30 May 2012

The Underlying Math of a Brees' Holdout

If anyone out there realistically foresaw this stage of gridlock and, perhaps, animosity in the Brees' contract saga, then congratulations for your incredible prescience. 


In an offseason of bizarre, uncharted territory, here's a little bit more: a future Hall of Fame QB coming off the best passing season in NFL history, unable to come to contractual terms with the team who employs him in a city where "deification" doesn't do his reverence justice.  


This is a deal that literally could have--and should have--been finalized years ago, yet somehow its open-ended conclusion torments in seeming perpetuity. To be fair to all parties involved, this is a monstrous and watershed moment for both Brees and the Saints; and to Mickey Loomis' credit, he's correct when he says "getting it right" is of monumental importance. That much is not debatable. What is debatable is why it's gotten to this point, but that has been hashedre-hashed, and deconstructed and I'm not going to bore you with it again. 


Instead, I'm going to examine the legitimacy of Brees sitting out the 2012 season. Stop rolling your eyes and saying unkind things about me. Actually, go right on ahead. I don't really give a shit.  


First, let me make clear that I think it's a remote possibility that Brees actually holds out for an entire season. With that said, I think it's a greater likelihood for him to forgo the season than it is for him to play under the franchise tag for 2012. 


Remember that Brees has twice played under the insecurity of, for all intents and purposes, a one-year contract: 2005 and 2011. In one of those seasons ('05 under the tag), he shredded his shoulder and faced a grueling rehabilitation just to play again. 


In the other of those seasons ('11), in case there was any lingering doubt as to his definitive greatness, he shredded the record books. 


Extremes of polarity. 


But now at age 33 and at the top of the heap, Brees won't be playing again on a one-year contract. 


The likelihood is that Brees will sign a long-term deal before July 16, even if it means accepting a deal that represents a less-ideal version than he once actualized. 


But if there is fractious acrimony; if Brees does feel lowballed; if Loomis does underestimate Brees' resolve, then we will be faced with the reality that Brees might indeed hold out for the entirety of 2012 and enter 2013 as a free agent. However remote, there's a vicious, imperfect storm brewing that isn't too far away. 


To clarify the specifics, if Brees sits out 2012 and is re-tagged by the Saints in 2013 (which he will be), he will become a "non-exclusive rights" free agent. What this means, simply, is that Brees is free to negotiate with any team in the league and, moreover, the Saints have the right to match any offer Brees receives. If Brees potentially signs with another team, the Saints receive 1st and 3rd-round draft picks (from the team who signs Brees) as compensation for his non-exclusive rights. 


If you're a masochist, you can read about it yourself on pages 51-52 of the CBA if you don't trust me. 


A few things: One, if the Saints and Brees can't come to terms now, you can forget about them being able to find an agreeable price once Brees hits the open market in 2013. Two, because a team will have to forfeit draft picks in exchange for signing Brees, it might mitigate the vast sums of money thrown at Brees in free agency but probably not by much, especially when you consider the steep price the Redskins just paid to trade up and draft the talented, yet unproven Robert Griffin III.


Hall of Fame-caliber QBs don't come around too often. And when they do, virtually every NFL owner, especially the profligate among them, will not be gun-shy in their courtship.  


SOME NUMBERS
Absent a long-term deal, does it make sense--financially--for Brees to sit out in 2012?  


It's not so absurd as it might appear at first glance. Let's do a little rudimentary math. 


Were Brees to play under the franchise tag in 2012 and 2013, he'd be due around $37 million in guaranteed money: a ~$17M franchise tender in 2012 plus a ~$20M franchise tender in 2013.  


Conversely, if he sat out 2012 and signed a contract on the open market in 2013, he'd be in line for perhaps even more immediate, guaranteed money than the $37 million he'd earn combined in 2012 and 2013 under the successive, one-year tags. 


In 2004, Peyton Manning's signing bonus alone was $34.5 million. That was eight years ago. Granted, Peyton had (theoretically) a longer career ahead of him at that point but it's a noteworthy frame of reference. Considering the escalating salary scale, Brees' resume, and his recent, peerless performance, it's not beyond the bounds of credulity that some team would offer him a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $40 million. 


In this short-term scenario, Brees wins in two ways. One, it's eminently possible he can earn more via signing bonus/guaranteed money in 2013 alone than he can by playing the next two seasons under the tag. Two, and of greater importance, he avoids the disaster scenario of sustaining a career-ending injury while playing under the tag, which would otherwise decimate his earning potential. 


