NFL Nation: Twitter

Could four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long return to the Miami Dolphins? It now appears to be a two-team race for Long's services.

NFL Network reports Long is contemplating offers from the Dolphins and St. Louis Rams this weekend. He spent three days in St. Louis last week taking a physical and trying to work out a long-term contract. Long returned to his South Florida home to take time to consider his next move.

Meanwhile, Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito is doing all he can to sway Long’s decision. Incognito, who is a good friend of Long, has been all over Twitter trying to recruit his fellow offensive lineman to return.



It is certainly a noble effort by Incognito. It most likely caught the attention of Long, but it remains to be seen if it sways his final decision.

The Dolphins are already big winners in free agency with or without Long. Miami has added big-name additions like receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and tight end Dustin Keller to an up-and-coming team which was 7-9 last season.

If Long returns to the Dolphins at an affordable rate, that would simply be icing on the cake.
Tebow
New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow took the high road last year after he was traded by the Denver Broncos. Tebow said he understands Peyton Manning is a legend, and it made sense for the Broncos to acquire the future Hall of Fame quarterback at his expense.

But Tim Tebow's brother, Peter, didn't follow the quarterback's lead this weekend. Peter Tebow sent an interesting shot to the gut via Twitter to the Broncos and their fans Saturday night after Denver's overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens.



Peter Tebow's comment quickly circulated over the "Twittersphere."

This incident is similar to the recent Twitter situation involving Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings and his sister. Athletes cannot control what family members feel or say about teams. Just because a family member is happy the Broncos lost doesn't guarantee Tim Tebow is also relishing in the defeat. But many will naturally tie the two together.

The Broncos did go out of their way to make the huge acquisition of Manning. They traded Tebow away and got the same result, which has to be an empty feeling for Denver and its fans.

In fact, Tebow won an exciting playoff game in Denver last year to get to the divisional round. Manning was one-and-done. That is why Tebow's brother felt the need to boast.

Slideshow: Buffalo Bills fans celebrate

November, 16, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills have one of the best tailgates in the NFL. The AFC East blog asked Bills fans via Twitter to provide photos Thursday night during their nationally televised win over the Miami Dolphins.

Check out our slideshow of some of the interesting photos we received:

Willie McGinest was right: You cannot beat the New England Patriots in contract negotiations.

The Patriots are emotionless and truly believe no one player is above the team. Many NFL clubs say it but later cave into star players' wishes. The Patriots do not.

Wes Welker is the latest poster child of "The Patriot Way." The deadline for players under the franchise tag passed at 4 p.m. ET Monday without a new extension for Welker. He will receive no long-term security and this could turn out to be his final season in New England.

Welker
So how did Welker and New England get to this point?

A case can be made that Welker has done everything right in his five years with the Patriots. He is an undersized receiver who worked very hard to overachieve and outperform a modest contract with New England.

Welker never complained about his previous contract. He signed it and played it out in full. But this offseason was supposed to be a reward for years of staying quiet and playing great football. Welker caught 100 or more passes in four of his five seasons in New England.

Instead, the Patriots are sticking to what they are comfortable with and didn't budge. They want to keep the 31-year-old Welker for at least one more season. New England is willing to risk of losing Welker when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Another, more expensive franchise tag is possible next year. But the Patriots will not give Welker a long-term contract at 32, when they wouldn't do it at 31.

McGinest, who won three Super Bowls with New England, warned Welker this offseason during a highly-publicized Twitter spat. McGinest pointed out to Welker that every player is replaceable at One Patriot Drive, and Welker should be happy he’s getting the one-year, $9.5 million offer. Welker scoffed at McGinest but on Monday learned the hard way that McGinest is correct.

The Patriots' harsh approach to doing business under Bill Belichick has worked well the past dozen years. It's hard to argue with three Super Bowl championships and 10 AFC East titles since 2000.

But there are some Patriots casualties who feel cheated along the way. You now can add Welker to that list.
Bounties are a very sensitive subject in the NFL. Pretty much the mention of the word from any pro football player is sure to capture headlines.

That was the case with Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. He injured his knee in Week 1 and was lost for the season against the Buffalo Bills when receiver Steve Johnson blocked him low. The block was deemed legal and didn't draw a flag.

