Schadenfreude is in the air. It smells like roasted Patriot.
Not long after Ted Wells released his a 243-page report detailing his opinion that quarterback Tom Brady probably knew his footballs were being purposefully deflated, the hammer fell. Retribution is swift and merciless when the almighty Shield is challenged.
The NFL announced massive penalties for the Patriots—a record $1 million fine, a 2016 first-round pick, a 2017 fourth-round pick, and a four-game suspension for the golden boy. New England fans were naturally shell-shocked and angry, aghast at the heavy-handed punishment in the wake of seemingly weak allegations and flimsy evidence. Patriots haters, meanwhile, basked in the glory of sweet vindication.
Deep down, Patriots fans had to know this was coming. After all, the ghosts of Spygate still roamed Foxboro, haunting fans with glee every playoff failure for head coach Bill Belichick. New England had been down this road before.
The Hoodie caught a $500,000 personal fine for his role in the team’s illegal videotaping activities back in 2007. The Patriots were fined an additional $250,000, and they were docked a first-round pick to boot.
Worse, it tainted the team’s undeniable success. The Patriots couldn’t win the big one without cheating, or so the narrative dictated. Forget the fact they went undefeated that season before losing a shocker to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Never mind the fact they made the postseason in all but one year—the last time Brady missed significant time, a 2008 season when Matt Cassel piloted the team to a 11-5 record that was somehow not good enough for the playoffs—since the sordid affair.
Making it to the Super Bowl is hard enough for most teams. The Patriots have been there three times since the ordeal, but they couldn’t shake Spygate.
One Super Bowl victory should have wiped that narrative clean. The Empire finally struck back, beating the vaunted Seattle Seahawks in thrilling fashion. We should still be talking about that game. Instead, we are here, sitting in the aftermath of another brutal edict from King Roger and his minions, with fiery rebukes cast down from ivory towers, scores of takes burning all around, and angry fan denials in the face of laughter.
Really, though, nobody should be surprised.
Not after the fallout after Spygate. Not after the New Orleans Saints were eviscerated after the bounty scandal.
When head coach Sean Payton’s team put a dent in the Shield after being accused of collecting bounties for big hits on opposing players, the punishment was just as shocking back then. The Saints were fined $500,000 and docked two second-round picks. Payton was banished for a year. Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator reportedly at the heart of it all, was banned indefinitely.
Several players garnered lengthy suspensions, too, though they were ultimately vacated after multiple appeals.
An honest reading of the Ted Wells report on the allegations someone doctored game balls for quarterback Brady and the Patriots leaves plenty to the imagination. But it gives us a mountain of circumstantial evidence—and, yes, it counts as evidence—that paints a damning picture.
How else are we to explain some of the text messages that flew between New England’s scapegoats—equipment man John Jastremski and the self-styled “deflator,” James McNally, who sounds like a mid-level gangster out of The Departed? Why would Brady suddenly be interested in speaking with Jastremski after six months of zero contact?
New England’s overwrought rebuttal makes a valiant effort to answer these questions and discredit the Wells report, but it left many wondering how anyone would believe “The Deflator” was a nickname tied to weight loss more than anything. The massive counterstrike was anything but convincing.
There probably isn’t proof beyond a reasonable doubt that proves anyone guilty of anything, but the burden of proof is substantially different here. We aren’t in criminal or even civil court—the NFL can rule on the information it has and the implications therein.
Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all. There is dot-connecting and dubious science, to be sure, but Occam’s razor seems to apply here—someone got caught pulling shenanigans with footballs to gain some sort of competitive advantage. Perhaps it was intended to fly within the restricted air space that is the NFL rulebook. But we all know the way good intentions paves.
Whatever the case may be, the entire affair is decidedly ridiculous. Does deflating balls actually give New England a tangible advantage? That’s debatable. Did it help the Patriots thump the Indianapolis Colts by 38 points in the AFC Championship game? No. Could this all have been avoided with a simple admission and apology? Probably.
The nature of the offense wasn’t relevant, though—it was the active attempt to circumvent the rules to gain an edge that mattered. It’s why Belichick was levied the biggest fine to an individual in NFL history in 2007.
