NFL Nation: 2011 NFL owners meeting

Rex Ryan: Jets haven't caught Patriots

March, 28, 2011
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Rex Ryan didn't confirm it, but he might wear a cup when the New York Jets play the New England Patriots.

He fears Tom Brady might drill him.

"You know he can't stand me," Ryan said last week at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "One day, I expect him to roll out one time, launch a ball at me and take the incompletion. That's what I worry about."

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Kirby Lee/US PresswireRex Ryan's Jets beat the Patriots in two out of three games last season.
Ryan needled Brady during the playoffs last year. Even while the Jets were preparing to play the Indianapolis Colts, he went out of his way to mention Peyton Manning was a better student of the game and Brady was propped up by Bill Belichick's coaching.

"I do like to play with him a little bit," Ryan said of Brady, "but what a great quarterback."

That's why Ryan already has the Jan. 24 Sports Illustrated cover framed on his wall. It's a photo from the Jets' amazing postseason victory over the Patriots. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace is blasting a wide-eyed Brady, right arm still in the air. Brady and the ball are suspended in the air, jarred apart.

"That was a great picture," Ryan said. "His eyes were this big!

"Nobody can take that win away from us, and it was a great feeling. But, man, oh man. Just once -- I'm not asking for much -- just once I want that to be a Super Bowl picture."

Much has been made of provocative comments Ryan has delivered about the Patriots and making it "personal" when he plays them and not kissing Belichick's rings and Brady not being as good as Manning.

But there should be no mistaking Ryan's respect for the Patriots.

Even though the Jets have outlasted the Patriots in each of Ryan's two seasons -- the Jets have gone to the AFC East Championship Game both times, while the Patriots have been one-and-done after home defeats -- Ryan won't say his team is better yet.

"I can't say we've caught them because they've won our division two straight years," Ryan said. "But we know we can beat them. We're 3-2 against them since I've been here. That was what everybody forgot: We beat them in Week 2. We got crushed in the Monday Night Massacre. Belichick outcoached me. But we beat them pretty good in Week 2.

"We're right there with anybody in this league. Obviously, they had the best record in football, and they earned that. But we certainly never feared them. We respected them, but we didn't fear them. We knew that we were going to play a zillion times better than we did that Monday night. My kid's high school team might have played better than that. But you know what? We beat them two out of three.

"I know they're going to circle those games, and so will we."

No fireworks allowed in Buffalo's draft room

March, 25, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Buffalo Bills' preparations for their first-round draft choice won't be as easy as 1-2-3.

They own the third overall selection. One might think they'll only need to identify three franchise players they'd be satisfied with, accounting for the prospects who'd be taken first and second.

"That's a very simplistic way to put it, and that is very true," Bills coach Chan Gailey said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "But you've got to have the whole thing worked out because if somebody calls you in that 15 minutes with an offer you can't refuse and gives you No. 9, you better have nine."

Gailey also provided some insight on how Buffalo's draft room operates at such a time.

He said general manager Buddy Nix "makes the decision on whether it's best to move up, move down, all that kind of stuff." Gailey suggested he and vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak provide input as required, but that it's Nix's show.

"I try to make sure he understands what I think we need for our football team," Gailey said, "where we need the most help, and if he asks my opinion about the players that are in the draft, I've watched them and how their abilities might fit into what we're doing."

I asked Gailey what would happen if the Bills were on the clock and a player was on the board he truly coveted.

"Me? I have a guy?" Gailey said. "I don't have a guy. It is our guy."

Gailey then broke into an imaginary debate that would take place among scouts and coaches in a draft room.

"This guy would bring this. This guy would bring this. This guy would bring this," he said. "Whichever one we choose, that's our guy.

"I've been in rooms where the best arguer got his way. Whoever could argue the best or the loudest or was the most persuasive ... I've been in rooms like that.

"But Buddy and I, when we started this whole thing, we said, 'If somebody is trying to persuade us, we're going to put him out the room.' I told the coaches, 'Don't try to talk us into anybody. Give us information. Then let Buddy make a decision.' "

And what kind of vote does owner Ralph Wilson have?