But following the discovery of the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, Berry recently tweeted "Sometimes I sit [and] wonder if they had a bounty out on me ... oh well ... who cares. Either way [you] can't hold me down."

Berry this week was asked about the tweet by reporters.

"They got the tape out there, you can make your own opinion," Berry said. "I mean, my opinion is my opinion. People are going to take it how they want to take it anyway."

Regardless of Berry's stance, he needs to be more careful with bounty talk. He shouldn't make public accusations against Johnson or any player unless he's absolutely sure. For example, the NFL did a thorough investigation into the Saints that took years to uncover.

Johnson is not known to be a dirty player and denied the hit was intentional in the past. Hopefully, Berry isn't setting a new and dangerous precedent, where every NFL player who suffers a significant injury will publicly accuse an opponent of trying to collect a bounty.
Jeremy Shockey hasn’t signed anywhere, but he’s making news.

The tight end that played in Carolina last season, and New Orleans the three seasons before that, got into a Twitter war with former New York Giants teammate Armani Toomer on Thursday. It started after reports in the New York media that Shockey had let the Giants know he wanted to return to them after forcing them to trade him in 2008. That prompted an unfriendly tweet from Toomer.

“No!! Shockey,” Toomer wrote on his Twitter account. “ ‘I will never play4 you again!’ he yelled at (general manager Jerry) Reese in 08. Let him keep his word. Bad teammate, worse person.”

That brought a volley back from Shockey. He tweeted that he hasn’t talked with the receiver since “he loafed on a play and got man handled in my leg that caused it to break.”

I had heard all the stories about Shockey being a problem child in his New York days. But I’ve got to be honest and say I never saw him cause any major issues while he was with the Saints and Panthers. He could be surprisingly good with the media at times, and very moody at others.

He was a role player with the Saints and Panthers, and seemed to accept that role. I think there still is a chance he could re-sign with the Panthers, if he wants, because I don’t think he burned that bridge.

But I think his bridge to New York might have been torched back in 2008. The Giants already have brought in free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett.
Although not everything can be read accurately from Twitter, New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker seemed genuine in his response to receiving the franchise tag.

On Monday evening, just hours after Welker was tagged, he tweeted, "Glad that I will be a Patriot in 2012 and hopefully '13,'14,'15,'16,'17,'18........"

This is a good sign. Many wonder if Welker will hold out and skip offseason activities if a contract extension isn't reached. It is clear that Welker, 31, would prefer long-term security.

Welker's tag is slated for $9.4 million in 2012. The Patriots and Welker will continue to negotiate, but there is no guarantee an extension will be reached.

Still, these are good, early vibes from Welker. He says he's happy to be in New England this year and remains hopeful that it will be for longer. The next step is to see if Welker signs the tag and eventually shows up to New England's offseason workout program.

The NFC South's best rivalry

November, 11, 2011
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Roddy White, Jabari GreerChuck Cook/US PresswireAfter saying plenty about the Saints last season, Roddy White's twitter account has been quiet.

Perhaps the best indicator of how big Sunday’s game is between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons is Roddy White’s verified Twitter account.

For nearly a week now, it’s gone almost silent. White, who never has been one to hold back what’s on his mind, has weighed in a few times on the Joe Paterno controversy, but he hasn’t written a word about the Saints.

That says a lot about what this NFC South rivalry has become. If White’s staying quiet and the Saints aren’t getting their cameras ready for postgame pictures, you know players from both teams are taking this game very seriously. There also is a very good chance they’re following orders from New Orleans coach Sean Payton and Atlanta coach Mike Smith, who realize you don’t need to throw gas on a fire that’s been burning for about four years, and still may not have reached its peak.

It might not have the historic significance of, let’s say, Green Bay-Chicago or Washington-Dallas, but it’s hard to find a rivalry that’s been more heated the past few years.

"This is one of the most overlooked rivalries in football right now,’’ Atlanta running back Michael Turner said. “We've been playing some great games. We know we don't like each other. We've been fighting each other since 2008 for this division. It's a rivalry game."

The part about not liking each other is about as close as any Saint or Falcon has come to fanning the flames. But that part is pretty well known if you’ve spent any time around either team. It extends even to the fans.

"If you're just kind of walking around town, fans say, 'If you do one thing this year, just beat Atlanta,' " New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think that's probably the sentiment of fans that have been longtime Saints fans, I'm sure. Maybe longtime Falcons fans say the same thing to them about beating the Saints, I don't know.’’

