Very little happened in the NFL last week, but a whole lot of people talked about it.
Mid-June is the time of year when the NFL signal-to-noise ratio grows excessively noisy. It's a time of garbled messages, when nonsense is taken seriously and serious nonsense starts to sound like gospel. It's a time to spitball, speculate and spontaneously generate stories. A handful of teams staged actual minicamps, but because the Browns and Jaguars were among those teams, no one paid much attention.
Which is not to say that no one paid any attention to the Jaguars. The Law of Jaguars News states that the only news the Jaguars make is the news that they do not actually make news. In June, that means the Jaguars got attention with a non-story about a misquote about the team leaving the country because they do not get enough attention.
Burning with Boredom Now
June is the time when the NFL mumbles about moving more regular-season games to London or some other exotic locale. The "Goodell Considers Games in Khartoum" story is as common in June as a dads-and-grads endcap at the local Hallmark store. The Jaguars, already scheduled to play multiple games in London over the next few years, are the go-to target for these musings, but this week's "buy season tickets or you will need a passport to watch your team" message arrived with extra garble.
An initial report had Roger Goodell saying there was a "good chance" the Jaguars would soon play two home games in London. After some angry rumblings from league offices, the "good chance" was replaced by a direct quote from Goodell. Remember when "direct quotes" were a staple of reporting, not a last resort? Anyway … the New York Post reported what Goodell said: "If we go to three London games, what we'll likely do is ask Jacksonville to potentially play two, or ask three different teams to host." So, other than an "if," a "potentially" and an "or" with a completely different alternative, the initial "good chance of multiple Jaguars home games in London" report was deadly accurate.
"London Jaguars" is one of those hornet nests the league stirs up to keep everyone busy this time of year, like the 18-game season, 16-team playoffs and replacing kickoffs with something Greg Schiano scribbled onto a cocktail napkin. The blatant act of news manufacture had its desired effect last week, as any NFL writer not hastily backpedalling from a misleading report spent Tuesday tweeting nickname ideas for the London Jaguars. "London Calling" had a lot of supporters, in part because you can picture the helmet logo: Maurice Jones-Drew smashing a guitar into Blaine Gabbert's head. "London Fog" describes the experience of watching Jaguars football pretty well. The "London Underground," while not catchy, gives a good impression of where this story will be buried once there is real news.
The Illusion of Motion
There were also rumblings that the NFL might move the draft to Chicago. Whispers like these are invariably efforts to get better deals: The NFL wants concessions, improvements or other perks from Radio City Music Hall. I have my own wish list. Wider seats for today's plumper sportswriter. Civilized closing times for the Heartland Brewery across the street from Radio City: an 11 p.m. last call, in midtown Manhattan, is a slap in the face of capitalism itself. How about cool t-shirts for attendees and journalists alike? Here's a design idea: a tour-date-style listing of the first round draft order on the back, while on the front Woody Johnson smashes a guitar into the NFL shield.
The NFL already moved the 2014 draft back from late April to May 8-10, which means two more weeks of draft coverage. I did a little "no one will expect me to cover horse racing" dance and began layout for a series of daily seven-round mock drafts next year. Mike Mayock started doing larynx crunches. You may want to stock up on the ibuprofen.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, meanwhile, is expanding Lincoln Financial Field with the hope of someday attracting a Super Bowl. "Root for a decent-weather day in New York and New Jersey and we think we've got a great city here to host it, a great stadium, and I'm sure others feel the same way," he said.
Yep, root for that decent-weather day in early February in Philly, a city that responds to three-tenths of an inch of snow like it's a zombie apocalypse. The armed turf wars for triple-parking spaces south of Oregon Avenue can begin immediately, while I switch into profiteering mode and offer fellow sportswriters use of my driveway for the week, just five miles from the stadium, the bidding starting at $50 per day. (Operators are standing buy. My number is 856 …)
While the NFL is moving the Jaguars to Europe, the draft to Chicago and the Super Bowl to a sleet-battered cities of the Northeast, can we get the Scouting Combine shifted to, say, Key West? Indianapolis, I love you, but you are essentially Ice Station Zebra in February. If the league thinks Key West is a good place for a Scouting Combine, they might potentially do it, or possibly stay right where they are. In other words, there's a good chance it will happen.