When you consider the "floor" in the grand scheme of this thing, the absolute worst outcome for Brees would be to play under the tag in 2012 and suffer an injury that ended both his career and earning power as an NFL QB. 


He'd make $17 million, surely an astounding sum but a mere pittance compared to his true long-run value in today's NFL market. 


Playing under the tag in 2012 would be, by far, the most suboptimal decision for Brees'  expected value. Brees is certainly not dumb, and this simple scenario is why he'll likely never play under the tag. He'd be risking tens of millions of dollars--something he just risked in 2011--and something he almost certainly won't do again.  


The obvious drawback to sitting out 2012 is the lowering of Brees' long-term ceiling in earnings. Were Brees to play in full the next five seasons, he's looking at accruing something in the neighborhood of $110 million in salary (by my estimations). 


On the other hand, were Brees to sit out 2012, sign an enormous contract on the open market in 2013, and play the subsequent four seasons in full, he would probably accrue something approximating $100 million (again, by my estimations). 


So he's not truly losing an entire year's salary of $17 million if he sits out in 2012. 


Moreover, where he lowers his ceiling and sacrifices, say, ~9% of his potential max gross earnings for the remainder of his career, he raises his floor substantially--exponentially, really--by guaranteeing a larger share in case of catastrophic injury and he probably guarantees himself more money in the near-term ('12/'13). Win win. 


It's a balanced strategy that ensures a financial windfall, one that enables him to get closer to his true expected value while avoiding the pitfalls of variance in the form of a career-ending injury. 


While it seems crazy to think Brees might sit out 2012, it's not that far-fetched if the parties can't reach a long-term deal.


What's more likely is that Brees and the Saints will negotiate until the last moment, and Brees will sign whatever best long-term offer is available to him at that point. From all available evidence, that's his nature. When you strip away everything else, it would seem exceptionally out-of-character for Brees to skip a season in a contract dispute and hurt his team (and city) in the process. 


But we've been surprised before. Let's hope we're not again. 

23 May 2012

The NFL's Descent into Absurdity

"No amount of manifest absurdity could deter those who wanted to believe from believing." - Bernard Levin 


courtesy of Getty
At some point this offseason, the NFL devolved into a full-fledged, delusional, bumbling monolith. 


After all, I guess it was inevitable at some point. What's the saying


Absolute power corrupts absolutely? 


I'd say we're seeing the fruits of that on a daily basis. 


Maybe it didn't come out of nowhere. Perhaps this is just the natural byproduct of an entity's life-cycle and end-game, and we're here in a day and age where that sad faltering is played out on the public stage. 


But no matter how or why it happened, the NFL has gone mad on a scale broader than just how it relates to the Saints.  


THE PLAGUE OF GOODELL
Evidentiary support for this descent is nowhere more prominent than in its silly lampoon of a Commissioner who is in the process of turning the NFL into equal parts rigid police state and has-been, laughingstock. 


Among other things, Goodell's reign has overseen the dispensing of extreme punishments--not only during BountyGate--as the defining trait of his imperious rule. In the Saints' case, he shattered the bounds of reality by simultaneously guillotining the team's front office, coaching staff, and defensive captains for what now appears to be a myriad of mischaracterized allegations and hollow pronouncements. 


At a point in NFL history when no coach had ever been suspended for even one game, Goodell banished Sean Payton for an entire season. When pressed for reason, Goodell, of Payton, said  "if [Payton] [wasn't] aware of it, [he] should have been." 


Losing his marbles? courtesy of KSK
There distilled is Goodell's monumentally-limited capacity for reason and reaction: the most extreme of punishments dispensed for something Goodell suggests Payton might not have even been fully aware of. 


With his twisted logic, Goodell justified all at once the damage to Payton's professional reputation and bank account (~$7M), coupled with the intended hampering of the Saints' ability to compete optimally. 


It was the most preposterous of overreaches and deranged of responses; moreover, it's emblematic of a Commissioner and a league so power-drunk, narcissistic, and deluded as to blindly believe that any action they take is reasonable and justifiable, no matter how ludicrous in reality. It's the reactionary chopping off of hands for the accusations of theft. 


And the NFL finds this acceptable. In fact, they endorse it. Because for all of their omniscient, infallible, self-congratulatory cocksuredness, they could never possibly be wrong. 


