On the Defense After Defending Ex-Players
As we head into Week 1 of the NFL’s 94th season, I’m playing defense after Monday’s column on Kevin Turner and the plaintiffs’ attorney, Chris Seeger. Your email:
GOOD QUESTION. “I've enjoyed your NFL work for many years. It's the first thing I read every Monday to recap the preceding week. I follow the NFL pretty thoroughly, and I've noticed in recent years that some other NFL writers seem to view you as some sort of ‘establishment’ columnist; that is, the not-uncommon perception seems to be that you represent the NFL company line in a lot of your writing. While I do think yours is a fairly mainstream point of view, I don't think you're an NFL shill, and I find your work insightful and interesting. My question is this: Do you see this perception in the world of NFL commentary and, if so, what's your reaction to it? I count myself among your fans, and am just curious if this is a dynamic with which you have to deal in your work.’’
—Tim, Albuquerque, N.M.
Thanks for the nice email, Tim. I do hear that a lot. All I can say is I approach each story or column item trying to be fair to all sides and trying to tell a story the way I think it’s best to tell. For instance, over the weekend, I sought out the most public of the plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit, Kevin Turner, and the lead attorney for the players, Chris Seeger, because I wanted to know why the players took the deal they took. I was intrigued by a point in an ESPN story Saturday night—that the judge in the case was pressuring both sides to make a deal, telling the players, in part, that she would be inclined to take all players from 1994-2010 out of the plaintiffs’ pool because the CBA called for grievances to be settled via the NFL grievance process, not in court. If that indeed happened, the players’ case would have been severely hurt.
Turner, for instance, who has ALS, would not have been eligible to be in the case because he played during that time. There was no question in my reporting that this point by the judge influenced the players taking the settlement. If you’re Kevin Turner, and your attorney says, “I think we can get you $4 million or $5 million within the next couple of years—or we can go to court, and you might get thrown out of the suit entirely, or it might take six or eight years for final adjudication and we can’t promise we’ll win ... What do you want us to do?” What would you say if you were Turner? Just what he said: Take what you can get now. My point is, I wrote the column about how much sense it made for the players to take what they got, in my opinion. And quite a few Twitter followers blasted me for it. That’s okay. If you’re in a job like this, in today’s media, you’re going to take criticism. Just know that I try to be fair and conscientious.
TEBOW WANTS TO PLAY QUARTERBACK. “When Tebow signed with New England, I really thought he would be moved to tight end or another position. Is his lack of position flexibility hurting him?”
—Brenda, Saline, Mich.
What’s hurting him, Brenda, is that teams don’t see him as a quarterback or even a quarterback project. They don’t think he can be accurate enough. If he trained hard as a tight end, I do think he’d get one more chance to make a roster.
IT. “I often hear commentators talking about the ‘It factor’ that certain great players have. In your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of this?”
Gil Brandt has helped select the preseason college all-star team forever, and he told me once about the year (I think it was 1995) that he picked Ray Lewis as one of his linebackers. Lewis was the youngest player on the squad, and when the “team” gathered to be photographed in Phoenix, Brandt noticed everyone following Lewis around. They played pickup basketball, and Lewis chose sides. They’d go to the movies, and they went to see what Lewis wanted to see. He was the pied piper. How? Why? His presence and his ability, without saying much, to get guys to follow him. I think it’s that, and your demonstrated ability. Derek Jeter always says loud leaders are overrated, and I agree.
BRIAN BROHM LIVES! “On the Bonus Baby QBs part of MMQB, you listed Brian Brohm as “On The Street”. While, yes, he’s out of the NFL, he’s actually with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, plying his trade and continuing his dream, and who knows, like Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie and Dave Dickinson, maybe makes it back to the NFL. I can see how someone might say “that’s just semantics”, but it’s not like he’s given up the dream and is selling insurance, or, like JaMarcus Russell after getting released by the Raiders, holed up in his mansion and feeding his face."
Important point, Kevin. Thanks for making it.
GOOD QUESTION II. "Why don't teams like the Bills, Browns, and Cardinals just draft a quarterback every year? Finding the right quarterback is clearly the quickest way back to the playoffs, so why not keep bringing them in every year? Finding a salvageable veteran in free agency is just as much a shot in the dark anyways and young QB prospects always have value. If I am the Buffalo Bills, who just drafted EJ Manuel in the first round, why wouldn't I go ahead and draft another QB in the first four rounds next season and the season after? If the Manuel pick works out then I have a young QB prospect or two to trade, and if he doesn't work out then you already have the next guy or two on your roster. This strategy would speed up the rebuilding process because its eliminates the wait-and-see approach -- if/when your high draft pick flops then you have already planned ahead.’’
The Packers used to take a quarterback every year (or nearly every year) under Ron Wolf. I think it’s smart—except there’s one point about your scenario I don’t buy. If E.J. Manuel is Buffalo's quarterback and plays well this year and starts all 16 games, how are you going to give the backup a chance to play enough to show some team out there he’s worth a mid-round pick or better in trade? It’s one thing if you can get your backup quarterback 50 to 100 throws in a year, to showcase him for the other teams in football. But in most cases teams aren’t going to pay anything for a guy they’ve only see in preseason games.
I HAVE WONDERED THIS TOO. “I loved the article about Kevin Turner and the NFL-Player settlement. But something struck me as I read the article. Turner said he played for Alabama. If the average tenure of a player in the NFL is four years, and if Turner played for Alabama for four years, why aren't the major universities enjoined in this lawsuit? It seems to me that just as much punishment to Turner's body could have arisen from his time at Alabama as with the NFL. As a part of the lawsuit, were players' histories with concussions and other injuries while in college investigated? It seems to me that the coaches in the SEC often out-earn the coaches in the NFL, so clearly the universities and their athletic departments have just as deep of pockets as the NFL.’’
You’re a smart man, Dennis. Do you know that the NFL was going to make that point exactly if this case even went to trial? I am told the league had video or film of some major shots some of the big plaintiffs had taken in college (I don’t doubt Turner was one of these players), and was prepared to use those at trial. You make an excellent point: If an NFL player played four years in high school, four years in college and four years in the NFL, how could you assign all of his brain damage to the final four years?
HE DOESN’T LIKE THE PATS’ PICK. “I can only shake my head, again, at your pick in the magazine of the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. They haven't won in a decade, their offense lost numerous key players from last season, and their defense is in the bottom third of the league. The magazine's preview for the Pats did not even mention defense. Sure looks like a couple of New England fans made the pick and wrote the piece.’’
—Bart C., St. Louis, Mo.
One person made the picks: me. New England was ninth in the league in scoring defense, and the core of that defense, a young one, returns. It’s not a great defense, but it’s good enough to win when the offense is explosive. You’re right: The Patriots lost huge firepower from last year’s team. I don’t know if there’s enough there to keep New England scoring 30 points a game or not. But in the last three years, the Pats have averaged 32.4, 32.0 and 34.8 points per game. They run the no-huddle offense at will. In the end, I chose to trust Tom Brady’s ability to keep the Patriots’ production up. Even if they score 27 points a game, the combination of an easy division making them favorites to win home-field in the AFC and a defense that’s average or a little better contributed to my decision to pick New England.