Coffee Cup Quarterback | Week 7: A new season, a new scandal. Welcome to…Stickygate

San Diego Chargers

A new year, a new “gate” in the National Football League.  First, we had the New England Patriots and Spygate, then we had the New Orleans Saints and Bountygate, the fallout from which is still settling.

And now, it’s the San Diego Chargers who find themselves in a sticky situation.  Literally.  Jay Glazer from Fox Sports reported Sunday that an official spotted a Chargers equipment manager hiding something in a towel he was giving to players during the Monday night game against the Broncos.  The employee refused to turn over the towel, but when officials asked him to empty his pockets, they confiscated a sticky substance.

And just like that, a scandal is born.  Welcome, my friends to…Stickygate.

Stickum has been banned by the NFL for years, but was once used liberally to help players hold on to the football.  The NFL is investigating and the Chargers are on bye week (and likely doing laundry).  Coach Norv Turner says no one on his team used Stickum during the Chargers’ 35-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on October 15th.  With six turnovers, you wouldn’t think anyone would accuse the Chargers of having sticky fingers.

Speaking of gates…Saints Assistant Coach Joe Vitt has returned to the team following his Bountygate suspension.  He will be on the field at Mile High Stadium this week when the Saints play the Broncos on Sunday Night Football.

So that’s what the Baltimore Ravens look like without Pro Bowl Linebacker and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.  The Ravens defense allowed the Houston Texans to score more than 40 points on Sunday, something they haven’t done since 2007.  The team lost both Lewis and Cornerback Lardarius Webb for the season last week.  And no defense is pretty hard to overcome with no offense.  Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco recorded the lowest rating for any quarterback since 2008.  The Ravens lost to the Texans 43-13.

Johns Skelton was back at quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals this week.  His welcome back gift?  He was sacked seven times by the Minnesota Vikings (and is probably still having nightmares about Brian Robison and Jared Allen).  Kevin Kolb was hurt after being sacked more than 20 times in three games.  The two are taking turns taking sacks and trading injuries.  The Cardinals have allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked 35 times this year, the most in the NFL.  Once again, I hope the Cardinals invest in some protection…or have a binder full of backup quarterbacks.  Yes, people…that one was just too easy.

The best news in the NFL for week seven…Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano has been released from the hospital and was able to watch his team beat the Cleveland Browns at home…from home.  Pagano has been hospitalized and undergoing treatment for leukemia since the end of September.

And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says that unless the quality of the game improves, this could be the last year for the NFL Pro Bowl.

*Silence*

XO

Pardon for Payton

Pardon me, but I feel the need to call “bullsh*t” on something.  It is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s one game “pardon” of New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, Assistant Coach Joe Vitt, and General Manager Mickey Loomis, to witness Drew Brees’ history making play at the Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night.

Not to take anything away from Brees, who with a 40 yard pass to Devry Henderson, broke Johnny Unitas’ 52 year record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.  That is no small feat, and it’s a record the Saints quarterback will likely pad and hold for a while.  Maybe forever.  Congratulations to Drew Brees.

But I’m calling foul on the visitor pass given the suspended trio to share the evening with the team, albeit from a luxury suite and not on the field.  So as to avoid any look of impropriety,  Payton sat alone and when he was on camera (which was often), he looked stoic.  He was seen before the game visiting with Brees’ wife and children and did have a smarmy grin on at the end of the game, as the Saints picked up their first win of the season.  Loomis and Vitt sat together and talked throughout the game, just not with Payton.

Remember, people…these are three men banned from the NFL and the New Orleans Saints; Vitt for one more game, Loomis for three more, and Payton for the rest of the season, for the role their team played in a bounty program for injuries to opposing players.  Former defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended from the NFL indefinitely.  During the suspension, they are to have nothing to do with the team, the players, coaches, or employees.  They aren’t even allowed in the buildings, on the grounds, or at games.

Granted, the discipline process has been a clusterf*ck with a capital “C” (or is it a “K”?), it’s been tried in the courtroom and the court of public opinion and has yet to be resolved.  On Tuesday, Goodell reissued the Saints player suspensions, Defensive End Will Smith for four games, Linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the rest of the season, Linebacker Scott Fujita (Browns) one game, and Defensive End Anthony Hargrove (free agent) seven games.  The players have the right to appeal the ruling.  Again.

