NFL: Players chief wants new bounty investigation
head of the NFL Players Association called Friday for the re-opening of
the probe that led to four players being suspended for their alleged
roles in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.
director DeMaurice Smith said on NBCSports.com's Pro Football Talk Live
that rather than close the investigation, he'd like to see the entire
process re-opened for additional examination and scrutiny.
end, Smith plans to talk with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about not
only reconsidering reopening the investigation, but also to illustrate
the fact that Smith believes the investigation process was flawed and
"Frankly, I believe that the investigators let the
commissioner down," Smith said. "Our hope, and certainly it will be a
message from me to the league soon, is that given all of the
recantations and all of the contradictions and, as exemplified by the
video, all of the things that are clearly not clear, shouldn't we be
taking another hard look about where this investigation failed the
Smith believes some of the NFL's evidence
supporting proof of a bounty system is flawed and that suspended
players Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma
is questionable at the very least.
"Virtually everyone is
wondering whether this process has been fair and whether we've achieved
our goal of finding the truth," Smith said. "We shouldn't be in a world
where players are being punished for something that is inconclusive and
Smith also continues to maintain that the players did
not intentionally seek to injure players on opposing teams for monetary
gain, nor was the investigation fair and complete.
inconsistent with what our players stand for," Smith said. "It's
inconsistent with everything we've done to make this game safer."
Jets Add A Local Longshot
--The New York Jets signed undrafted free agent defensive tackle Matt Hardison, the team announced Friday.
6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, participated in the Jets rookie minicamp as a
tryout player May 4-6. In two seasons at Delaware, Hardison played in
24 games, recording 29 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss. Hardison
spent his first three collegiate seasons at Rutgers, but did not see
Nothing To Ponder, He's The One
--Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has a
lot of decisions still to make about this year's team, but one of his
biggest is a done deal.
Frazier has named Christian Ponder the Vikes' starting quarterback,
according to a report by Fox Sports North late Thursday.
going into it with Christian being our starting quarterback," Frazier
said. "If something were to happen to Christian because of injury, we
feel like we have a capable backup in Joe (Webb). But there's no
competition as to, 'Joe has to do this to beat out Christian.'
Christian, it's his job.
"We're trusting that he's going to be the
guy to lead us to where we want to go this next season. And we think we
have a capable guy if something were to happen to Christian, that Joe
could step in and do a real good job for us."
Donovan McNabb as the Vikes' starting QB last October and went on to
complete over 54 percent of his 291 passes for 1,853 yards, 13
touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Those numbers were still noteworthy,
particularly with the loss of No. 1 running back Adrian Peterson to
injuries, as well as back-up wide receiver Michael Jenkins (knee
injury) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe's struggles.
Peterson and the additions of wide receiver Jerome Simpson and tight
end John Carlson will only help to improve Ponder's ability to run the
team, giving him significant more options.
But Ponder has also been working on himself during the offseason.
gotten bigger. I'm stronger. I'll try to keep my flexibility," Ponder
told 1500ESPN.com Thursday. "There's a lot of different things we can
do flexibility-wise with the yoga. Just trying to keep my body in the
right condition and getting stronger."
Raider Heroics Off The Field
assistant trainer Chris Cortez is being hailed as a hero after reports
began surfacing in the last two days that he saved a woman from
drowning last Saturday night.
According to several media reports,
Cortez, his wife and family friend Taryn Griffin were driving by an
Oakland estuary when he spotted a car in the water.
The car was
beginning to sink, so Cortez and Griffin, along with several other
bystanders, leapt into the water to try and rescue the driver, who was
still in the sinking vehicle.
"We got the woman to roll down her
window and the car started going under," Cortez told Raiders.com.
"Taryn, being the awesome swimmer that she is, dove right in and so I
just went in right after her. And so did another individual, and we got
her out of there without a scratch, which is pretty amazing."
entire incident was captured on cellphone video by another passerby.
The unidentified female driver of the car that went into the water
suffered only minor injuries.
Bush To Roll Out New Wrinkle
--One of the more obvious upshots from
the Miami minicamp this week is that tailback Reggie Bush will be a lot
more than a runner in the West Coast offense that new head coach Joe
Philbin and coordinator Mike Sherman are installing.