An important corrolary to the Law of Jaguars News states: "Maurice Jones-Drew is the most newsworthy player on the Jaguars. Therefore, Maurice Jones-Drew can only be newsworthy by not playing for the Jaguars."
MJD was not at Jaguars minicamp this week. He is working out independently, with the team's permission, and trying to shed weight while recovering from a Lisfranc injury. MJD has also been accused (but not charged) in an alleged nightclub altercation. The running back has reportedly not discussed the matter with police, but he did talk to head coach Gus Bradley, who might have wished for a few moments that he was still the Seahawks defensive coordinator before checking the news feed and, yeah, no. When searching for the truth of what happened after midnight at a nightclub, keep in mind that the truth does not happen after midnight at a nightclub. Whatever MJD was doing, it could not have been good for his diet.
MJD is not the only one looking to shed weight. John Harbaugh delivered a crystal clear message about the food pyramid to second-year pass rusher Courtney Upshaw. "Courtney's weight issue ... is that he doesn't eat right," Harbaugh said on the Ravens website. "Courtney eats too much, and he doesn't eat all the right foods ... He knows that, and that's something he's going to have to get a handle on or he's not going to be the best he can be." Upshaw admitted that he let his conditioning slip when he returned home to Alabama. Sure, blame The Brick Pit.
At least Upshaw is putting in some extra StairMaster hours to shed the brisket. No one has seen Andre Smith since the Bengals tackle signed a three-year, $18-million contract in the middle of draft weekend. Smith has a history of going AWOL and returning looking like the trash dumpster behind a beanbag chair factory, so his disappearance is worrisome. Coach Marvin Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he expects Smith to be back for this week's minicamp. Which is mandatory. And catered.
Ballerina, You Must Have Seen Her, Shopping at Home Depot
Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was the most famous conscientious objector from OTAs in recent weeks. Williams made news last week when he missed one voluntary session to attend his daughter's dance recital. Such an absence is normally listed under "personal reasons," but Eagles coaches actually had to track Williams down, so his exact attendence issue was revealed to the media. Williams was at mandatory minicamp last week, where he took a moment to throw all the other little dancing girls under the bus. "She did good, danced a lot better than her classmates," he said of his daughter.
Williams also missed OTAs last month to manage the construction of his new home. "I just had to make sure my sconces, my wood was picked out, my fireplace," Williams said. I will leave it to colleague Matt Lombardo at radio 97.5 the Phanatic to speak for me and most other football fans on this one. "He lost me at 'sconces,' Lombardo tweeted. "Sometimes it's possible to be too honest."
By the end of the week, Williams was tweeting to Eagles fans for perspective and sanity in the wake of SconceGate. "I just want to let Eagles Nation know that I am very thankful for their support...to keep talking about something already addressed is what I don't care for," he said in a series of tweets. Yeah, that will get Eagles fans to cool off. Does the name "Mike Mamula" mean anything to you, Senor Sconce? Williams later assured Eagles fans that "From June-January I work every day ... there are no OFF days ... no SICK days..I give 100%!" FEBRUARY CARY THE SUPER BOWL IS IN FEBRUARY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS BECAUSE YOU PLAYED IN IT NOW WE ARE WORRIED WE WILL SEE YOU IN LOWE'S OR AT A BUILD-A-BEAR PARTY THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL IF THE EAGLES SOMEHOW REACH IT …
Williams wasn't the only one at Eagles minicamp hoping to hang around and become a fixture. Michael Vick wants Chip Kelly to name a starting quarterback. "Hopefully, Chip makes a decision before training camp and we won't have to answer that question," Vick said, in a prime example of not being careful about wishes. Vick and Nick Foles have been splitting first-team reps, with Nick Foles executing the zone-read option in reps that look amazing in slow motion, though they are occurring in real time. "There are better things to talk about," a huffy, green-eyed Vick said. Like rooting for good Philly weather in February, 2023! And sconces!
And line dancing! Chip Kelly eschewed the Nicki Minaj for some country line dance music during offensive drills. Oddly enough, Vick was running the offense during the not-so-up-tempo hootenanny, not Foles. Chip Kelly is trying to find some old Carpenters records for Foles.
Glorified Version of a Paintball Gun
OTAs are not always the most productive use of time, mind you.