Even then, the damage would have been mitigated with a mea culpa, or at least an honest attempt to investigate the issue. So why did the NFL borrow Mjölnir to leave Patriots fans thunderstruck?
It’s simple—the Patriots doubled down and thumbed their noses at the league. Worse, they did it knowing what happened eight years ago.
Bob Kraft might have a cozy relationship with commissioner Roger Goodell, but that mattered little when the Patriots owner stood there and demanded an apology from the league in the wake of the accusations. Brady’s infamous and oft-parodied press conference maintaining his plausible deniability and adherence to the rules was no laughing matter to the commissioner’s office.
In the wake of the investigation, Wells revealed New England’s unwillingness to cooperate, from refusal to connect investigators with McNally to Brady’s disinclination to turn over texts from his phone.
Orwellian as this may all be, Brady and the Patriots did themselves no favors by obfuscating and practically daring the NFL to do something.
It was easy to compare this heavy-handed punishment to the light sentences doled out for domestic abusers. A common refrain compared the litany of penalties to the two-game suspension Ray Rice received after punching his then-fiancé, a sentence that would ultimately be extended indefinitely once video of the incident was released.
Even compared to the likes of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy—who was recently handed a 10-game suspension for his alleged domestic assault despite the fact he sat out the entire 2014 season—New England’s plight seems rather excessive. Brady’s folly has all but buried the fact Seattle’s cursory due diligence on Michigan product Frank Clark, whose domestic violence incident gets uglier the more we find out.
Real skullduggery should trump slightly deflated footballs, right?
There is only one problem—the NFL is a moneymaking machine, not a moral institution. So New England’s perceived assault on the integrity of the league became paramount over affronts to humanity and common decency we have seen from individuals.
The Patriots took aim at the Shield instead of women and children.
If we are being honest with ourselves, the league only became concerned with domestic violence when it became a public relations nightmare that could affect the bottom line. It’s no more a moral issue to the suits in New York than whether a player legally smokes weed or an equipment manager takes a needle to a football on purpose.
So we are here, debating the merits of deflated footballs, texts between equipment handlers, and an arbitrary, overreaching punishment that angered some and delighted others.
At least the NFL is in the news again.
The 2015 season might be a circus, but all good shows must come to an end. The hullaballoo will die down, and the Patriots will still be four-time champions with a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm. All the bluster and bombast won’t change history, even if it has become tainted for some.
Since I have no better place to put this, here are top 100 players who will be drafted, according to me, by position in no particular order. Because I am Lord of the draft. Or entering a contest. Whichever is more plausible.
Interior Defensive Line
It seems silly that I feel the urge to campaign for Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s MVP after he had all but wrapped up the award a few weeks ago. Green Bay was in the midst of a run at an undefeated season and Rodgers was the cream of a very good quarterback crop. Here we are, though, with another NFL season fully in the books and Drew Brees improbably closing the gap on the Packers’ quarterback, who narrowly missed an undefeated season. There is no denying the greatness of both of these record-breaking quarterbacks. They are on another level, with Tom Brady and arguably Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning hot on their heels. We witnessed a special season from these two great quarterbacks, and both are more than deserving to be in the MVP conversation. Only one truly deserves the award, though, and I am here to tell you what you should already know: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL MVP.
The main argument for Brees-as-MVP is his obliteration of Dan Marino’s yardage record, and it is a fair one. Brees put the record out of reach, topping Marino’s old mark by nearly 400 yards. That is special — despite the relative ease and propensity to pass around the league nowadays, that is no small accomplishment. The feat is somewhat diminished by the fact that Brady also broke the record, and Stafford joined the duo in the 5,000-yard club, though to what degree is impossible to determine. Rodgers would have joined them as well had he played his team’s final game as well, even though Brees threw the ball many more times than Rodgers.
