Translation: If there are suspensions against multiple players – and that certainly appeared to be the prevailing sentiment looking forward – they will likely be "staggered" to avoid gutting the Saints' defense.
In fact, multiple sources from the NFLPA said that such "staggered" actions will be recommended by the association.
Goodell reiterated several times last week that he will not take action against the players minus a recommendation from the NFLPA, and noted that he hoped to speak or meet with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith by week's end. For the most part, New Orleans officials maintained an incredibly low profile at the meetings in Palm Beach – team owner Tom Benson, for instance, wasn't seen at all exiting the various sessions he attended – but one middle-level official conceded that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma almost certainly will be suspended for his active role in the bounty program.
Vilma, according to the league's report of the matter, contributed $10,000 for a bounty on then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre prior to the 2010 NFC championship game.
"It's hard to have a productive discussion about punishment when one side has kept, to itself, all the information," Smith said.
Smith also took exception to the characterization that Goodell will make a "determination" on any sanctions against players, preferring the term "discussion."
And with Manning comes lofty expectations from the quarterback himself as well.
One of the benefits of having Manning is that he fully expects his teammates to be as obsessed with the pursuit of perfection as is he. And to be just as precise, even, as coach John Fox acknowledged this week, "that's a pretty high bar."
And some might suggest that's the lone downside with Manning, too. Even casual observers of the game are familiar by now with the Manning body language, the deep sighs and obvious frustration when a teammate doesn't quite measure up his standards.
"He expects everyone to treat the game and prepare the same way he does," Fox said. "He definitely sets the standard."
Some of his new teammates, particularly the wide receivers are going to have to clean up some old habits.
Neither of the projected starting wideouts, Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker, are regarded as great technicians. In fact, both third-year receivers have been criticized by coaches for running lazy routes, too often rounding off their patterns, and Manning will expect precision.
Denver quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow threw only 13 interceptions between them in 2011, one every 33.0 attempts. That's not much worse than Manning's career mark, an interception every 36.4 passes. But team sources acknowledged at the league meetings this week that many of the receptions came from sloppy routes, and conceded that Manning will not tolerate that.
"Those guys," allowed a team official, referring to the wideouts, "are going to have to get better."
Another starter who will have to up his game is center J.D. Walton. The two-year veteran snapper, has struggled a bit at times in the recognition aspect of the game, and will be counted on now to make most of the pass protection calls and switches.
So much so that Manning has actually sent e-mails to both Elway and Fox, The Sports Xchange has learned, urging them to seek a rollback.
That's not going to happen, so Manning is going to have to wait for formal workouts. In the meantime, as was his wont in Indianapolis, he is arranging throwing sessions with receivers at a local high school field.
The Jets and Sparano have already kicked around the idea of an H-back or fullback roles for Tebow as well. He could even, according to early suggestions, possibly align in the slot at times.
Jets people have debunked the notion that Tebow's insertion into the game in a Wildcat role could disrupt the rhythm of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.
But what the Jets say publicly, and fret over privately, are two different things. There are real concerns internally about how Sanchez will react to Tebow's presence.
At the annual NFL meetings this week, Rivera, when asked how he planned to dole out carries to all the tailbacks, staunchly insisted that Tolbert is a fullback.
On the Panthers' offseason roster and depth chart, he is listed as an "FB," even though he averaged 151.5 rushes the past two seasons, after totaling just 38 carries his first two years in the league.
"We didn't get him to play tailback," Rivera told The Sports Xchange. "He's a fullback to us. He can run some of the fullback leads and bellies we couldn't run a year ago. That's what he is, a fullback."
Time will tell.
Despite the assessment from Rivera – who emphasized that he and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski coached Tolbert in San Diego, and are familiar with his strengths – the four-year veteran is not an especially strong lead-blocker, according to league scouts.
He does, however, have good hands, having caught 54 balls in 2011, and is solid in pass protection. Part of how the Panthers utilize Tolbert might depend on what they do with Stewart.
The fourth-year veteran is entering the final season of his original rookie contract, and general manager Marty Hurney was pretty adamant this week about not dealing Stewart, despite contentions in this space last week that Carolina brass would listen to offers for him. People close to Stewart claim there have been no discussions on an extension, either from the Panthers or another club with permission to stretch out his deal, so perhaps Carolina will hold onto him, and net a compensatory pick if he were to depart next spring as a free agent.
In that scenario, Tolbert, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract, would be a nice insurance policy. Last season, the Carolina fullback, Richie Brockel, a converted tight end, had only three carries, and one of those was on a trick "fumblerooski" play on which he scored. If Tolbert gets a healthy workload as a fullback, though, it will still be regarded as an upset.
Weatherspoon has been mentioned several times as a developing, young star.
Lofton, who signed with New Orleans last week – five years, base value of about $27.5 million, quite a comedown from the $8 million-$9 million per year he was seeking at the outset of free agency – is a good, but limited, player, a two-down run-stuffer, who was more a liability on third down than the Falcons will ever admit.
"His time has come," Smith said of Weathersoon, who the coach felt was Atlanta's most valuable defender in '11. "Time to take that next step."
There is even a possibility that Weatherspoon, the Falcons' first-round choice in 2010, will be asked to make some of the defensive calls that were Lofton's responsibility.
"I'm ready," Weatherspoon said. "Ready for it all."