On his way to
the first 1,000-yard campaign of his NFL career, Bush logged 216
carries last season, not a lot by some standards, but still 59 more
than he'd registered in any of his previous five seasons. That number
figures to be reduced this season, in part because the Dolphins are
expecting a lot more from second-year veteran Daniel Thomas, but more
because Philbin and Sherman plan to align Bush in a variety of spots,
Bush has suggested he wants to win the league rushing
title this season, but it won't happen in the new offense, which isn't
to say Bush won't be an impactful player. The Dolphins don't have many
real play makers, and the Miami coaches want to maximize Bush's ability
to still make plays in space. So expect to see Bush more in the slot in
2012, catching some balls up the field, not just out of the backfield.
were a few teams in the 2006 who felt Bush could actually be graded as
a wide receiver. That might be overstatement of his receiving
abilities, but during his stint in New Orleans, pass-catchers such as
Robert Meachem and Devry Henderson suggested that Bush had some of the
best hands on a team loaded with talent receivers.
want to utilize that skill, and not just on swing passes and screens.
They feel Bush has the ability to catch the ball up the field, and may
give him those opportunities. For his career, Bush has 337 receptions,
including five years of 40 or more catches, and 161 grabs in his first
two seasons. But the former Heisman Trophy winner has averaged only 7.2
yards per catch, solid enough for a back, but a number the Dolphins
feel they can improve upon.
The low average is because Bush has
principally been used as a third-down option, on swings and screens and
passes in the flat. Of his 18 career receptions of 20 yards or more,
and all three of his 40-yard catches, Bush caught the ball within eight
yards of the line of scrimmage. Miami wants to get Bush the ball deeper
at times, at least in the intermediate range, and has conjured up some
possibilities for doing that. For years, a nightmare matchup for
linebackers, Bush might evolve in '12 as a tough draw for safeties and
slot cornerbacks as well.
What's The Deal With Harvin?
--Since even close associates of
Percy Harvin were confused this week by the wide receiver's one-day
boycott of the Minnesota minicamp -- other than to say that the absence
was not contract-related -- the source of the three-year veteran's
unhappiness with his situation is curious.
confusion was the Friday morning report for Twin Cities-area media
outlets that Harvin, the 22nd choice in the 2009 draft, plans to spend
time working out with Vikings' second-year quarterback Christian Ponder
before camp opens next month. About the only thing clear in the whole
episode is that the team has no plans to trade Harvin, whose reception
and yardage totals have increased every season in the league, and who
remains one of the NFL's most versatile offensive performers.
was some thought originally that Harvin preferred to play one position,
wide receiver, but two people close to him insists he likes the
intermittent stretches he gets at tailback (52 carries in 2011) and
enjoys kickoff returns as well. Harvin has two seasons remaining on his
contract, at base salaries of $915,000 for 2012 and at least $1.55
million in 2013 (could climb to as much as $3.3 million with escalators
and "reachable" bonuses), and Minnesota officials definitely are not
inclined to sweeten the deal at this time.
Which means that
Harvin's problem will likely remain just that, Harvin's problem, for
now. He has hinted that he plans to be in camp on time and has,
apparently, not spoken at length to his associates about any grievances
with the organization.
Curtailing The Ads
--In his 14 seasons with the
Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Peyton Manning became the face of the
NFL, not only because of his brilliant performance on the field, but
also the huge volume of marketing and endorsement money that the
four-time most valuable player earned off of it.
officials, and certainly players from other clubs, privately contend
Manning was overexposed. The same level of endorsement work could
eventually line Andrew Luck's coffers, but the Colts might have some
degree of control over how often their new quarterback's mug is
plastered across the TV or on billboards.
One of the stumbling
blocks in negotiations between Indianapolis and the top overall choice
in the draft, The Sports Xchange has learned, is the proposed inclusion
of marketing language that Luck and his representatives, at least so
far, regard as strident. One source with knowledge of the talks even
suggested that Luck would "have to clear" marketing proposals with the
It's not believed that Manning's contract, at least early in
his career, contained such a provision. Another hurdle, as noted here
two weeks ago: The schedule for the payout of Luck's signing bonus,
which will be $14,518,544, exactly the same as Cam Newton's in 2011.
Newton was paid in two equal installments, but Luck and agent Will Wilson are said to be seeking something far more favorable. It's
believed the Colts have improved the proposed bonus payout, but only by
a little, with 55 percent due on execution of the contract and 45
percent payable next spring. Indianapolis has made similar signing
bonus payout proposals to other draft choices.
What Role Will Crabtree Play
call Michael Crabtree's performance in three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers a disappointment since being the 10th overall player
chosen in the 2009 draft.
But his supporters on the coaching staff
have pointed out that Crabtree hasn't yet played with a complementary
wide receiver who had more than 52 catches in a season. And, in 2011,
the second leading San Francisco wideout had just 20 grabs. The
additions of free agents Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, and the
choice of A.J. Jenkins in the first round, should render moot, the
49ers contend, all of the excuses about Crabtree's lack of big plays.
all make each other better," said offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"They can feed off each other." So far in the offseason, Crabtree
appears to be the hungry man in the receiver corps. A pair of San
Francisco coaches told The Sports Xchange that Crabtree -- who signed
late as a rookie and has undergone foot surgeries in successive years
-- appears poised for a breakout season. Of course, for Crabtree, who
had career bests in receptions (72) and yards (874), the term
"breakout" might be relative.
