AFC North: Roger Goodell

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players from multiple eras -- including this one -- attended Chuck Noll's funeral on Tuesday morning in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell, Mel Blount
John Heller/AP PhotoNFL commisioner Roger Goodell and former Steelers CB Mel Blount embrace before Tuesday's funeral service for Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.
Former Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris and John Stallworth were there. So were current players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ike Taylor.

Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.

Make that demanded.

Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.

No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.

"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."

Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.

"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."

[+] EnlargeJohn Banaszak
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoJohn Banaszak recalls the opportunity Chuck Noll provided for him as a Steelers' defensive lineman.
John Banaszak played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-81.

"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."

Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.

"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."

• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
Good news had been harder to come by than rushing yards for Ray Rice.

But his acceptance into a pretrial diversion program on Tuesday should lead to a pending assault charge against the Ravens running back getting dropped.

It could also mark a significant milestone if Rice ultimately redeems himself following a nightmarish 2013 campaign that spilled into the offseason.

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Rice
A video of Rice dragging his fiancée following a mid-February fight in Atlantic City went viral and ultimately led to his indictment in late March for allegedly hitting Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.

The pretrial diversion program will allow Rice to avoid jail time as well as a conviction on his permanent record. That doesn’t mean the three-time Pro Bowler is in the clear as he tries to rehabilitate his once-pristine image and revive his football career.

Rice is still subject to discipline for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and commissioner Roger Goodell has never hesitated to come down on players who tarnish the league’s image.

Goodell may feel compelled to discipline Rice and even suspend him for the start of the 2014 season considering how closely others who have been punished by Goodell will be watching.

However Goodell proceeds in this matter, Rice can at least be optimistic that he is on the road back and that he can largely focus on football. Few if any players will be more motivated than Rice going into next season.

He rushed for 660 yards and four touchdowns and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in 2013. A sputtering running game was one of the main reasons why the Ravens slipped to 8-8 and did not get the chance to defend their Super Bowl title in the playoffs.

And it only got worse for Rice after the much-publicized altercation in Atlantic City delivered a jarring hit to his reputation.

His acceptance into the pretrial diversion program doesn't put all of Rice's troubles behind him.

But it is a start to working his way back, and given how the last year has played out for Rice, he will probably take what he can get right now.
Mitchell/CotcheryUSA TODAY SportsThe swap of safety Mike Mitchell to the Steelers and receiver Jerricho Cotchery to the Panthers bring a veteran presence to each locker room.

It wasn’t a trade but two of the biggest free-agent signings by the Steelers and Panthers amounted to two players switching teams. The Steelers signed former Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell on March 11, luring him away from Carolina with a five-year, $25 million contract. The Panthers finally added a wide receiver when they signed Jerricho Cotchery last Thursday to a two-year contract. ESPN.com Steelers writer Scott Brown and ESPN.com Panthers writer David Newton take a closer look at this de facto swap.

Scott Brown: David, you reported that Cotchery’s contract is worth as much as $5 million. I’m happy for Cotchery, a good player and an even better person, but I am a little surprised that the Panthers gave that much money to a complementary wide receiver who turns 32 in June. Is it a sign that the Panthers were desperate at wide receiver or do they really like Cotchery because he is still productive and gives them a veteran presence?

David Newton: Maybe a little bit of both. After losing out on Hakeem Nicks and with other free agent receivers signing elsewhere, the market was pretty bare. Cotchery was one of the few veterans left, and the Panthers couldn't go into training camp without somebody to help bring along what likely will be the youngest receiving corps in the NFL -- the 31-year-old Cotchery aside. His value comes from his experience and the leadership. That he's played in a system similar to what offensive coordinator Mike Shula ran for five of his 11 seasons is a plus. That he can play all three receiver spots even though he has been labeled as a slot receiver also worked in his favor. Is he as good as Steve Smith, Carolina's all-time leading receiver, who was released? I don't think so, even though Smith soon will be 35. But everything else Cotchery brings seems to be a plus.

