NFC South: NFL Players Association

NFC South salary-cap check

April, 4, 2013
Salary-cap information generally is kept top secret, but the NFL Players Association took the rare step of making some of it public Wednesday.

Presumably in an attempt to show how much cap room remains unused, the NFLPA publicly put out numbers on how much each team is under the cap.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second-most room in the NFL at $26.384 million under the cap. That number could grow if the Bucs release or restructure the contract of Eric Wright, who currently is costing the team $7.75 million in cap space. This probably will lead to some of the old claims that the Bucs are “cheap." But I think the more significant thing here is that they’re set up nicely to perhaps make a trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Part of that equation would involve giving Revis a long-term deal as the highest-paid cornerback in the league. The Bucs, who like to front load contracts, are in a position to make a Revis deal work.

The Carolina Panthers, who had to do a lot of work to get under the cap at the start of free agency, now are $6.187 under the cap (largely due to the restructuring of Jordan Gross’ contract). That figure doesn’t include the deal signed by receiver Domenik Hixon on Wednesday. But Hixon’s deal is probably for the veteran minimum and won’t take up much cap space. The Panthers, who haven’t made any major moves in free agency, have a little bit of wiggle room now and could make perhaps one or two moves of note.

The New Orleans Saints are at $2.05 million under the cap. That means they’re pretty much done with free agency. If they want to make any significant moves, they’ll have to restructure contracts. But the problem there is they already have restructured most of the veteran contracts that would make sense to restructure.

The Atlanta Falcons were listed at $2.4 million under the cap. That was before news broke Thursday morning that the team is releasing right tackle Tyson Clabo. The move will free up $900,000 in the short term. But Clabo will be designated as a June 1 release. After June 1, the cap savings will be about $4.5 million. The Falcons also hope to work a long-term extension with quarterback Matt Ryan sometime this offseason. Depending on the structure of the deal, an extension could create some cap room for the Falcons this year.

Goodell: Saints fans innocent

February, 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The lightest moment of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday news conference might have come when he was asked about the welcome he is receiving in a city where he’s Public Enemy No. 1.

“I couldn’t feel more welcome here," Goodell said. “When you look back at my picture, as you point out, it is in every restaurant. I had a float in a Mardi Gras parade. You’ve got a voodoo doll."

Goodell has been viewed as a villain throughout the bounty saga. Turning more serious, he said that’s no surprise.

“I understand fans' loyalty is to the team," Goodell said. “They had no part in this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for [Hurricane] Katrina. It’s clear that's what they’re all about. I support the fact they’re passionate."

But Goodell emphasized the fact that not everyone was innocent, even though the player suspensions he ordered were vacated on appeal.

“Let’s make sure the record is clear," Goodell said. “The first penalties were vacated only briefly to make sure there was a distinction between what was a salary-cap violation and what was discipline on the field, which that body, as established by the CBA, made it very clear that it was the authority of the commissioner."

Goodell said he wishes the NFL Players Association and the league could have worked in harmony on the bounty issue.

“My biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game and to make the game safer," Goodell said. “Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others. But that’s something we’re going to be incredibly relentless on."

NEW ORLEANS -- The glitz is still here, but the tone this Super Bowl week just doesn’t seem to fit with the celebrations on Bourbon Street or the free and easy nature of the host city.

The issue of player safety has been as topical as Ray Lewis' last game or brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other.

We've heard predictions that the NFL will be gone in 30 years, or at least reduced to a game of two-hand touch. President Barack Obama hypothetically has wondered whether or not he would let a son play football. Current players have said they "signed up" for a violent game and all that may eventually come with it, even as thousands of former players are pursuing lawsuits claiming the NFL failed to warn them of the long-term effects of concussions. surveyed a group of current and former players and executives to get their thoughts on the player-safety issues.

The group included current San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman, former NFL cornerback Eric Davis, current Baltimore safety Ed Reed, retired quarterback Bobby Hebert, former NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, former linebacker Willie McGinest, current San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, current Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, retired lineman Shaun O’Hara, current San Francisco fullback Bruce Miller, longtime Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and current San Francisco guard Alex Boone.

[+] EnlargeEric Davis
AP Photo/Kevin Terrell"Let's be real honest," former NFL safety Eric Davis said. "It's a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it."
Here are the highlights of their answers to the hot-button questions:

Where do you see the NFL in 30 years?