With Frank Gore around, San
Francisco isn't likely to have a receiver with 85-90 catches, but the
49ers do feel that Crabtree can be more explosive and improve on his
career-low 12.1-yard average of a year ago. The 49ers concede the
former Texas Tech star is more quick than fast, but still has
explosiveness, and can run away from people. "This could be a big year
for him," said former offensive assistant Bobby Engram, the onetime NFL
wide receiver who is now the wide receivers coach at Pitt.
Jets Join Patriots-Bills In Switch To AFC East
week's concession by New York Jets' defensive coordinator Mike Pettine,
that the team will employ more 4-3 fronts in 2012 not only continued a
trend in the AFC East division, but around the league.
In the past
two years, seven once-traditional 3-4 schemes have added some 4-3
wrinkles, or switched largely to a four-man front. On the flip side,
only four clubs have either added or changed wholesale to 3-4 looks,
most notably Indianapolis for this year under first-year coach Chuck
The transformation is complete in the AFC East, which was
once packed with 3-4 teams, all of which have now adopted some 4-3
principles. New England inside/middle linebacker Jerod Mayo
acknowledged that the switch back and forth -- the Patriots often
varied their predominant defense front from one week to the next -- is
difficult, but remains more mental than physical.
defenses demand some different things physically, but, more important,
it's about study, getting things right in your head," Mayo said. New
Atlanta coordinator Mike Nolan, who is often regarded as a 3-4
proponent, but who has coached both fronts in his long NFL tenure,
allowed that the game demands more flexibility now. Said Nolan:
"Diversity is a key. You want to play fast, no matter what defense
you're in, but you don't want to get (pigeonholed), either."
Allen A Head Case Or...
probably is some element of truth to the notion that head injuries, and
all of the attention they have merited in recent months, played some
part in the decision of Minnesota cornerback Asher Allen to retire last
month at age 24 after only three seasons in the league.
third-round draft choice (2009) sustained a couple of concussions in
his tenure with the Vikings and finished last season on injured reserve
because of concussion-related symptoms. But two former teammates and an
associate of Asher told The Sports Xchange this week that the onetime
University of Georgia standout walked away from the game, and a
scheduled base salary of $615,000 for 2012, more because of religious
convictions than health concerns. It's believed that Asher is a devoted
member of a denomination with which some aspects of the game simply
didn't dovetail very well.
In his three years in Minnesota, Asher
started in 21 of 36 appearances, including 20 starts in the past two
seasons. It is not anticipated, either by Vikings officials or his
friends, that Asher, who recorded 134 tackles, four interceptions and
11 passes defensed will have a change of heart about his football
Patriots OL Issues
--Dante Scarnecchia, the venerable New England
assistant head coach/offensive line, could have his work cut out for
him in 2012.
Left tackle Matt Light has retired after 11 seasons
and will be replaced by second-year veteran and former first-rounder
Nate Solder. The incumbent right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, continued
to be bothered in the offseason by a bad back that has plagued him much
of his career.
The four other tackles on the current roster have
combined for only seven games, with zero starts. No one should be
surprised if free agent addition Robert Gallery, the eight-year veteran
who began his career at tackle as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft
in 2004, before moving to guard, gets some snaps at tackle in camp.
situation isn't a whole lot better at guard. Perennial Pro Bowl left
guard Logan Mankins figures to start the year on the physically unable
to perform list, after sustaining an ACL injury in the AFC championship
game. Right guard Brian Waters hasn't participated in offseason
workouts, and while the Pats are publicly confident he will play in
2012, privately they aren't as certain. If Gallery is forced to play at
tackle, it takes some of the depth away from the guard spot, where the
team recently added veteran free agent Jamey Richard (11 career
It could be that the loser of the Dan Connolly/Dan Koppen
competition at center ends up playing some at guard. Tom Brady absorbed
32 sacks in 2011, the most he has suffered since 2003, so the blocking
unit already had some concerns.
Atogwe Says He's Not Over The Hill
--Seven-year veteran safety
O.J. Atogwe, added this week by Philadelphia, balked at suggestions his
best football is behind him. Still, Atogwe, 31, hasn't been as
productive in recent seasons, and there is a reason (or at least a
perception) why the Eagles will represent his third team in three
That said, Philly coaches still feel that Atogwe, whose
25 career interceptions are the eighth most in the league since he
entered the NFL in 2005, retains the ability and instincts to make some
big plays. And they got a decent insurance policy on an affordable,
one-year deal. "He's not the ball magnet he once was, but he still can
jump on a mistake," one Eagles coach said Thursday.