Having said that, Mitchell brought an aggressive attitude to Carolina's defense last season. Was that something the Steelers were looking for when they signed him?

Brown: They really needed to get younger and faster in the secondary and the Steelers accomplished both by signing Mitchell. Adding another thumper to the back end of their defense is a bonus and it looks like Mitchell has the range to cover a lot of ground. He will need to do that playing with Troy Polamalu. The eight-time Pro Bowler moves around the field, sometimes leaving the Steelers with a single safety as the last line of defense.

I really like this signing for the Steelers as Mitchell is only 27 and seems to be on the upswing of his career. He talked about his work ethic during his introductory news conference in Pittsburgh and seems to have the desire to be great. If he gives the Steelers a badly needed playmaker for their defense they will be very happy with this signing.

Since you covered Mitchell during the season in which he really blossomed what can you tell Steelers fans about one of the newest additions to the team?

Newton: He's one of the best quotes on the locker room, mainly because he's brutally honest. It's refreshing. He's also one of the more fined players in the league, which he doesn't hesitate to remind commissioner Roger Goodell of. Beyond all that, he's a solid player in coverage and with the occasional pass rush. His numbers this past season were good enough to make the Pro Bowl. Just not a lot of people knew much about him. But the thing I liked the most, and the reason the Panthers wanted him back, was he brought an aggressive attitude to the secondary -- heck, the defense.

Having said that, was aggressiveness something the Steelers were looking for or needed when they signed him?

Brown: They need the mindset because it lends itself to making game-changing plays and the Steelers could more of that from their defensive backs. They intercepted just 10 passes last season, ranking near the bottom of the league, and they were minus-four in turnover differential. If Mitchell builds on a season in which he intercepted four passes -- four fewer than the Steelers’ defensive backs combined -- he will make for a good pairing with Polamalu.

The Mitchell signing got the Steelers off to a good start in free agency but they have since lost two of their top three wide receivers. I think losing Cotchery was bigger than Emmanuel Sanders -- even though the latter was a starter -- because it seemed so likely that he would re-sign with the Steelers. But the Panthers made Cotchery and offer he couldn’t refuse, leaving the Steelers with little experience at wide receiver behind Pro Bowler Antonio Brown before they signed Lance Moore.

David, what was the reaction from Panthers’ fans to the Cotchery signing? Relief more than anything that they finally brought in an established wide receiver?

Newton: More astonishment that they let 34-year-old Steve Smith go and signed a 31-year-old that hasn't accomplished nearly what Smith has. I think a few were won over when Cotchery said out of respect he would not wear Smith's No. 89, the number he wore at Pittsburgh. He seems like a classy guy and people will appreciate that. There's still concern that he's not a No. 1 or maybe not even a No. 2 receiver. Many are calling for Carolina to trade for Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, even though the price tag for Jackson would be prohibitive for a team in need of a true No. 1.

How do you see Cotchery fitting in on a team that is looking to take the next step in the playoffs after a 12-4 season? Does he have enough in the tank to be a No. 2 at least?

Brown: Cotchery is class personified, and he is a consummate professional -- in his preparation, dealings with the media and mentoring younger players. Steelers rookie Markus Wheaton became Cotchery’s shadow last year because he wanted to learn from such a respected veteran. Does that translate into Cotchery giving the Panthers the kind of production he enjoyed last season when he rejuvenated his career? I’m not sure that is the case if the Panthers are counting on him starting.

I think Cotchery would best serve Carolina as a No. 3 wide receiver, one who uses his smarts and experience to get open more than his speed. I can tell you this: Ben Roethlisberger trusted Cotchery more than any wide receiver on the roster last season and I think Cam Newton will also find that Cotchery is always where he is supposed to be and just as reliable with his hands. What Carolina has to though is keep adding reinforcements at wide receiver so they don’t have to rely too heavily on Cotchery.
Steel City wake-up: morning links

Steelers president Art Rooney II made the media rounds Wednesday, meeting with two groups of print reporters and appearing on Steelers TV. Rooney addressed a range of topics, from Ben Roethlisberger's contract situation to his satisfaction over the direction of the offense.