"He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says, 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."
NEW ORLEANS -- Marty Callinan of ESPN Stats & Information has passed along helpful information regarding the NFL's recently adopted rules changes regarding kickoffs.

All agree the measure will produce additional touchbacks.

Here's the thing, though: Touchbacks have been on the rise, anyway, as the chart illustrates.

Callinan offers these notes:
  • There were 2,448 kickoffs from the 30-yard line in 2010. Sixteen percent of those resulted in touchbacks. Twenty-seven kickoffs took place at the 35 and 37.0 percent ended with a touchback.
  • Since 2001, 11.1 percent of kickoffs from the 30 resulted in touchbacks. That percentage nearly tripled (31.7%) when the kickoff yard line was the 35. Since 2007, four out of every ten kickoffs from the 35 were not returned.
  • With the recent spike in touchbacks and the new kickoff line, we might be close to seeing a touchback percentage near 50.

One thing I'd like to see is whether deeper kickoffs correlate with longer returns in the absence of touchbacks. That was the case for the Seattle Seahawks' Leon Washington last season, as discussed previously. Washington's teammate, Michael Robinson, thinks that will be one product of the new rules.

I'll dive into this subject more deeply upon returning from the NFL owners meeting. Catching a flight soon.

Sparano saw signs of progress from Henne

March, 23, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano defended Chad Henne from criticism the quarterback didn't improve last year.

"There's other players that are pretty good quarterbacks in this league, that if I remember correctly, like their first year in the league, were 3-13," Sparano said, referring to Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning.

"So when you come in and you're trying to get this thing done, all you have to do is you have to go back through the 900-and-something snaps that this guy has played, and say 'Did he show progress? Did he get better in different areas?' And, yes, he did.'"

The numbers hardly back Sparano.

Henne took over the starting job in 2009 when Chad Pennington went down with yet another major shoulder injury in Week 3. Henne was decent, considering he was a sophomore who'd taken second-team reps for two training camps. He threw 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and had a 75.2 passer rating.

But in his third NFL season, and with the addition of prolific receiver Brandon Marshall, the numbers didn't spike.

Henne's passer rating barely moved, up 0.2 points. His completion percentage rose 0.6 points. He threw three more touchdown passes and five more interceptions.

"He completed a higher percentage of intermediate passes, which doesn’t make the fans happy and doesn’t make evidently a lot of people happy, but it should because it's a sign of progress," Sparano said Tuesday morning during a coaches' media breakfast at the NFL owners meeting.

On passes that traveled 11 to 20 yards in the air, ESPN Stats & information charted Henne with 57 completions on 110 attempts (58.2 percent) for 995 yards and one touchdown with interceptions -- a 75.0 passer rating.

In 2009, Henne completed 57 of 110 attempts (51.8 percent) for 962 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions -- a 59.0 passer rating.

"Other areas I thought he improved on was his ability to move in the pocket and create space," Sparano said. "When you look at the number of sacks we had and the number of sacks avoided, the throwaways, those were the areas that he improved on."

The chief problem might have been Henne's inability to use his big arm to stretch the field. Henne completed 9 of 36 passes that traveled more than 20 yards. One was a touchdown, three were intercepted. By comparison, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez completed 16 of 55 such passes for six touchdowns with four interceptions.

"Some of that is on us for the number of opportunities," Sparano said. "There's just a lot of factors, but when you get the green light, you’ve got to make the play, and Chad would tell you that."
NEW ORLEANS -- Defensive tackle Peria Jerry isn’t the only injured player the Atlanta Falcons are expecting a breakout season from in 2011. You can add wide receiver Harry Douglas to that list.

Although we (and I’m talking virtually everyone in the media and fans) have been talking about how the Falcons need to add a speed receiver in the draft, they might already have their guy in place. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the 2010 season wasn’t a full indicator of what Douglas can do and said his situation is very similar to Jerry’s.

Both players were coming back from major knee injuries and made minor impacts last season. Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith said they expect the impact of both players to be much greater this season.