Even if statistics are everything — and they are not — I believe Rodgers had the more impressive season outside of yardage and traditional completion percentage. Here is a side-by-side comparison (some stats from Pro Football Focus):
At first glance Brees wins the beauty contest — it is hard to argue with the annihilation of the yardage record. Where Rodgers really sets himself apart, though, is his accuracy and efficiency. As I previously alluded to, Brees threw for 837 more yards than Rodgers, but you will note they came on 156 more attempts and one more game. This in no way diminishes Brees’ accomplishment, but it does highlight efficiency differences. The fact Rodgers nearly averaged one full more yard per attempt is subtly impressive. While Brees had a fantastic 71.2% accuracy — another NFL record, in fact — Rodgers completed almost 80% of his passes when removing receiver drops, throw-aways, and spikes, beating out Brees by almost 2%. Again, take into consideration the fact Rodgers had fewer attempts than Brees, which only magnifies the fact his receivers dropped 40 passes. The coup de grâce, however, comes in Rodgers’ record-setting 122.5 NFL rating, which was almost 12 points better than Brees.
To put his statistics into perspective, if Rodgers had thrown 156 more passes to match Brees’ attempt count, he would have thrown for 6,094 yards and 59 touchdowns based on his season yards-per-attempt and touchdown rates. Of course it is unreasonable to assume those numbers would have actually been attained, however this point serves to highlight the efficiency with which Rodgers dissected opposing defenses. Not only did Rodgers shred those defenses, he did it with no semblance of a running game, a drop-happy wide receiving corps, and an offensive line that gave up many more sacks.
Also lending support to Brees, because we tend to have short memories, is the fact that Matt Flynn torched Detroit for 480 yards and 6 TDs, both Packers records. Somehow that has evolved into an example why Rodgers should not win the award, because Flynn made it look easy for Green Bay. The fundamental flaw with this argument is that it is unprovable. What if Flynn is the next great quarterback? What would happen if Chase Daniel played an entire game for the Saints? There is no way to know answers to these questions for last season; Flynn’s great game does not take away from Rodgers’ great season.
Numbers aside, the fact of the matter is Aaron Rodgers nearly led his team to an undefeated season en route to a #1 seed, and he beat Drew Brees in their head-to-head matchup. Rodgers played one less game, which was his and his team’s prerogative, but he earned that with his other-worldly play. The Packers had no running game of note, and they had one of the worst league defenses. The Saints, meanwhile, had the league’s easiest schedule to boot (.441 opponent winning percentage), albeit the Packers’ schedule was not terribly tough. In two of the Saints’ three losses, Brees threw more interceptions than touchdowns; Rodgers did not have one truly bad game.
Both quarterbacks were a joy to watch this year, and again both deserve to be in this conversation. Brees’ gaudy raw numbers make him the best candidate for the Offensive Player of the Year Award. While Rodgers is no longer the “hands down” winner, however, he is still the better choice for MVP. Ask yourself this simple question: if we call the statistical comparison a draw, which can be reasonably argued, then why should Brees win the MVP over Rodgers?
I went a bit mock crazy in the past several weeks, drafting as the virtual Dolphins GM in four seven-round mock NFL drafts, three of which allowed trades. While this has been a fun, enlightening, and exhausting experience, I have come up with some interesting results. Take a gander at the hauls I made in each draft:
MockTwo (no trades)
|1.24||Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas||1.15||Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri|
|2.15||Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois||3.15||Clint Boling, OT/OG, Georgia|
|3.08||Clint Boling, OT/OG, Georgia||4.14||DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma|
|3.15||D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas||5.15||Jordan Cameron, TE, USC|
|5.15||Cortez Allen, CB, Citadel||6.15||Cecil Shorts, WR, Mount Union|
|5.32||Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State||7.14||Graig Cooper, RB, Miami|
|7.15||Damien Berry, RB, Miami||7.15||Nathan Enderle, QB, Idaho|
|7.32||Eugene Clifford, S, Tennessee State||7.32||Scott Lutrus, ILB, Uconn|
|1.08||Cam Newton, QB, Auburn||1.15||Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida|
|1.25||Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama||3.07||Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois|
|2.29||Marcus Cannon, OT/OG, TCU||4.30||D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas|
|3.22||Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian||5.10||Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware|
|5.16||Virgil Green, TE, Nevada||5.27||Denarius Moore, WR, Tennessee|
|6.01||Johnny White, RB, North Carolina||7.8||Johnny White, RB, North Carolina|
|7.07||Andrew Jackson, OG, Fresno State||7.14||Rob Housler, TE, Florida Atlantic|
|7.32||Mario Harvey, LB, Marshall||7.15||Jah Reid, OT, Central Florida|
|7.32||Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers|
Thanks to the efforts of Brandon Nall, a bunch of us recently participated in a 7-round mock draft via Twitter, named Mock One. We allowed trades in this draft, which I personally think is more realistic than a mock draft with zero trades. For realism, we were only allowed to trade draft picks, which is the current situation with the lockout. The GMs may or may not have been way off base as to what teams might actually do, but all in all I think we did a pretty good job. Last year there were 42 trades involving draft picks, whereas we made only 30 (albeit a lot in the first two rounds).
