AFC East: Michael Sam

Kudos to the Miami Dolphins.

It took the Dolphins' organization just one day to make a swift and stern ruling on defensive back Don Jones. On Saturday the second-year player tweeted critical comments about Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. By Sunday, the Dolphins' brass met with Jones and wasted little time handing out his punishment.

Jones was fined an undisclosed amount, excused from the team and required to undergo educational training. Jones cannot return to the Dolphins until that training is complete, according to the team.

The Dolphins were wise to take a hard stance on this issue. For starters, the Dolphins' locker room has had enough issues in the past year with their bullying scandal and cannot add any form of intolerance to that list. Second, the team is letting its players know that further missteps on social media are unacceptable. The team also had a sit-down meeting with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey after his recent comments on Twitter that first-round pick Ja'Wuan James would have to buy him gifts. The tweet was in poor taste after Pouncey was one of the culprits in Miami's bullying scandal.

Jones will have to pay the price for his mistakes. But, more importantly, he must learn from it. During a historic moment for the NFL and society in general, Jones was the only known player in the league to publicly bash Sam. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey was quick to point out Jones doesn't represent the views of the organization.

Jones did issue an apology to Sam on Sunday night.

"I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media," Jones said. "I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment. I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team and I wish him all the best in his NFL career."

Following a controversial 2013 season, Miami is the last team that needs negative press from its players. This is why the Dolphins set an example with Jones.

Miami is trying to change the culture in its locker room this year. Having a low tolerance for these kind of issues is the best approach.
For two of the past three days, Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey had to interrupt NFL draft news conferences to field questions on veteran players making mistakes with social media.

On Friday, Hickey called an impromptu media gathering at the Dolphins' facility to make a statement on Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who tweeted "I can't wait for our gifts he's getting us," when Miami selected first-round right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The following night Hickey had to address controversial tweets by second-year player Don Jones' toward Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL.

“I was made aware of it and I was disappointed in those comments," Hickey said of Jones. "That's not what we stand for as an organization.”

The pair of incidents in a short span highlighted the fact that Miami hasn’t completely fixed its locker room culture. As much as the team has worked on all that went wrong last year during “Bullygate,” there is still plenty of work to be done in the area of social media. The Dolphins cannot overlook this form of communication. They must do a better job of educating their players. As a general rule, Dolphins players should “think before you tweet.”

So far Miami has been too reactive -- instead of proactive -- with issues of social media. The Dolphins met with Pouncey after his comments and will do the same with Jones. It's probably time for Miami’s brass to also hold a widespread team meeting during offseason workouts before this social media issue gets out of hand and causes more problems for the organization.

It would be easier if the Dolphins, a billion-dollar brand, could ban all their players from using social media and simply concentrate on football. But that's not a realistic approach and a proper way to treat employees. Education, communication and a low tolerance are the best ways for Miami to fix this issue.

Sunday notes: Heard around the combine

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
12:00
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Notes and observations from the NFL scouting combine:

1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.

2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.

3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.

4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.

4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."

5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.

6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.

6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.

7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.

8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.

9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.

10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rex Ryan believes his locker room would have no problem accepting an openly gay football player.

"I think he’d be welcome," said the New York Jets' coach Thursday at the NFL scouting combine, referring to Michael Sam, of course. "I don’t think he’d be any different than any other player we have. One thing I know for sure: You’re going to have 53 different players. They’re all different -- different religious beliefs, what they look like, height, weight, married, single.

"Everybody is different," Ryan continued. "The main thing we talk about is respect in our locker room. Even though everybody is different, it’s a respect thing. If a young man is good football player and a good teammate, that’s all we ask. He’d fit in just like the rest of our guys."

Later, in an interview with ESPN New York 98.7, Ryan said Sam "wouldn't be a problem in our room. I'm sure he'd fit right in." He added that he'd be "disappointed" if his locker room didn't embrace the former Missouri defensive end.

General manager John Idzik, addressing reporters at the combine, echoed Ryan's remarks. This was the organization's first public comment on Sam, who came out recently and could be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Ryan declined to say if Sam would be a scheme fit for the Jets, saying he hasn't watched any tape of him. A shade under 6-2, the 255-pound Sam is considered a tweener -- too small to play defensive end, but not athletic enough to play linebacker. He's projected as a middle-round draft pick.