Brandt: "I don’t think we’re Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward, at one time, was the leading retailer in the world and they made the mistake of saying we’re not going to go into the little towns, we’re just going to go into these big places, and they stood still. The league may doze, but it will never close. They’re always looking for ways to make things better. They’ve been working on making the game safer and they’ll continue to make it safer."

Pereria: "I see it not a whole lot different than it is. I think the league will go as far as it can and still go further than it is now to try to make the game safer. But I don’t think it’s going to make the league disappear as some people have said. I think this is still a once-a-week game that people get very passionate about their games."

McGinest: "I think the NFL definitely is going to be here to stay. I think that this is the best game in the world. I think that they’re doing everything in their power to keep it that way and to make it one of the safest games. I don't think it's going to look different. I think they're just changing certain things to make it safer. If you're talking about hit zones, if you're talking about staying away from head shots and stuff like that, that's not something we're not used to hearing. So I don't think we're going to go back to leather helmets with no face masks or no helmets. This game is going to be the way it is. I just think they're doing everything and taking every precaution to make it safer."

O’Hara: "Football is not going to disappear in 30 years. Will it look different? Of course it'll look different. Look at the game 30 years ago to today -- different game, different rules, different equipment. So 30 years from now, absolutely, it'll be a different game."

Are the safety concerns overblown?

Foxworth: "My responsibility is just to protect the rights of the players and their health and safety, so I don't think that there can be enough [attention given to safety issues], especially given some of the things that have happened as a result of some of the head injuries. I'm pretty sure that those players and their families would say that there's no such thing as too much attention on the health and safety of the guys. So I come from that standpoint, and, being a former player, it's something I'm keenly aware of from a personal standpoint, and a lot of my friends are in this league and I know a lot of our kids may potentially be in this league. So it's very important that we put as much effort, time and money toward evolving the game and the science of the game as we can."

Smith: "The game is what we signed up for. We didn’t sign up for tennis. We didn’t sign up for swimming and didn’t realize we were going to go out there and get tackled. We signed up for football, which we knew was a physical sport.”

Davis: "Let’s be real honest. It’s a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it. People like to watch it and we’re talking about big, strong, fast men. There are going to be collisions. There are going to be injuries. Do all the things you have to do to make it as safe as possible, but the reality is there’s always going to be some danger."

Hebert: "A little bit. But the NFL is so popular because it’s the modern-day gladiator. I mean, I don’t know what that says about mankind. But you can also look at boxing and ultimate fighting and how popular they are. Fans don’t want to see flag football. I still think football will be here. You can change it, but you can only change it so far."

McGinest: "I think it's necessary based on some of the studies, some of the former players and what they're going through, some of the players now. It's necessary. And it's also showing that the NFL cares about its players. If they're taking time to put on these full-on studies and they're going through every precaution with the testing of the gear and the helmets and they are willing to change certain things about the game to make sure that it's going to be here and be a safer game, it has all the signs of going in the right direction."

Boone: "I just never understood how you change the game when you have players who are bigger, stronger and faster every year. It’s just football. It’s going to be physical. It’s a physical sport. There are going to be injuries, but we’re doing things to correct it.''

What one change would you make to improve safety?

Pereria: "The safety issue is really all about the head. That’s something the league has been focusing on for a long time and they’ll continue to focus on making the rules broader than they are right now. Right now, only nine players are protected in certain situations. Can you go further? Possibly. The whole notion is going to try to be to get the head out of the game and get back to the wrap and tackling as opposed to lowering the head. They’re serious about that, and they should be. To me, as I watch so much football on Sundays, it’s already made a difference. You see situations where a defender really has a chance to blow up a receiver and he doesn’t. To me, that means the rules are taking effect and that the fines have made a difference."

Davis: "They’re making the game safe for quarterbacks and star players. But they’re not making it safer for all players. You never hear of a defenseless running back. You never hear of a defenseless linebacker. Defensive players aren’t protected. Unless you make it safer for all players, I don’t think you’re doing as much good as you can. You have to put everyone on equal footing."

Reed: "Defensive players should be protected, too. Offensive guys, quarterbacks in general, shouldn't be treated better than everybody on the football field.''

