Monthly Archives: January 2015

Inside Slant: Roger Goodell’s ‘conflict of interest’ problem and other points

PHOENIX — Moments after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell completed his annual Super Bowl press conference, ESPN analyst Bill Polian cut to a crucial flaw in the presentation.

“Everyone wanted to hear about domestic violence,” Polian said. “Everyone wanted to hear about Deflategate. Everyone wanted to hear about the major issues that have affected the league outside of the normal realm of the game. And he led off with the extra point!”

Indeed, Goodell mentioned the ongoing discussion about the length and difficulty of extra points before referencing any specifics about an ongoing investigation into the integrity of the AFC Championship Game. We have plenty of coverage on what Goodell did say about the New England Patriots’ deflation issue, so let’s consider his ill-placed but still notable remarks on other issues — starting with the basic definition of a “conflict of interest.”

1. Perception vs. reality

Goodell bristled at two questions in particular.

One referenced the league’s hiring of outside attorneys it pays to provide independent investigations. (Former FBI director Robert Mueller, who investigated the league’s response to the Ray Rice domestic violence matter, worked at the same law firm as Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass.) The other question referred to his attendance at a party hosted by Patriots owner Robert Kraft the night before the AFC Championship Game shenanigans.

Goodell’s response was, in essence, that no conflict of interest existed because the people involved are all people who have “uncompromising integrity.” That might be true, but that isn’t the full point of a conflict of interest. It’s not simply whether impropriety occurred as a result of an interconnected relationship. It’s whether the relationship creates the perception that an impropriety could occur.

Did Mueller take it easy on the NFL given his firm’s relationship with Cass? Will investigator Ted Wells exonerate the Patriots because Goodell partied with Kraft a couple weeks ago? Unlikely. Is it possible to conceive? Of course.

No matter what might or might not have happened, Goodell would be well served to step away from anything that could provide even the appearance of a conflict. His defiance remains a hurdle in publicly moving past the issues of this season.

2. That troublesome extra point

Goodell: “Fans want every play to have suspense. But the extra point has become virtually automatic. We have experimented with alternatives to make it a more competitive play and we expect to advance these ideas through the competition committee this offseason.”

Seifert: NFL place-kickers converted 99.3 percent of their extra-point attempts in 2014 (1,222 of 1,230), a year after hitting 99.6 percent. The league experimented by moving the kick back to 33 yards during the preseason and then narrowed the goal posts for the Pro Bowl. It seems likely the league will push some form of a change through its competition committee in the coming months.

3. Expanded playoffs

Goodell: “The possibility of expanding the playoffs has also been a topic of discussion for a number of years. There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting the regular season and conflicting with college football in January.”

Seifert: This change has seemed certain for the better part of a year, and Goodell said recently he expected a vote during the league’s owners meeting in March. The “concerns” Goodell mentioned Friday represented at least a tapping of the breaks. A cynic would say Goodell was acknowledging objections simply to placate outnumbered opponents.

4. Officiating changes

Goodell: “We are looking at other ways to advance replay and officiating. That includes potentially expanding replay to penalties if it can be done without more disruption to the face of the game. We are discussing rotating members of the officiating crews during the season as a way to improve consistency throughout our regular season and benefit our crews in the postseason.”

Seifert: Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Thursday that multiple teams have already submitted proposals to expand replay in various ways. It seems unlikely the league will allow all plays to be reviewed, as the Patriots proposed last year, but a slower expansion is a realistic possibility.

Rotating officials, meanwhile, might help dissipate the penalty disparities among crews that we have documented for the past two seasons. It would also devalue the chemistry and familiarity that season-long crews develop.

5. Goodell: “We are aggressively pursuing the streaming of a regular-season game with our first over-the-top telecast. It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that don’t have traditional television service.”

Seifert: At the moment, this is a win-win for everyone. All games would remain available over-the-air while the NFL and its chosen partner experiment with streaming. Some day, of course, the NFL could offer some games exclusively via streaming, most likely at a cost to consumers.

Browns Senior Bowl spotlight: Auburn WR Sammie Coates

MOBILE, Ala. — The Cleveland Browns need wide receiver help. Auburn’s Sammie Coates, one of the best size-speed combos at this week’s Senior Bowl, could help Cleveland’s ailing outside receiver position.

Andrew Hawkins can play outside but is best utilized in the slot, as is Taylor Gabriel. The two top outside targets last season, free agent Miles Austin and oft-suspended Josh Gordon, are not locks to return. The Browns might have no choice but to keep Gordon if his trade value isn’t high enough.

This year’s receiving class might not match last year’s, but Coates should play a prominent role in the 2015 group. He stood out in what was mostly an undersized Senior Bowl corps. When talking to scouts generally about players this week, Coates’ name comes up often.

