Last-minute thoughts, opinions, and observations as the NFL shifts from "muse for days about every topic" offseason mode to "OMG, HURRY, GAMES START IN LESS THAN A WEEK" regular-season mode.
Goodell Admits Mistake, Snowy Weather Forecast for Hell
The NFL will belatedly institute a new, strict set of guidelines for domestic violence incidents, with a first offense warranting a six-game suspension and a second offense resulting, potentially, in a lifetime ban.
More shockingly, Roger Goodell semi-publicly admitted to human frailty. He sent a letter to owners admitting that he handled the Ray Rice suspension poorly, taking responsibility for a decision that made the NFL look clueless about the severity and consequences of domestic violence.
So Goodell and the NFL did the right thing and admitted to doing the wrong thing simultaneously. I, for one, will be hiding under the bed, waiting for the meteor.
The two-tiered policy will be tested in a variety of ways. There will be allegations-versus-indictments-versus-convictions, dropped charges, and so on. Domestic violence situations are a case-by-case challenge for police officers and prosecutors, let alone an employer (more precisely, the governing body supervising an industry of 32 employers) trying to apply policy to everything from jury-convicted crimes to allegations that flare up on TMZ but are quickly lawyered and publicist'ed away.
But this is progress. Punch your wife on camera, and you get a six-game suspension, no matter how sorry you are. The second offense is life. If you can think of an appeal that would hold water for a second case of domestic violence, then you would be better served applying such creativity elsewhere.
As for Goodell's rare instance of Glasnost, it was a welcome development. If the NFL displayed honesty, transparency, and receptivity to criticism a little more often, it would not be the kind of league that doles out two-game suspensions for violent and disturbing crimes in the first place.
Goodell likes to claim that the league "listens to fans" all the time: We are all clamoring for an 18-game season, expanded playoffs, a week-long draft, and six zillion holding penalties, right? This is the first time that the voice of the chorus of actual fans managed to reach the commissioner's office. It took a heinous incident to make it happen, but maybe it's a baby step toward a new era when the league does the right thing more often and a "right-thingish looking thing" less often.
Sean Gilbert is Going to Make a Sucking Sound
Sean Gilbert's bid to replace DeMaurice Smith as president of the NFL Players Association has been treated very seriously by most of the media. It sounds more like a cross between Ross Perot's presidential campaign and Homer Simpson's attempt to become Springfield Sanitation Director to me.
The core of Gilbert's plan is to blow up the current collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2011 and remains in effect through 2020. Blowing up the CBA is a little like blowing up the moon: You cannot talk about what you will do afterward until you acknowledge what a monumental, potentially-cataclysmic thing you are doing. Gilbert is a little like a politician outlining a plan to tear up the Constitution and replace it with his customized, Applewood-smoked wish list of campaign promises.
Once the grueling-fought-for CBA -- the document that controls everything from contract parameters to drug policies to the amount of breakfast money players get when traveling -- is shredded and used to line a cat box, Gilbert plans to fight for a $1 million minimum salary, three-year rookie contracts, a shortened preseason, the end of the franchise designation as we know it, and two chickens in every pot. It sounds great. And, if such concessions were easily attained, you might think the NFLPA would already attain them, right?
In Perot fashion, Gilbert has charts and graphs to back up his claims. A lot of them make sense. None of them reflect the basic truth of collective bargaining: It's bargaining, and there are some items that the other side is never, ever going to put on the table. Especially after you try to force them to the table at litigious gunpoint.
There is no way the CBA can be unilaterally nullified and replaced with even a fraction of Gilbert's shopping list without a lockout to end all lockouts. And there is no way that players are going to vote for the lockout to end all lockouts, when the current CBA guarantees labor peace for the vast majority of their careers.
As of right now, there are two kinds of players in the NFL: those who remember 2011 and those who do not. Those who remember 2011 remember the anguish and bitterness, the angry words and protracted warfare, the real terror of potential lost paychecks. They aren't going to reopen old wounds in exchange for campaign slogans. Younger players, limited by the rookie salary cap, may find Gilbert's message more appealing. They are also younger players: More willing to follow the lead of the veterans, and not ready to risk losing a few months of paychecks to a lockout (many would not be able to afford it).