McGinest: "I would take out the chop-block. That's another thing we don't talk about. A lot of emphasis is on the head, guys getting concussions and stuff, but there are also a lot of players getting their ACLs knocked out because now guys are diving. Now that they know they can't go high, guys are starting to attack with chop-blocking. That's also knocking guys' careers either out or messing them up. Not everybody's Adrian Peterson coming back from those injuries. A lot of guys, they take the wrong hit on the knee, they're never the same player."

O’Hara: "I think the only real way to get everybody on the same page is to somehow get all the players in the NFL and all the coaches in the NFL and all the referees, get everybody in the same building and have, 'This is what is acceptable and this is what is not.' No second- and third-person regurgitation of the facts and, 'Here's what we're looking for,' because that needs to be consistent and everybody needs to hear the same message. Centralize the education, basically."

What else can be done to make things safer?

Hebert: "I think you truly have to take it out of the players' hands as far as whether you’re going to go back into the game or not after a head injury. As a player, when it comes to your teammates, you never want to be looked upon as a wuss. You want to be a tough son of a gun. To me, it totally has to be out of the hands of the players."

[+] EnlargeShaun O'Hara
AP Photo/Mel Evans"You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood," former lineman Shaun O'Hara said. "You would teach him how to use that."
Davis: "Look, the guys I played with and the guys that are playing now were schooled a certain way. It’s too late for us and maybe too late for the guys still playing in the NFL. But the next generation is where a difference can be made. The kids that are coming into Pop Warner now need to be taught how to tackle properly. And maybe, just as importantly, they have to be taught that if you get dinged, if you take a hit to the head and you don’t feel right, you go straight to the coach or the doctors and tell them immediately. People do that with ankle injuries. You hurt your ankle, you come out of the game. Head injuries need to be treated the same way."

Foxworth: "In nine years, you can ask me that question and I'll have a definitive answer. But I don't know. We don't know how much damage repetitive hits do or whether it's the big knockout blows that do the damage. There are just so many questions. We're not sure about the best treatments and the quicker recovery time and if there are any precursors that make someone predisposed to have these kinds of brain injuries. Those are questions that will be answered by this Harvard research, and at that point, I think we can be able to set forth clear protocols of how to treat a player after a practice or how many hits [before] it's time to sit a guy out. Those sorts of things that are changes that can be made easily."

Brandt: "I think it’s like the Internet. People that are older, like myself, are not Internet-savvy. Kids that are 7 or 8 know more about it than I do. I think it’s a thing that you build from the bottom up. Where I think we have a problem is that we have a lot of youth football leagues and the guys that are coaching sometimes get overzealous. I think we’re gradually educating that element."

Would you let a young son start playing football right now?

Bowman: "I’m not going to deter my kids from the game. When they see the game, they understand what it’s all about. It’s a physical game."

Suggs: I respect [the president's comments] for the simple fact that this is a very physical and dangerous sport, especially considering that with the concussions and the current findings of Junior Seau. A parent would be reluctant [to let] his or her child play football. I think, if you play the game right and you play it appropriately, that injuries are part of the game.''

Pereria: "Sure, I would. But I’d also be out there with him, coaching and working with the coaches to make sure that the game, at that level, is being coached properly and that kids are keeping their heads up and abiding by the rules that are still in the NFL rule book, which defines tackling as wrapping your arms around the opponent and taking him to the ground."

Miller: “Everyone has their own opinions, but I would let my kid play football. It’s a violent game, but not too violent. At the same time it builds character, hard work, dedication, responsibility. All of those things are important. They are taking caution to be careful and concerned for the players’ safety and taking that into account more.”

Foxworth: "My son's so young, I like to think that we would have made advances by the time he's old enough to play to make it safer. Given the current state of the game, I wouldn't stop him from playing it, but I'd be very cautious about the exposure and the frequency with which he may come into contact with those type of dangers."

O’Hara: "If my son wanted to play football, I would absolutely let him. I would drive him. But I would teach him. You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood. You would teach him how to use that. There's a proper way to use power tools. So my issue is, when I hear parents say, 'I don't want him to play football,' well, it's because you don't want to take the time to teach him how to do it right. Or you don't know how to teach him right. So that, to me, is a big sticking point. When I see kids that want to play football, I just want them to learn it the right way. We need to make sure our coaches are teaching our kids the right way to do things, because for every one kid that gets hurt, that's something that could affect a whole lifetime."

