Commentary

NFL could set a better safety example

Originally Published: August 20, 2013
By Gregg Easterbrook | ESPN.com

TMQTodd Detwiler

The NFL claims to have seen the light on safety. The unnecessary roughness rule has become stricter. Contact in practice has been reduced. Players are admonished for vicious hits. Money is being donated to brain research. The league is saying all the right things.

But as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, "What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." Just a few minutes into one of the first preseason games, Bernard Pollard of the Tennessee Titans delivered an inexcusable hit, launching himself into the back of a player who was out of bounds. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been throwin' seven different kinds of smoke about cracking down on such behavior. Yet Pollard was only flagged -- penalties mean little to players -- not ejected. If launching into a defenseless player who's out of bounds doesn't lead to disqualification, what hit will?

Despite Goodell's repeated threats to suspend players for vicious hits, Pollard has not been suspended. James Harrison was suspended for one game for a vicious hit in 2011; Joe Mays was suspended for one game for the same reason in 2012. Players who make multimillion-dollar salaries don't care about fines -- Pollard was fined $10,000 -- but do care about suspensions, which threaten their jobs. One single-game suspension per season just isn't enough to change the culture of a sport.

Football culture must be reformed in manifold ways. Most of what the NFL has done so far seems like window dressing to quiet critics. Real reform has not happened.

Stop right there, you might be thinking. NFL players are highly paid adults: If they choose to submit to violent contact, why should anyone in the audience care? Isn't bone-crunching part of the entertainment?

On the surface, that's a fair point. NFL players enjoy substantial income and a glamorous lifestyle. No one wants to see them harmed. But if they get hurt today -- or suffer degenerative neurological or orthopedic conditions down the road -- well, they knew football is dangerous.

But NFL players are the wrong focal point for football safety. There are about 2,000 players in the NFL -- versus about three million youth players and about 1.1 million in high school. Factoring for college as well, 98 percent of organized tackle football is played by boys (and a few girls) who are, legally, children. They don't receive pay, and only a very small fraction attain athletic scholarships. All risk injuries that may interfere with their education or cause lifelong health problems.

Whom do they look up to? The NFL. Whose example do they emulate? The NFL's. What do they see in NFL games? Players laying vicious hits and facing no consequences.

If the NFL were the only place where gridiron football was played, poor safety enforcement would be a minor issue affecting a tiny demographic. But the NFL sets the tone for some four million impressionable young people.

The NFL is to football what the White House is to town halls. Only a handful of people work in the White House, but they create the leadership agenda for thousands of town halls, statehouses and county offices across the nation. If the White House engages in public relations rather than real reform, a bad example is set. The big worry about the NFL is that its new safety focus is more public relations than real reform. Consider:

• The $90 million the NFL pledged to concussion and neurology research over the next four years is an impressive number but represents less than one-fifth of one percent of the revenue the league expects in that period. The money should help but is far from a crash program.

• As of this season, the NFL mandates knee and thigh pads, but mouth guards and four-point chinstraps, both of which reduce concussion risk, remain optional. And the NFL still won't mandate the advanced helmets that its own numbers show make concussions less likely.

Youth and high school players see the pros ignoring basic safety by not having mouth guards or four-point chinstraps, then emulate this behavior. The sports media deserve criticism here as well as the NFL. Youth and high school players see helmets flying off presented as a highlight on "SportsCenter" and similar shows and think that's cool -- rather than a warning sign of a player who was either wearing an ill-fitted helmet or didn't buckle his chinstraps. "SportsCenter" and similar shows aired the Jadeveon Clowney-Vincent Smith hit many times; if any pointed out that Smith's helmet was not secured properly, I missed it.

• When college football kicks off soon, the NCAA will have a new rule. "Targeting" the head of a defenseless player will be an automatic ejection. No shades of gray: "When in doubt, toss them out," officials are being told. This rule is coming to football maybe 50 years late, but at least at the college level (and in Massachusetts and Texas, in which high schools use the NCAA rulebook), it is here. Why hasn't the NFL already matched?

• When high school football kicks off soon, "prohibition of contact to and with the helmet" will be the officiating point of emphasis. Why hasn't the NFL already matched?