Brees petitioned Roger Goodell for a one game reprieve so his coach, assistant coach, and general manager could be present for his NFL history making throw.  I understand and respect that.  But given the seriousness of the charges and the NFL’s crackdown on injuries, it was both inappropriate and hypocritical.  It was also a huge distraction and if anything, took away from Brees’ historic milestone.  I swear, I saw Payton on camera more than Interim Coach (Offensive Line Coach) Aaron Kromer and was even aware of his potty breaks.

So, here I go…Bullsh*t.

Pardon me.

XO

One League. Under Goodell. With Liberty and Justice For All.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

-Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776

Call it “The Ruling Heard Round the League.”  Last week, an appeals board overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of four New Orleans Saints players for their alleged role in a team bounty system, citing lack of proof of “intent to harm.”  The four players were immediately reinstated: Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith on the Saints; Scott Fujita, on the Browns; and Anthony Hargrove, a free agent.  Fujita and Hargrove were with the Saints from 2009-2011, the period during which the pay-for-hits system is alleged to have operated.

The ruling does not affect the suspensions of Saints Head Coach Sean Payton (entire 2012 season), Assistant Joe Vitt (six games), Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams (indefinitely), and General Manager Mickey Loomis (eight games).

The reaction by players was immediate and celebratory:

Roger Goodell isn’t likely to see this as a personal victory, but he does still have the right to discipline the players involved, provided he can prove intent.  The panel, however, did inform Goodell that he overstepped his bounds hearing the appeals of the suspended players.  That could be viewed as a defeat on the part of the commissioner, long criticized as running the NFL with an iron fist.

Where does it go from here?

Goodell could and should take this opportunity to examine his role as commissioner, his deteriorating relationship with the players (and now the refs), and try to instill some trust. One way to do that would be to set up a governing body for the league, made up of players, former players, executives, owners, officials, and league representatives.  I don’t know…call me bold here, but something resembling…a democracy?  Lack of trust has tumbled many an authoritarian regime.  And the battles Goodell faces will only get bloodier as that trust erodes.

Roger Goodell has done more for building, branding, and marketing the National Football League than any organization could ask of any executive.  It is not only financially sound, it rivals the most valuable sports leagues in the world, and just seems to grow more popular and more profitable every year.  You won’t hear owners complaining about Roger Goodell.

But that doesn’t undermine the need for unity, inclusion, and trust.  The men who take the field, put their health and their lives and their livelihoods on the line to play the game deserve to have their interests represented as well.  They have to know they have someone in the league who will hear them out, treat them fairly, and ensure them due process.  And not just the NFL Players Association.  In fact, maybe by including players in the process, they can take lawyers out of it.  At least some of it.

The birth of a democracy is a long, laborious, and painful process.  Tears will fall, blood will be shed.  But in the end, if everyone contributes, then everyone has skin in the game, and together, everyone can hold the game to a higher standard.

The ball is in The Commissioner’s court.  And somewhere Jonathan Vilma is ringing a bell.

XO

Coffee Cup Quarterback: Hall of Fame Game 2012 (The One With the Replacement Refs)

Good morning!  What a great time of year.  I saw the first school bus today.  The kids are starting to go back to school and fall is just around the corner.  And best of all…football is back!  Did you hear me?  Football is back!!  Last night the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints played in the first NFL preseason game and the 50th anniversary Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.  Looked like a beautiful night.  But I would say that if it was 40 degrees and raining, because football is back!!!  Did I already say that?

This is also the first Coffee Cup Quarterback column of the year (and ever).  This is where I post my thoughts on the previous day’s games while drinking coffee and waking up.  My apologies if I seem a little groggy.  I was up late watching football.  Sounds so great to say that.

A few thoughts…

It’s time for the Saints, their fans, and the NFL to move on from Bountygate, and it starts with Saints Quarterback Drew Brees.  Marshall Faulk’s interview with Brees aired prior to the start of the game.  Obviously, the scandal was discussed, as well as the fallout, and the effect it will have on the team this year.  Brees (carefully) backed up the recent comments he made to SI’s Peter King about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  He lamented on the process, the leaks, the mistrust, the broken hearts…just kidding on the last one.  But honestly, let’s move on.  Football has started.  The appeals process is underway and until it is resolved, as the quarterback, captain, team leader, and King of New Orleans, Drew Brees needs to let go and drive his team and his people forward.  What’s done is done.  This didn’t come out of nowhere.  Roger Goodell didn’t throw down dire sanctions for no apparent reason.  And it wasn’t like it was without warning.  Is Vilma taking too much of the fall?  Did other players know more?  Less?  I don’t care.  Let them work it out in appeals.  Either way, it’s time for Brees to put on his big boy pants and go play football.  He shouldn’t say another word about any of it and let his team come together and make a collective statement on the field.  That’s what a leader does.