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Coates told the Baltimore Sun he patterns his game after Julio Jones. That’s a lofty comparison. But Coates’ point is this: His speed and size can help him win matchups on deep or shorter routes. Coates was an effective deep-ball receiver at Auburn with 21.6 yards per catch, but in Mobile, he showed in red-zone packages that he can get inside a cornerback and muscle him out.

He also caught TCU’s Kevin White on a double move, bolting down the sideline to catch a long touchdown pass in stride.

When talking to scouts about Senior Bowl players this week, they often mention Coates.

“My goal is to be a complete wide receiver,” Coates said this week. “I don’t want to be looked at as only a deep guy.”

Auburn’s offense, though explosive, didn’t exactly help him in that area. Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall averaged 18.8 passing attempts per game in Coates’ two years as a starter. Over the next few months, NFL teams will study Coates’ route-running precision to ensure he can handle a full NFL slate.

The Browns’ new regime didn’t draft a receiver with any of its six selections last year despite an obvious need. That seems a philosophical move — GM Ray Farmer won’t be wowed by measurables and numbers.

“It’s not about a guy’s size. It’s about a guy’s skill set,” Farmer said Thursday.

But getting at least one impact pass-catcher should be paramount this year. Alabama’s Amari Cooper is widely considered the top receiver in the draft. Louisville’s DeVante Parker and West Virginia’s Kevin White will help drive the conversation. Coates will be in the mix, and don’t forget about beastly Arizona State wideout Jaelen Strong.

The Browns will need an outside pass rusher, a nose tackle, and possibly a tight end, but any of those five receivers will be intriguing options.

Reggie McKenzie plays huge role in Jack Del Rio’s chance for success

Jack Del Rio beamed Friday as he was introduced as the the 21st head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

The East Bay Area native spoke of the “treat and honor” it is to be leading the team he followed as a child. The “Raider for life” waxed poetic about witnessing the George Blanda renegade Raiders of 40 years ago.

Yet, most importantly, Del Rio didn’t lose sight of what’s at hand: the future of a franchise that has fallen on hard times.

Del Rio, who has nine seasons of NFL head-coaching experience, isn’t coming into this job clinging to a Raiders’ past that is not relevant to getting better. He knows the gory truth — Oakland hasn’t a winning record since 2002. He knows the Raiders have won a total of 11 games in the past three seasons. As the defensive coordinator, Del Rio was part of a Denver team that won 12 games in 2014 alone.

He knows what has been happening with the Raiders since their appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after that 2002 season, is not good enough.

“There is no other way to trend from where we’re sitting now,” Del Rio said. “We have to go up.”

Asked about the team’s roster, Del Rio, without hesitation, said it needs to get better.

Del Rio’s lack of delusion and his honest assessment is what this team needs. It needs to know that it has to get better. That honesty had been lacking recently. There was too much false optimism being sold without the benefit of tangible results in the form of victories.

As Del Rio dropped his honest assessment, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie sat and listened. Now, it is up to McKenzie to make this team better for his new coach.

The Raiders will likely be more well prepared by by Del Rio and his staff than they were in the first three seasons of McKenzie’s tenure.

There was a lot of speculation that McKenzie could get fired — along with Dennis Allen, the man he hired to be the Raiders coach when he took over three years ago. But McKenzie has survived despite the team’s failings. Just because McKenzie survived this year, it doesn’t mean he will survive another sub-par season. He needs to produce and produce now.

McKenzie said he plans to build the team through the draft rather than put everything in free agency. However, the Raiders might have upward of $70 million in salary-cap room. This is a class of free agents. The Raiders need to make a bigger and better impact in free agency than last year, when they don’t get much overall value despite having more than $60 million to spend.

McKenzie can’t survive cpnsecutive years of having immense cap flexibility with no improvement in the win column. And Del Rio deserves to start his Oakland tenure with an improved roster.

We all know Oakland has building blocks in quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack. But they need help.

It’s up to McKenzie to find players who meet the Raiders needs. Right off the bat, they need help at receiver, on the defensive line and in the secondary.

There was speculation that Oakland owner Mark Davis wanted Del Rio and McKenzie wanted to keep interim coach Tony Sparano. There might have been some truth to that, but the bottom line it was Davis’ call. On Friday, everyone was happy. Davis said Del Rio was the choice of both himself and McKenzie.

“It’s an united front,” McKenzie said.

Del Rio is going to give the Raiders a chance to get better, it’s up to McKenzie to help him succeed or Del Rio could have a new boss in Oakland sooner rather than later.

Sources: Dan Quinn, Mike Maccagnan front-runners for Jets

How does a Dan Quinn-Mike Maccagnan tandem grab you?

The Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator and the Houston Texans’ director of college scouting have emerged as the front-runners in the New York Jets’ concurrent searches for a new head coach and general manager, according to sources.