Am I right? 


Do you remember a month ago when the state of Minnesota was debating the merits of building a new stadium for the Vikings? When the MN state legislature gridlocked over how to disburse taxpayer money in an already cash-strapped state, Goodell warned the Governor and state legislature there'd be "serious consequences" if the state didn't pony up $550M in public funds.


So now the NFL deigns to publicly threaten a sitting governor into spending taxpayer money as the NFL sees fit? And mind you, this was pressure from Goodell so that the NFL and Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf--both penurious hoarders of billions of dollars between them, and cooperative, financial beneficiaries of the stadium's ultimate development--would have to contribute the least amount possible for the stadium's creation. 


It was not just an act of wanton, Stalinistic hubris but also a blindingly disturbing disconnect from reality. And a microcosm of the NFL's myopia and perversity. 


THE TARGET SHOOTS BACK
What's more is Goodell's alienation of the players to the extent that he's now been personally sued for slander and libel by Jonathan Vilma. Is there a precedent for this kind of acrimony in professional sports? Is this the kind of public confidence and goodwill-building that the NFL seeks? Players suing their commissioner? In what category of the league's 2012 business plan was that found? 


And how did Vilma's colleagues respond? They lauded him as a hero and called him a "badass" for having the balls to stand up to Goodell, something thus far no one has had the fortitude to do. In my opinion, the players seems to be universally antagonistic towards Goodell. And for good reason. 


Theater of the absurd. courtesy of Deadspin
Goodell, in fact, has done such a poor job at managing player relations that he stooped to transparently and embarrassingly bear-hugging each draft pick last month in a desperate attempt to sway player opinion in his favor.

Uh, I don't think it worked.


It's gotten so bad for Goodell that NFL player representative Jay Feely recently said this:
"A lot of players don't believe he has their best interests at heart ... If he did, he wouldn't have 200-plus workmen's compensation complaints caught up in the appeals process. He wouldn't be dismissing disability claims right off the bat. There are so many things that happen behind the scenes that fans don't know about that make players distrust him."
How does the NFL rationalize their supposed overarching concern for player safety in light of those sentiments? Are they oblivious to the vacuity of their words, the widening alienation of their labor force, and the offputting, self-serving pretense with which they ceaselessly operate?


COLLUSION
With the expiration of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2010 season, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a one-year stopgap before negotiating the next CBA (the one you remember from last offseason, otherwise known as the "lockout"). 


Specifically for the 2010 season, the league and the players' union agreed upon an uncapped salary ceiling for each team, lifting the total salary restrictions teams normally operated within season-to-season. In short, the uncapped 2010 season--in theory--enabled any team to spend as much as it wanted on player contracts. 


However, this didn't really happen. NFL owners decided in secret to limit spending as if there were a cap, in effect colluding to suppress wages. Their rationale, presumably, was to prevent an arms-race that would force teams to spend beyond the scope of what they otherwise were accustomed to spending. Big-market teams would have a distinct advantage in an uncappped year, largely due to revenue generated from merchandising and other sources not included in the league's revenue-sharing model. 


While this collusion was bad enough in and of itself, that wasn't the extent of it. 


Two of the NFL's more enterprising owners--Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Daniel Snyder (Redskins)--agreed to the under-the-table collusive agreement, then decided to use the cap-free year to their advantage. 


It was bloody, ruthless capitalism in its rawest, finest glory. 


Without boring you with the details of how Jones and Snyder did so, let's just say that while "violating" the handshake deal made with the other owners, neither Jones nor Snyder factually engaged in any illegal conduct as the NFL was legally operating in an uncapped year. 


However, two months ago, the NFL slapped both the Cowboys and Redskins with stringent penalties for contract violations during the uncapped year. Even though the 2010 season operated free from salary restrictions and even though the NFL approved every contractual move both teams transacted during that year, the NFL still punished the teams for salary cap violations. How? And why? 


Let me allow ESPN's Dan Graziano to better explain:
"The Redskins and Cowboys got in trouble because they didn't go along with this game, instead using the lack of a salary cap in 2010 to structure contracts in such a way as to spare themselves from salary-cap trouble in future years. The sense is that many, if not all, teams did this, and that the Redskins and Cowboys just did it to such an egregious extent that some of the other owners insisted they be punished ... Which is baloney, of course, because you can't break rules when there aren't any."
So what you have is a collection of owners secretly colluding to limit its employees wages--after agreeing with its players' union to not do so--and then collectively deciding to punish two teams who legally did nothing wrong, but violated the spirit of a previous violation. 


