Dec 112012
 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was dealt a serious blow today when former Commissioner and current arbiter Paul Tagliabue determined that, while the New Orleans Saints were clearly operating a bounty program that was in violation of league rules, the case against the players was “contaminated” by Saints’ coaches and others, suggesting that any discipline beyond fines was unfair, and all discipline against individual players was vacated.

“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” Tagliabue said in a statement released by the league. “My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”

In response, the NFL issued a statement which said:

“We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. (Tagliabue) as Commissioner Goodell’s designated appeals officer.

“… The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.”

Predictably, the NFLPA also issued a statement claiming victory, which rings closer to the truth than the NFL’s statement.

“We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result,” the statement said. “We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program. Vacating all discipline affirms the players’ unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged ‘intent-to-injure’ were utterly and completely false. We are happy for our members.”

While the NFL is seeking to put a face of victory on this news, Goodell knows that this is a blow to his status as Commissioner. Tagliabue seems to try and let Goodell off the hook, while also trying not to help Jonathen Vilma’s defamation case against Goodell, by blaming those within the Saints’ organization for corrupting the case, but in truth the “we were just following orders” defense rings hollow; the reason that player discipline had to be vacated was because the Commissioner’s office botched the case, and Goodell himself acted as though he was accountable to no one.

In the end, it seems fair to conclude that a strong message has still been sent to all 32 teams that bounties will result in serious disciplinary action against the organization and its staff. It also seems fair to conclude that Roger Goodell will not be allowed to act as the tyrant that he has been trying to be. If the owners are smart, they will force the Commissioner’s office to develop better systems for the conduct of investigations and disciplinary proceedings, while looking for a successor to a flawed and damaged Commissioner.

Oct 092012
 

Commissioner Goodell has reaffirmed the suspension of four players for their connection to the bounty scandal in New Orleans. As noted on the NFL website, the decision is carefully crafted to focus on “conduct detrimental to football” and avoid any jurisdictional challenge from the players or from the NFL Player’s Association.

The complete release can be viewed here. Here is the shorter release, taken from the NFL website:

Discipline Reaffirmed for Four Players Suspended for Participation in Saints’ Bounty Program
DECISION BASED ON CONDUCT DETRIMENTAL TO FOOTBALL

Commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed the discipline for four players in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty matter today, but adjusted certain aspects of it following recent meetings with each of the players, the first time those players had agreed to speak directly to the NFL to give their side of the story.

In letters to each player and a memorandum to the clubs, Commissioner Goodell clarified that his decision was based entirely on his finding that the bounty program represented conduct detrimental to the league and professional football. The Saints’ bounty program operated over a three-year period and offered incentives to players for plays including “cart-offs” and “knock-outs,” which were plays that caused injuries to opponents.

The decision was made in response to the CBA Appeals Panel that asked Commissioner Goodell to make a redetermination of the discipline previously imposed on those players and clarify whether any of it was related to salary cap violations.
For decades, the commissioner of the NFL has been empowered, including in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players, to impose discipline on any individual employed by the NFL or its clubs that engages in specific conduct that he determines with due process to be conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. This responsibility was most recently affirmed in the 2011 CBA.

“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell noted in a memorandum to the clubs.

“In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” Goodell also wrote. “In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”

The NFL PA, of course, has already issued its response, stating “For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake… We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance.”

Thus, here we go again. I have a distinct feeling this case will be dragging on even longer, and will get even uglier in a hurry.

Jun 232012
 

Greetings and a happy Saturday to all! The has been a very slow week at GiR, but of course with the exception of the bounty hearing and subsequent meetings it has been a slow week in the NFL.

Here at GiR Central we are still unpacking, as I ready for myself for another business trip this week. Unlike another football blogger, I have to maintain this NFL addiction with a non-NFL day job, which really gets in the way of just being able to think football 24/7. But the bank is insistent that we make mortgage payments, and who am I to argue? I rather suspect we have another light week come up, but I know there are articles on the way from some of our staff writers, and I am working on a rather fun one that I hope to get the chance to post while I am on the road this week. Plus, the Rat’s Widow is beginning the research on her weekly predictions, and that series promises to be a lot of fun.