Jets OTAs wrapped last week, and Mark Sanchez admitted that he still does not know some of his receivers' names. So receivers are to Sanchez as progeny are to Antonio Cromartie. "We've come up with some funny nicknames for some of them, because you don't even know their names and they're just in there," Sanchez said. They probably have Seven Dwarfs-style names at the moment: Pokey, Dropsy, Clumsy, Tiny, Kerley, Unlikely and Covered.
Rex Ryan figured that Sanchez and his anonymous teammates needed to get to know each other better, so he ended OTAs with a paintball excursion. Arm the Jets and send them into the woods: How come nobody thought of that sooner? Paintball makes a great corporate team-building exercise because it gets employees into the fresh air; lets them vent frustrations by sweating, jawing and receiving/inflicting a little punishment; and gets them working together in a physical way toward a tangible visceral goal. Um … aren't those the things football teams do in OTAs every day? Football teams should "team build" by donning collared shirts and khakis and retreating into fluorescent-lighted cubicle farms to complete regional sales initiatives. The quarterbacks can give slide presentations instead of conducting seven-on-sevens, and we could tweet about their PowerPoint prowess instead of their completion percentages. ("Mark Sanchez is reading directly off his slides again.") If the Eagles do precisely this in two weeks, with Muzak over the loudspeakers, remember that you heard it here first. And tell Williams he is not allowed to burn personal days.
Less-rigorous team-building activities are recommended for less-rigorous teams. The Jaguars wrapped their OTAs with a softball home run derby. The star was Drew Nowak, currently listed as the third-string right guard, who doubles as a lefty power hitter. This story complies with the Law of Jaguars News, as it involves a player you never heard of exceling at a skill that will not help him in a competition that does not count. Worst of all, there is a good chance the Jaguars will all be playing cricket in three years.
Horning in on Father's Day
Robert Griffin is too busy rehabbing his knee, preparing for a wedding and being the toast of the sports world to slow down for softball, which worries one recent retiree. Donovan McNabb is trying to establish a kind of father-son relationship with Robert Griffin. McNabb hopes to share the difficult life lessons he learned and help Griffin avoid some of the crises and bitter disappointments he suffered through. Griffin appears to be tuning McNabb out and distancing himself from the battered, demoralized old guy. Gosh, it sounds like they already have a typical father-son relationship.
To clarify, McNabb does not want to be Griffin's surrogate father, perhaps fearing that he will have to splurge for a surrogate rehearsal dinner. McNabb wants to sit down with his own father, Robert Griffin II, and Robert Griffin III to discuss how quickly fans and media can sour on a player and misinterepret messages, particularly those that come from a players' parents. Donovan: Get Cam Newton in on this, and invite Eric Lindros as guest speaker.
McNabb discussing a mass-media downfall is like Napoleon explaining all the things that can go wrong on the Russian steppes in January: The man knows what he is talking about. But the father-son potato-sack races will be delayed indefinitely because, let's face it, the peiod between a magical rookie season and a storybook wedding is not the time to bring ol' Uncle Buzzkill in to talk about all the things that can go wrong five years from now. McNabb should write a book about his media misadventures, so future superstars can study in their spare time. He could hire a collaborator, a sympathetic sportswriter with experience covering his situation. (My number is 856 … )
Griffin's biggest problem right now is that Dr. James Andrews is two-timing him with Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper. If Griffin and Harper both feel a twinge and call Andrews simultaneously, who does he schedule for an appointment first? Washington sports fans demand to know. And what happens if Andrews gets sick? It's a fate to terrible to contemplate. Better to imagine the flower of the capital sports scene chit-chatting in the waiting room, surrounded by old Golf Digests, while Andrews finishes the back nine at Congressional:
Griffin: Man, I have go to the dentist sometime this week. I have some cavities that need to be filled. What's that procedure called again?
Harper: That's a crown question, bro.
Griffin: Yeah, you are right. I also have lots of work to do on my new home. I have to set up the subwoofers and space all of the speakers on my entertainment center just right. Do you know the best way to do that?
Harper: That's a surround sound question, bro.
The conversation may be more silly than scintillating, but it's better than hearing more from Richard Sherman and Roddy White.
There have been mixed signals coming out of Cowboys headquarters about who will call the offensive plays this season. Jerry Jones intimated that Bill Callahan will replace Jason Garrett as the play-caller, but he also stated that Tony Romo is supposed to take a Roger Staubach-like role in game-planning, and of course Jones himself likes to have a wee bit of input in the offense as well.