Ludicrous to the nth degree. Graziano, one more time:
"There's no way that any sensible, thinking person who's not an NFL owner can honestly feel that the league acted justly in penalizing the Cowboys and the Redskins for spending their money and structuring their contracts the way they did during the uncapped 2010 season. But it doesn't matter, because the NFL plays by its own rules and no one else's, and that's the lesson for today." 
A PROMULGATION OF PROPAGANDA
And if all of that isn't already enough for you, most recently in perhaps their silliest act of sophistry that would fool only the most fatuous among us, the NFL produced a "study" that, for the most part, concluded that one actually lives longer by playing professional football. Yes, football is good for you! Who'd a thunk it?!


Really, the NFL is so far gone that they believe they can make the general public (or NFL players) think that playing football is correlated positively to the longevity of one's life. If it weren't so effortlessly laughable and ridiculous, it would be infuriating. In the meantime, it's yet another stark example of the NFL's precipitous tumble into the absurd.  


Instead of taking the time to debunk the utter nonsense of their study, I'll direct to you the Angry Who Dat blog that tackled the subject expertly, exposing the flaws in the league's methodology and conclusions. Give it a read. 


Then just yesterday in an act of equally nonsensical posturing, the NFL owners mandated that, beginning in 2013, all NFL players must wear knee and thigh pads. What is this, 1943?


Let me get this straight. In an era marked by the disturbing prevalence of head injuries and concussions, the NFL has responded to this problem by mandating ... knee pads? Hmm. 


Who's advising these clowns? Congress? Instead of instituting strict seasonal baselines or mandating vetted, independent neurologists at every game, or revisiting its helmet and mouthpiece technology, the NFL has decided upon thigh protectors. 


You can't make this shit up. They do it all for you. 


REALITY 
Sadly enough, it's increasingly clear that the NFL is losing, or has lost, its fastball. It's impossible to look at the totality of circumstance and think otherwise. 


The league has devolved into an aimless, reactionary, bloated, drunken, empire of absurdity. It was an impressive and enjoyable ride to the top but now we're witnesses to its awkward, unsightly fall from grace. 


Try not to stare. 


It was fun while it lasted. 

11 May 2012

Keeping Score in Kangaroo Court

Let's take some inventory.


Here's an overview of the current state of the NFL's increasingly-feeble "evidence" thus far as it slowly seeps into the public domain.


1) KNOCK-OUTS AND CART-OFFS


From 2009-2011, the three seasons the NFL has claimed the Saints operated a bounty program that rewarded "knock-outs" and "cart-offs," not one opposing player was knocked out or carted off from a hit by a Saints' defender.


In fact, the only player carted off the field during those three seasons was one Reggie Bush who, of course, played for the Saints. (update 1: see comments, update 2: see just below)


As such there is definitively no conclusive proof that such a program, if it indeed existed, was ever implemented on the field of play. 


But you knew that already. And you know, it's kind of a big deal in the grand scheme of this quagmire.


[Update 6/2:  With the release of its "ledger" evidence, the NFL reported an injury "cart off" of a Giants player in the Saints-Giants game in 2009. For whatever reason, the NFL refused to disclose this player's identity.
Apparently, it is Giants OL Kareem McKenzie who injured his groin on two plays: one late in the 2nd quarter, one early in the 3rd quarter. According to the NFL, presumably, this was a bounty: the targeting of an O Lineman's groin. 
Though intimated in Jason Cole's Yahoo! article, there is no mention of a player being paid for McKenzie's injury which doesn't even appear to have directly resulted from a Saints' defender. 
It's also important to note that upon the initial release of this "ledger" report on 6/1, the NFL amended its leak/report a few hours later because their initial information was wrong. Specifically, Jason Cole also reported (per a league source) that three $1000 payments were paid to Saints' players after the Saints-Bills game in '09. 
When it was shown that the only players hurt in that game were Bills' defenders, the NFL soon amended its report to say those payments were actually made after the Saints-Panthers game in '09. But c'mon guys, JUST TRUST US ON THIS ONE! 
With a little cursory research, I found that the Saints recovered three fumbles against the Panthers in week 9 in 2009. Could those fumble recoveries be the source of the three $1000 payouts (if they indeed existed)? 
Remember that this ledger is supposed to be evidence of a pay-to-injure program, not a pay-for-performance program. The Saints admitted to the latter, not the former. 
Thus far, this evidence leak is following the same pattern of the Hargrove Declaration and the Ornstein Email: wildly mischaracterized in an attempt to prove something the NFL continues to appear incapable of existing as publicly stated.  
As new information becomes available on this issue, I will continue to update this.]  