I don’t know about anyone else, but watching Mike Florio at PFT flip flop on the bounty situation has been rather disheartening. I tend to think that, due to his legal training, Mike fixates on a single point, blows that point out of proportion, and then begins making broad generalizations based on that point. None of the key evidence in the Bountygate scandal has really changed, but Mike is now on the player’s bandwagon. For example, the debate is now raging over whether or not it was Mike Hargrove  who can be heard demanding payment after a hit on Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game. Now the thought is that it might actually be Remi Ayodele who made the comment, given that Ayodele was the player who hit Favre high on the play. Personally, watching the video I tend to think Hargrove actually said it twice and couldn’t be heard the first time, so he repeated himself to be heard. That’s why you see his lips moving, but then his head ducks briefly out of the shot at a key time. But even if it is Ayodele who said it, I will ask the question…

So what?

Even if the NFL investigator erred in identifying the correct player for the comment, Florio seems to be missing a basic point that should be a part of his legal training; there is a difference between making an error and making a substantive error. Even if the league erred in identifying the correct player, the fact remains that the comment, “Give me my money” was made on the sidelines following what was believed to be a game-ending hit on Favre. In my mind it doesn’t matter who said it; the comment remains proof that payment was on the table for a Saints’ player injuring Brett Favre. We don’t know how many players the NFL interviewed, or if Ayodele was one of them, but this is simply a case where the players and now Mike Florio are calling on technicalities to try to minimize or outright dismiss a case that on its face is compelling. Identifying the wrong player does not negate the case.

OK, enough on Bountygate, at least for the moment. I remain convinced that Roger Goodelll is going to stick to his guns, and to allow the case to play out in court if necessary. And then the courts can determine how important the technicalities are.

Other NFL items this week? There were only two that I took real note of. The first was that the Patriots re-signed safety James Ihedigbo, primarily a special teams player who was pressed into way too much playing time in a depleted secondary last season. And while Ihedigbo performed as well as he could be expected to, it was painful to have to watch him be tended to by trainers after what felt to be nearly every single play. Given the Patriots defensive improvements in the off-season, and the fact that  Steve Gregory seems to be fitting in to the Patriots’ system very well, I am not sure there will be room on the roster for Ihedigbo this season.

The other amusing gem was from San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. That’s right, the same guy who informed us that the 49ers should be Super Bowl favorites is back, with an even bolder proclamation. According to Davis, he will “be the best tight end to ever play the game.” That’s quite a mouthful there, Vernon. While there is nothing wrong with confidence, I am beginning to wonder if this guy isn’t a few fries short of a Happy Meal. First, Mr. Davis, you’re not even as good as the second best tight end for the Patriots. But then again, there are probably only a handful of tight ends that are as good as or better than Aaron Hernandez. But there is no way that he, or any other tight end (Jimmy Graham included) is better than Rob Gronkowski, and only Graham could be considered as good as Gronk at present. Davis has been in the league for six seasons and never broken the 1,000 yard mark in receiving. He has scored double digits in touchdowns once, and yet he’s ready to put himself up with the current great performers AND with legends like Mike Ditka. Riiight. Davis ranked 32nd in receptions last season, racking up 792 yards and 6 touchdowns on 67 catches. The best ever? He finished behind seven other tight ends just last season. Give it a rest, Vernon.

OK, with that out of my system, it is time to have a productive day at… you know… day job kinds of things. Damn bills. And I don’t mean the kind from Buffalo.

 

Jun 192012
 

Sometimes people just don’t know when to quit.

