Authored by Jeff Risdon - 22nd March, 2012 - 10:41 am
$.01-- The NFL brought the pain to the New Orleans Saints on the Bountygate issue. Commissioner Goodell suspended Head Coach Sean Payton for a full season, former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, Assistant Coach Joe Vitt for six games, and GM Mickey Loomis for eight games for their various roles in setting defined bounties on opposing players. The team also got fined $500K and got stripped of 2nd round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
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This is an onion the size of Louisiana with all the layers involved. I fully support the suspensions and I'm pleasantly surprised with the devastating punitive impact. When I first threw out that Williams deserved a full year and Payton eight games when Bountygate first hit the news, people thought I was crazy. No way would the NFL do that for something that is seemingly commonplace! Roger Goodell obviously didn't see it that way. His statements that he was "lied to" and personally offended by the Saints willfully ignoring a direct league order to cease the activity. Payton held that responsibility as the head coach and he failed in that capacity, and he deserves every second of his suspension. Loomis gets his punishment in essence for not ensuring that his employee followed the rules.
One layer that fascinates me is the disconnect between the reaction of players and the reaction of most fans. The players' general reaction is one of anger and disbelief. They have no comprehension that something that they have accepted for years as commonplace can suddenly get turned so harshly. They don't have the ability to step away and see their inherent hypocrisy of constantly arguing for better safety measures and health care, even suing the league for post-career health care and injury issues, and also being involved in a system that encourages and rewards causing those same injuries. It's a very difficult and dramatic sea change that they are going to have accept, like it or not. It's akin to when the armed forces were forced to integrate women into their units; they might hate it and rail against it, but the old way of doing things is gone and ain't coming back.
As for the gripes by many that the Saints got hammered so hard for this in comparison to what happened to New England for Spygate, it's misplaced enmity. Spygate was an overblown blip that deserved the hand slap it got and nothing more. Any competitive advantage gained by what the Pats were guilty of doing is no greater than what teams get by signing players off the practice squad of the coming week's opponent, something for which several teams have a distinct proclivity. What the Saints were doing was trying to knock opponents out of games, no matter if the hits were legal or not. I don't even understand what one has to do with the other except for both being prominent punitive actions by Goodell. You don't go to jail for speeding and causing a minor accident, you do when you cause an accident while driving drunk that paralyzes a mother of four. That's the difference in the level of severity of these crimes in the eyes of the NFL.
$.02-- Another of the layers is what is going to happen to the Saints. They are now without their head coach, their assistant head coach, and their general manager. Who will run the team?
They have many options here. The man who replaced Gregg Williams as the Defensive Coordinator is Steve Spagnuolo, who was the head coach of the Rams for three miserable seasons. Pete Carmichael, who was Payton's on-the-sideline surrogate while the coach was relegated to the booth with a broken leg, is another option. But they might want to look outside the building for a temporary fix. If they choose that route, I would strongly suggest former Ravens coach Brian Billick. He is smart enough to keep the high-octane offense rolling while adding his own little tweaks. He is self-assured enough to handle the tough questions and control what could be a very volatile locker room and local media. He's shrewd enough to understand that it would be a great stepping stone back into coaching in the NFL. Most people view this as a can't-win situation, so if he does he can write his own ticket to whatever job he desires.
Another name to consider: Bill Parcells. Payton is a branch of the vast Parcells coaching tree, so the familiarity with the systems is already there. Everyone, even this frequent critic of his, respects Parcells as a man of integrity and honor. He's also proven he can successfully coach in adverse circumstances. It also wouldn't hurt his standing with the Hall of Fame selection committee, many of whom find him to be an insufferably cocksure and belligerent jackass that hasn't fared too well in his recent coaching and management ventures. Humbly taking over a trainwreck like this and guiding a prominent franchise through a dark time would do a lot to win over some of those voters. Granted he would reset his eligibility clock, but he might need to do something bold like that to ensure enshrinement.
Then there is the matter of Drew Brees. The affable face of the franchise was passionately angered by getting slapped with the franchise tag in lieu of a long-term deal. He has the option to not sign that tender and sit out the season. That option seemed foolish until earlier today, but now it has to be a strong consideration. Why would he risk his neck (Hi Peyton!) without his head coach and with the odds at winning so stacked against him given the punishments here? It's something that many a disgruntled player has threatened before, but never with the leverage and context that Brees has right now. As an outspoken leader of the NFLPA, Brees is in a unique position to go through with sitting out the year and largely escaping criticism for doing so. Would he be willing to do such a move as a sort of benevolent action for his brethren that will be tagged in years to come, giving the players more strength in their negotiations? It's up to Brees, and it's an interesting angle which I believe is being underplayed.