It’s pretty safe to say that Atlanta fans -- longtime or not -- do feel the same way about the Saints.

Two incidents from last season demonstrate just how strong this rivalry has become.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Chuck Cook/US PRESSWIRE"If you're just kind of walking around town, fans say, 'If you do one thing this year, just beat Atlanta,' " Drew Brees said.
One came long before White turned to more tame tweets -- or Smith ordered him to. Before a game with New Orleans last season, White tweeted that the “grace of God’’ was the reason the Saints won their Super Bowl so the "city wouldn’t fall apart."

That caused outrage by New Orleans fans and probably didn’t score much goodwill with the Saints. But this rivalry flows both ways. After New Orleans defeated Atlanta in the Georgia Dome last season, some of the Saints were seen dancing and having their pictures taken on the Falcons’ logo. Former New Orleans defensive tackle Remi Ayodele made a comment that indicated the Saints were intentionally showing the ultimate disrespect to the Falcons.

That caused a stir, but the Saints insisted they had the utmost respect for the Falcons and the pictures were taken to commemorate an important victory.

As word of that scene spread through the Atlanta locker room, defensive end John Abraham, generally one of the more subdued Falcons, grew visibly angry.

“We can never let that happen again,’’ Abraham said.

The Saints and the Falcons weren’t biting this week when the media asked them about that incident. Not even White.

"They came down here and got a W,’’ White said. “They can kind of do whatever they want to do. That's kind of what happens. When we won down there, we kind of went on the field. It happens. We kind of did our thing when we went down there and won the game. They won, so congratulations to them.’’

But don’t let the diplomacy fool you.

"I'm not too familiar with that. I heard about it,’’ said Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tried to be coy when first asked about the incident.

That didn’t last.

“But at the same time, I don't forget a lot of stuff,’’ Weatherspoon said. “Sometimes you have to have the memory of an elephant."

Although the Saints and Falcons are the oldest of the four NFC South franchises and played together in the NFC West before realignment in 2002, the rivalry hasn’t been this volatile for long. Both teams struggled through much of their early existence. When one team was good, the other wasn’t.

When Carolina entered the league in 1995, the NFL tried to make the Falcons and Panthers a natural rivalry because the cities are less than a four-hour drive apart. But that never really took off because the Panthers and Falcons were seldom good at the same time.

Without any encouragement by the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers became the NFC South’s only real rivalry, soon after the division came into existence. In those days, Carolina’s Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins and Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp and Kenyatta Walker, lobbed verbal shots back and forth. Even Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun and Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica got into the rift and the teams played a series of brutally physical games through the middle of the past decade.

That rivalry has faded. But it’s been replaced by the Falcons and the Saints.

"If you look at the past four years, ever since Mike Smith has been there and Sean has been here, both teams have been up there as far as first or second in the division quite a few times,’’ Brees said. “So I'd say that's part of the reason why it's even more competitive now than maybe it ever has been."

There’s no doubt. When two good teams are going at each other, it makes things more interesting. The Saints are 6-3 and the Falcons are 5-3 and they’ll be playing for first place when they meet Sunday in the Georgia Dome.

Things tend to get heated between the Falcons and Saints these days. But that’s a good thing. It’s the sign of a healthy rivalry. The best rivalry the NFC South has ever had.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Distractions and controversy? What distractions and controversy?

The opening of training camp was business as usual for the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite offseason incidents that ranged from Hines Ward's arrest to Rashard Mendenhall's misuse of Twitter to James Harrison ripping commissioner Roger Goodell and teammates, players quickly deflected any issues and seemed genuinely happy to get back to work.

The Steelers believe their off-the-field problems are a thing of the past, and the team is ready to move forward and attempt to make another title run in 2011.

"Any time we come to training camp, our goal is the Super Bowl," Ward said. "Anything less than the Super Bowl is a down year for us. Having experienced and tasted a loss in the Super Bowl is not a good feeling. So, hopefully we can get back there and come out on the winning side."

The Steelers have a lot of work to do before the start of the regular season. Here are some early questions:

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the Steelers get under the cap?

According to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers have until Thursday to get under the $120 million salary cap. Despite a flurry of roster moves last week, Pittsburgh remains about $7 million to $10 million over, which is where the team started this summer.