Player representative votes come in the next few weeks. Gilbert apparently has some sympathetic candidates in place who could win elections, then turn around and preach the Gilbert gospel to their constituents. Gilbert could then come to power in a 2015 vote. Then comes the CBA decertification process, then the fireworks. It all sounds feasible until you think about how labor votes happen during times of labor peace. One candidate for the mostly-thankless building rep job promises to fight the battles he thinks can be won (hey, if a minicamp practice runs too long or gets too intense, I will run it through channels and keep your name out of it). The other unveils some weirdo power play with massive implications. The rank-and-file union member, who prefers to think about 500 other things than labor matters, votes for the rep who scares him the least. Game over for Gilbert.
The entire history of the NFLPA suggests that the constituency has no stomach whatsoever for rocking the boat so dangerously. Gilbert might claim that is part of the problem, but it unfortunately excludes him from the solution.
Jerry Jones Finds Dez Solvency and Purple Jesus
The average human only uses 10 percent of his or her brain. This is completely untrue, one of the most ridiculous and easily debunked fallacies in the realm of science. But Morgan Freeman said it over and over again in the previews for the movie Lucy this summer, so now I believe it.
Anyway, Jerry Jones uses the other 90 percent of his brain on salary cap shenanigans. If he handled his budgets like a normal NFL owner and devoted his mental powers to other endeavors, he would levitate. And the Cowboys would make the playoffs once in a while.
The Cowboys and Dez Bryant are working on a new contract. It is taking a while, because the Cowboys can no longer issue standard big-money contracts to players of Bryant's caliber. The new Bryant deal will have to be some kind of non-Newtonian quantum contract that warps the spacetimecap continuum.
The Cowboys have an estimated $9 million in available cap space right now. That, in itself, is a mathematical miracle, like discovering a box has twice the volume on the inside as on the outside. That cap space became available thanks to annual Tony Romo juggling, a team-friendly Tyron Smith contract that extends through the next ice age, and other Penn and Teller worthy slight-of-hand. So there is money available to pay Bryant much more than his roughly $2 million base compensation for 2014. So far, so good.
Now, the bad news. The Cowboys are an estimated $2 million over next year's cap already. That's largely because of the great Romo Proration, which may eventually cause the collapse of our entire economic system. Lots of Tyron Smith bucks are also stuffed into next year, plus Brandon Carr bucks, because the Cowboys are getting such great dividends from their wonderful secondary that it's worth extending the payments a little further. When you get to 2016, the Cowboys already have $110 million invested in Romo, Smith, Carr, and Jason Witten, though by that point all but Romo can be cut for reasonable cap savings.
Trying to shoehorn Bryant into this budget requires some highly advanced algebra. The Cowboys can't hide any real signing bonus proration in the 2015 spreadsheet. They can offer a hearty 2014 base salary, thanks to the leftover cap room, and they can extend the Monopoly money until the sun burns out, but they must navigate around a donut hole next year and in 2016, when the team does not presumably want to have to cut everyone else to keep Romo, Bryant and Smith.
The solution is probably a Tyron Smith-style Everlasting Gobstopper of a contract with a theoretical end in the year 2525. The Smith contract is not popular among agents, however, and Bryant's representation isn't going to rush into a four-year deal with lots of mythical $10-million salaries procrastinated two presidential administrations down the road. And while handing over a $9 million base salary in 2014 will start the ball rolling, it won't solve the core problems of a Bryant contract.
So how do you prorate a huge signing bonus when you have already eaten through both your salary and proration budgets one year in advance? The answer: Jerry Jones will find a way. That way will inevitably lead to problems circa 2017, which will be solved with another round of extensions, renegotiations, and proration. It's the "die broke" approach to salary cap management.
None of Jones' contracts with his top superstars are stupid. In fact, they are brilliant. What he has done with Romo alone is a doctoral thesis in creative accounting. If you are waiting for a complete collapse, where the Cowboys go 3-13 and field an Odessa semipro team while Jones sells his belt buckles to pay the debt on Romo's contracts, keep waiting: it will never happen.
