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Reading Between The Lines
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 22nd March, 2011 - 6:08 pm

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This is the time of year where NFL teams and personnel do a great deal of subtle communications. It's a finely choreographed dance, and the teams that consistently win are much better at the art of this dance. I was fortunate enough to work with someone who is very good at interpreting the smoke signals that cloud the NFL skies right now. Here is what is really being said in a few situations.

-- Eagles Coach Andy Reid reveals that he has a first-round offer for QB Kevin Kolb. He also lets it slip that the team likes Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. This one is not tough to decipher; Reid is telling teams interested in Kolb that they need to offer him a pick high enough to guarantee he can draft Amukamara. That means you must offer a pick before #13, where the Lions pick, as that is the first team where most people realistically believe Amukamara will come off the board. But to be safe, you'd better pony up a pick before where Dallas picks at #9, because it's not out of the question that the DB-needy Cowboys pull the trigger on Prince.

-- The person who revealed that Reid does indeed have a first round pick offered for Kolb, Peter King of Sports Illustrated (a fellow Ohio University Bobcat!), perhaps unwittingly offered up the team in question during a spot on Sirius NFL Radio. King was discussing the merits of trading Kolb versus keeping him, and he stated that Reid wouldn't "let him go for a pick in the 20s". Further on in the discussion, King twice specifically mentioned the #12 pick as a place where he personally would feel comfortable giving up Kolb. Not coincidentally, the #12 pick happens to belong to the Minnesota Vikings, a team absolutely desperate for a starting QB...assuming Brett Favre isn't lying to us (again). King isn't always the most reliable source for information on certain fronts, but he's a guy who was well ahead of the curve on both the Eagles signing Michael Vick and also trading Donovan McNabb. Andy Reid, or someone close to him, clearly trusts King to send these smoke signals that the Vikings are willing to give up #12 for Kolb, which blends with the above assumption. Am I definitively saying that Minnesota has made such an offer? Absolutely not, and neither are King nor Reid. But you'd better believe that is their intended message, and other teams are certainly processing that message right now.

-- Cincinnati Bengals President and decision-maker Mike Brown has fired his latest shot in the Bengals vs. Carson Palmer battle. Palmer has threatened to retire rather than return to the dysfunctional chaos that is the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown threw the ersatz franchise QB a bone by firing Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski, which was one of Palmer's unspoken demands. Palmer didn't blink, and now Brown has decided to play hardball. Early this week he announced he absolutely will not entertain the possibility of trading Palmer.

That is Brown not so subtly telling Palmer, "Let's just see how serious you are about retirement." I firmly believe Palmer is serious; too many people close to him have told me as much. But I also firmly believe Brown, who has never been afraid to keep digging when he finds himself in a hole, inevitably to the detriment of his franchise. Both sides have sent the message that they are not going to budge in this one, which sets up an interesting game of chicken.

-- One of the proposals to emanate from the owner's meetings in New Orleans is a modification to the kickoff rules. Instead of kicking from the 30, the ball would be moved out to the 35, and touchbacks would come out to the 25 instead of the 20. The owners eventually approved the move to the 35, but kept the changes from being too dramatic and left touchbacks like they are now.

I love the implicit message here. The owners insist they are quite sensitive to the NFLPA's vociferous concerns about improving player safety. Well, take that. Here the owners have devised a plan that makes the most dangerous situation in any professional sport much safer. A disproportionate amount of IR-causing injuries come from special teams plays, and the owners have taken it upon themselves to diminish that risk. By increasing the chances for touchbacks and avoiding the high-speed collisions, the owners have cleverly fired a salvo to the fans that they are indeed committed to resolving one of the chief concerns that the players have voiced. That this is done without any involvement from the players magnifies the positive wrapping of the message.

It's doubly clever because it's already causing fractures amongst the players. The kickoff return specialists, already a skittish bunch thanks to both all those injuries and the very short shelf lives of peak effectiveness, are firmly against it. But when Devin Hester, the most notable return man in the game today, comes out and slam the owners on this issue, he is in effect shortsightedly putting his own interests ahead of the union.

This is why the decertification is such a horrific miscalculation and terrible decision by the players. It's not even 10 days since the lockout and already a prominent player has spouted off a position that counters the alleged goals of the NFLPA, or whatever the players want to call themselves nowadays. This reminds me of the vehement civil libertarians who decry motorcycle helmet laws but then write threatening letters to Congressmen about the extortionist tactics of insurance companies for jacking up rates in response to those laws. They're too myopic to understand the inter-relationship between the two, just as the players fail to grasp that keeping unity between 1700+ people with vastly varying degrees of financial health is going to be significantly harder than doing the same for the 32 ownership groups. Only the owners can tell for certain if this was intentional, but the message they sent is perfectly laid out to prove that the players' public demands are as deceptive as the NFLPA claims the owners' last-ditch offer might have been. Well played, Mr. Commissioner!