The Steelers made several key salary cuts, including veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. But the re-signings of in-house free agents such as cornerback Ike Taylor have basically nullified those moves.

Expect more tough decisions to be made this week.

"We have to find ways to get under [the cap] and in compliance," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We're going to look at every and all possibilities."

There is some good news for the Steelers.

The new CBA allows teams to use three $1 million exceptions in 2011, and Colbert says he will use them all. Teams have this onetime flexibility to add an extra $3 million to the cap, which essentially brings the Steelers' number up to $123 million. This could allow Pittsburgh to retain some veterans it otherwise would lose.

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesIke Taylor has 11 interceptions in eight NFL seasons.
2. Has Pittsburgh fixed its pass defense?

The last memory Steelers fans have of their defense is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers carving up the secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV. Since then, Pittsburgh hasn't made any significant additions to the secondary, leaving many to wonder whether this problem is fixed.

Because Pittsburgh is fielding the same players in the secondary, it's difficult to imagine the pass defense being better than it was last season. The Steelers re-signed veteran corners Taylor and William Gay and drafted rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

"You can't worry about what people think outside the locker room, because we've been so successful on the field," Taylor said of the criticism. "So it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has their own opinion. It comes with the territory."

Expect many teams to spread the Steelers out this season by using three- and four-receiver sets. That will force backups such as Gay or some of the young corners to play important roles on the defense.

3. How thin is Pittsburgh's offensive line?

Pittsburgh's offensive line could be the thinnest group in the league.

Outside of second-year center Maurkice Pouncey, who is a stud, the rest of the line is littered with questions. Jonathan Scott plays the important role of left tackle and was inconsistent last year. Guards Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu are decent run-blockers but struggle in pass protection. And right tackle Willie Colon is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season.

Cutting Starks and Adams severely hurt the talent and depth of this group. Those were two of the most experienced linemen Pittsburgh had. Cap issues make it unlikely the team will sign another starting offensive lineman in free agency.

"You can't go into it and expect to have veteran depth at every position," Colbert admitted. "It just doesn't work out financially. You have to trust some of your young guys."

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the rock of the Pittsburgh offensive line.
BIGGEST SURPRISE

It's only the first weekend of camp, but backup cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. Lewis is gaining valuable experience working with the first-team defense. Taylor signed a four-year contract in free agency and isn't allowed to practice with the team until later this week.

Despite a rocky two years in Pittsburgh, Lewis is a good athlete. He has good size and quickness and is making fewer mental mistakes, which is key. The competition for the important nickel role in the secondary will be intense this summer, and Lewis could have the inside track.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

With the lengthy NFL lockout, someone was bound to show up out of shape. Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was that person for the Steelers.