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Tomlin
What may have slipped under the radar was Rooney acknowledging that the Steelers have informed the NFL they will appeal if they are stripped of a draft choice for coach Mike Tomlin's sideline interference in Baltimore.

Tomlin was fined $100,000 for the incident and he issued a sweeping mea culpa less than a week after his sideline footwork turned into a national story. That, apparently, was enough for Rooney.

"Mike has paid the price and as far as we're concerned it should be behind us," Rooney said.

The league left the punishment open in case the four points the Ravens may have lost on the play -- they settled for a field goal after Jacoby Jones' long kickoff return -- cost them in a playoff tiebreaker.

That never happened, which is why Rooney said the case should be closed.

"As far as we're concerned it really had no impact on that game or no impact on the playoffs," Rooney said. "There's no reason for that to be revisited at this point."

Here is a look at other news regarding the Steelers as well as the teams around the AFC North:
  • Rooney tackled some league issues, including ways to improve officiating while also helping the referees. He offered tepid support for Roger Goodell's push to add two more teams to the playoffs. Rooney said the Steelers should have made the playoffs last season but he is also pleased with the direction the franchise is heading despite back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

  • ESPN.com Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley examines outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' future in Baltimore, which looks like an uncertain one. That may be good for the Steelers considering no player has sacked Roethlisberger more than Suggs.

  • ESPN.com Browns beat writer Pat McManamon isn't buying into the hype that surrounds Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. McManamon writes that the Browns should steer clear of Johnny Football with the fourth overall pick and take a player such as Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

  • ESPN.com Bengals writer Coley Harvey handed out his final grades three days after Cincinnati again made a quick exit from the playoffs.
PITTSBURGH -- Imagine if the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff fate would not have depended on Ryan Succop's right leg or the vagaries of officiating.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is serious about adding two more teams to the playoffs, and the Steelers would have been the last one in this season had seven AFC squads qualified for the postseason.

Had Goodell been a year earlier in pushing for playoff expansion the Steelers would have extended their season on Dec. 29 after beating the Browns and getting the wins they also needed from the Bengals and Jets.

As if Pittsburgh fans needed another what-if to chew on -- and the conspiracy theorists among them needed more proof that Goodell always seems to stick it to their beloved Steelers.

It will be interesting to hear Steelers president Art Rooney II's thoughts on expansion and whether the organization will get behind it.

Coach Mike Tomlin is part of the NFL competition committee that will presumably craft a proposal for teams to vote on at the owners' meetings in late March. Adding a playoff team in each conference shouldn't be difficult or make the postseason unwieldy as the top teams in each conference would receive a bye while the six other squads would meet during wild-card weekend.

That brings us back to the latest what-if when it comes to the Steelers.

Under the new postseason format that owners are likely to vote on in a couple of months in Orlando, Fla., the Steelers, as the No. 7 seed, would have traveled to second-seeded New England in the opening round of the AFC playoffs.

That matchup would have been anything but favorable for the Steelers, who have never beaten Tom Brady in Foxborough and were buried, 55-31, in early November at Gillette Stadium.

The Steelers, however, were playing their best ball at the end of the season, and their offense might have been able to keep pace with the Patriots.

Also noteworthy: The Patriots would have been without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who torched the Steelers with 143 receiving yards and a touchdown on Nov. 3 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.

Would the Steelers have been able to pull off an upset in New England?

That is another what-if to add to their 2013 tally in light of Goodell's push to expand the playoffs.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin news conferences are usually an exercise in monotony, from his excessive praise of the upcoming opponent to the Steelers coach’s well-honed art of talking but not saying much in regard to his own team.

