Draft weekend 2015
Gut feeling about the 2015 NFL draft: It will be in a city other than New York, and it will be a week earlier, starting on April 30 and running until May 2. Why? It’s complicated.
The NFL has outgrown Radio City Music Hall, and the NFL is ticked off at Radio City Music Hall. Last year, Radio City delayed its decision about what dates were available in the spring of 2014, causing the NFL to put off planning for the 2014 draft. Then Radio City told the league the venue was going to be occupied in mid to late April by an Easter Spectacular show, something akin to the Radio City holiday show with the Rockettes. Okay, NFL officials said, we’ll push the draft back to the second weekend of May. Mother’s Day weekend wasn’t ideal, but what choice did the NFL have? Then, earlier this year, Radio City canceled the Easter show. The NFL seethed. The league had moved the draft back and ignored other venues (Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn) to stay at Radio City, and now Radio City was going to be dark on the normal draft weekend. But the NFL couldn’t move the draft at that point, so the May 8-10 weekend went on as planned.
At the same time, cities were angling for the 2015 draft, as my partner Don Banks reported on SI.com last week. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke to Roger Goodell twice about having the draft somewhere there—gigantic McCormick Place near Soldier Field, for instance—and other cities loomed. Jerry Jones pines to have the draft at Jerry World in Arlington. Los Angeles wants it. Bob Kraft wants it in Boston.
“At this point,” a solid source told me Saturday, “I think it’s likely the draft is elsewhere in 2015.”
When? NFL officials hear the beefs of teams that want the draft in April. NFL officials also see the 30-percent-plus increase in TV ratings with the draft moved two weeks later. I maintain it wouldn’t matter—with the Manziel mystery, the where-will-Michael-Sam go, the fact that four of the top five picks in the draft were totally unknown as the first round approached. But the NFL does not ignore the ratings. It never has, never will, no matter what any football person or media person thinks. That’s why I think the league splits the baby and puts the draft a week after the normal April 23-area and before the May 8/Mother’s Day weekend. “We do not want the draft on Mother’s Day weekend,” that source said.
My guess: Chicago, with the first round April 30, 2015.
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The Sam Chronicles, Chapter II
In the end, Michael Sam did the right thing. He told coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead that he was going to make his situation right, after the Rams were blindsided by the news of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) planning a “docuseries” on his rookie year as the first openly gay NFL player. And OWN did the right thing too, in sitting down with the Rams Friday and not trying to convince club officials what a great show this was going to be. OWN, I’m told, told the Rams they would happily postpone the series—or perhaps never do it—if that was the best thing for Sam’s attempt to make the team as a seventh-round defensive end this summer. The meeting Friday was only positive, I’m told, because OWN was clear that the only way it would do the series is if Sam wanted it and the Rams wanted it. And it’s just as clear that, for both sides, the series would be best done beginning next off-season, assuming Sam makes the team and plays some this year.
In some ways, it’s a shame we won’t see (at least now) the trials of Sam in this rookie year, the personal side of trying to be the first openly gay player fighting for a spot on the team. It would be compelling to see Sam at home with his boyfriend, and certainly a help to the LGBT community, dealing with what surely will be a stressful time in his life. But for Sam, it’s just better that it be postponed.
Why? Because Sam is a football player, a rookie trying to find his way onto a football team as an underdog low-round draft pick. Could it help him make the team, or help him make his mark? I don’t see how. But I do see how teammates could either resent him or be angry with him as a low man on the team totem pole. And Sam doesn’t need that. He needs to find his spot and be solely focused on making the team. There is going to be enough of a sideshow—big media names and TMZ showing up at Rams Park, clamoring to get a Sam story or interview—without Sam voluntarily adding to it. At the scouting combine, Sam semi-pleaded with the media to see him as a football player and not as a gay football player. It would have been hypocritical for him, then, to seek that attention by having OWN cameras in his face off the field as he battled to succeed in his first year.