2) THE GREGG WILLIAMS ADMISSION/APOLOGY


After publicly admitting culpability to a pay-for-performance program in New Orleans, word leaked this past week that the NFL had altered Williams' confession to better suit the message it was publicly delivering. As Mike Triplett of the Times-Pic recently told us:
"... according to a source close to Williams, the NFL has also misrepresented what Williams said in interviews with the league. According to the source, Williams never admitted a 'bounty program' was in place and that the league 'rephrased his statements to satisfy its needs.' The source also said Williams never identified any players for their involvement in a pay-for-performance or bounty program."
A month ago, I--along with a legion of other Saints' fans--pondered whether Williams' quick turn to accept responsibility was a mitigating strategy aimed at saving a career suddenly in peril at the hands of the retributive Goodell. Now more than a month after Williams' statement released and his punishment accepted, it's been noted by a person close to Williams that the documented content of his admission was manufactured by the league. 


This is exceptionally noteworthy in light of everything else unfolding, and yet another indication of the league's besmirched veracity.


3) THE HARGROVE DECLARATION


A key piece of the league's supposedly conclusive proof as to the existence of the Saints' bounty program was Anthony Hargrove's signed declaration confessing to the program's existence and his (and other players') participation in it. 


Curiously, this declaration was generated by the NFLPA and submitted to the NFL for their case file (or whatever). 


Much like the Pamphilon audio, this was a piece of the NFL's "evidence" that the league had no hand in developing which, if nothing else, calls into question the quality of the league's investigation or--at least--their ability to produce any meaningful output of evidence on their own.


Moreover this declaration is dated 4/13/12, well after the NFL punished the Saints (coaches and team) and much, much later than any prior investigation into the matter. To say that this declaration was vital to the investigation and disbursement of sanctions would simply be incorrect because it didn't exist as hard "proof" until a few weeks ago.


Regardless, prior to this week's release of the actual declaration, Mary Jo White----the NFL's "neutral" third party who was compensated by the NFL to review and comment on the totality of evidence--said this, in a transparent publicity stunt, about the Hargrove declaration:
"There hasn't been any denial of the existence of that program. One of the Saints players (current Packers DE Anthony Hargrove) who was disciplined yesterday actually submitted a declaration in which he acknowledged that the program existed, acknowledged his participation and admitted that he lied to the NFL investigators in 2010." 
This as we now know, is an utter, bald-faced lie. Upon review of the actual declaration, it's become painfully clear that the NFL completely mischaracterized Hargrove's words and fabricated its relevancy to the actual establishment of a bounty program. 


In fact, Hargrove's declaration only stated that he answered questions to NFL investigators as instructed by Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt in 2010. More specifically according to Hargrove, they told him in 2010 to "deny the existence of any bounty or bounty program." 


No where in the document does Hargrove admit being told to "lie"--a common misconception being perpetuated in media circles--nor does he admit to the existence of a program, nor does he admit to a bounty being placed on Brett Favre in the '09 NFCCG, nor does he admit his participation (or the participation of others) in a bounty program, nor could he have functionally testified to the actuality of a bounty program in future seasons.


The NFL's public presentation of this vis-a-vis the now established truth is troubling, to say the least. 


Complicating matters soon after the release of Hargrove's declaration, Joe Vitt refuted instructing Hargrove to deny allegations of a bounty program. Vitt said:
"At no time did I ever tell Anthony Hargrove to lie or deny the existence (of the alleged bounty program) ... He can say whatever he wants to say. It just didn't happen."
Even aside from that relevant notation, it's still definitive that what the NFL once publicly claimed was rock-solid proof of a bounty program is, in fact, much less than so. And the declaration proves nothing besides the fact that Hargrove denied its existence. 