In reality, Quinn has been the favorite for a few days, but his candidacy has gained traction now that team officials have all but completed the first round of interviews. By rule, the Jets aren’t allowed to make Quinn a formal offer until the Seahawks’ season is over — that could take another three weeks — but they appear to be getting close to naming a GM.

On Friday, they met for a second time with Maccagnan. He returned to Florham Park, New Jersey, only four days after his first interview and spent the latter part of the day with owner Woody Johnson and team officials. The group was scheduled to continue talks over dinner. If everything goes well, a deal could get wrapped up over the weekend, sources said. The discussions were described by one source as “very positive.”

The Jets have met with seven GM candidates. That Maccagnan has emerged from the group is hardly a surprise. He’s a Charley Casserly protégé, dating to their days with the Washington Redskins in the early 1990s. Casserly and Ron Wolf were hired by Johnson as consultants for the dual searches. Maccagnan is a longtime talent evaluator, although this is his first shot at a GM job.

On the coaching front, the Jets have interviewed six of their seven candidates. They’re still waiting on Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, but that interview — if it happens — may not matter at this point. Quinn has impressed owner Woody Johnson & Co., and the Jets apparently are willing to wait for Quinn.

It could be a long wait, perhaps to Feb. 2.

If the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl, the Jets wouldn’t be able to strike an agreement with Quinn until the game is over, according to league rules. They’d be allowed to meet with him for a second interview during the bye week, with Seattle’s permission, but the rules prohibit them from extending an offer at that time. Obviously, the Jets wouldn’t wait that long unless they had an unofficial nod from Quinn’s camp.

Quinn is perhaps the hottest head-coaching candidate on the market. He has interviewed with five teams, meaning there could be competition for the Jets. He likely will receive multiple offers, according to a source, so it’s premature to say he’s a lock for the Jets. However, he has strong ties to New Jersey. He grew up in Morristown, a few miles from the Jets’ facility, and has family in the area. He was a Jets assistant in 2007 and 2008.

From the outset, the Jets considered Quinn a strong candidate. So was former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, who has an ally in Casserly. But Marrone’s candidacy has faded as Johnson has become smitten with Quinn. He was interviewed Jan. 2 in Seattle during the Seahawks’ bye week.

Quinn will be involved Saturday in the divisional playoffs, as will Kubiak.

The Jets also have met with Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich and Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

In the end, it could be a Quinn-Maccagnan ticket as the Jets attempt to rebuild after a disastrous 4-12 season.

Reggie Wayne on the playoffs: ‘This is what we live for’

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s anybody’s guess whether this will be the last playoff appearance of Reggie Wayne’s 14-year NFL career.

But know this, if it is, Wayne is going to relish every moment of it.

It started on New Year’s Eve when Wayne thought about whether he should be out partying or getting his rest for practice the next day.

In typical Reggie Wayne fashion, football was his top choice. He’ll play in his 19th career playoff game on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I’d rather practice football,” he said. “This is a time where not everybody can enjoy that luxury of having, and that’s why after the games you want to exhaust yourself in that moment. You want to go out there and you want to give it everything you have to make sure that you’ve done everything you possibly can.”

If Wayne does decide to retire, it won’t come without a fight from one of his close teammates. Fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton said he’ll do everything he can make sure Wayne continues playing.

“I’m not going to let him leave me right now,” Hilton said. “I’ll have a talk with him whenever that time comes. I told him talk to your family, talk to your kids, but when you’re finished with that, make sure you come talk to me. Our relationship has really grown, so I’ll probably have a say-so with that.”

Wayne’s groin is fine after he left last weekend’s game against Tennessee early. He practiced all week with the exception of Friday, when coach Chuck Pagano gave the veteran the day off to rest and let any achy parts of his body get better.

“It’s playoff time, everybody’s playing hurt. I’ve been hurt all year,” Wayne said. “So I’m going to fight through my tricep and then I’m going to let a groin keep me out? Nah, it don’t work like that. This is the time where big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. This is what we live for. This is our second goal, and that second goal is to make the playoffs and you better believe I’m going to be there.”

Wayne’s focus is making sure the Colts are ready for Sunday. The last thing he wants is to have a long drive home on Interstate 465 because the Colts didn’t play to their potential.

They went 3-1 in their final four games and held a players-only meeting after losing by 35 points to Dallas in Week 16. The Colts say they’ve responded well since that meeting.

“Guys understand how serious this is,” Wayne said. “I think guys understand you kind of go into it as one-game seasons each week. We do understand that if you lose, you go home, you pack your locker up. I think guys all week have really been in tune to what we want to do. I think practices have been great, everybody’s enthused. There’s nobody around here that’s tight, that kind of in a panic mode … We know what’s at stake.”