Phil McConkey rips Drew Brees

January, 15, 2013
Drew Brees is an icon in New Orleans, but he’s not viewed the same way in some other places.

Brees, who has been active in the NFL Players Association, drew some strong criticism from retired player Phil McConkey.

"I know he's canonized, and people think he's great,’’ McConkey said. “If he got in front of a group of ex-players, I don't know what would happen. ... It's disgusting, but that's some of the mentality that's around."

McConkey said Brees and other current players have shown a lack of respect for former players, who have struggled after retirement.

“There are some guys today that have absolutely no clue and that run their mouths,’’ McConkey said. “And Drew Brees is one of them.’’

NFL walks away from Saints fight

December, 11, 2012
Jonathan VilmaDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma and other players implicated in the Saints bounty scandal have had their penalties overturned by Paul Tagliabue.
Let me get this straight.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has found that current commissioner Roger Goodell was spot on in his finding of facts in the New Orleans Saints bounty saga? But Tagliabue has vacated all player discipline?

That’s more than a little contradictory. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

Tagliabue is agreeing with Goodell that the Saints ran a bounty program for three years, but Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita no longer are facing suspensions.

Heck, they probably won't even face fines, unless Goodell oversteps Tagliabue -- but I think Goodell is planning on staying in his own lane now.

“My affirmation of commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines,’’ Tagliabue said in part of his statement. “However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization.’’

Sounds to me like Tagliabue and the NFL are taking the easy way out of this one. They’re pointing their fingers squarely at coach Sean Payton, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.

There’s one huge difference between the coaches and general manager and the four players: The players are represented by the NFL Players Association, which challenged every step of the process, even though you could make a case that the union was siding with the best interest of four players over the safety of hundreds of others.

The NFLPA appealed every decision, and it ultimately won. Vilma doesn’t have to face a season-long suspension. Smith doesn’t have to miss eight games. Hargrove, who is currently out of the league, doesn’t face a seven-game suspension. Fujita, who might have suffered a career-ending injury this season, doesn’t face a one-game suspension.

The league still is saying the players did what the league alleged from the start, and Tagliabue’s statement reiterates that he found convincing evidence that there was a bounty on Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game of the 2009 season.

But the players aren’t getting suspended, they’re not losing paychecks and they’re not getting fined. They’re getting off pretty much free, except for whatever damage was done to their reputations by this whole sordid saga.

That damage was significant, and we might not have heard the last of it on that front. Vilma still has a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. If I’m Vilma, I’m not dropping that lawsuit.

Vilma has shown that you can take on what was supposed to be an almighty commissioner and win. It’s hard to win a defamation lawsuit because you have to prove intent to put out statements you knew were untrue, but Vilma is on a roll, so why not continue pursuing it?

Vilma’s attorney, Peter R. Ginsberg, already has said the defamation suit isn’t going away.

“We are obviously relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension,’’ Ginsberg said in a statement. “On the other hand, commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.’’

Maybe Vilma can get the NFL to keep backtracking and say there was no bounty on Favre, because it sure looks like the league doesn’t want to fight anymore.

Apparently, the league’s approach now is to just blame it all on Loomis, who already has served an eight-game suspension, and Vitt, who already has served a six-game suspension. And put even more blame on Payton, who is serving a season-long suspension, and Williams, who is banned indefinitely.

Those four are the easy targets because they exhausted their appeals long ago. The only option they had was to appeal their decision to one judge. That was Goodell, back in the spring, and he upheld his own punishments and the clock on those suspensions started ticking.

But the hands of the clock on player punishments were tied up by constant appeals and Vilma’s lawsuit.

Makes you wonder whether Payton, Loomis, Vitt and Williams might have taken a different tack if they knew in the spring what they know now.

There’s no absolute vindication for anyone because Tagliabue and the league still are saying the Saints ran a bounty program.

But one group of the alleged culprits is walking away without any punishment, and the other already has served or is serving its punishment.

That’s because the players fought it and, in the end, Tagliabue grabbed the NFL by its shoulders and pulled the league out of the fight.