Peter Ginsberg, Jonanthan Vilma's attorney, explains it:
"[A]s we have seen in the press the last few days that the Commissioner’s office and the Commissioner’s outside counsel have discernibly misrepresented even the information that the Commissioner has gathered. When you put that in the context of the Commissioner’s high-priced outside counsel saying that when we asked for evidence and when we wanted to know what we were answering to — and this is [outside counsel Mary Jo White's] quote ‘a red herring,’ it really puts into perspective the kangaroo court that Jonathan and the others have been subjected to.
I can’t think of any other forum in the United States where this kind of abusive process is permitted.  If you want to ask me why it is permitted, you are asking the wrong person.  I wasn’t a part of the CBA negotiations.  And I don’t think that the CBA as it stands permits this kind of abusive process."
This issue is a perfect example of why producing the actual evidence for review, not the NFL's characterization of it in memos, is of utmost importance. 


4) THE ORNSTEIN EMAIL


Early in the bounty investigation, the NFL trotted out an email sent from Mike Ornstein pledging a $5000 bounty on Aaron Rodgers in the 2011 Saints' opener at Green Bay. In prison at the time for essentially being a flippant hustler, Ornstein is a shadowy figure looked down upon (probably rightfully so) by league higher-ups for his repeated tendency to engage in shady and illegal activities during his time in the NFL.


Initially, the NFL presented Ornstein's email as being sent directly to Payton for the purpose of pledging money for a bounty on Aaron Rodgers. 


Forget for a second that Rodgers took virtually nary a hit in that game, we learned last night the complete contents of Ornstein's email which provide more useful context.


For starters, this email was transmitted directly to Greg Bensel (Saints' team spokesman) and not Payton or Williams as previously suggested. After reading through its contents, Bensel forwarded the email to several coaches on the Saints' staff. 


The NFL's initial implication that the communication was solely between Ornstein and Payton is to suggest a complicit, reciprocal modus operandi between the two in a concerted effort to financially incentivize Saints' defenders to knock Rodgers out of the game.


However, upon the revelation of the complete email, we learned that it was a wide-ranging, "rambling" message that touched on a variety of subjects and ended with the postscripted bounty pledge, one that Ornstein insists was a running joke among coaches for years ever since the accusations of the Favre bounty years prior.


Ornstein says this:
"It's a running joke going for three years ... As long as I've worked with people in the NFL, everyone who knows me knows that the only things I've ever done for players is things that help them, not hurt them. First of all, I don't have $5,000 to put down. When I wrote that email, I was in jail. How was I going to pay for it? In stamps? I'm in federal jail in Florence."
No matter his credibility, the initial presentation of the Ornstein exhibit and the recent revelation of its true nature once again indicates an effort by the NFL to alter what it considered evidence into something more damning and concrete--when it in fact wasn't--in an effort to better bolster a tenuous stance.

Ginsberg further says this:
"Ornstein’s email is just another example of the speciousness of the quote-unquote evidence that Commissioner Goodell claims to have to support his erroneous accusations against Jonathan and the other players. As more of the evidence is revealed in the media, it is becoming more and more apparent how irresponsible the NFL’s actions have been."
And NFLPA counsel Richard Smith adds this:
"The NFL has not provided the players with any information like this. It is unfortunate that they continue to withhold evidence that can show players’ innocence. This email proves what we have feared:  what they’ve been selling to the media as evidence doesn’t match up with the truth."
What's certain thus far is a concerted effort by the NFL to build a cohesive narrative by mischaracterizing what it desperately hopes to be evidence, but by all accounts isn't really all that damning, all that conclusive, or all that justifiable for the extremity of punishments handed down.


Remember that this is some of the evidence used to ban Sean Payton for 16 games; no NFL coach prior has been suspended for even one game. Yet what appears increasingly-more like flimsy evidence has been employed in Goodell's efforts to make an example of the Saints and discourage other teams from engaging in the practice of bountying.  


SPECULATION
And perhaps buried in all of this is that Joe Hummel, the NFL's lead investigator in this sprawling clusterfuck, announced his resignation two weeks ago before the player penalties were handed down. Predictably, the NFL got out in front of this announcement and relayed that Hummel was leaving for greener pastures in the insurance business. Riiiiight. 


It sounded strange and the timing was downright suboptimal in light of the NFLPA's repeated public demands for the evidence they had yet (and still are yet) to see.