I’ve thought a lot about this story in the past week, as I’m sure everyone who follows football has. And the more I think about it, the more I think Sam landed in a perfect spot. Absolutely perfect. Three reasons:
- The Rams embrace the history of it. I can tell you with certainty that there was some regret in the Rams hierarchy that Sam’s rookie story won’t be told by OWN. Not enough to override the fact that the team really didn’t want it to be done. But the Rams are sure they’ll be a welcoming team and St. Louis a welcoming community for Sam. They’re fired up about the historical significance and the chance to show that a football team can be a change agent.
- There are not two better coaches in the league, in tandem, for this task than Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams. Williams especially. He is The Name That Shall Not Be Mentioned In New Orleans and will be until he day he dies, because the Saints and their fans view him as a rat for spilling his guts about Bountygate. But Williams wants badly to resurrect his career and make his mark with a strong defense featuring a Williams persona. What better way than having a nickel pass-rusher playing 18 snaps a game in schemes isolating him to make plays, the kind of schemes Williams has been inventing for players throughout his career? Call it what you want. I will choose the word “ego.” Gregg Williams has the kind of ego to believe he can take a player with limited athleticism but good college production at a high level and put him in position to make NFL plays. I can’t wait to see what he has planned, frankly. As for Fisher, he’s a staunch league guy. He knows this is good for football and great for the NFL. He will do everything to give Sam the best chance to make it.
- Sam knows Missouri. Missouri knows Sam. Sam took a teammate to an LGBT parade in Missouri while at the university. He likes St. Louis. And St. Louis likes him back. Even those not empathetic to Sam the gay man from Missouri will want a positive light to shine on their state.
Not to mention, the Rams kept nine defensive linemen last year and they have only three must-keeps (Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes) at defensive end. Yes, Sam is in the right place, and he and his team made the right decision to put off the reality show.
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Role reversal for a man not done with his former life.
Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager of the Jets for seven years before getting fired by owner Woody Johnson 16 months ago. In his former life, he traded for Brett Favre, hired Rex Ryan, drafted Darrelle Revis, starred in Hard Knocks, traded for Tim Tebow, was part of a team that won four road playoff games, watched in horror at The Buttfumble … in other words, did quite a few things to keep the Jets relevant, mostly successful and back-page-worthy.
He just did something else: As a rising star in the agent business, he represented Steve Kerr in negotiations to make him the new Golden State Warriors coach. More importantly to many, Tannenbaum was the agent of record in Kerr not taking the Knicks’ head coaching job—when he clearly was the number one choice of Phil Jackson. For years, first as the Jets’ cap guy and then as the GM, Tannenbaum sat in the team’s chair. This time, in his first mega-negotiation on the other side of the table, working as the head of Priority Sports’ coaching division repping Kerr, Tannenbaum felt a bit of culture shock bypassing the New York Knicks and doing the deal with Golden State.
“It was interesting doing a big negotiation and not hearing [NFL Management Council exec] Peter Ruocco’s voice in my ear telling me to remember the salary cap,” Tannenbaum said over the weekend. “It was different. In a non-cap situation, you can be so creative. Whereas in football with the Jets, if I paid Nick Mangold one more dollar in a future year, I knew it would cost me trying to sign a free agent that year.”
I asked Tannenbaum what was rewarding about this negotiation versus the football deals he did.
“When I took this new job,” he said, “I met Steve Kerr and he said to me, ‘I’m going to coach one day, and it’s your job to help me get ready.’ That was a great challenge. He already had a very detailed plan, about things like leadership and coaching style and the staff and the balance between talent and character, and I helped him fine-tune his plan. We worked for a year to get it right. And last week, when he came out of his meeting with the Warriors, it was so rewarding to get a text from Steve. He said, ‘They loved the plan.’ That was a sense of great fulfillment. I was a part of the Steve Kerr team, and Steve Kerr had a very good day, so I had a very good day. I liked that.”
Clearly, Tannenbaum would like another shot at being an NFL GM, but he understands that despite his team’s 61 wins and three playoff appearances in seven years, often a general manager in the NFL gets only one shot. Look at the league now. Bruce Allen (Tampa Bay, Washington) is the only current general manager in his second life as a GM. What I like about Tannenbaum’s path is that he didn’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring. He reinvented himself. He got on planes in the past year and beat the bushes for coaches of the future—coaches like Division II West Georgia’s Will Hall, who may or may not be a coaching prodigy. “I want to represent the next Nick Saban you don’t know right now,” Tannenbaum said. For how long? Who knows? But his post-Jets chapter has been pretty interesting so far.