NFC South evening update

October, 24, 2012
Time for a look at the day's top headlines from around the division:


There was a time when the matchup between Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and his former team would have been a huge story. But, as Michael Cunningham writes, it’s more like a footnote now. Vick hasn’t played for the Falcons since 2006. Matt Ryan’s been Atlanta’s quarterback since 2008. The NFL is a league where time moves quickly. Vick never will be forgotten in Atlanta, but Vick, the Falcons and fans have moved on.

A lot of critics have been saying the Falcons haven’t beaten a good team. That’s about to change. It’s not like the Falcons are about to face the four best teams in the league, but Mark Bradley points out that Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans and Arizona are better than what the Falcons already have faced.

Coach Mike Smith said defensive tackle Corey Peters is progressing as he works to return from a foot injury. But Smith said Peters isn't in football shape. If he's not in football shape on Wednesday, I don't know that he'll be there Sunday. It might be another week before Peters plays.


As we told you earlier, it looked like linebacker Jon Beason was headed for injured reserve. That now is official, according to coach Ron Rivera. Rookie Luke Kuechly has played middle linebacker as Beason was banged up in recent weeks and will continue in that role.

Scott Fowler writes that quarterback Cam Newton was more open than usual when meeting with the media Wednesday. Among the topics of conversation, Newton explained why he’s not a fan of Twitter and also said he wished he had done more on the field to keep general manager Marty Hurney from getting fired.


Although the NFL Players Association is asking former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to recuse himself as the hearing officer for next week’s appeals in the player suspensions in the bounty saga, Andrew Brandt writes that Tagliabue might be the best option for the players. Although Goodell and Tagliabue are close, Brandt points out that they are different in some ways. He also points out that Tagliabue no longer is an NFL employee, which basically is another way of saying the former commissioner is his own man and isn’t going to be a puppet.

Sunday will mark Joe Vitt’s first game as the interim coach. It also will be a family reunion. Denver quarterback Adam Case is married to Vitt’s daughter.

There was some good news on the injury front. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who missed Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, practiced on a limited basis. Vitt said Graham fared well in practice. Fantasy football players: Keep monitoring Graham as the week goes on, but I think there’s a pretty good chance you might want to put him back in your lineup.


Cornerback Brandon McDonald (ankle) is the only player listed as anything worse than probable on the injury report for Thursday night’s game against Minnesota

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen presents a challenge for any left tackle. But Dory LeBlanc points out that Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn has fared pretty well against Allen in the past.

NFLPA asks Tagliabue to step aside

October, 24, 2012
The NFL Players Association just sent out a news release saying it will make a motion for former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to recuse himself from hearing the appeals of the four players that are facing suspensions in the New Orleans bounty drama.

Current commissioner Roger Goodell previously recused himself from hearing the appeals of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove. Tagliabue is scheduled to hear the appeals next week.

Throughout the process, the union has been trying to get a more neutral party to hear the appeals. We’ll see how Tagliabue responds to this. But I’ve got a feeling it still may be a long time before this situation gets resolved.

Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. The season is almost halfway over. I’m guessing that the legal maneuvering may delay any player suspensions from being served this season and it’s also possible that federal judge Ginger Berrigan might step in and throw out the suspensions.

In past proceedings, Berrigan has indicated she believes the penalties are too harsh, but she’s been hesitant to make a ruling until it’s clear if, under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell has the jurisdiction to issue the suspensions.

Just when it seemed things were starting to look up for the New Orleans Saints, the franchise got another big blow.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports the initial season-long suspension for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and four-game suspension for defensive end Will Smith, which had been put on temporary hold just before the start of the regular season, have been put back in place. The only change for the current Saints is that Vilma will be able to keep his game checks while on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games of the season.

The other changes are for former New Orleans players Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) and Anthony Hargrove (out of the league). Fujita’s suspension has been reduced from three games to one game. Hargrove’s eight-game suspension has been lightened to seven games.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was asked by an appeals board to review his disciplinary decisions to make sure they weren’t related to the salary cap, came back with a firm ruling that the suspensions were due to conduct detrimental to the game.

I wouldn’t have expected any other result from Goodell, who has dug in his heels firmly since the NFL announced March 2 that it had found the Saints were running a three-year bounty program.

Goodell has an entire league to protect and the suggestion he let a bounty program go with little or no punishment could be disastrous to the NFL as it faces thousands of concussion lawsuits. Goodell made a strong statement once and he did it again Tuesday.