In my estimation, it's eminently possible that Hummel was sharp enough to discern the snowballing miasm on the league's hands; informed enough to realize the evidence's weak totality; and prescient enough to foresee how an unraveling might soon unfold during a protracted battle with the NFLPA. 


Precarious as such, he may certainly have proactively moved on to another job before potentially allowing Goodell to hang him out to dry for having provided the NFL with a flimsy foundation of evidence that was then mistakenly used to railroad the Saints.


One thing is for certain: if push comes to shove, Goodell will never admit any wrongdoing. He's much more likely to heap that burden upon one of his lackeys in an effort to save face for the league and the owners who hired him. It's not a stretch to presume that Hummel sensed this possibility and smartly moved himself out of harm's way.


Which makes Hummel, potentially, the next key figure in the NFLPA's deconstruction of the NFL's body of evidence. Assuming he's not restricted by a confidentiality agreement, Hummel could prove extremely valuable in revealing exactly what is what at this point.


Finally it's important to note that after two months, it's been firmly established that there is much more here than initially met the eye. Skepticism vindicated.


While lightweight, media gumby Jeff Duncan was busy last week calling Saints' fans conspiracy-theorizing simpletons, more and more info has come to light that undermines the league's initial position and subverts the justification for its punitive, draconian ways.


While Saints' players, the NFLPA, and Saints' fans continue to demand answers that are slowly coming to the fore, and the media-at-large that spent a month adamantly defending the NFL looks increasingly egg-faced, it's become abundantly clear who the blinded simpletons are at this point in the game.


A final question for you to ponder: if you were an NFL owner, would you have faith in this lumbering buffoon of a commissioner to protect your long-term, financial interests? 


The clock ticks. 

03 May 2012

To The Whipping Post

After the Giants beat the 49ers in this season's NFC Championship game, word emerged from the Giants' locker room that the Giants had specifically targeted 49ers' punt returner Kyle Williams because of his concussion history. 


Giants LB Jacquian Williams specifically stated

"the thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, to take him out of the game."


The NFL, when pressed for reaction about these comments from both Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas, responded via league spokesman Greg Aiello


"Players are held accountable for their actions on the field. There were no illegal hits to the head or neck area to Kyle Williams on Sunday. There was no conduct by the Giants of any kind that would suggest an effort to injure Kyle Williams in any way." 


Accordingly, the league imposed no discipline. The NFL took the stance that Jacquian Williams' verbalized decree (that the Giants' "biggest thing" was to "take [Kyle Williams] out of the game") did not actually represent an effort to injure. To the NFL it was action that mattered, not rhetoric. 


Fast forward four months to player sanctions in the aftermath of BountyGate, and now the NFL has reversed course on their stated precedent. If players are "accountable for their actions on the field" and not for what they say and/or plan prior to a game, then how does the NFL justify the gaping disparity in the punishments dispensed with their statement after the NFC Championship Game? 


If the Saints were indeed running a three-year bounty program, where is the on-field evidence that supports those claims? By not punishing Vilma, Smith, Fujita, and Hargrove for on-field violations, isn't the league admitting nothing out of the ordinary occurred on the field of play? 


What it appears is that the NFL has harshly punished the Saints for running a pay-to-injure program in theory. Because, after all, the program never once realized its supposed goals. 


The supposedly-institutionalized intent to cause harm generated suspensions of 16, 8, 4, and 3 games. Reasonable? Nah. Extreme? For perspective, Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games in 2006 for viciously stomping the face of the helmet-less Andre Gurode. In case you missed it, here it is:




Again, this was an actual assault captured live that netted a five-game ban. Yet Vilma, who presumably offered $10,000 for knock-outs of Kurt Warner and Brett Favre (two games of allegations, not three seasons' worth), has been banned for an entire season. What this appears to prove is that in Goodell's increasingly-warped worldview, intended, unrealized malice is punished more harshly than actual, verifiable assault.


Maybe the NFL is regretful for not handling the Haynesworth situation in a harsher disciplinary fashion, and apparently the manner in which they approach penalties in 2012 is different from the way they did so in 2006. That much seems obvious. 


But it seems even much more extreme when, yet again, the NFLPA released a statement in response to the penalties saying the NFL has not shared evidence with them, specifically citing "punishment without evidence."


If I may be so bold as to speak for what seems to be a large portion of Saints' fans, this is what people are angry about: the league's continued public declarations of mountainous evidence and ascertainable guilt, coupled with their repeated failure to share evidence with the one entity (NFLPA) who can ensure some measure of due process in this festering imbroglio.  