I expected to see more from Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2009. But he struggled mightily during the conditioning evaluations and hasn't done much in the practices. The Steelers' running back corps is deep, and Dwyer is definitely on the roster bubble.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • I like the swagger this year of Pittsburgh's "Young Money" crew of receivers. Last year, Mike Wallace was going into his first year as a starter, and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were rookies just trying to fit in. But you can see that last year's success, particularly in the second half of the season and the playoffs, has helped this group and improved confidence. Instead of getting yelled at by Ward, Wallace is on top of everything so far in practice and is even helping Ward tutor other receivers. Sanders and Brown look much more comfortable in their roles and are displaying the same quickness and competitiveness they showed last year.
  • Pouncey already looks scary-good in his second season. In my seven years covering the NFL, I've never seen a center who moves as well and fluidly as Pouncey. Last week, longtime NFL writer Damon Hack of Sports Illustrated and I were sitting next to each other watching Pittsburgh's conditioning evaluation. We were amazed with how easily Pouncey, who is listed at 304 pounds, was running 100-yard sprints, while the rest of the linemen were lagging far behind. Pound for pound, Pouncey is easily one of the top athletes on the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Lawrence Timmons appears to have added considerable muscle in his upper body. Timmons, who is in a contract year, said he trained mostly in Florida this summer. Timmons also is one of the best pure athletes on the team. The key will be for him to maintain his quickness and acceleration while also adding strength.
  • The fact that the Steelers tried hard to recruit big receiver Plaxico Burress says a lot about the status of Limas Sweed. The former second-round pick enters this training camp on thin ice and is down to his last shot. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and had issues with drops before that. Pittsburgh is taking the approach that anything it gets from Sweed is considered a bonus. He is currently the No. 5 receiver.
  • Keep an eye on rookie seventh-round pick Baron Batch. The running back has showed good explosiveness through the hole and the ability to pass-protect, which is very valuable. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp so far.
  • Overall, Pittsburgh's situation at running back is getting crowded. Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Batch were all impressive during the first weekend of training camp. The Steelers also re-signed veteran backup Mewelde Moore. There were rumors about Tiki Barber being interested in the Steelers, but I don't see it. Pittsburgh has considerable depth at that position.
  • Finally, another sleeper who is actually having a good camp is backup tight end and de facto fullback David Johnson. What the third-year veteran lacks in athleticism he makes up in effort. Although not his specialty, he's made several nice receptions in practice and remains one of the best run-blockers on the team. The Steelers are still in the market for a No. 2 tight end after the departure of Matt Spaeth to the Chicago Bears.
Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison provided plenty of material Wednesday. So as we continue to dissect his bashing of various targets, here are some additional thoughts:
  • Steelers safety Ryan Clark on Wednesday mostly deflected Harrison's comments via Twitter by saying, "Locker room stuff gets handle in the locker room not twitter." Clark also said the Steelers' players know Harrison speaks his mind, no matter the topic.
  • NFC North colleague Kevin Seifert astutely pointed out that Harrison had just one tackle in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers. Harrison wasn’t a factor in the game, but criticized both running back Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Vote here if you think that’s justified or out of bounds.
  • Harrison's comments that the New England Patriots were stealing the Steelers' signals in a 2004 playoff game are interesting. It's well-documented that New England, and particularly quarterback Tom Brady, have been dominant against the Steelers post-Spygate. That most recently includes a 39-26 thrashing of the Steelers last season at Heinz Field. With Brady under center, the Patriots are 3-0 against the Steelers since the playoff game in 2004.
It's no secret the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers do not like each other, and Steelers receiver Hines Ward is usually in the middle of the altercations on the field between these two heated rivals.

So when Ward got arrested and charged for driving under the influence over the weekend, it was just a matter of time before someone chimed in from his biggest rival. This time, it was Baltimore tailback Ray Rice via Twitter.

"Well it looks like Hines Ward will miss week 1 when the lockout ends DUI charge not a good look," Rice tweeted.

Pittsburgh veteran safety Ryan Clark didn't like Rice's reaction to Ward's arrest and fired back. After Rice responded back to Clark, the Steelers safety tweeted, "I hear ya brother. Thought we were all better than that. Wouldn't speak negative of you. I'll find you! It's not hard. God bless."

Oh boy.

If the war of words between Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley and quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't enough, now we have Clark and Rice butting heads. The trash talk is just getting started, as both teams will be throwing jabs throughout the summer before this Week 1 matchup.

Networks made a huge mistake by not putting this Ravens-Steelers game in prime time. This will be must-see television.
Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC North:

Best QB arm: This may surprise you, but Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has the strongest arm in the division -- and one of the strongest in the NFL. Flacco is lean, but the ball flies out of his hand and he throws one of the prettiest deep balls you will ever see. The problem is Baltimore hasn't taken advantage of "Bazooka" Joe's cannon arm much since his rookie year. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also has a strong arm and would be a close second. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer's arm hasn't been the same since his severe elbow injury in 2008, and Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns has the weakest arm in the division.

Best QB in the clutch: Roethlisberger takes this award in the AFC North running away. He is strong in the clutch, and other quarterbacks in the division remain unproven in that area. Roethlisberger is 10-3 in the playoffs, including a 2-1 mark in Super Bowls. Many in Steeler Nation were surprised when Roethlisberger couldn't come up with the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers, because he'd done it so many times before in crucial moments.

[+] EnlargeChad Ochocinco
David Butler II/US PresswireBengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's unique world view often manifests itself on Twitter.
Best tweeter: Is there really any debate? Cincinnati Bengals Chad Ochocinco is not only the best tweeter in the division, but he's the best tweeter in the NFL and possibly among all pro athletes. Ochocinco, who always enjoyed the spotlight and attention, was one of the first players to use social media as a tool to increase his profile. He has more than two million Twitter followers and doesn't hold back. His tweets range from sports to relationships to bashing his head coach. Most of his views are entertaining.