Much has been made about how the Falcons didn’t have a lot of explosive passing plays last season, even though Douglas was part of that receiver corps. But Dimitroff said a fully-healthy Douglas could provide a big boost.

Douglas showed plenty of promise as a rookie in 2008, catching 23 passes and averaging almost 14 yards a catch. He then suffered a training-camp knee injury in 2009 and missed the entire season. Douglas was expected to come back and be a threat as slot receiver last season, but he got off to a slow start. Part of it was because starting receiver Michael Jenkins was injured and missed the first six games and that forced Douglas to have to do more than just be a slot receiver. Part of it also might have been because Douglas wasn’t 100 percent early in the season.

But Dimitroff said there were encouraging signs as last season went on.

“Just about halfway through the season, Harry was healed,’’ Dimitroff said. “There was no more issue there. I saw an increased explosiveness that I didn’t see in the beginning of the season and more confidence. We would have continued to throw to him and get him more and more involved if we had advanced in the playoffs. He understands this is also a big year for him.’’

Rex knows Jets are NFL's hot destination

March, 23, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- Florham Park, N.J., is the NFL's version of Ellis Island.

At the base of Rex Ryan's statue of liberty -- the one where he's proudly holding up a snack -- the motto reads: "Give me your inspired, your core contributors, your huddled players, yearning to be free agents."

The New York Jets head coach will take them all.

"I'd like to have every player in the league want to play for the Jets," Ryan said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "We're on the right path because I think a lot of players do want to play for the Jets. And the great thing is the players we have want to play for the Jets. That's important to me."

In November, a Sports Illustrated poll of 279 anonymous NFL players asked "For which other coach would you like to play?" A whopping 21 percent chose Ryan. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a distant second at 12 percent. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was third at 9 percent. Former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher was at 8 percent and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick at 7 percent.

Speaking even more to Ryan's personal allure as a fun and charismatic boss, he was the only coach among the top seven not to have been to the Super Bowl -- yet.

"I'm letting every player in the league know that if you want to win a Super Bowl," Ryan said, "you should probably come to the Jets."

The Jets reaching back-to-back AFC Championship Games and being featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks" last summer are the dominant forces to boosting the Jets' profile as a hot destination.

"I wanted to show our facilities off, show how we take care of our players and what kind of organization we have with our owner, Woody Johnson, and our GM, Mike Tannenbaum," Ryan said of the entertaining shows. "I think that helped us. I also think you're in the best market in the world, and oh by the way, we have a heck of a football team and have a good time playing, too."

Even a couple players from the cross-town rival New York Giants -- safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips -- wished out loud that coach Tom Coughlin could be more like Rex.

"It's good to hear players want to come play for us," Ryan said. "There's no denying that."

There's a big problem. The NFL's immigration department is prohibiting arrivals until a new collective bargaining agreement can be struck. Free agency and player trades aren't allowed.

The Jets can't re-sign their own free agents, either. Receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are the most notable they must address once a new CBA is in place.

That leaves Ryan and his roster in limbo and places a serious crimp in his plans for a second straight offseason. The Jets faced restrictions last year under the "final eight plan," a wrinkle of the uncapped season.

Clubs that reached the divisional playoff round weren't allowed to sign unrestricted free agents unless they dropped one of the same salary value. The Jets parted ways with reliable kicker Jay Feely to make room for outside linebacker Jason Taylor.

The Jets were able to get involved with players such as running back LaDainian Tomlinson and safety Brodney Pool, who technically weren't unrestricted free agents because they were released from their previous teams.

"They can want to play for you, but you couldn't do anything about it anyway," Ryan said.

Ryan will keep his torch burning.
Marshawn LynchOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch and the Seahawks running through the Saints in the postseason may have helped silence the critics who said a 7-9 team shouldn't be hosting a playoff game.
The disgust was palpable when James Carville's favorite division dared to offer up a 2010 champion with a losing record.

"Has there ever been a better argument for the NFL to switch to a seeded-tournament postseason?" ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook asked.

