As we do once a week (and in celebration of my 10-year Columbia University reunion being over), let’s take a brief swing through nine things going on around the NFL.
Here’s what’s up:
1. I appreciated the incredible professionalism shown by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who didn’t bat an eyelash when I approached him for an interview in the New Orleans Airport on Thursday night. I waited until his family had stepped away, and he agreed to talk. But Vilma didn’t stop the interview (focused on his lawsuit and the bounties) when his wife and daughter returned. He could have, and I would’ve understood. Instead, he answered questions with a supreme understanding of my job, one that doesn’t stop even though both parties are in an airport. That said, I still think he should’ve talked to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the bounty investigation. I guess I get his reasoning that he wanted to see evidence first. But if you just tell the truth – and if you are innocent – what does the evidence matter? Just say what really happened.
2. I enjoyed my talk earlier in the week with former NFL defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, the last player to sit out the entire season under the franchise tag. He sounded off on Drew Brees’ situation, supporting Brees. But afterward, Gilbert also had some interesting thoughts on how the NFL makes salaries public. He’s against that. I hadn’t quite thought about it – I’m all for having as much information be made public as possible — but his points were intriguing.
“Our salaries are advertised so people can rate you based on what you’re getting paid,” Gilbert told me. “And is it fair? Listen, it’s our world. But teams don’t have to divulge the salaries, but it’s put out there for a reason. So that it raises the bar for expectations. Whether they’re realistic or not realistic.”
3. Jets CB Darrelle Revis cracks me up. Once again this week, the Pro Bowler was asked if he’ll have an issue with his contract before training camp, and once again, Revis wouldn’t guarantee he’d show up. Why not? Maybe he’s just having fun with us. Maybe he’s enjoying the spotlight. Or maybe, just maybe, Revis understands the incredible leverage he has. He is the key cog of that defense. I don’t think he should hold out. Just play out the contract that’s already been renegotiated once. Perhaps he’s trying to get the Jets to issue a preemptive strike and get him a better deal before he does anything. I’ll tell you one thing, though. If Revis no-shows at camp this year, Rex Ryan’s head will explode. He knows how valuable Revis is. How long do you think it’ll take him to get in GM Mike Tannenbaum’s office to say so?
4. What in the world is 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh doing? No one blames you for going after Peyton Manning, working him out and secretly investigating signing him. Shoot, even Alex Smith probably wouldn’t blame you for that. At this point, Smith must have low expectations for how he’s treated by the organization, anyway. So, why would Harbaugh rekindle this old issue and try to protest the thought that his team wanted Manning? Ridiculous. You did. Everyone knows. Smith is your QB now because you couldn’t find a better option. That is basically every player. Just let it die. If Smith plays well, he won’t need the fake confidence you tried to give him, anyway.
5. The Cowboys did an incredibly smart, savvy, and helpful thing on Wednesday. After their OTAs workout, they piled their media in a room and had the reporters learn about their schemes and how they are installed from the coaches. Most teams keep this information hidden under penalty of loss of a finger or whatever. Not the ‘Boys. They educated their media, which can be seriously picky about poor performance and failures to make the playoffs. By being open, the Cowboys gave their beat reporters a better understanding of what they are trying to do. If things go well this year, they’ll be in better position to serve their readers/viewers. If things go badly, at least the criticism from the reporters will be based in fact. Very cool. Shame I had to miss it.
6. The NFL and NFLPA announced that the Pro Bowl is back, and that it’ll be in Hawaii. Um… Yay? I actually kinda like the Pro Bowl. I watch it for a few minutes every year. I covered one a few years back when it was in Miami, and the atmosphere was relaxed and cool. And I’ll never forget watching Vince Wilfork “rush the passer” in slow motion – still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. But there is no cure. Players can say they will play harder. The goal can be to make it watchable. But one injury in the fake, meaningless game, and it’ll be back to square one. Maybe they can play flag football or have a skills competition. Or maybe they can simply call players Pro Bowlers, fly them out to Hawaii, then have a massive week-long fan event instead of a game. Would probably serve everyone better.
7. As part of my trip to Minnesota this week, I stopped to chat in the office of GM Rick Spielman. Along with providing info for my piece on QB Christian Ponder, Spielman further explained the reasons why his team drafted Matt Kalil in the first round. It wasn’t just to give Ponder some offensive weapons, because he also considered WR Justin Blackmon (and CB Morris Claiborne).
“There were two things that came to mind,” Spielman explained to me. “One, we were able to fill two spots with one draft pick by drafting a left tackle, being able to slide Charlie Johnson inside to left guard. We had released (Steve) Hutchinson and also we had released Anthony Herrera, and Charlie may be a more natural guard than he is a left tackle. So, theoretically, you’re filling two spots with one draft pick. The other scenario that kinda went through was, you go through the restricted free agent market every year. There were some corners that were available this year. And there’s always going to be some receivers available. But very rarely do you ever see a left tackle that’s a premiere left tackle. To have one out there is very rare. Those are some of the things that I was thinking of that we discussed when we made that final decision.”
8. I felt for Giants pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora in his endless fight for a new contract. He wanted one, he thought he deserved it, and around and around we went. Finally, Umenyiora chose to relent and take a raise for the final year of his six-year contract. Sadly, it involved firing his agent to get there. Umenyiora will get roughly $7.5 million, which is nice. But it’s not the extension he wanted with security. Firing your agent rarely gets you anything more. If you have a terrible agent, I guess theoretically it could help. Or a situation like the Patriots had for years with agent Tom Condon, where they didn’t deal with him. But Tony Agnone is a good agent. He’s not stupid. And he was trying to get the best for an aging Umenyiora in a disciplined and principled franchise with so much talent already on the defensive line. If I had to guess, based on my own speculation, I bet Agnone wouldn’t allow Osi to sign that deal, but that Osi wanted to take the money. Thus, the parting. Maybe it will come out. But that’s my guess. Not that I blame Osi at all. It’s just he’ll be in this situation next year, too.
9. I wonder if there is a better fit out there for a random veteran and a needy team than Asante Samuel and the Falcons? Maybe Mario Williams and the Bills is better, but just by a bit. On the field, off the field, in the media, Samuel is perfect for Atlanta. The franchise can be a little boring and though it has been good, it hasn’t quite been good enough. It’s possible that a ball-hawking, risk-taking, interception machine of a cornerback puts them over the top. Sacks and interceptions go a long way, and Samuel can deliver one and lead to the other. He’s had at least three every year since 2005. Tough to not admire what GM Thomas Dimitroff is doing. He is pulling string after string, just going for it. At the least, he’s put the Falcons in position to be there when it counts this year.