Mandatory Monday has sorted everything out. Behind the team's draft board during a recent Jones press conference stood a large carnival-style spinning wheel. The wheel will be spun before each offensive play, and the person whose name comes up actually calls that play. With the help of high-tech imaging software, we re-created the Cowboys wheel:
One question has not yet been answered: Who actually gets to spin the wheel? Sources indicate that there is no chance that it will be Garrett. The Cowboys have contracted out to construct a second wheel, which will determine who gets to spin the first wheel. The team will also donate $500 to local charities for each delay of game penalty.
The Saints also have a play-calling controversy. Sean Payton ceded the duties to coordinator Pete Carmichael when Payton broke his leg, then let Carmichael keep the job because the team was on a roll, and Carmichael kept calling the plays all through Payton's suspension. Payton and his lieutenant are still deciding their roles, and there is no hurry, for the Saints or Cowboys, because it is June and no one needs to call a meaningful play for another 12 weeks. But if Garrett mysteriously breaks a leg, it could mean that the Cowboys got the wrong message from the Saints situation.
The Opposite of Love is Indifference
Sometimes, a mixed message is neither mixed nor a message. Bill Belichick told ESPN Boston last week that, contrary to the anonymous source cited by Mike Silver in a Yahoo Sports column last month, he does not hate Tim Tebow at all. "For anyone to have represented that is the way I feel about Tim Tebow is completely untrue, baseless and irresponsible," Belichick said. "It is unfortunate that something so inaccurate was reported." So yes, hooray, we are in middle school now.
Silver's "Billy hates Timmy" report -- which was published exactly one month ago Monday, or back with the Magna Carta in 1215 in Internet years -- was part of a brief paragraph in the middle of a musing Why Won't Anyone Take a Chance on Tebow column. (Mike: it's because he cannot properly throw a football. That's kind of a deal breaker for a quarterback. If you need any more info, my number is 856 …) The original reference makes it clear that the source was referring to Tebow the Quarterback, not Tebow the Beacon of Virtue in a World Gone Mad. No one who likes the forward pass likes Tebow as a quarterback, but lo, the qualifiers were stripped away to give us the buzzy Belichick Hates Tebow essence, which then laid dormant like a cicada larvae until all the rookie camp news of mid-May fizzled out.
Belichick Hates Tebow is paradoxically the product of an overstimulated imagination and a lack of imagination, the disturbing product of human minds acting as servants to Internet aggregation algorithms instead of vice versa. And yet, Belichick did have to take time out of his busy schedule to address the story. That's what the Jets wanted, right? They wanted opponents to squander valuable practice time and mental space preparing for the Tebow Wildcat threat, and there was their arch-rival, talking about Tebow instead of diagramming some new defense to stop Geno Smith or whoever. Mission accomplished, kind of, maybe, not really.
Dissenting opinions on Tebow were offered by members of the Steelers, the team he famously had his greatest game against. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asked Steelers players a bunch of Tebow questions instead of Steelers questions or current-NFL-player questions. "He won some games, had some success," Foote said. "We know it first-hand. I think he should be somewhere at least competing for a job. I think he's earned that."
Read Starkey's full article and you can see that Foote's pull quote involved pulling teeth, as Starkey admits players like Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel tried hard to evade the utterly irrelevant questions. A new genre of journalism is emerging: Reporter wonders why no team will sign fringe player Tim Tebow, gets on players'/coaches'/executives' nerves asking loaded questions and speculating wildly about Tim Tebow, fails to see any irony.
Not Necessarily the News
And so our odyssey around the world of NFL news in mid-June comes full circle with a he-said, he-said morsel of contrived, inflamed misinterpretation, plated and served in a way to make it appear juicy and nourishing. Personalities like Griffin, Tebow, Belichick, Jerry Jones and Kelly are entertaining enough to sustain a little tabloid-style coverage, and the Jets and Jaguars make fun comic foils. It's all good sport, as long as we know it's not sports, and as long as those of us who cover it know when we are being manipulated, when we are manipulating, and when we are just joshing around and waiting for the pads to come on next month.
The rush up to camp will start soon enough, and suddenly all of these mixed signals will become crystal clear. Until then, see you in the funny papers.