Goodell previously suspended coach Sean Payton for the entire season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also was suspended indefinitely. Other than an appeal to Goodell, there was nothing Payton, Loomis and Vitt could do because they didn’t fall under the umbrella of the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA went all out to protect the players, appealing the suspensions and helping to get a temporary restraining order. Vilma’s attorney also helped tie things up by filing a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.

But Goodell apparently has weathered the storm and I have no doubt he met extensively with his legal team before reinstating the suspensions.

I’m sure it’s possible (probably likely) more appeals could be filed and this thing could drag on longer. But at this point, why?

The season is approaching the halfway point and it already has been ruined for the Saints. Even with Smith, they went 1-4. Even if Vilma’s suspension were lifted, there’s no guarantee he would be healthy enough to come off the physically unable to perform list this season.

Vitt and Loomis are almost finished with their suspensions. Payton is approaching the halfway point of his. Smith should just accept the suspension and serve his four games. Vilma should just sit for the rest of the season.

The Saints don’t need the bounty drama hanging over them any longer. This is a way to get it all over with.

Take the punishment and let everyone come back next year with a fresh start.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees always has been a pretty good quote. Often, though, he’s guarded and careful to be politically correct.

That wasn’t the case when Brees talked to Peter King recently. Brees delivered a strike that was thrown with as much precision and velocity as any pass he’s ever thrown. He sent a very strong message when asked for his feelings about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who obviously has been public enemy No. 1 in New Orleans through all the bounty drama.

"Nobody trusts him,’’ Brees told King. “Nobody trusts him. I'm not talking about a DUI, or using a gun in a strip club, which are pretty clear violations. I think there're too many times where the league has come to its decision in a case before calling a guy in, and the interview is just a fašade. I think now if a guy has to come in to talk to Roger, he'll be very hesitant because he'll think the conclusion has already been reached.''

Similar opinions have been voiced by fans, and some other players have at least touched on how much power Goodell has. But, coming from Brees, this carries lots of weight. He’s the face of a franchise and someone who is highly respected in the NFL. His words are going to cause some debate among fans and media about how much power Goodell should have.

However, there’s also irony here. Back when the league and the NFL Players Association were going through their labor negotiations last year, there was a lot of talk about limiting Goodell’s power or at least involving other people in discipline issues. As a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, Brees was involved heavily in the negotiations. There were a lot of different battle grounds in the negotiations, which really intensified as the time to start training camp approached. Compromises were reached on a lot of things. But, when all was said and done, Goodell still kept his power on disciplinary actions.

But suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma is challenging that through the legal system. Now, Brees is challenging it in the court of public opinion.

Around the NFC South

July, 12, 2012
Time for a run through the NFC South's top Thursday morning headlines.
  • The latest reports say that the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees are $10 million apart on guaranteed money as they attempt to work a long-term contract. That might sound like a daunting gap. But, while attending the ESPYs, Brees said he remains confident a deal will get done before Monday’s deadline. Brees goes on to cite Monday’s deadline as something that could prompt negotiations to start moving in a positive direction. He’s right. Both sides have taken their time on this one. But they now are facing the sense of urgency that frequently leads to a deal.
  • The NFL has filed a grievance against the NFL Players Association in an attempt to keep New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell out of court. Vilma has been suspended for the season for his role in the Saints’ bounty program, and Goodell has upheld an appeal of the suspension. But Vilma appears intent on using every legal means available to fight the suspension. Getting a court injunction might be the only way for Vilma to avoid -- or at least delay -- the suspension.
  • The Falcons will place single-game tickets on sale July 27. The team says tickets for the games with the Broncos, Saints, Cowboys and Giants will be very limited.
  • Scott Fowler takes Cam Newton to task for an upcoming session in Charlotte in which the Carolina quarterback will sign autographs for some pretty steep prices. Yeah, that might not be the best public relations move for a guy that generally signs a lot of free autographs. But Newton has a right to cash in on his name, and I don’t see anything wrong with one of the NFC South’s lowest-paid quarterbacks earning a little extra money.
  • Atlanta coach Mike Smith said he doesn’t agree with the common opinion that New Orleans’ turbulent offseason makes the Falcons the favorite to win the NFC South. The Falcons have had a calm offseason and have a talented roster. But, as long as Brees gets a new contract, I think the Saints have a shot to repeat as division champions. Carolina and Tampa Bay also appear to be teams on the rise.