I participated as the GM for the Miami Dolphins, and here are my results:
1.24 – Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
I was able to trade down twice to this pick, which turned out to be a huge boon for several reasons. I not only gained a second and third round pick, but I was able to draft a player at the top of my list despite moving to the bottom of the first round. Here is what I posted about Mallett after I drafted him:
With the 24th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins take Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. The fourth quarterback off the board, we feel he had top 5 potential before off-field rumors and questions about his athleticism dramatically reduced his draft stock. We do not put much stock in rumors, and his on-the-field positives far outweigh the negatives. While Mark Ingram was also available, we felt the potential franchise quarterback was much more important than the talented running back.
After trading down twice to the 24th pick, the Dolphins feel great about the picks we gained in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Feeling we can now effectively fill other needs in the early rounds of the draft, taking Ryan Mallett became the increasingly clear choice as our pick approached, especially with teams needing a quarterback picking soon after us. We are excited to welcome the next great Dolphins quarterback to Miami! Read more…
One side plays a game – albeit a violent one – for millions of dollars and fan adoration. The other side is a good old boys club coveting riches beyond what they have already achieved. We, the fans, are casualties of the fracas, helplessly watching the parties squabble over how to slice a $9 billion pie. If only the lip service we are being paid by both sides counted for anything.
A memo to both parties: the NFL is not magical. There is no guarantee that it will continue to be ridiculously popular, especially if this ugly, public fight is dragged out for months and threatens the season. This is 2011, not 1987 or even 2006; the 24/7 news cycle and Twitter give the fans far more access to the details than ever before, and we are completely sick of it already. Trying to placate your consumers – you know, the ones without whom lucrative television contracts would dry up and stadiums would sit empty – with meaningless pledges and fake apologies does little to help.
As such, the league wants to continue negotiating, while the players feel like the owners are yanking their chains – no pun intended, Adrian Peterson. All the accusations and the he-said-he-said being played out in the public courtroom is pointless. DeMaurice Smith and Jeff Pash, among many others, need to stop firing public salvos and just get back to the bargaining table. I am nowhere near the first person to say they just need to get a deal done! So here is one I can suggest:
1) Split projected revenue 55/45
This seems like a rather obvious compromise – the owners want a 60/40 split of revenue, and the players want to split it 50/50. The players justifiably want to see justification for anything worse than an even split, and the owners have offered to show profitability data from the past five seasons. Before the lockout, the owners increased their offer to 44% of projected revenue, yet the NFLPA* never budged from their 50% demand. But compromise is a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions” after all, and both sides need to be willing to concede to get a deal done.
2) Split excess revenue 60/40
The NFLPA* took umbrage with the league’s final pre-decertification offer, but for no bigger reason than the dubious exclusion of a “true-up” clause, essentially giving the owners all of the revenue if it exceeded projections. Considering the proposals also dubiously projected much lower growth than in recent years, I understand why the players wanted to pore over the books. I could almost hear the nervous laughter from Packers CEO Mark Murphy when he stated that a “true-up” clause was essentially implied in any final agreement, but I can see where this could have seemed insulting to the players.