Best pregame orator: Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis isn't just famous for consistently playing at a Pro Bowl level during the game. Lewis also gained fame for his speeches to motivate his teammates before the game. Lewis is a natural leader and as focused and intense as they come. There is no doubt the Ravens are Lewis' team, and his pregame entrances at M&T Bank Stadium have become a staple in Baltimore.

Best special-teams wrecking ball: Although last year wasn't a good indication, Cleveland Browns receiver and special-teams ace Josh Cribbs is a terror in the third phase of the game. He's one of the NFL's top kick returners and also very tough to block on coverage teams. Cribbs had a toe injury that neutralized many of his strengths last year, but in previous seasons he was Cleveland's best overall football player. There was speculation at one point that Cribbs could play some safety in spot duty, because he's one of the team's surest tacklers, despite being a receiver.
In this radio interview in which he spent a lot of time talking about Twitter and repeating his desire to remain with the New Orleans Saints, running back Reggie Bush actually revealed something that’s sort of new.

Bush, who is scheduled to make $11.8 million in base salary and carry a $16 million cap figure this season, was asked if he’d be willing to take a cut in pay.

“Yeah, I mean, obviously I know there’s going to have to be some type of renegotiation,’’ Bush said. “So that’s where me, my agent and the New Orleans Saints are going to have to come to a happy medium.”

It’s very rare for a player to take a true pay cut. Lots of times, a player who is at the end of a big contract will be signed to an extension that will spread money around for salary-cap purposes. In some instances, teams have cut high-priced players and later re-signed them to much smaller contracts.

I think Bush’s situation falls somewhere between those two scenarios. He’s never lived up to the incredible hype that came with being the No. 2 overall selection in the 2006 draft. But, when healthy, he’s been a big contributor to the offense and as a return man. It might be tough for the Saints to figure out a way to spread out $11.8 million because that’s simply a lot of money to pay a guy who is not a true superstar.

But Bush says he wants to stay with the team and this interview showed he’s willing to work with the Saints. As long as he doesn’t carry out the negotiations via Twitter, I think he and the Saints can find that “happy medium’’ he mentioned.
Rashard MendenhallAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarRashard Mendenhall lost a sponsorship deal after tweeting his opinions about Osama bin Laden's death and 9/11.
Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers says it's not worth it.

The Steelers' safety first opened a Twitter account in 2010 before the start of the football season, figuring it could be a fun way to communicate with fans.

Less than a year later, Clark had enough and shut down his account.

"I've been on there and had people use the N-word to address you and cuss at you and say things about your family," Clark said. "I've had people around Pittsburgh when they see you out having a drink with the boys say 'Oh, Ryan Clark is doing such and such.' It just became almost an invasion of your privacy in certain ways, and to me the positives from it weren't enough to outweigh that."

NFL players are starting to experience the repercussions of using Twitter. The website and social networking service is less than 5 years old, but in the past two years it has become one of the fastest-growing forms of communication.

Clark's story of quitting Twitter hits close to home because his Steelers teammate, Rashard Mendenhall, is among the latest group of high-profile athletes to get into hot water through social networking. Last week Pittsburgh's starting tailback and leading rusher made a series of controversial tweets regarding the death of Osama bin Laden and the events of 9/11, which caused a significant backlash.

The Steelers subsequently issued a statement and Mendenhall followed with a clarification and apology. But it was too late. A few days later, Mendenhall lost his endorsement deal with Champion and took a huge blow to his popularity -- all over a few 140-character messages.

"Some of these guys don't realize the ramifications down the road," said George Regan, who is chairman of Regan Communications Group in Boston. "You're playing with dynamite. It's very dangerous. They have to treat that as if they're in a press conference before a microphone."

Clark agreed that players need to be more aware when using Twitter.

"A lot of times you're sitting at home or sitting in a restaurant when you do these things, and you're not paying as much attention that it's going to go out to all the people that it does and be scrutinized in that same way," Clark explained. "But every time you step in front of a mike or step in front of a camera, you know tons of people are going to have access to this. Tons of people are going to see it."

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Kyle Terada/US PresswireReggie Bush garnered negative publicity after tweeting he was "making the most" of the lockout with "vacation, rest, relaxing."
New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush also stirred up controversy via Twitter this week. On Monday, Bush hinted that he's not too concerned about the NFL lockout, which is a sensitive subject in the sports world for fans, players and owners.