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Tomlin
Tomlin’s news conference less than a week after his right foot kick-started a controversy that created a national buzz -- and inspired Photoshopped pictures that have elicited chuckles even from the seventh-year coach -- took on a surreal feel to it.

There was the normally guarded Tomlin opening to reporters and employing the kind of transparency that may or may not help him and the Steelers with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

There was also a rather stunning admission of how clueless Tomlin had initially been about the fallout caused by his nationally televised sideline interference. Tomlin can exude a smartest guy in the room hubris, yet it took his two young sons to impress upon him over the weekend that the story he created wouldn’t just go away.

Since finding his footing on the issue that has led to questions of integrity about a coach who is on the NFL’s competition committee, Tomlin has made all the right moves.

He has reached out to the NFL and assumed ownership of what he called an “inexcusable blunder,” among other things, during his weekly news conference. Tomlin made the point that his interference with Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return was completely accidental without laying it on too thick.

His wide-ranging mea culpa and willingness to lambaste himself for his sideline misstep makes it easier for the NFL to employ leniency when it punishes Tomlin without him asking the league to do just that.

He said he hoped the league wouldn’t punish the Steelers for his mistake, something that could cost the organization a draft pick.

“But I also understand in terms of being the head coach of this organization that I represent us and that there are potential consequences that come with that,” Tomlin said.

That was the exact thing Tomlin needed to say, the right tone he needed to strike.

And that means he may be the only one who pays for his controversial footwork.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs became the latest player from the defending champions to bring up a conspiracy theory for the Super Bowl blackout, pointing the finger at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the unprecedented Super Bowl moment.

“I was like Vegas, parlor tricks, you know what I mean?," Suggs said on ESPN's "E:60." "I was like, ahh, Roger Goodell, he never stops, he always has something up his sleeve. He just couldn’t let us have this one in a landslide huh?”

Asked if he thought Goodell had turned the lights out, Suggs said, “I thought he had a hand in it. Most definitely, he had a hand in it."

Can we all agree to stop coming up with these ridiculous accusations? This makes the Ravens look more paranoid than prestigious. I could see the Ravens continually talking about this if they had lost. But the Ravens overcame that 34-minute delay and just have to let it go.

The Superdome, where the Super Bowl was held, is an old building. The company responsible for supplying power to the stadium said after the game that faulty equipment was to blame for the blackout. It does not sound like CSI New Orleans has to get involved with this one.

It is not like this is the first time the lights had gone out in an NFL game. In December 2011, I was at San Francisco's Candlestick Park when there were two power outages. I guess Goodell really wanted the 49ers to beat the Steelers that time.

This Super Bowl conspiracy theory started when linebacker Ray Lewis hinted on the "America's Game" documentary series that the power outage may have been a ploy to help the 49ers regroup. Now, Suggs thinks Goodell was involved.

My hope is we can turn the lights out on all of these crazy conspiracy theories.
Glad to be back after taking some time off last week. It didn't look like I missed much (which I couldn't say if that team from New England was in the division), and the quiet period will likely continue until teams report to training camp in late July. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens are are pleased with how inside linebacker Daryl Smith performed this month in offseason workouts, according to the Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston. Smith, a free agent from Jacksonville who was signed earlier this month, did "a lot of work with the first team" and was "flying around the field like a rookie again," Preston wrote. Smith was an integral signing for the Ravens, especially after Rolando McClain abruptly retired. He's a solid fallback option if Jameel McClain isn't the same player after a spinal cord contusion or if rookie Arthur Brown isn't ready to start immediately. Also, wide receiver Torrey Smith is engaged in another Twitter feud with Patriots fans.