One other non-football note. Wondering why Kerr chose Golden State? Tannenbaum said that as much as Kerr wanted to work with Jackson and learn the game from him, Kerr couldn’t find a single negative about the Warriors. Kerr would be closer to his family—completely Californian—and the roster was so good and so young. Clearly the Knicks don’t have the roster or the geography the Warriors did. Think of it: Kerr can drive a half hour to watch daughter Maddy, a rising sophomore at Cal, play volleyball. That’s an experience he can’t get back.
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And the site of Super Bowl 52 is …
NFL owners gather in Atlanta Tuesday for the annual one-day spring meeting, and they’re slated to pick a host city for Super Bowl 52 (I hate Roman numerals, but for you Augustans, it’s Super Bowl LII) on Feb. 4, 2018. The candidate cities are Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans. Here’s my tote board of favorites:
|New Orleans||2-1||2018 is the tricentennial for the city, and no one hates a New Orleans game.|
The city was founded as La Nouvelle-Orleans in May 1718, and New Orleans officials and owner Tom Benson will focus on the historic aspects of the bid, and the fixing of the problems that led to the blackout in the Ravens-49ers Super Bowl. New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl 10 times. Benson, who turns 87 in July, might be making his final appeal for a Super Bowl, and ownership is inclined to favor a long-time owner appealing for a favor.
|Minnesota||7-2||Northern dome teams always get at least one Super Bowl per new stadium.|
The Wilfs went to hell and back to get a stadium built in the Twin Cities, and they’re going to get a game. The question is when. Plans for the stadium look gorgeous.
|Indianapolis||7-2||Indy did a superb job on the 2012 game. The city is so easy to negotiate.|
I can’t remember an easier or more pleasant Super Bowl experience than the game and event Indianapolis put on two and a half years ago. No question the league is inclined to return to central Indiana at some point in the future, but my guess is the owners will figure there’s not the urgency that New Orleans has in 2018. Wild card here will be the presence of owner Jim Irsay, who has been off battling his addiction issues and plans to speak as part of the Indianapolis bid. Will that help, hurt or be no factor?
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Let the sun shine in on the revamped NFL drug policy.
The league and the players association—per ESPN’s Dan Graziano—are negotiating some changes to the substance-abuse policy, and we saw the evidence of that Friday night. On Friday Indianapolis pass rusher Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with a career-best 19.5 sacks last season at age 32, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Mathis admitted he didn’t consult either team trainers or league doctors before taking the drug Clomid, which he said he believed would help him and his wife conceive. His wife is now pregnant, and Mathis and agent Hadley Engelhardt said they believe Mathis shouldn’t be suspended for taking a fertility drug. Usually in events like this, the league shuts up and allows the player and agent to say whatever they want. Not Friday.
The league’s statement said, in part: “As Mr. Mathis’s agent acknowledged today, his client failed to follow the protocols in the policy that the NFL and NFLPA agreed upon to address precisely these kinds of claims. That policy also prescribes the disciplinary consequences of a positive test. The policy does not provide—nor should it provide—for the commissioner to override the policy’s procedures and assess discipline on an after-the-fact, ad hoc basis. Here Mr. Mathis actually withdrew his appeal and accepted discipline at the union’s suggestion. His hearing took place only after the Players Association requested that the appeal be reinstated … A cornerstone of the program is that a player is responsible for what is in his body. Consistent application of the policy’s procedures is critical to the integrity of the program.”
It’s got to be tough for the Colts (who backed Mathis) to take, particularly when they open the season against the most explosive offense in football (Denver, at Denver) and a rising offensive team, Philadelphia, at home. But once a player takes something without checking whether it’s kosher with the drug program, I have no sympathy if he tests positive and appeals on humanitarian or other grounds. The policy Mathis’ own union signed off on couldn’t be more crystal clear.