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, longtime chairman of the NFL's competition committee, promoted discussion along those lines even during the regular season, before the Seattle Seahawks emerged with a 7-9 record and a home game against New Orleans in the wild-card round.

But when NFL owners held their annual spring meeting to discuss league business this week, re-seeding the playoffs wasn't even up for discussion. The issue has less momentum now than it did two years ago, well before Seattle became the first division winner in league history with a losing record.

What happened?

The Seahawks upset the Saints in the wild-card round, for starters. The game featured nearly flawless quarterback play from Matt Hasselbeck and one of the most memorable touchdown runs in league history, regular season or otherwise. When Seattle's Marshawn Lynch eluded or ran through eight potential tackles on his way to a 67-yard touchdown, he also trampled the notion, for now, that a 7-9 team had no business hosting a playoff game or appearing in the postseason at all.

"I think Seattle winning probably had an effect on people, yeah," New York Giants owner John Mara said from the NFL owners meeting. "If there was any sentiment to change it, maybe there is not. But that is not even something we discussed at the competition committee this year. It never even came up."

Mara was a voice for re-seeding even before his team missed the postseason with a 10-6 record this past season. Tampa Bay also missed the playoffs at 10-6. The Giants and Bucs defeated the Seahawks by a combined 79-23 margin this season, but the seeding system left them on the outside when playoff games kicked off in January.

"I've always felt that was something we ought to look at," Mara said. "I still think if you win your division, you should be in the playoffs, but I personally believe the teams with the better records ought to have the home games. I don't think I'm in the majority on that opinion."

Indeed, the coaches, owners and executives I polled this week came down strongly against any system sending a division champion on the road to open the playoffs. They would rather endure what happened with Seattle than have their own teams head onto the road as division champions.

"We want to put an emphasis on winning your division," Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said. "There's still a strong feeling that if you win a division, you should get a home game. Our fans expect that and like that."

The league has devalued division games in other ways over the past 30-plus years.

Thirty-five years ago, teams played as many as eight division games in a 14-game season, depending on how many teams were in a division.

"So, you won the division championship, you earned it," McKay said. "Today, going to four-team divisions and a 16-game schedule, we're at a little different place with respect to the number of division games versus the number of regular-season games. That is where the push came a couple years ago."

Had a straight seeding system been in place for 2010, neither the Seahawks nor St. Louis Rams would have had anything on the line when they played in Week 17. Both would have been eliminated from the playoffs. Under a modified seeding system, the NFC West champion would have headed onto the road for the playoffs (it's tough to say where, exactly, because some teams would have approached the final weeks differently, affecting records).

The existing system guaranteed a home playoff game for the winner of that Rams-Seahawks game.

"Trying to keep as many late-season games relevant as you can was the other side of the push for re-seeding," McKay said. "And one of the ways to do that is, don't let people know where they are going to go. Let the seeding continue to work itself out other than the top two seeds. Not enough support. Will it come back some day? Probably. I am not sure it will be next year, but it will come back."

And it will face the same strong resistance it met this time around. If McKay and Mara couldn't gain any traction on the issue after Seattle made history as a 7-9 division champion, it's tough to imagine this issue going anywhere in the near future.

"I just think winning your division is important," Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "That means something. I think that's where it starts. It's a good setup."

Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt argued passionately for the current system. His team played home games as a 9-7 team in 2008 and as a 10-6 team one year later. The Cardinals won wild-card playoff games at home both years, and both times they did it against teams with superior records. The 2008 Cardinals advanced to the Super Bowl after beating a 9-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles team in the NFC Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Again, their status as division champs gave them the edge.

"For me, it's tough to judge teams evenly that aren't in the same division because you never know about schedules," Whisenhunt said. "Let's just talk about us as a West Coast team. Let's go back to 2008. Philadelphia did not play a game out of the Eastern time zone after Nov. 15, whereas we played six games with more than a two time-zone change that year. So, how can you compare two teams that have similar records or even compare their records based on variables that aren't the same?"

As a player for the Atlanta Falcons, Whisenhunt regularly traveled long distances for division games against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in the old NFC West. He said traveling west to east for games is much tougher on the body than traveling east to west.