BENGALS: During a media appearance in Cincinnati on Friday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell praised the Bengals' decision to be featured on the HBO training camp series "Hard Knocks" next month, the team's second appearance in five years. "The show has been popular with our fans because it gives them an inside look at how a team operates. The Bengals have been great about inviting HBO and NFL Films in to be able to see what's going on," Goodell said, via the team's official website. "I thought it was great for the Bengals brand and for the team on a national basis. So many of our fans got a chance to see the Bengals in a way they never saw them before."

STEELERS: The Steelers' starting secondary, which has led the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed the past two seasons, also tops the league in 37 years of playing experience, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. But cornerback Ike Taylor feels this defensive backfield won't show its age this season. “This is one of the most athletic secondaries that I ever played with,” Taylor said. “It goes (Super Bowl winning years of) 2008, 2005 and to be determined with this one. But let me tell you: This one has the potential, and I don't care how old we are. We were No. 1 last year, but we can be even better this year.” The Steelers get a healthier Troy Polamalu at safety this year and replaces Keenan Lewis with Cortez Allen at starting cornerback.

BROWNS: Safety T.J. Ward, known for his hard-hitting style, is embracing the aggressive attitude of the Browns' defense under new coordinator Ray Horton. “He’s always ramped up; he’s always ready,” Ward told the team's official website.” “He’s always here to pump you up. You hear him on the field, and he’s always giving out checks and calls, running around. Besides that, it’s the ferocity of his defense. It’s an attack style, all downhill. We’re really getting after the guys. That’s what I’m most excited about.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged he's concerned over the federal investigation into Jimmy Haslam's family-run truck stop chain and met with the Browns owner on Tuesday.

"Jimmy's doing everything he's asked. He's cooperating," Goodell told reporters at a pre-draft event Wednesday. "He wants to make sure that he's doing all the right things in that regard, and he's assured us he's going to."

Goodell says the league couldn't have known about the investigation before Haslam bought the team last year unless the FBI had chosen to share that information. If the league had known, it's unlikely that Haslam would've been unanimously approved by NFL owners seven months ago.

The NFL now has to wonder whether there will be another ownership change with the Browns. While no formal charges have been filed against Haslam or his company, he could still be implicated in the investigation or his business could suffer from this high-profile case. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Haslam will lack the financial resources to continue owning the Browns.

So, on the eve of their first draft, the new regime of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi has to wonder if this will be their last. A change in ownership often leads to a change in decision-makers. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert know that all too well.
NEW ORLEANS -- When it comes to Ray Lewis, you either love him or hate him. When the Ravens linebacker is shown on TV, you either buy into his passionate words or you want to change the channel.

ESPN.com's Elizabeth Merrill does an excellent job in showing the complicated and captivating sides of Lewis, who is playing the final game of his 17-year career in the Super Bowl.

What has surprised me the most over recent weeks is how much NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has (literally) embraced him. During Lewis' final game in Baltimore, Goodell was there to give him a bear hug during warmups. He also wants to use Lewis as an adviser when Lewis retires after Sunday's Super Bowl.

If Goodell was the commissioner 13 years ago, when Lewis pleaded guilty for obstruction of justice in a murder case, he would've given Lewis more than a $250,000 fine that Paul Tagliabue handed out. Just look at how he went after players in the bounty scandal.

"There are people who love him, and there are people who hate him," says public relations expert Mike Paul, who's known as the "Reputation Doctor." "And I think the NFL likes that.

"As long as he doesn't get in trouble today, they like that. Controversy sells. He's a controversial guy."
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita has repeatedly denied that he contributed money to a pool that allegedly paid his former Saints teammates for intentionally injuring opponents. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conceded that he couldn't prove that, which is why Fujita's suspension was reduced from three games to one Tuesday.

"While I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool, there is no serious question that you were aware of the pool and its elements, including that it provided rewards for cart-offs," Goodell wrote to Fujita in a letter that was released by the league.

Fujita previously insisted that the suspension and lost salary (which is now $214,705 for one game) was secondary to clearing his name. Four months ago, Fujita said his reputation has been seriously damaged by what he called a "smear campaign." A member of the NFL Players Association executive committee, Fujita was a proponent of stronger rules in dealing with concussions and player injuries.