I think most football fans are just about sick of the Bountygate story and the continuing denials emerging from current and former members of the New Orleans Saints. It has already been established by Sean Pamphillon that Drew Brees, Scott Fujita and the NFLPA have worked together to seek to pin all of Bountygate on the coaches. Jonathan Vilma seems to have taken point on criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL, but Drew Brees has been sure to get his shots in where he can. Such was the case this Monday on Twitter, where Brees wrote, “If NFL fans were told there were “weapons of mass destruction” enough times, they’d believe it. But what happens when you don’t find any????”

Drew Brees is making the comparison of Bountygate to the falsified evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Seriously.

Whether or not he believes the nonsense he is spewing, Brees is now elevating his hyperbole to a disturbingly alarming level. Where do we even begin to de-construct the myth that Brees is seeking to create?

Do we start with the ludicrousness of comparing a sports situation to a predetermined political decision by former President George W. Bush that resulted in an illegal invasion, the deaths of 4,409 American servicemen and women, and an estimated 109,000+ deaths overall? Does Drew really want to compare his alleged plight to the millions of people who had their lives ended or disrupted as a result of armed conflict? Really?

Even if you excuse Brees’ bravado, the pieces of information available to us prior to this week’s hearings as well as the information released yesterday simply do not support the idea that the players stand falsely accused. As I detailed on June 7,  the Saints had engaged in an historic use of bounties and had been repeatedly warned by the league to discontinue the practice. Players were documented as having contributed and receiving bounty money for various impact plays and a ledger was even found with proof of payouts to players. There is zero question that the Saints, over a long period of time (multiple seasons), maintained a pay for performance system that is explicitly forbidden under NFL rules. And the players were so brazen about the practice that in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Mike Hargrove (one of the players implicated in the scandal) can be heard running off the field shouting, “Pay me my money” after he believed that he had injured Brett Favre. Couple all of this with admissions from the New Orleans Saints and their coaches, and the assertions of Brees and others simply don’t add up. And that was before new evidence was released at the hearing yesterday.

To be sure, the NFL has entirely botched the release of supporting information. I am not sure where they are getting their advice on how to present a case, but they would be well served to take another approach. Although the NFL released only 200 pages of an estimated 500,000 page collection, much of the information released (according to Mike Florio at PFT) was in essence irrelevant. But a few key points were not, and Brees is not choosing to address these points because he knows damn well that it does not support his attempt to create a distraction to draw people’s eyes away from the facts of the case. But among the pieces of information released yesterday, we did learn that several players offered money to make plays on Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, and that this included Jonathan Vilma offering $10,000 for anyone who could take Favre out of the game.

Other evidence? One document noted that Charles Grant offered $10,000 for a quarterback takeout pool, while Scott Fujita and Will Smith both contributed money to what was known as a “general pool.” Darren Sharper also contributed money for Pick-6’s and QB hits. Another document had Vilma, Smith, and Grant down for contributions, as well as Scott Shanle, Leigh Torrence, and Troy Evans. An even more disturbing document tallied “Kill the Head” (undefined) totals in 2010, with Vilma leading the way with 62 tallies. And another document recorded the awarding of $1,000 to Roman Harper for a “cart-off.”

Finally, a slide included in the NFL’s presentation contained a photo of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” with the notation “Must suspect be delivered dead or alive?” Even the NFLPA knew this piece of information looked bad, as they referenced the photo as “a poorly chosen and ironic example to use.” That’s putting it mildly.

It is with all of this information in hand that Drew Brees wants us to believe that the evidence against the players is no better than falsified information that led to an American war. Riiiight.

Until recently, I saw the Bountygate scandal as an unfortunate blemish on a touching, feel-good story for the Saints and the city of New Orleans. But it’s never the crime that does the real damage; instead it is always the cover up. And that is the case here as well. The continued proclamations of unfairness by the NFL made by Scott Fujita, Janathan Vilma, and Drew Brees have, at least for me, forever tarnished the accomplishments of the Saints franchise and their Super Bowl win. I will stop well short of calling for an asterisk like many unthinking fans will, but it is simply unforgivable in my view for the players to continue acting like six year old children standing over a broken lamp proclaiming, “I didn’t do it.” When pressed, the six year old insists they didn’t do it and that they don’t know who did… it might have been the dog or the lamp fairies. Well Mr. Brees, there are no lamp fairies. And just like the 6 year old who eventually admits their misdeeds, I rather suspect there will be a long delayed but inevitable admission on the part of some of the players involved. Just because you can fight a public relations battle with the National Football League doesn’t mean you should.