"It's easy to say this team is better than this team because its record is better, but the reason that you have divisions is so that those four teams will have an equal footing as far as the conditions that they face," Whisenhunt said. "I've noticed through the years, they talk about Seattle traveling 30-some thousand miles during the year. How do you compare their travel schedule or what they are being forced to do? To me, the only way that you can have an even comparison of those teams is within the division."

The travel angle resonates on the West Coast, but not at the league level. Niners president Jed York is among those who have complained about 10 a.m. PT kickoffs, and we discussed the subject again at this league meeting. The league has been unsympathetic and isn't likely to change its stance.

The seeding system also appears unflinching.

"Maybe this wasn't the year to propose any type of changes [amid larger labor issues]," McKay said. "Maybe that is why we only had five rule changes being proposed. It didn't seem like the membership had an appetite, so let's put that in the background and wait."

Tampa Bay Super Bowl bid on hold

March, 23, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL labor situation is pushing back a lot of things and Tampa Bay’s expected bid for the 2015 Super Bowl is one of them.

In past years, future Super Bowls sometimes have been awarded at the spring NFL owners meeting, like the one that concluded Tuesday, or at a lower-profile meeting in May. But the next city to get a Super Bowl will have to wait until the NFL’s fall meeting, which usually is held in October.

Two league officials said the current plan is not to award the 2015 Super Bowl until this year’s fall meeting. Tampa Bay narrowly lost out to New York last year in the bid for the 2014 Super Bowl, and many assumed that made the region the automatic favorite for the next available game.

I’m thinking that probably is still the case and it’s just going to take a bit longer to happen. The nasty winter weather that impacted the Dallas area during this year’s Super Bowl week probably made Tampa Bay’s climate look better than ever. The next two Super Bowls are scheduled for Indianapolis and New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kevin Kolb

March, 23, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- A reporter asked me Tuesday whether the Seattle Seahawks were the team to have reportedly offered a first-round draft choice to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Seattle was among the teams that spoke to the Eagles about Kolb last offseason, when the asking price was more than a first-rounder and ultimately prohibitive.

This is a story we'll want to monitor closely. For now, however, the Eagles are doing what teams often do when seeking value for a player. They're trying to create a stronger market by suggesting teams are clamoring for their player and willing to pay a high price.

As Eagles president Joe Banner told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "You can figure if there's a quarterback that a number of teams are interested in, you're going to end up with some meaningful compensation. You can kind of figure out what that means and speculate from there. That's the situation we're in."

Teams tend to discourage speculation when it doesn't serve their interests. In this case, Banner is more than happy to indulge rumors that only enhance his team's position.

Could I see the Seahawks making a play for Kolb? Absolutely. It's a subject we've discussed at length on the blog. The lockout is preventing teams from making trades or even executing formal offers for players, but we all know Seattle could use a quarterback pending resolution to Matt Hasselbeck's contract situation, and perhaps anyway.
NFL owners talked a lot of labor and a bunch of football during a two-day meeting in New Orleans, but the league’s most “off” offseason in more than two decades could get dicey in the weeks and months ahead.

In wrapping up the meeting Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated the importance of owners and players getting back to the bargaining table, but chances of that happening soon are at the mercy of the courts. Although a window was opened Monday by former NFLPA union executive director DeMaurice Smith offering to have the executive committee of the trade association meet with owners, legal problems will most likely prevent that from happening.

So where do we go from here?

[+] EnlargeNFL commissioner Roger Goodell
Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesAccording to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, five teams have been fined for making illegal offseason contact with players.
1. The next stop for the NFL is the federal courtroom of Judge Susan Nelson in St. Paul, Minn. On April 6, she will hear the Tom Brady case. Brady and other players involved in the class action suit against the NFL have asked Judge Nelson to stop the lockout. It would be unusual for a federal judge to make a ruling that day. She could make some limited ruling in a week to 10 days after the hearing. Until then, no players transactions can occur.