Will the reduced suspension satisfy Fujita? That will be known when Fujita decides to accept the suspension or appeal.

The NFL Players Association, which represents Fujita and the three other Saints involved, indicated that this issue hasn't been resolved.

This is the statement released by the players' union: "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."

While Goodell couldn't prove that Fujita participated in the bounty program, he did scold the linebacker:

"Indeed, Mr. [Jonathan] Vilma testified that Coach [Gregg] Williams brought the program to the team’s defensive leaders before the 2009 season and that you supported and endorsed it. Your own comments confirm that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off’ the playing field.

“I am surprised and disappointed by the fact that you, a former defensive captain and a passionate advocate for player safety, ignored such a program and permitted it to continue. You made clear to me that participation in the program was voluntary and that other players could have refused to participate, as you claim to have done. If you had spoken up, perhaps other players would have refused to participate and the consequences with which we are now dealing could have been avoided."


The lockout of the union officials should have never extended into the regular season, but the NFL wrapped it up the right way this week.

A league spokesman announced at 11:56 p.m. ET Wednesday night that an agreement had been reached with the NFL Referees Association. But here's where the league came through: There will be a regular referee-union crew in Baltimore for Thursday night's Ravens-Browns game.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so that the officials can work the Thursday night game prior to their ratification vote. The officials will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the agreement.

“The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating,” Goodell said in a statement released by the league. “This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating.”

Goodell added, “We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, and I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs."

That means the league will have a crew in place 20 hours after the deal was struck. As I wrote earlier in the day, it would've been unfair to subject the Browns and Ravens to one more game with replacement officials while the rest of the NFL teams had the previously locked-out officials this weekend.

The Ravens are going to be among the happiest teams to see the replacement officials go. Baltimore was the fifth-most penalized team this season. The Ravens were averaging 8.6 penalties per game and were on pace for 139 penalties, which would've tied a franchise record.

Here are key parts of the agreement:
  • Eight-year term covering the 2012-19 seasons.
  • The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
  • Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
  • Apart from their benefits package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
  • Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.
  • The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.
This won't come as a surprise but Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and the NFL aren't seeing eye to eye on another matter.

Fujita's meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been postponed and it was not immediately rescheduled. Fujita and Goodell were to talk about his vacated three-game suspension that stemmed from his alleged role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

The NFL Players Association issued this statement: "Scott is committed to a just and fair resolution in this matter, but he is also committed to his teammates and his club. He is still undergoing treatment for a knee injury and is preparing for this week's game. We scheduled a video conference with the league but they informed us that they were only interested in an in-person meeting."

The other players disciplined in the Saints' bounty scandal have met with Goodell or are scheduled to sit down with the commissioner at the NFL offices in New York.
James Harrison doesn't always criticize NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a tasteful manner, but you have to give the Steelers linebacker some credit for standing up to him again and again.

Harrison
Other players would have gone silent after receiving more than $100,000 in fines from the NFL and becoming the first player suspended under the league's stricter guidelines for player safety. Not Harrison. He goes after Goodell harder than he does Joe Flacco.

Harrison doesn't take shots at Goodell simply out of bitterness. His beef is with Goodell's power, which goes unchecked in certain situations.

That's why Harrison is applauding Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell. "It is really a win-win, whether he wins the case or if he loses it," Harrison said Wednesday. "If he loses it, it shows that Goodell does have too much power and if he wins it, it opens up the floodgates."

You can dislike Harrison for his controversial hits. You can think Harrison is disrespectful and crossed the line with Goodell last year when he said, "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him."

Still, you have to be impressed how Harrison doesn't care that he puts a bigger target on his back every time he speaks out like this. He's been fined. He's been suspended. But Harrison won't be muted when it comes to Goodell.

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