"Everybody complaining about the lockout! Shoot I'm making the most of it! Vacation, rest, relaxing, appearances here and there! I'm good!" Bush tweeted. "Right about now we would be slaving in 100 degree heat, practicing twice a day, while putting our bodies at risk for nothing."

Bush later explained he was joking after receiving plenty of negative backlash from his Twitter followers. Tone is something that's very difficult to accurately gauge on Twitter, which Bush learned the hard way.

"You have to be careful about humor," said Chris Rosica, head of Rosica Public Relations in New Jersey. "I would avoid humor in social media, as well as traditional media, because humor can be misconstrued. It's all in the perception of what you say, and online you don't really know the tone of voice."

Everyone is entitled to express opinions. But just as free speech is one of our country's greatest perks, it also can provide major risks for athletes.

The NFL has become America's most popular sport, which helps brand many of the league's good players. Athletes can not only make a lot of money for their athletic ability on the field but their marketability off the field, as well.

Mendenhall, for example, agreed to a 4-year contract extension with Champion on May 1 before the plug was pulled on his endorsement a few days later. Mendenhall essentially took money out of his own pocket through Twitter, which is not a good practice, especially during the NFL lockout.

With the amount of big bucks being spent to market athletes, major companies also are keeping tabs on social media.

"We have a guy here who monitors it all the time and is really into Twitter and following what our players say," Reebok NFL marketing manager Kurt Evans said. "We sign our guys and we have moral clauses in our contracts, and when an issue comes up, we debate what to do about it."

Twitter also can become a headache for public relations staffs for NFL teams, player agents and publicists, who are hired to protect the image of the team and the player. Twitter is often a direct bridge to the brain that cuts out the middle person. It only takes seconds to post the first thought that comes to mind, and once it's out there it becomes fair game for the media and public to consume.

Rarely does an athlete stop to seek advice before tweeting. Although in many cases it's not necessary, Mendenhall certainly could have benefited from consulting with his representation before expressing his controversial views last week. Chances are Mendenhall would have been advised to stay away from the touchy topic of bin Laden and 9/11.

"The problem with Mendenhall is he was giving opinions," Rosica said. "You can really hurt yourself because everyone is going to have a different opinion."

The NFL is still trying to get a handle on Twitter. Last year the league put guidelines in place for the first time during games.

Players cannot tweet or use any form of social media 90 minutes before kickoff until the end of post-game media sessions. Last August Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has nearly 2 million followers, was fined $25,000 for breaking the league's Twitter policy in the preseason. But too many restrictions could raise questions about the NFL hindering free speech, leaving most of the onus still on the players.

Thousands of athletes from various sports are very much into social networking. Therefore, it's likely just a matter of time before the next high-profile player has a Twitter controversy.

But Mendenhall and Bush provide the most recent cautionary tales of tweeting gone bad. The biggest lesson athletes can learn from this is to think before you tweet.
Here is the most dangerous thing about Twitter: It allows us to say the first thing that comes to mind.

[+] EnlargeRashard Mendenhall
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesPittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall created a stir with his tweets about Osama bin Laden's death.
There are times when that's not the best idea. And with Twitter there is no filter, no editor, and no one there to stop us to think about the repercussions.

Twitter often can be a direct bridge to the brain if the owner of the account doesn't exercise restraint. We've seen many cases of that in the past year, and Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall is the latest example.

Mendenhall is getting a lot of heat for his controversial tweets on the death of Osama bin Laden. It caused so much of a stir nationally that the Steelers issued a statement Tuesday, basically saying they don't share the views of their leading rusher.

This is not a political blog or a conspiracy theorist blog. So we're not going to debate the merit of Mendenhall's comments. But as the star running back of one of the most popular teams in professional sports, Mendenhall should use more discretion with his tweets. There are plenty of other ways to debate controversial subjects in a less public forum.

I've interviewed Mendenhall many times, and in my experience, he's often careful about his word choice. Mendenhall is an intelligent person, soft-spoken and rarely says more than what's necessary.

But there is something about typing into a computer or cell phone that makes some athletes say things they normally would not in an interview.

Just like anyone else, Mendenhall has every right to his opinions. But with his public position, Mendenhall and other players should be more careful with how they represent their employers.

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