In addition to
his 25 interceptions, Atogwe has forced 16 fumbles in his career. His
best seasons came in 2007-2008, when Atogwe totaled 13 interceptions,
and he registered six forced fumbles in '08. But he's had five forced
fumbles the last three years, and three interceptions each in 2010 and
2011, despite starting just 23 games. He might not push starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman for a No. 1 job, but could offer a better
alternative than second-year pro Jai Jarrett, a disappointing
second-round choice in 2011, for the No. 3 spot.
Unrestricted free agent inside/middle linebacker Keith Brooking
probably won't sign with a team that doesn't have legitimate playoff
potential in his mind, but he has no current plans to retire, either.
It might take an injury in training camp or early in the season to get
Brooking, 36, a shot at earning a roster spot somewhere. But as
recently as this week, a team placed a call to just stay in touch with
Brooking, who started only three games in Dallas in 2011. That was the
fewest starts for Brooking, who might have returned to Dallas had the
Cowboys not added free agent Dan Connor, since his 1998 rookie season
in Atlanta. ...
There was no change this week in the contract impasse
for Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons, whose situation with the
Seahawks was laid out in detail by the Tip Sheet last week. With team
officials expected to be on vacation the next few weeks, the talks may
be fallow for a while. ...
Speaking of the Seahawks, Coach Pete Carroll
seems dead-set on making the team's starting quarterback situation a
legitimate three-way battle in camp. Most feel free agent signee Matt Flynn will win the job, but incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and rookie
third-rounder Russell Wilson got equal snaps in minicamp, and might at
the outset of training camp as well. Just as big a question might be
about the receivers, who reportedly have looked shaky. ...
to the 14 choices in each of the first and third rounds who remained
unsigned as of early Friday, there were only eight draft picks without
deals: three in the second round, two in the fifth, and one each in the
fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. ...
Twelve teams have each signed all
of their draft choices, and only New Orleans, which has just five
choices, has yet to sign any. The Saints have the lone remaining
unsigned player in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. ...
team's continuing problems at left guard, Baltimore's recent
under-the-radar signing of free agent Bobbie Williams is looking a lot
better. The 12-year veteran played on the right side during most of his
tenure in Cincinnati, but the Ravens feel he can make the transition to
left guard if necessary. ...
The aforementioned Jenkins, a bit of a
surprise with the 30th slot in the first round, has reportedly
struggled at times in the offseason. The former Illinois standout
provides the 49ers much-needed boundary speed, but might need to get
more physical. Moss, though, continues to draw strong reviews. ...
Nolan hasn't yet employed many 3-4 straight looks in Atlanta, but has
blended in some wrinkles from the front. Most notable is that the ends
will often stand up and rush from a two-point stance. It's not a style
that's comfortable for John Abraham yet, but four-year veteran Kroy Biermann, who had only 5 1/2 sacks total the past two seasons after
notching five as a part-timer in 2009, could fit nicely into the hybrid
end-linebacker role. ...
Three-year veteran Lawrence Sidbury and rookie
fifth-rounder Jonathan Massaquoi could also be good fits for the hybrid
Tim Tebow and Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who
have never met but are both from the Jacksonville area, will partner
with Orlando Orthopaedic Center on a D1 Sports Training facility in
Orlando. Tebow is part-owner of a similar facility in Savannah and
Jones in Tampa. D1 has partnered in the past with current NFL players
like Manning, Philip Rivers and Ndamukong Suh. ...
Parker stopped short
in confirming that he is involved in discussions with Oakland about
having free agent tailback Cedric Benson sign as a backup to Darren McFadden, but acknowledged to The Sports Xchange that interest in the
seven-year veteran has picked up lately. "Cedric is a patient guy,
though, and he'll wait for the right situation," Parker said. "But he
feels like it will come." ...
In an effort to have him drop some
weight, the Cleveland Browns have emphasized to second-year wide
receiver Greg Little that he cut back a lot on sweets. To have Little
drop fewer passes in 2012, Cleveland coaches have worked on the mental
and the physical sides of catching the ball. They have stressed
concentration techniques and film study for the former, and worked hard
on nuances like hand/palm placement, watching the point of the ball all
the way into your hands, for the latter. Little, who is down in the
219- or 220-pound range, after weighing as much as 230 in 2011, had 14
drops as a rookie, the second most in the league. The Browns feel,
though, that the former North Carolina standout and second-round draft
choice, can be a play maker.
--The last word: "I'm developing a
'Brokeback Mountain' chemistry with the players." -- Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, per several media outlets, on the flourishing relationship
with his new Miami Dolphins' teammates
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.
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