free-spending peers, Brown and the Bengals don't believe in investing future money. The collective mindset of the Bengals is to prefer a "pay as you go" philosophy, one that attempts to avoid so-called "dead money." It might surprise a lot of people, but Cincinnati often comes closer to the cap, in terms of actual payroll, than some franchises with higher cap numbers.
According to several owners with whom The Sports Xchange spoke after the meeting's adjournment Tuesday, there seemed to be less opposition than had been portrayed by the media before the caucus. One suggested that, based on his unofficial "nose count," there was nothing close to the nine opposition votes it would take to scuttle a deal.
Of course, as commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out and owners emphasized - and NFLPA executive director De Smith noted in a conference call to player reps later in the week - there remains considerable work to be accomplished. Just in terms of the practical work involved - committing an agreement from a handshake to contract language, having attorneys review the pact, ensuring court approval and having the rank-and-file vote on an accord - is time consuming. But there may not be as many owner/roadblocks as people thought there might be.
None of that is to suggest that Brown's "no" vote of 2006 will turn into a "yes" five years later, but it might.
RB Steve Slaton
Kirby Lee/US Presswire
He probably won't say so publicly, but one veteran runner who probably would welcome a trade once the lockout ends, sources tell The Sports Xchange, is Houston fourth-year tailback Steve Slaton.
The former West Virginia star, a third-round choice in the 2008 draft, rushed for a team-best 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. But a shoulder injury has plagued him the past two seasons, and limited Slaton to 150 rushes and 530 yards. Last year, after losing the starting job to Arian Foster, he logged just 19 carries and 93 yards, and didn't score a touchdown.
Slaton is only 25 years old, doesn't have a lot of tread rubbed off the tires yet, and is a good receiver, so he could be an attractive No. 2 back for some team seeking to bolster the position. Rumors have linked him to St. Louis, where the Rams could use a reliable back capable of getting 6-8 touches per game, to reduce the workload for Steven Jackson, but the talk has been unsubstantiated.
Slaton is under contract for 2011 at the league minimum base salary, then would be eligible for free agency next spring. For the right price, though, he would provide a solid, experienced back for a year. The Texans already have Foster and reports have been good on the recovery of 2010 second-rounder Ben Tate, who missed his entire rookie campaign because of a fractured ankle, so Slaton may be expendable.
Not going campin'
The first shoe fell Wednesday, when the Baltimore Ravens regrettably announced that they will not convene training camp this summer at McDaniel College in nearby Westminster, Md. The Jets followed suit with the news that they will hold camp at the Atlantic health Jets Training Center rather than at SUNY Cortland, where they have held training camp the past two years.
Expect a few more clodhoppers to hit the floor in the next few weeks. Even though there is optimism in the labor talks, some clubs are already perilously close to "drop dead" dates for having camps at smaller colleges, where roughly half the league's 32 franchises train in the summer.
At least three more teams, The Sports Xchange has confirmed, are within two weeks of taking the same step the Ravens enacted this week. The city of Westminster will suffer, by the town's accounts, a $2.2 million hit. The Sports Xchange hasn't reached representatives for all of the cities or college in peril of losing camps, but the going rate for lost revenues seems to start at seven figures.
Another ramification of the Ravens not going to McDaniel College is that some fans will be unable to see the club in workouts. Roads leading to the team's Owings Mills complex can't accommodate the traffic typical for camp. So fans will either see the team in preseason, in one of the workouts at M&T Bank Stadium (the number may be increased), or not at all.
Former Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson (1971-86), who retired completely from the game after a three-year stint as a Pittsburgh Steelers' assistant (2007-2009), has gotten a lot of ink this spring as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it could be in another role -- possibly as the one-on-one coach who prepares former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor for his exposure to the NFL scouts before the supplemental draft -- that merits Anderson almost as much attention.
Anderson is one of several candidates under strong consideration, The Sports Xchange has learned, to work with Pryor on the physical side of his game. The possible short-list of personal tutors also includes George Whitfield, the passing-games expert who prepped top overall pick Cam Newton for the combine and the draft.
There are some other names being recommended to agent Drew Rosenhaus, including one who was an offensive coordinator for a team in 2010, and it's expected a decision will come in the next week or so.
QB Terrelle Pryor
Chuck Cook/US Presswire
As for Anderson's Hall of Fame pursuit, the onetime Bengals star is in his first year of eligibility as a seniors candidate, a status that might actually help his cause. Members of the seniors subcommittee of the selection board will meet in Canton in August to choose the two seniors finalists for the ballot. Anderson is the only man in NFL history to win four league passing titles who is not in the Canton shrine.
In case readers missed it, The Sports Xchange reported on Wednesday night that longtime NFL personnel director Ken Herock would meet with Pryor in South Florida by the end of the week. The two men had dinner on Wednesday and then had a long one-on-one session Thursday in which Herock helped to ready Pryor for interviews in advance of the supplemental draft.
In his retirement, Herock has founded a company, ProPrep, which counsels draft prospects on what to expect from the interview process. Herock always declines to comment on players with whom he works, but early indications are that Pryor impressed him with his demeanor and his knowledge of the game.
Pryor continues to work out with a number of other clients represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus, including wide receivers like Chad Ochocinco, Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown and Donte Stallworth. His Thursday workout is said to have been very impressive, and he demonstrated a surprisingly quick release. Of course, it might not have hurt that Pryor was throwing alongside Pittsburgh quarterback Byron Leftwich. The eight-year veteran is a tremendous guy, a real gentleman, but has always been known for having an elongated delivery.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.