Around the NFC South

June, 15, 2012
Time for a look at the top Friday morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • The NFL isn’t commenting publicly on if it will act on the NFL Players Association’s request asking the NFL to “compel’’ suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to attend Monday when commissioner Roger Goodell hears appeals for the four players facing suspension. I’m not sure how the league will act on this one, but I will say it probably is not a good idea to have Payton and Williams together in the same room.
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution projects the split on the carries by Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers to be 40 to 35, with Jason Snelling picking up the other 25 percent. I’m expecting something a little different. I think Turner will get about 50 percent of the carries and Rodgers about 30. Snelling, and perhaps a fourth running back, can pick up the rest.
  • Some good news for Carolina fans -- defensive end Greg Hardy has given up riding motorcycles. Hardy had a crash last offseason and many fans felt that was the reason he wasn’t very productive in 2011. Hardy said he’s spent extra time in the weight room and is in the best shape of his life. With Charles Johnson on the other side, a healthy and focused Hardy could become a double-digit-sacks guy.
  • Although their minicamp has ended, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still face one huge question. Cornerback Aqib Talib faces trial on an assault charge in Texas later in June. He could face prison time or an NFL suspension. Coach Greg Schiano admitted the team is concerned, but Schiano said Talib has been a model player throughout the offseason. I think that’s a pretty good sign that if Talib isn’t in prison or suspended, the Bucs will be happy to have him.
There were a few reports last week the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees were close to finalizing a long-term contract.

To date, there’s been no announcement of a deal, so it appears those reports were premature. I’ve said before that I expect this thing to drag into July.

Colleague Andrew Brandt, who knows much more about contract negotiations than I do, has a similar opinion. In this detailed column about the Brees contract situation, Brandt writes that he expects things to go down to the wire.

“Deadlines spur action, and the deadline in this case, due to tag requirements, is July 16,’’ Brandt wrote. “I expect the deal to be done between July 10-15 with a $20 million APY, between $50 million and $52 million guaranteed and $60 million to $62 million over the first three years.’’

I encourage you to read Brandt’s column. Brandt once negotiated Brett Favre’s contract for the Green Bay Packers. He lays out what he thinks are the likely arguing points being made by New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis and Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, and also points to three recent quarterback contracts that probably are factoring into the negotiations.

Oh, one other reason why I think this drags into July -- Brees and the NFL Players Association have asked for a ruling on whether his current franchise tag counts as his first. Brees also carried the franchise tag when he was in San Diego. But that was long before the new labor agreement was signed last summer. That ruling isn't expected to come until late June. As a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, Brees would be doing other players a favor by getting a ruling on this issue.

Around the NFC South

June, 7, 2012
METAIRIE, La. -- Let's take a look at the top morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • There is a radio report out of New Orleans that Drew Brees and the Saints are closing in on a long-term deal that could be finalized as early as Friday. There is no official word on this yet. But, if true, this would be the best news of the offseason for the Saints. They’ve had plenty of turmoil, and Brees’ contract situation has been a part of it. If Brees gets back with the team soon, the healing process can start.
  • NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly will hear the appeals of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, as well as two former Saints, on June 18. Goodell previously said he would not hear the appeals until grievances filed by the NFL Players Association were heard. An arbitrator previously has ruled against the Saints on one grievance. Another grievance was heard by another arbitrator, who has yet to make a ruling. If that arbitrator makes the ruling soon and it is against the union, then I would expect Goodell to uphold the suspensions. Goodell also has been hit with a defamation lawsuit by Vilma.
  • Mike Triplett writes that a new report alleging New Orleans players were financially rewarded for “whack hits’’ shouldn’t bring any new discipline. Nothing is guaranteed in what’s been a bizarre offseason for the Saints, but it at least sounds like “whack hits’’ were clean and not intended to hurt anyone. The NFL doesn’t want any pay-for-performance systems. But that isn’t the real issue in the Saints’ bounty scandal. The NFL is more concerned about stopping any program that provides incentives to hurt an opponent.
  • Carolina linebacker Jon Beason says the Panthers are preparing to be champions. That may seem like a lofty aspiration for a team that went 6-10 last season, but shouldn’t every team be dreaming of the Super Bowl right now?
  • Atlanta coach Mike Smith said that rookie offensive tackle Lamar Holmes will not participate in practice until training camp. Holmes has a toe injury and the Falcons said they’re holding him out of the rest of the offseason program as a precautionary measure. A lot of Atlanta fans have been thinking that Holmes has a chance to beat out Sam Baker for the job at left tackle to open the regular season. I don’t think that’s ever been the case. The Falcons view Holmes as a project and think he could start in a year or two, but don’t want him protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside right away. Even if Holmes had been a long shot to beat out Baker, the lack of participation in the offseason program has set him back and surely means he’ll begin his career as a backup.
  • Greg Schiano said he wouldn't have taken the Tampa Bay coaching position if he didn't think he was the right man for the job. Schiano must have had a pretty strong feeling about this one. Schiano previously has said he turned down opportunities for other jobs. But he also has said Tampa Bay was the first job that made him feel like it was worth leaving Rutgers. I'm not sure exactly what the attraction was, but it had to be strong for Schiano to agree to take over what was one of the worst teams in the NFL last season.
We hadn’t heard from filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, the man who released the infamous Gregg Williams audiotape to the media and added another controversial layer to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, in quite some time.