2. So what happens if Judge Nelson lifts the lockout? On Monday, NFL attorneys made their stance clear. According to NFL sources, the league is reluctant to implement a football system that leaves them vulnerable to antitrust litigation, which leaves the league exposed to treble damages. If the NFL loses in Nelson's court, it would ask for an immediate stay that would keep the lockout alive until an appellate court hears the case. If Judge Nelson provides enough structure in a back-to-work order that doesn’t leave owners exposed to antitrust penalties, the NFL could impose work rules, possibly the 2010 rules in which free agency required six years of experience and no salary cap for teams.. If Nelson doesn’t give NFL owners antitrust protection, no one knows what the league will do. And, yes, there is a doomsday scenario in which owners decide not to have a season.

3. What’s blocking a meeting between the players and owners? Lawyers. Unlike the Reggie White settlement in 1993 in which Gene Upshaw’s trade association worked out a CBA with the owners outside the courtroom, NFL lawyers this time say they won’t deal with players unless they clarify their status and say they are union, which would hurt the players’ position in court. After the March 11 offer by the owners, the players are up to make a counter-offer. Under that declaration requirement, the players would be hurting their case if they have a meeting. The players’ decertification of their union status has kept them away from the bargaining table.

4. How will the labor woes change the offseason? It’s looks more and more likely teams will have to draft without having the benefits of free agency. That hasn’t happened since the mid-1980s when there was no free agency. All teams had then were drafts and trades. Draft choices for next season can’t be used because there isn’t an approved 2012 draft. Teams can’t sign undrafted free agents. Trades aren't allowed. The good teams build through drafts. This offseason, all 32 teams may have no other choice but to build through the draft, forcing them to consider filling needs early in the draft instead of taking the best player available.

5. Was there anything positive that came from the owners meeting? From the football side, the league believes it modernized the replay rules by having booth officials confirm all scoring plays, freeing up replay challenges for coaches on non-scoring plays. The other football rule change of note involved kickoffs, which will start at the 35, with touchbacks placed at the 20. Safety was the reason for those changes.

NFL meeting has concluded

March, 22, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL owners meeting is over, but the coverage is not.

I’ve got a tape recorder and notebook filled with all sorts of stuff that we’ll sprinkle in over the coming days and weeks as we head toward the draft. You can catch up on the changes in rules on kickoffs and instant replay in this John Clayton story and you can keep following the labor saga over on our news side.

One other item of interest that came out of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s wrap-up session is that five teams already have been fined for having contact with their players during the lockout. The league’s taking this rule very seriously and several of you have asked if teams were allowed to give playbooks to players during the lockout. The answer to that had been a little unclear. But Goodell cleared things up by saying that’s not allowed.

One positive clarification he gave was that players drafted by teams will at least be brought in to meet with the local media immediately after the draft.
NEW ORLEANS -- One of the better special-teams players in the NFL thinks new rules affecting kickoffs will produce more long returns and better offensive field position.

Robinson
Robinson
Fullback Michael Robinson, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks last season after four years with the San Francisco 49ers, offered his thoughts via Twitter in response to my earlier item suggesting rules changes could limit returners.

The way Robinson sees things, moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 will produce more touchbacks, as anticipated. He also thinks the rule limiting running starts for coverage teams will diminish front-line impacts, leading to longer returns on those plays that fail to produce touchbacks. Robinson expects teams to adjust by using larger players on their coverage teams "because kickoffs will become more power plays, not as finesse" and "smaller guys avoid contact more."

One other potential consequence: Kickers could face more pressure to keep balls away from returners because "blocks will be easier."

Robinson, who is currently vacationing, plans to expand on the subject at his website. He said the changes are taking away from the game.

Video: Roger Goodell interview

March, 22, 2011
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The NFL commissioner discusses the labor situation and Adam Schefter provides analysis.

Miami believed to be among five fined clubs

March, 22, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Miami Dolphins are believed to be one of at least five teams fined for impermissible coach-player contact during a dead period under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed the sanctions at the end of his Tuesday afternoon news conference to conclude the NFL owners meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne told reporters last month he had been meeting with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell to go over the playbook and strategies.