$.03-- Tim Tebow was traded to the Jets, or so we were led to believe. And then it turns out the Jets committed one of the strangest PR gaffes of all time. Apparently the powers that be in New York neglected to actually read Tebow's contract and were unaware of a $5M accelerator clause that kicked in should Tebow get traded.
Even though Tebow would move that $5M in merchandise in about 24 hours in New York City alone, the Jets found this cause to ponder not consummating the deal. A few hours later they realized the egg on their face was more rotten than Tebow throwing motion and finally agreed (again!) to trade a 4th and 6th round pick for Tebow and a 7th round pick. I think. We can't be sure until we physically witness Tebow in a Jets uniform.
Of all the places Tebow could wind up, the Jets have to be the absolute worst case scenario. They are led by a defensive oriented coach, but not just any defensive coach. Rex Ryan is an obnoxious blowhard prone to braggadocio and a distinct disdain for all things offense. The new offensive coordinator is Tony Sparano, best known as the recently deposed head coach in Miami. Why was he fired? That's right, for failing to develop Chad Henne into a viable starting QB or mold a functional offense around him. It's not the only reason Sparano got axed, but it's near the top of the list.
Then there is the matter of The Sanchize. Mark Sanchez just got a baffling, lucrative extension that firmly entrenched him as the starting quarterback for the Jets. It appears now the Jets truly have no clue what to do with Sanchez. One week they try to show their confidence in him with the extension; the next week they sign an underrated free agent in Drew Stanton to back him up and now trade for Tebow. Not exactly the best way to demonstrate organizational support. We love you, but we're bringing in two guys that could very well be better than you to take your job. Their cluelessness is as painful as the accuracy of their QB troika.
Having said that, I think Tebow can help the team. Sanchez is awful in the red zone, where Tebow thrives. Tebow's problem has been getting to the red zone. I can see them bringing in different packages with Tebow in the red zone or on 3rd and short. I actually like that concept. And if there is anyone that can steal the spotlight away from all things NYC sports, it's Tebowmania. This makes Linsanity seem like a quaint Vermont dairy farm. The merchandising and fan hysteria of putting the most popular athlete in America into the Big Apple is a marketing dream.
But making moves for marketing purposes is a recipe for disaster. This deal doesn't help Mark Sanchez become a better quarterback. It doesn't help Tim Tebow become a better quarterback. It doesn't do anything but crank up the burner under Rex Ryan's seat to flaming hot.
$.04-- There were other noteworthy happenings this week, one of them being Houston trading LB Demeco Ryans to the Eagles. The two-time Pro Bowler heads to Philadelphia for a 4th round pick and a swap of 3rd round selections. I like this deal for both sides.
Ryans was a misfit in the Texans 3-4 scheme. He saw his playing time diminish to the point where Daryl Sharpton was getting more snaps in his place. Now he goes back to playing middle backer in the 4-3 front, the position where he racked up tackles and accolades. Even though I found him overrated, Ryans will be a great fit for the Eagles. My biggest knock on Ryans is that he is not a playmaker. In 86 career games, Ryans has 636 tackles but just 2 interceptions, 8.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. That's an average season of impact production from guys like Nick Barnett and David Harris. Ryans simply makes a boatload of tackles between the tackles. And that's what Philly really needs, a solid tackler that can line guys up and make the defensive calls. Ryans does all that very well. He's also a great teammate and leader and a guy that immediately commands respect, both in his own locker room and from the opponent. The Eagles defense hasn't had that guy for far too long.
Houston didn't part with Ryans easily. He's arguably the face of the franchise and was beloved by the fans for his efforts during the disappointing years. This follows on the heels of Mario Williams leaving town for Buffalo. That's some pretty radical change to the identity of the Texans. Many fans here in Houston are somewhat upset, trying to reconcile the reality that Williams commanded far too much money and Ryans clearly wasn't part of the future with their feelings of love and respect for the only two defenders that were on this team 3 seasons ago. It's an important step for the Texans organization to show they have the confidence to make difficult and largely unpopular decisions like this.