Now Mr. Brees, please shut up and go stand in the corner.

UPDATE: Brees has apparently figured out that the WMD analogy was not a good idea. Five hours ago, he sent the following tweets:

– My WMD comment has nothing to do with politics or our brave military. Merely an analogy to show how media influences public perception

– I apologize if the WMD comment offended anyone. Especially our military. There is no one I respect more than our service men and women

At least he realizes that his comment may have been offensive. However, the tweet really was not critical of the troops, but could instead be interpreted as being critical of the Bush administration and/or seeking to trivialize an event that led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people. In any event, Brees has once again proven the adage that it is better to be perceived as a fool versus opening one’s mouth (or Twitter account) and removing all doubt.

Jun 042012
 

Lots of little stuff to cover today.

First, some quick NFL snippets that caught my attention this weekend:

  1. At least the Cleveland Browns can be happy that they didn’t draft Justin Blackmon. The fifth overall pick of this April’s draft (Jacksonville Jaguars) was arrested for an aggravated DUI in Oklahoma. He blew a BAC of 0.24, or three times the legal limit on Oklahoma. It’s the second time he has been arrested for DUI. He now joins a long line of other Jaguars receivers who have also run afoul of the law (Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, Jimmy Smith, and RJ Sowad). From my perspective, it’s time for Justin to either change his lifestyle (especially if he wants to stay in the NFL) or get the hell off the road. Right now, despite this kid’s obvious talent, I am not sure that he is going to make it.
  2. Bad news for AFC defenders; Rob Gronkowski’s ankle is coming along just fine.
  3. Is anyone else completely sick of Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Drew Brees, and all of the other players who are denying that the Saints used a bounty system? At this point, I am pretty convinced that we could be presented with a video of Vilma saying “I will pay ‘x’ amount for anyone who makes sure the quarterback is carted off the field” and they would still come up with some half-ass denial as to why that does not constitute proof of a bounty system. However, the NFL for its part has not done a good job of managing the PR aspect of this. The league should simply come forward and present all of the facts that were used to reach their determination. While I respect that there may be legal implications that I am not considering, leaking the ledger news to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports was never going to settle questions; it was only destined to raise more. Enough already. As for the players, I think when your coaches go and ‘fess up that there was a bounty system being used, you should probably just shut up already. The players seem to be forgetting the First Rule of Holes; when you’re in one, stop digging.

On to the site, where we have several articles on the way that I expect will be posted this week. In addition to the writers that have already posted, Country Preacher and Flip Strickland will be introducing themselves to the readers as well. I have also secured commitments from three other people to contribute, and more information will follow on them.

On  a personal note, readers that know me know that I just bought a house and am in the process of moving in. Right now it is piece-meal moving, and the movers will be in on June 14th to bring the furniture over. That means June 13-15th there may be some disruption in being able to get articles posted while I try to get all of my technology hooked up at Helm’s Deep. Yes, I am such a Lord of the Rings geek that I have named my house after my favorite battle from the movies. No, it’s not the media bunker in West Virginia that another, far more famous football blogger has, but it suits me, and will be a wonderful place for my fiancée and I to call home.

Speaking of the woman in my life (who officially becomes my wife on July 6th), our readers are going to get to hear from her directly soon. I will leave the specifics to her to disclose, but Rat’s Widow (no, she isn’t planning to kill me; yet – it’s just her moniker on this site) has determined that she wants to play, and I couldn’t be happier, especially given the unique perspective that she will bring to this site. So welcome, my love!

That’s all for today. Remember to share our articles with your fiends and “Like” us on Facebook.