• Next winter, the Pro Bowl will eliminate kickoffs to reduce head injuries. All football players hate the wedge -- being in it or busting it -- and kickoffs cause more head injuries than any other type of play. Why doesn't the NFL eliminate kickoffs in the regular season and postseason, too? High school and youth leagues would follow suit, making football safer for young players who get no sports paycheck and probably never will.

The nation's most popular and most watched sports league is making some progress on safety, but not enough. And it's large numbers of children, not the small number of pros, who are at risk as a result.

Now, Tuesday Morning Quarterback's AFC preview:

Baltimore: Want to know the real reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl? Because shortly before, Mount Union won the Division III football title. TMQ noted at the time this was "a good omen for the NFL's purple-clad team."

The Ravens lost eight starters from their title team, mostly to free agency. In salary-cap terms, Baltimore had to choose between an exodus of veterans or re-signing Joe Flacco. Since quarterback is the most valuable position, the Ravens did what they had to do, keeping the player who would have been hardest to replace. Good luck was theirs as a chain of events essentially allowed them to exchange Paul Kruger for Elvis Dumervil and cap space. Trading Anquan Boldin for just a sixth-round draft choice was the odd move. Boldin led the Ravens in receiving the past three seasons, did the hard work over the middle, had several vital plays in their Super Bowl run. Sure he's old (32) by the standards of athletics. Give me an aging gent who gets the job done over a greenhorn any day. (Note: This may soon be the anthem of my entire generation.)

[+] EnlargeGummy bears
AP PhotoPeople named Manning endorse cars, electronics, satellite television. People named Flacco endorse candy.

Until January 2013, the rap on Flacco and John Harbaugh was that together they were 35-7 in Baltimore but 23-23 on the road. Then the Ravens went on a 3-0 playoff road tear, culminating in a Super Bowl victory. This season the Ravens open on the road and have three of their first five contests away. Presumably playing away now favors the Ravens. Their opener, the league's kickoff contest, is back at Denver, where Baltimore's playoff run might have ended were it not for an epic collapse by the Broncos in the closing seconds of regulation.

The Ravens were an exciting team to watch last season, but not impressive statistically. Baltimore gave up 468 yards of offense to the Forty Niners in the Super Bowl, becoming just the second squad to win the Super Bowl after ranking worse than 15th statistically on both offense and defense. The fourth-and-29 conversion at San Diego, the 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds in regulation at Denver, the 108-yard kick return touchdown at the Super Bowl -- Baltimore needed spectacular, improbable plays to compensate for its unimposing statistical performance.

As the 2013 NFL storylines develop, one will be whether Flacco is now the peer of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning. Eleven touchdown passes versus no interceptions in the postseason -- wow. Flacco seems to be handicapped in that he lacks Q, the ineffable quotient of personal appeal. Could you imagine Flacco in the DirecTV football-on-my-phone spoof? In contemporary athletic culture, endorsements are the test of graduating from star to superstar status. The Mannings roll in endorsements -- Gatorade, Sony, DirecTV, Nabisco, Samsung, Buick. Flacco endorses gummy bears.

Buffalo: The team that reached the Super Bowl a record four consecutive times, and made the playoffs 10 of 12 years during that phase, now has not appeared in a playoff game in a conference-worst 13 seasons.

The Bills have suffered under a succession of bland head coaches and time-server front-office types such as Bumbling Buddy Nix, who seemed perfectly content to lose. Bumbling Buddy squandered the third overall choice of the 2011 draft on Marcell Dareus, a journeyman; the next four gentlemen selected were A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones and Aldon Smith, all Pro Bowlers. Nix wasted the second choice of the 2011 second round on Aaron Williams, a journeyman; the next two players selected were Pro Bowler Andy Dalton and Super Bowl star Colin Kaepernick. Just to prove it was no fluke, Nix used Buffalo's third-round pick of 2011 for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, passing on the better-regarded linebacker Martez Wilson. Sheppard is already gone, as The Eagles would say. In another draft, Nix threw a second-round choice out the window on Torell Troup, who has two career starts; the next person selected was Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski, who's even from Buffalo. Every NFL general manager makes a dumb pick now and then. Bumbling Buddy seemed actively to avoid the blue-chip prospects.