If all of this is on the level as the NFL claims, then I don't think any reasonable person will argue that the Saints are guilty of punishment. What people rightfully have taken issue with here is the extremity of the penalties in light of: 1) the precedents set from prior statements and penalties disbursed by the NFL; 2) the lack of definitive evidence shared with anyone outside of Goodell's immediate circle and; 3) the glaring absence of any egregious, on-field malice.


Should I also mention that the NFL's Director of Investigations who was leading the bounty investigations curiously resigned last Friday? (That was rhetorical). Make of it what you will, but his resignation and the timing of the announcement is nevertheless odd in light of everything else that has transpired. 


BLOWBACK
Regardless, the penalties still remain incongruous with the alleged wrongdoing. 


Why do you think the NFLPA has steadfastly held their ground that the NFL hasn't shared evidence? Are they repeatedly, publicly lying about this? 


Why did Jonathan Vilma release a blistering statement, labeling the punishments an "injustice"?


More? Here's Will Smith:


"I have never in my career, nor as a Captain asked others, to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players. I was in no way involved in establishing or assisting Gregg Williams with implementing a bounty program. The accusations made against me are completely and one-hundred percent false, and I plan to appeal the decision along with the help of the NFL Players Association. Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision."


So why do you think the NFLPA is threatening a "massive, multiple legal battle on several fronts"? Is it because the NFL's supposed evidence is so concrete and damning? 


Isn't the totality of refutations and denials enough to generate some relevant skepticism at this point? As I've stated before, why is it assumed that the NFL is beyond reproach here? 


We're still yet to learn anything beyond what the NFL has told us because the media that covers them is hopelessly bound by the shackles of indifference, and seems content to parrot instead of question. Do what you like, but I'm not taking the NFL's word at face value all things considered. The moment you blindly trust the word and motivations of a billion dollar corporation is the day you've lost.     


When Goodell states in his press release regarding player sanctions that the "facts ... have not been disputed ... by the individuals involved," he's being patently, embarrassingly disingenuous. If, as the NFLPA claims, the NFL hasn't yet produced any "facts," then how would it be logically possible to dispute them?


Maybe, just maybe, there aren't very many facts to verify the existence of a three-year, pay-to-injure program. Maybe that's why the NFLPA hasn't received anything and maybe that's why Vilma and Smith have been adamant in their denials. 


Instead of continuing to cite "experts," "independent sources," and (oooh!) "forensics" to validate their claims of abundant and damning evidence, why won't the NFL simply share the evidence with the NFLPA and let us move along to bitching about Brees' unresolved contract situation?      


Just remember that this supposed program for "knock-outs" and "cart-offs" produced exactly ZERO such instances. Did the Saints employ the the world's worst hitmen? Or did it not really exist as the NFL has so vociferously claimed? (For anyone who wants to point to Kurt Warner: the hit that knocked him out of the divisional playoff game was legal, and Warner publicly affirmed the legality of the hit a scant two months ago.)


What Goodell officially punished the players for was "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL." Hmm. That's funny. Because, you know, I was thinking the same thing about you, commish. About how, after the slipshod manner in which you've conducted this operation, I had lost total confidence in the NFL's ability to govern reasonably and transparently. I wonder, are you subconsciously projecting? That's what my dimestore psychoanalysis returns. What do I win? 


CODA
Absent a Congressional inquiry, it seems likely that we'll never know what actually happened or what evidence the NFL really has. Despite the threats, a lawsuit seems like a longshot due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. So says NFL reporter Albert Breer:








It's Goodell-said vs. Saints-said at this point, and we see how that's played out. For the most part though, this is all over now. Without much mercy, nonetheless. 



It's time to move on to another season of scorched earth, all in the name of Paytonian retribution this time. And as many people have pointed out, the absences of Vilma and Smith shouldn't be much of a hurdle to overcome. The defense is in the process of being revamped and the offense remains intact. Except for that Brees guy at the moment, but uh, Loomis is on it.    

The seeds of lingering discontent remain, and motivation will they provide. Far from debilitating the Saints' ability to be competitive in 2012, this offseason might, oddly enough, enhance that ability. It's high time for Goodell, that squirming dog, to finally have his day. 


How so? By handing Lombardi XLVII to Tom Benson in the Superest of Domes next February.