IR May Get a Revamping

A new rule proposal could alter how teams are able to use the injured-reserve designation and it is getting some powerful backing. Plus, there is more fallout from Bountygate on both the legal front and another player blasting the penalties.

ROONEY BACKS NEW IR RULE

Somewhat interesting that Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II is essentially the impetus behind a proposed by-law change, one that will formally be proposed at the league's annual meetings this week in Palm Beach, Fla. that would allow a club to designate one player from its injured reserve list to possibly return later in the season.

As long ago as 1995, the Steelers declined to place some injured players on I.R., hoping they might rehabilitate sufficiently to return to the field at some point. In '95, it was defensive back Rod Woodson, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener, but ended up coming back for Super Bowl XXX. In more recent seasons, it has been defensive end Aaron Smith. The change, if adopted, would allow the designated player to begin practicing after Week 6 and to play after Week 8, and seems to have pretty good support.

LEGAL RECOURSE UNLIKELY FOR PAYTON, WILLIAMS

While it hasn't received much attention in the past few days, there might be some legal implications to the Bountygate mess, perhaps none more interesting than the futures of Sean Payton and Gregg Williams.

Because of the standard contracts that are signed by NFL head and assistant coaches, the men cannot sue the league, an NFL spokesman told The Sports Xchange. They are, as are most employees in the league, subject to discipline from the commissioner.

But that might not stop the coaches, particularly in the case of Payton, from suing their employers, particularly if they are eventually fired. Attorneys who, admittedly, have not specifically reviewed the contracts of Payton and Williams, but have negotiated contracts for coaches in the past, contend such actions would probably be little more than nuisance cases. And two attorneys with extensive business backgrounds contend that Payton and Williams could probably be summarily dismissed "with cause."

Saints owner Tom Benson, who has not been even remotely implicated in the scandal, and has publicly supported Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, appears to have no designs on dismissing high-ranking club officials. The matter could be moot. But he now faces a full year without Payton, whose ego and arrogance seems to have gotten out of control, many agree, and that's a long time for opinions to change.

One opinion, though, that likely won't be altered is that the coaches would face long odds in any sort of legal proceeding.

WHITWORTH SLAMS BOUNTYGATE PENALTIES


One of the harshest critics of the hammer that Goodell brought down on the New Orleans organization has been Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was a key voice in CBA negotiations last year.

"This is ridiculous," Whitworth told the Bengals' website. "To give a guy the same suspension that you (gave) a guy who went to jail for a felony … that doesn't make sense. A guy who gets suspended for steroids can come back in four or eight games and make money, and we applaud that. The (Bountygate people) weren't gambling. They weren't drinking or driving. If you want to make an example of someone, make an example of someone who commits a crime."

Whitworth wasn't directly addressing, of course, the checkered past of teammate Adam "Pacman" Jones. But given his strong words, it should be interesting when he and Jones get together for minicamp. An unrestricted free agent who apparently merited no attention in the market, Jones this week re-signed with the Bengals.

STEELERS QUIET ON FREE-AGENT FRONT

There is only one franchise that, to date, has done nothing with unrestricted free agency. Hasn't signed a player from another team. Hasn't lost a player to another club (little-used offensive tackle Jamon Meredith, who on Thursday signed with Tampa Bay, was not tendered a qualifying offer, so he doesn't count). Has yet to re-sign any of its own unrestricted free agents. Owns a big, fat zero on the unrestricted free agency scoreboard. And that team is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Even by the club's stealthy standards, it's been a quiet first 10 days of free agency for the Steelers, who probably won't do much during the signing period.

The "Steelers' Way" remains to draft and develop players, not add them from outside. Pittsburgh coaches were keen, early on, for Chicago tight end Kellen Davis, but he re-signed with the Bears. Ever since that brief flirtation, there hasn't even been a hint that the Steelers had their eyes on a player. As of Friday morning, just six other teams had yet to sign an unrestricted free agent from another club.

PUNTS


# Although he is familiar with the Wildcat offense from his tenure as Miami head coach, first-year New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is expected to at least pick the brain of longtime coordinator Dan Henning about the use of the formation and the implementation of Tim Tebow on it. Henning, now retired, was essential to the success of the Wildcat in Miami a few years ago.

# With the addition of RB Mike Tolbert, the Panthers definitely will listen to offers forJonathan Stewart. But there hasn't been anything serious yet. How do we know? Stewart is entering the final season of his rookie contract, no team will deal for him simply to rent him for a season, so an extension will be necessary. And no club has yet spoken to Stewart or his agent about an add-on. Because of coach John Fox's familiarity with Stewart, everyone is making Denver the favorite. But don't rule out a few other clubs, including a sleeper like Pittsburgh, where the suggestion is thatRashard Mendenhall might not be sufficiently recovered from the ACL injury sustained in the 2011 season finale to play in 2012.

# There have been some raised eyebrows around the league concerning the bigD'Qwell Jackson contract cited earlier. But the Browns' deal catching as much scrutiny is the five-year contract to which the team signed Cincinnati unrestricted defensive end Frostee Rucker. The six-year veteran has only seven career sacks in the five seasons he has been healthy, and four of those came last season. But he got a reported $8 million in guarantees on the $21 million deal.

# Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey and Green Bay counterpart Mike McCarthy have both said in the past few days that their clubs were legitimately interested in Tebow before the trade to the Jets overcame some snags and was completed.

# The potential by-law change noted previously might have more impact on the game, some feel, than a possible change in the trade deadline rule. The competition committee will propose that the deadline be pushed back from the Tuesday following the sixth weekend of play to the eighth weekend. While it could be approved, most general managers surveyed the past few days don't believe it will dramatically increase the number of so-called "deadline" deals. Since 2000, there have been just 18 trades on deadline day, involving only 21 players. The NFL has had just 30 deadline-day deals since 1990.

# There aren't many guys signed from the "non-tender" scrap heap who make a difference for the franchises acquiring them, but credit Detroit for identifying one of the better ones and rolling the dice at a cheap price. The Lions this week signed former Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey, a three-year veteran who, despite starting 25 games in 2009-2011, wasn't even given a restricted tender by the talent-thin Colts. Lacey was benched last season, but the former undrafted free agent is only 24 years old, has experience playing in a good system at least be a decent special teams player. He's better than most of the players signed from the non-tender free agent pool.

# A couple teams actually inquired casually about retired quarterback Marc Bulger is the past few weeks, but were apprised he does not plan a comeback.

# Ironically, Payton e-mailed Whitworth just 30 minutes before the Bountygate sanctions were announced to confirm he will speak at the tackle's charity dinner next weekend. No word yet as to whether Payton will now make that appearance.

# Early returns on the trade that sent inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia: Personnel people think the deal was a big win for the Eagles, and, while there is a ton of respect for Houston coordinator Wade Phillips, people wonder how well the Texans will play without both Mario Williams and Ryans. That said, there is a consensus that both players will be better returning to 4-3 fronts.

# The last word: "If I was on that ballclub, I'd have to learn to love to be miserable. But if they brought him on my team, I'd have to follow him, because I'd have to see if the magic … if he could bring it to me. Until the wheels fall off, and the horse breaks down, I'm gonna ride him. But it's a miserable state to put yourself in." – Warren Sapp, before the Tebow trade to the Jets, on the prospect of playing on the same team as the two-year veteran quarterback

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