Now with the team run by Doug Marrone and the front office in the hands of Russ Brandon and Doug Whaley, all relatively young and eager to make their reputations, perhaps spark will be added. First things first: The NFL's test of manhood is how a team performs in its division, and the Bills are on a nightmarish 3-23 streak versus New England. Buffalo's first game is against Flying Elvii, who will arrive in western New York with a league-best 9-0 streak on opening day. Nothing's going to change in the Bills' fortunes until they can defeat the Patriots.

Buffalo recently agreed to play a "home" date in Toronto for the next five seasons. Toronto is a wonderful city, and the marketing synergy seems strong. But the migrant-worker Bills save their worst game of the season for the frostback audience, going 1-4 in Toronto, including last season's deeply embarrassing 50-17 rout by Seattle. Marrone's first challenge for 2013 is to take a game from New England; his second is to beat the Falcons in Toronto in December.

As noted by Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk, at long last Buffalo residents can have their trash collected by the "official waste services provider" of the Bills.

Cincinnati: Tuesday Morning Quarterback contends Marvin Lewis lacks chutzpah as a coach, and lack of chutzpah results in annual fade-outs, the Bengals being 0-4 in the postseason during Lewis' tenure. Last season, the Bengals were hosting a Sunday night game on national television. The opponent was the Steelers, who own Lewis -- Pittsburgh entered on a 14-5 streak versus Cincinnati under him. Game tied in the third quarter, Cincinnati faced fourth-and-inches on the Steelers' 30, and in trotted the kicking unit. Victories don't come in the mail, go win the game! When the field goal boomed, TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Needless to say, Pittsburgh won. Bengals possession results for the remainder of the contest following the fourth-and-inches wimp-out: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt.

The Bengals' offense has young stars in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green; draft-day additions of Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard, the first tight end and first running back selected, may add pizzazz. Cincinnati's defense quietly finished sixth last season -- the corners and defensive tackles are particularly strong. Geno Atkins may be the NFL's best player who could walk around Times Square -- or around Fountain Square -- without being recognized.

Wasn't There Something Or Other About Royalty and 1776? The baby is "the future king of the British Empire," CBS correspondent Tina Kraus declared the day His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born. King of the -- say what? Whether Britons still held an empire has been problematic since they quit India in 1948. The term British Empire became rare after 1982 -- except at beauty pageants -- which was the year Parliament released its last legal claim on Canadian governance. Canadians now sing "God Save the Queen" because they are voluntary members of the Commonwealth of Nations, a ceremonial organization. Coincident with the 1997 Hong Kong handover, Prince Charles declared the British Empire no more, and raise your glass to that.

Prince George
Clarence House "I will tweet this in such a large font that the king can read it without his spectacles," declared John Hancock.

It's odd the world still cares about European royals, whose primary contribution to history has been wars, repression and poverty for ordinary people so that a handful of twits could live in extreme excess, admiring themselves in the mirror. Not just the British ruling houses -- the Hapsburgs, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns and other royal lines mainly brought misery to their subjects, and this was so even if Thomas Hobbes was right about corrupt aristocracy being preferable to bedlam. ALIQUATENUS MELIOR CHAOS should have been on every medieval royal family crest. That's Latin for "We Are Somewhat Better Than Chaos," at least according to the Google universal translator.

Perhaps anachronistic royalty draws crowds and media gushing because society adores celebrity, which the House of Windsor continues to possess. But through no effort of its own: The glamour, money and position of the Windsor crowd is inherited, not earned. Society's admiration should go to those who attain their positions via merit.

Yet there is continuing enthusiasm for anachronistic monarchs of several nations: During the baby countdown outside Clarence House, crowds showed up in Brussels to cheer for new King Philippe, who may be the most irrelevant human being ever to don a purple sash. Fantasy may explain this. Mired in quiet desperation, people like to imagine being born into wealth and glory, treated as special and chosen. Fantasies about sports, sex or money help men and women get through their day, and getting through the day is important.

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But let us not forget that kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses and the rest have had an almost entirely negative impact on the human family. Billions of people across the centuries would have lived better lives if the curse of royalty had not arisen. As for empire -- whether British or in any other form, it is a hateful, destructive concept used by the few to bleed dry the many. Britons shouldn't feel nostalgia for their lost empire, they should feel shame an empire once was held. Americans ought to join Indians, Pakistanis, Kenyans, Egyptians, Chinese, Afghans, Boers, Burmese and others in contempt for the memory of the British Empire.