And…that’s what Drew Brees did when he took the field last night.  Brees scored a touchdown on his first (and only) possession, then spent the rest of the game singing, dancing, and eating sunflower seeds on the sideline.  See?  That’s what I’m talking about.  More dancing, less whining.

The Cardinals came into their first preseason game with a controversy of their own, a quarterback controversy.  At least until a dreadful Kevin Kolb threw an interception on his first pass of the season and was hurt on his third unproductive possession.  John Skelton showed up in a big way and demonstrated real promise as a starter.  No update on Kolb’s potential rib injury, but it was certainly ill timed.  We’ll hear more, I’m sure.  But if I’m Skelton, I feel great about my position on the team.

I know no one really cares about the outcome, but I feel like I should say that the Saints defeated the Cardinals 17-10.

The other notable issue in last night’s game was the NFL’s use of replacement referees while negotiations with the official officials continue.  It started with a botched coin toss.  Yes, seriously.  Then I really didn’t think the officials were an issue in the first half.  Then I realized there weren’t really any calls in the first half.  There was an interception or two to review though.  Remember?  All interceptions go under the hood now?  The second half…was rough.  But hey, it’s the preseason for them too (and their first NFL game, unless of course, they were used as replacements in 2001).  Either way, I think we’ll see this crew throughout the remainder of the preseason.  At least.

So…while Brees works on his quiet skills, Kolb nurses an injury, the referees practice their coin toss…and we get ready for more football on Thursday night!

Ahhh…life is good.

XO

Bountygate vs. Spygate

It was September of 2007.  Week two of the NFL season.  Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots has just been fined $500,000 and the team $250,000 and its 2008 first round draft pick for illegally videotaping the defensive signals of their opponents.  The media scrutiny was fast and furious.  They questioned the legitimacy of the team, its record, its character.  How did the Patriots respond?  They finished the regular season undefeated, won two playoff games, including the AFC Championship, and lost their only game all season to the New York Giants in Superbowl XLII.

It is April of 2012.  The New Orleans Saints find themselves amid a mounting scandal over illegal bounties paid by the team for injuries to opposing players.  Head Coach Sean Payton is suspended for one year, Assistant Coach Joe Vitt suspended six games, Linebacker and Defensive Captain Jonathan Vilma is also suspended for the entire 2012 season, Defensive End Will Smith is banned for the first four games, General Manager Mickey Loomis suspended for eight games and fined $500,000, the team is fined $500,000 and loses its second round pick in 2012 and 2013.  Former players Anthony Hargrove (now signed with the Packers) will miss eight games and Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) will miss three games.  Former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, signed by the St. Louis Rams in the offseason, is suspended indefinitely.

Can we expect the Saints to come out of bountygate much like the Patriots emerged from spygate?  With a collective chip on their shoulder and a “prove it to the world” attitude?  Nope.  For one, the Saints are also in contract talks with team captain and star Quarterback Drew Brees.  Brees has been tagged as a franchise player and is reportedly “livid” about it.  The tag gives the Saints until July 16 to sign him to a long term deal.  If they don’t, Brees will have to decide whether to sign the franchise agreement, which would pay him the league average $16.3 million for next season, or hold out.  After which, the then 34 year old Superbowl winning quarterback could be tagged once more or become a free agent.  The two sides are reportedly millions of dollars apart but are said to be communicating again as of recently.

This Saints team has been dismantled by the fallout from the bountygate scandal and really has no choice but to sign Brees to the long term deal he wants.  Down two coaches and a defensive captain, Brees is the only real leadership the team has until Assistant Coach Joe Vitt comes back in week 8 (following their week 7 bye).  To have Brees playing under a short term bargain deal or worse yet, holding out, would be suicide for a team already reeling from the bountygate fallout.

So no, don’t expect a repeat of the Patriots 2007 season.  Don’t expect these Saints to come out with a perfect season and make a run at the Superbowl, which is hosted in their hometown this year.  Not this team.  Not this time.  The best the Saints can hope for is for Brees to hold them together through a so-so season and look to rebuild in the near future.

As for the Saints, there’s not much they can do but write a blank check to Drew Brees, then sit around and wait for the next gate…to take the spotlight off of them.  Lord knows it’s already in the works.

XO