But that’s over. Pamphilon has spoken up again. On his personal website Pamphilon wrote a post that’s longer than some books I have read. He recounts his decision to go public with the audio and a lot of what he says is similar to what he’s said in the past. But there are some new twists.

Most significantly, he details how former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee and now a member of the Cleveland Browns, urged him to go public.

Pamphilon was given access to the Saints as he worked on a documentary on former New Orleans special-teams star Steve Gleason, who has been diagnosed with ALS. Gleason and his wife initially were opposed to the tape being released.

“They were emphatic Steve wasn’t willing to “burn that bridge," Pamphilon wrote.

Pamphilon said Fujita began acting as an intermediary to help convince the Gleasons to give their blessing on releasing the tapes. That never happened, and Pamphilon said his agreement with Gleason did not give the former player the right to veto the release of the tape. But Pamphilon said Fujita continued to encourage him to go public, at one point saying “sooner the better."

Pamphilon also said Fujita led him to believe that New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also was in favor of releasing the tape. But Pamphilon got a phone message from Brees just as the tape was being released.

“In the voicemail, Brees never says NOT to release it,’’ Pamphilon wrote.

Pamphilon also said the NFLPA, including executive director DeMaurice Smith, was aware of the tape’s existence before it was released.

“At 3:12 in the afternoon Fujita texts me right after a conversation with DeMaurice Smith and says Smith 'brought up the release of the audio and his only question was if it will be released raw or edited?'" Pamphilon wrote.

Pampilon also wrote in great detail about the aftermath from the release of the tapes. Some of it was centered on people questioning his motives and his fractured relationship with Gleason. He also expresses disappointment in Brees. But the strongest part was reserved for Fujita, who no longer talks to Pamphilon.

Fujita recently met with the Cleveland media and denied any knowledge of a bounty program. When asked about the tape, Fujita said it was merely evidence of a coach saying some inappropriate things.

“In no way is this intended to be a cheap shot, but there is no chance in hell I would allow (Fujita) to teach either of my sons, an ethics class,’’ Pamphilon wrote.

There had been some talk that this season’s Pro Bowl could be held in New Orleans.

That’s not going to happen. According to a joint statement just sent out by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the 2013 Pro Bowl will be played in Hawaii. The game is set for Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. ET at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said several weeks ago that the Pro Bowl would be played either in New Orleans or Honolulu. I guess you could say Honolulu “won’’ out, but I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. I’m sure the event would have brought some economic benefits to New Orleans if the game were played there.

But let’s be real honest here. The Pro Bowl isn’t what it once was. If you need further evidence, go back and watch the first play of last year’s game, when offensive and defensive linemen almost didn’t even touch one another. The press release contains quotes from a union official and NFL official, saying both sides are committed to making the game competitive.

Yeah, good luck on that one. The Pro Bowl as it is now is basically nothing more than a tourist attraction. Let Hawaii, which does a great job of rolling out the red carpet when the game is in town, have that.

New Orleans gets the real thing the week after that. On Feb. 3, Super Bowl XLVII will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. At least we know that will be a real football game.