Cleveland: The Browns' draft performance was puzzling. The new management team of Rob Chudzinski at coach and Michael Lombardi at general manager traded away fourth- and fifth-round picks to bank extra selections for 2014. Strong teams bank draft choices, since a rookie might not make the roster anyway; for a weak team to bank draft choices is a head-scratcher. The Tootsie Rolls roster is thin at many positions. In 14 years since coming back into existence as the Browns (Version 2.0), Cleveland has posted just two winning seasons, the last time being 2007. Yet Chudzinski and Lombardi pass on using choices this year, realizing only this modest haul. The Forty Niners banked a midround choice to 2014, but only after reaching the Super Bowl and then putting together this draft class. A losing team, low on talent, deferring its draft choices?

Norv Turner has a career losing record as a head coach -- 118-126-1 -- but has done well as an offensive coordinator, and is now the Browns' man in this role. Turner calls a California-style passing game: lots of flies and deep posts, actions NFL teams should employ more often. Perhaps Turner will invigorate the Browns' low-voltage attack. In the past two decades, Turner has been the head coach of three teams (Redskins, Raiders and Chargers), the offensive coordinator of five teams (Cowboys, Dolphins, Chargers, Forty Niners and now Browns). Presumably he keeps a bag packed.

In his rookie campaign, quarterback Brandon Weeden had many passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Weeden tends to tap the ball just before he throws -- a "tell." Turner should wire him up and give Weeden an electric shock every time he taps the ball.

Denver: The clock struck midnight on the Broncos' promising 2012 season when the secondary collapsed against Baltimore. Champ Bailey, one of football's best-known defenders, looked awful in that game. But as usual, Bailey was in a new defense. Reader Scott Kelley of Greenfield, Wis., notes Bailey has had 12 different defensive coordinators in his career, including seven at Denver. This season Jack Del Rio (Jack of the River to TMQ) returns as defensive coordinator, a rare moment for stability for the Denver defense -- which best not collapse again.

Peyton Manning wheezed out late -- a pattern in his career. Manning is 154-70 during the regular season, 9-11 in the playoffs. When the pressure cranks up in the postseason, Manning tends to telegraph and to throw more short sideways passes. His average per attempt dropped to 6.7 yards against the Ravens, who two games later allowed inexperienced Colin Kaepernick a 10.8-yard average. But don't count Peyton out -- John Elway won two Super Bowls after reaching the age Manning is now.

Before camp opened left tackle Ryan Clady, an outstanding player, signed a contract that offers several million dollars in incentives for making the Pro Bowl twice in next five years. Clady stands a good chance of attaining those incentives, since he is an offensive lineman who has already made the Pro Bowl more than once. Offensive linemen tend to be chosen for the Pro Bowl based more on reputation than performance.

[+] EnlargeDaft Punk
AP Photo/Gabriela SanchezThe NFL banned this face mask, too.

Media guides, once exotic possessions of the credentialed press corps, are being democratized by the Web. This year the Broncos posted their media guide online. The team will sell you one for $30 -- excuse me, for $29.99. It's a good deal: At 688 color pages, the guide would cost around $200 to print on an inkjet home printer. The Broncos cheer-babes now have an "official tanning resort." The reason for that mention is to create an excuse for the nearby Broncos cheerleader picture of Michelle, an office manager who attended the University Colorado at Boulder.

Houston: In 2011, Houston opened 10-3 then closed 1-4. In 2012, Houston opened 11-1 then closed 2-4. Spanning two seasons that's a 21-4 start followed by a 3-8 stumble. Until Thanksgiving, the Moo Cows are to be feared; afterward, are milquetoast. Injuries struck in both seasons, but every NFL team has to deal with injuries. The Ravens sure didn't fold just because Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb were hurt.

In personnel terms the Texans seem strong -- they'd be stronger had they not waived Jacoby Jones, eventual Super Bowl hero for the Ravens, before the 2012 season. What the Texans possess in physical ability, they lack in spirit and mental resilience. Last December, Houston was embarrassed on national television in a 42-14 loss to New England on "Monday Night Football." The following month the Texans had their chance for payback, traveling to New England in the playoffs -- and stunk up the joint again, trailing 38-14 in the fourth quarter before scoring consolation touchdowns. Knowing they had to prove themselves versus the Patriots, the Texans rolled over. Explanation? Houston is overrated.