The league is protecting its players in the unlikely event that revenue declines, so it is only fair that the owners get a bigger cut of the excess revenue. Putting this in any offer will lessen the need for the players to look at the NFL’s books in great detail, because they would be guaranteed a good revenue split even if revenue goes beyond projections.
3) Offer health insurance for life and injury guarantees
Professional football players have notoriously short life spans, and debilitating injuries that can last a lifetime. Still, this would be an unprecedented deal, one that the owners have already included in their offer. Apparently, the NFLPA* has advised players that this offer comes with a caveat – Anthony Gonzalez prepared a response to Roger Goodell’s letter that included a rebuttal of the health insurance offer saying that the insurance would be cancelled if a player were to receive new employment. Whether or not this is true, the ability to purchase health insurance through the NFL for life is huge for the players, at great cost to the owners in the long run.
If I were the owners – and frankly, the players – this part of the deal would come with a mandate for players to utilize better safety equipment. Aaron Rodgers credits his new, high-tech helmet in shielding him from another concussion late in the season and playoffs. If the NFL is going to pony up all this money for lifetime health insurance, the least the players could do is try to protect themselves better, no matter how silly they think they look.
Another unprecedented offer was the one owners made to guarantee salaries for a year after a player gets injured. Keep that in there, owners.
4) Implement a structured rookie compensation system
Goodell’s crusade to get a wage scale should come to fruition. The NFLPA* had been willing to accept this as part of an offer before they de-certified, and even though part of the antitrust lawsuit against the NFL includes the rookie wage scale, there is no reason why the players should not ultimately agree to this. The lawsuit alleges rookie contracts will severely limit earnings, and being that the average NFL career is less than four seasons, the argument sounds reasonable.Being that the NFL offered a rookie scale that actually improved rookie salaries for anyone drafted beyond the first round, the career average of players drafted in the first round is the relevant number, one which I could not find. Either way, first round contracts need to be reined in; they have been out of control for years. If this happens to have the unintended consequence of keeping a few kids in school to graduate every year, even better.
At any rate, the NFL has already conceded any savings from a wage scale should go to veterans. The wage scale would limit the length of a rookie contract so the ones who perform well can capitalize on their success sooner than later – it lets the deserving guys make the money when they have proven worthy. This makes a ton of sense.
5) Dramatically reduce draft pick compensation for restricted free agents
The Frustrate Tag, as I like to call it, is too powerful. So is restricted free agency. When was the last time a player who was franchised or tendered with high draft picks signed with a different team? The current system creates a lazy way for teams to keep their players, and it sows malcontent – just ask Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, etc.
This part of the deal does two things: eliminates the franchise tag altogether, and makes the maximum restricted free agent tender a second-round draft pick. If the Franchise Tag were eliminated and restricted free agency neutered, players would be able to sign better deals more easily, and clubs would have to actually work to keep their players instead of slapping them with franchise tags and high-round tenders. This would certainly be a win for players, but one that also amounts to a win for the fans, whose free agency hopes are shot down with every franchise tag announcement.
6) Reduce off-season activities
Owners have already proposed a compromise on this issue, offering to reduce mandatory off-season workouts from 14 weeks to 10, and reducing contact during training camp. The NFLPA* originally demanded steeper reductions, but this is a negotiation after all. I would even go as far as reducing the preseason games by one if I were the owners to three games overall, something even more palatable to the players. The players already won the 18-game battle – one that the NFL really intended to lose, but a win is a win.
7) Increase retiree benefits for players
Another proposal the owners have already offered, and I do not see any reason to quibble over this. Those players need a dramatic increase in pension, and they should get one.
These are the major points in CBA discussions as far as I know. Obviously I do not have all of the information, and I do not care to get into the nitty gritty of a potential deal. My point is this: compromise is achievable. Why is this not happening? I have a sneaking suspicion that the lawyers are the real problem here – after all, once a deal is done they will not have these deep pockets to pick. The general points I have outlined does not seem a bad deal for either side. Even if I am way off base, there is no reason why both sides should not continue to try to hammer out a deal on an ongoing basis.