Under the CBA that just expired, supervised practice or skull sessions were forbidden from the end of the previous season until March 15. Clauses in the rule state "players are not permitted to participate in organized workouts, practices or meetings of any kind" and "players may not be directed or supervised by position coaches during this period."

The Palm Beach Post previously cited NFL spokesman Greg Aiello as saying the league would not pursue the violations. When asked at the news conference why the league wouldn't punish multiple teams who reportedly had broken the rules, Goodell said "five teams have already been contacted on those violations."

When asked for clarification on whether or not the teams would be fined, Goodell said "they have been."

The NFL did not divulge which teams had been fined, but Goodell's remarks were in response to a question I asked him specifically about the Dolphins' situation. A Dolphins spokesman declined to comment.

After the news conference, Aiello said the onus for a complaint would be on a player or the union before a fine would be levied.

Aiello didn't have specifics other to say the rules were put in place to protect the players from too many offseason obligations. Even with the CBA scheduled to expire March 15, the NFL expected teams to honor the agreement.
NEW ORLEANS -- Ultimately, the NFL's push to alter kickoffs proved a hot topic for one NFC North team and a complicated proposition for the rest.

We opened our discussion on this issue last week, noting its potential to minimize the Chicago Bears' strong return game while also relieving some 2010 shortcomings of the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. In the end, the Bears proved furious about the proposal and were one of six teams that voted against it. But with 26 votes in favor, owners agreed to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line and to limit cover men to a five-yard head start on coverage.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireWith one of the best return men in the game in Devin Hester, the new kickoff return rule hurts the Bears more than most.
(Two-man wedge blocking will still be allowed and touchbacks will return to the 20-yard line after some late revisions to the rule.)

There was no doubt in my mind that some form of this rule would pass once the NFL connected it to the politically-sensitive player safety issue. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay estimated that touchbacks could increase by as much as 15 percent in 2011, but he said shrinking the field in which cover men could run should make the play safer -- presumably by limiting the force of impact.

"When you shorten that run and have guys with their legs a little more underneath them, and closer to where their opponents are, hopefully it changes the [injury] numbers," McKay said. "We think it will."

The Bears have arguably the best pair of kickoff returners in the game in Devin Hester and Danieal Manning. Coach Lovie Smith made clear Tuesday morning that he was "totally against" the changes and strongly implied that gamesmanship would enter the voting.

"Teams that don't have a good returner, of course they're not for [the status quo]," Smith said. "I know we're talking about player safety, but I don't know if that's making the game safer by eliminating [it]."

Here's what Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub told the team's website: "It's going to help teams that aren't real good at kickoff coverage. They're going to be able to kick more touchbacks. Touchbacks are a good option for them or for anybody playing us. That's a win for them."

*Update: In an interview with ESPN 1000, Hester joked that he was working on strengthening his leg "because I have a strong feeling I’m not going to get any returns, so let me try to do the kicks and keep a job going." Turning serious, Hester said "it's going to be real tough for returners" and added: "They might as well put up the arena nets, [because] there are going to be a lot of balls going into the end zone."

The Lions voted for the proposal, general manager Martin Mayhew told Detroit-area reporters. *Update: I've also learned that the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers did as well. In speaking with representatives of all four teams over the past two days, I got the impression their vote would be more influenced by the NFL's push toward safety rather than trying to neutralize Hester and/or Manning.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson said: "I think everyone is trying to do the right thing. Different people have different ideas about how to get it done."

Voting simply to hurt a competitor, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, "is a part-time mindset, and when you deal with that in league-wide rules, that's not right. I think integrity of the game should always be at the mindset. The topic is player safety. It's not individual organizations trying to get a rule passed to make up with a team today."

(Check out comments along similar lines from Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier from Monday's post.)

Given the revisions it took to get the rule passed, here is the bottom line: Hester, Manning and the Lions' Stefan Logan will have five less yards to work their magic. Teams with sub-par kickoff men can tack an extra five yards to their distance. And the touchback revision will probably prevent teams from popping up kickoffs in hopes of pinning dangerous returns close to their goal line.

There is no doubt returns will be impacted. But doesn't the cream always rise to the top?

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