Richardson roomed with Michael Sam

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
10:55
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Sheldon Richardson remembered Michael Sam as "scared and nervous" with his sexuality during their college days at Missouri. On the football field, Sam was just the opposite -- "a killer," according to Richardson.

The New York Jets defensive tackle, in an interview Tuesday with SportsNet New York's Jeane Coakley, said he shared a house with Sam during the 2012 season. He described Sam as a good person and a good teammate even though he seemed burdened by his then secret.

Richardson
"I'm [proud of him], actually," said Richardson, alluding to Sam's announcement that he's gay. "He had his best season when he came out to the team, so I'm actually happy for him. It worked out for him [and it] didn't go the opposite way, because I know he was scared and nervous, just for him to be himself. Just him getting that monkey off his back was well worth it 'cause he had his best season of football at Mizzou."

Sam came out to teammates last August, withholding his public declaration until Sunday. The former All-American defensive end is trying to become the first openly gay player in NFL history. Many project him as a potential middle-round pick in the May draft.

Richardson acknowledged there could be an adjustment period for the NFL team that drafts him.

He said Sam "most definitely" has a place in an NFL locker room "unless your team is immature minded. If guys can't get past that then, I mean, it's just crazy. Of course, it might be weird at first if you aren't used to it, 'cause like I said, with me living with him, it was a little bit unusual at first. But it's stuff you look past."

Richardson said Sam never revealed his sexual orientation to him.

"He didn't, but you knew," Richardson said. "You saw him."

Richardson called Sam a "regular guy. Has his own sexuality. Didn't take nothing from him. He was a great teammate, a great person. Everything you wanted out of him, you got out of him. ... I promise you, his sexuality has nothing to do with him playing on the football field. He is a completely different person. He put this face on: No smiles, serious business. He's a killer."

They played together only two seasons at Missouri, 2011 and 2012. Richardson arrived as a junior college transfer and declared for the NFL draft after the '12 season, capturing NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Richardson said Sam is "my guy, my homeboy."

SNY interviewed Richardson in Houston, coincidentally not far from Sam's hometown of Hitchcock, Texas. Richardson is there training with teammate Muhammad Wilkerson.

Exploring Michael Sam and Patriots fit

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
2:00
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With Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announcing publicly Sunday that he was gay, putting him in position to become the first openly active gay player in NFL history, the thought probably crossed the mind of many team-based reporters:

Could you envision a scenario in which Sam lands on the team you cover?

Here are some of my Patriots-based thoughts:

1. It’s about winning: If Bill Belichick thought Sam could help the Patriots win, and he represented the oft-stated “value pick” when he was available, I don’t think he’d hesitate to draft him or sign him after the draft.

2. Something Kraft would root for: Owner Robert Kraft doesn’t make X’s and O’s football decisions, deferring to Belichick, whose track record speaks for itself. But if all things were equal, I think adding Sam is something Kraft would root for because of the inclusive message it would send by his franchise. I think that would mean a lot to Kraft, who takes pride in the Patriots being a “pillar in the community.”

3. Locker-room culture: As an anonymous scout mentioned in Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” piece on TheMMQB.com, the Patriots have the type of culture -- with strong leadership at the top with Belichick and in the locker room -- where the hubbub that is sure to follow Sam would be quickly extinguished. Former Patriots receiver Donte’ Stallworth made a similar point on Twitter. There are countless examples of situations that were supposed to be distractions (e.g. Aaron Hernandez's murder charge, Tim Tebow's signing etc.) that turned out to be anything but distractions because it’s about football, first and foremost, in New England. For that to work, the player(s) and team have to be working off the same script.

4. Sam’s football fit in New England: Sam is an undersized defensive end by NFL standards (6-foot-1 5/8, 260 pounds) and those players usually don’t carry as high of a draft grade with the Patriots, who have generally preferred their end-of-the-line players to be in the 6-foot-5 and 255-pound range (similar to 2012 first-round pick Chandler Jones). So purely from a height-weight-role standpoint, I don’t see the perfect football fit with the Patriots based on the team’s drafting history. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen, as one possible comparable is 2003 Patriots seventh-round draft choice Tully Banta-Cain, who was in that same type of “tweener” category of 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker. Banta-Cain developed into an effective pass-rusher for the team, and every club is looking for disruptive pass-rushers.

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