Instead, Jones will keep rolling over heavy debt indefinitely, enjoying the luxuries but cutting corners on infrastructure. The Cowboys will continue looking the way they have looked for five years: three or four superstars and little else. The Cowboys dine out nightly and order the good champagne, then come home to a house with no heat.
And here is the worst part: they cannot escape the cycle. Letting a player of Bryant's caliber slip away would only compound their problems. The only way to make them more fiscally responsible within a reasonable one-year window would be the nuclear option: Cut Romo, Carr, and some others, eat millions in dead money and ramen noodles for a whole year, then start over fresh. The Raiders have shown how ugly that can be, and how hard it can be to start over. And it isn't really an option this year, because Romo has already played the next round of three-card monty.
Gosh, maybe drafting Johnny Manziel would have made sense for the Cowboys. But it didn't happen. Maybe when Marcus Mariota is on the board, Stephen Jones won't tackle his father and take the draft card away.
Jerry doesn't learn these lessons easily. Word of an Adrian Peterson-Jones meeting of the minds came midday Thursday. Jones, who must realize he is under Donald Sterling-level scrutiny at this point, had an against-the-rules conversation with Peterson about the superstar running back finishing his career in Dallas. Peterson could conceivably cut for cap purposes after this season, with the Vikings eating about $2.5 million to save $13 million and escape the Hall of Famer's decline phase.
Would Jones actually sign the 30-year-old Peterson next year? How much would that cost? What purpose could it serve? And how would that even be possible: Remember that the Cowboys are $2 million over the cap before we add a Dez Bryant contract to the equation?
The answers to all of those questions: Yes he would, a lot, it would make Jerry feel like he accomplished something, and Jerry will find a way. No one plays the salary cap like Jones. It's his greatest skill and his biggest weakness.
Thanks for the Red Tape. Let Me Tie You Up with it.
And finally, Sports on Earth proudly presents: The Monsieur Gordon Affair, a one-act play.
Late July, 2014
ROGER GOODELL: Josh Gordon, you are facing a one-year suspension for multiple substance-abuse offenses. Not only do we have you more-or-less dead to rights, but you have displayed a troubling pattern of behavior that suggests that severe penalties are necessary. Is there any reason that I should not pass sentence as swiftly as possible?
JOSH GORDON: Well, this third offense was second-hand smoke! And there was an irregularity in the testing! It was an irregularity that the language of the testing protocols explicitly accounts for, but something somewhat similar happened once a few years ago, except exactly the opposite, and you reduced the player's sentence. So, you know, there are a lot of things to consider.
ROGER GOODELL: Second-hand smoke? Am I a middle-school guidance counselor? Am I really talking about second-hand smoke?
JOSH GORDON: I guarantee you that I inhaled second hand smoke! Also, possibly some first-hand smoke. The smoke tends to linger. In fact, smell my hoodie. That's from the subway, I swear.
ROGER GOODELL: Okay, do you seriously want me to investigate both the second-hand smoke claim and the test irregularity claim?
JOSH GORDON: Absolutely. It's your duty to take my appeal seriously.
ROGER GOODELL: Fine. Then I will consult with multiple medical and drug enforcement experts about the likelihood of second-hand smoke producing test results like yours. I will also consult with lawyers and testing procedure experts about the exact nature of your irregularity, and whether it is actionable.
Or maybe I will just pretend to do all of this due diligence. But either way, asking me to seriously weigh all of this bong water simply gives me carte blanche to sit on the ball for a few weeks, delaying your sentence as an extra punishment for wasting my time.
I mean, don't you know who I am? I'm Roger Goodell, damn it! Sure, I am about to admit to human fallibility, but I am still the master of using procedure as part of the punishment. I play due process the way Jimi Hendrix played the Stratocaster. I can grind you to cake flour within the wheels of justice before I even declare a verdict!
Are you sure you don't just want to tell me how sorry you are and how eager you are to seeking treatment and counseling? It's really the easiest way.
JOSH GORDON: Nope. I like my odds!
ROGER GOODELL: Great. See you next month. Don't get too comfortable in that Browns starting huddle in the meantime.
JOSH GORDON: Thanks. One last thing: Do you know a good place to purchase rolling papers in Alberta?