[+] EnlargeHomecoming
Adam Rose/ABC/Getty ImagesPerhaps Texans players and cheerleaders can go to their Homecoming dance following their game in December.

The Moo Cows hope they meet Cincinnati in the playoffs, since in franchise annals, Houston is 2-0 in the postseason versus the Bengals but has never beaten any other team.

The Texans declared themes for 2013 home dates, and inexplicably are calling their December date with New England the Homecoming game. Given colleges schedule a cupcake for homecoming, this seems a calculated insult to a team that beat the Texans badly twice the year before. Perhaps there will be a pep rally and bonfire on Friday night before the game. Then Houston players and cheerleaders will go to a dance.

Indianapolis: Colts at Patriots in November was the defining game of this team's 2012 season. Indianapolis gained 448 yards on offense -- and lost by 35 points. In December, the Colts would defeat Detroit with a touchdown pass as the clock expired. In January, the Colts would post a respectable performance in the playoffs, playing well before bowing on the home field of the Ravens, eventual Super Bowl champion.

But it was Colts at Pats that told the story of Indianapolis in 2012. During that contest, the defense was weak and two long pick-six plays by the Flying Elvii left Indianapolis reeling. Between offense, kick returns and interception runbacks, New England posted a hard-to-believe 823 yards gained. It was the sort of game coaches toss out of the film room and never look at again.

Andrew Luck was high-profile as the first choice in the 2012, and in most cases his performance justified that selection. The Colts' second and third choices in 2012 were tight ends -- if they emerge in 2013, the Indianapolis passing game could become potent. The offensive line boasts several recent high draft choices -- and its lightest member is center Samson Satele, at 300 pounds. The 1972 Dolphins perfect team had no player above 300 pounds. Everyone on the Indianapolis Colts' 2013 offensive line exceeds this number.

The lesson of recent NFL seasons is that a strong offense masks a weak defense, rather than the vice-versa situation. The Colts used their first choice on defensive end Bjoern Werner, who was raised in Germany, hoping to improve their balance. This is what he sang at training camp during the annual rookie hazing ritual. The song is known as "99 Red Balloons" in English, though the German translates as "99 Floating Balloons."

[+] EnlargeMichelle of the Denver Broncos
Courtesy of Denver BroncosObviously the nearby reference exists to justify this picture.

The league told Colts end Robert Mathis he may no longer wear his funky face mask. Inevitably this will mean an NFL ban on members of the band Daft Punk playing in the secondary.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars were 0-3 in overtime in 2013, but even if they'd had better luck in the fifth quarter, they still would have been a lower-echelon team. The Jaguars finished last in sacks despite, in recent drafts, using two first-round, two second-round and two third-round choices on defensive linemen. Then again Jax was behind so often -- losses by 41-3, 24-3, 27-7 -- some opponents stopped passing, reducing the chance for sacks. In 2012, opponents rushed against Jacksonville more than they threw.

The strident insistence of the Jacksonville front office that this perennially dull losing team will have nothing to do with Tim Tebow, Florida's most popular football player, has gone from odd to downright weird. If Tebow becomes a success at New England -- as a "slash" or perhaps as an H-back or F-style tight end -- Jacksonville's refusal to sign him will look even worse. Plus the Jaguars spent a draft choice on Denard Robinson: If he ends up playing the "slash" role that might have gone to Tebow, Jacksonville management will have blundered anew. Tebow does have a traveling-circus problem. A strong, secure coach like Bill Belichick can handle that; a weak, insecure coach like Gus Bradley doesn't want to. Same with ownership -- Robert Kraft is strong and secure, while Shahid Khan does not inspire confidence.

The Jags have an enormous video board at EverBank Field, and are talking about showing Red Zone Channel during games. Since what's on Red Zone Channel is likely to be more interesting than a Jags game, this would serve to remind fans they might as well have stayed home and watched Red Zone Channel in comfort. The NFL brain trust grows concerned that wide-screen high-def television allows fans to experience a football game just as well, perhaps better, at home than at a stadium, while not buying tickets, $14 light beers or $30 parking spaces. Putting Red Zone Channel on the Jacksonville video board has tremendous backfire potential.

[+] EnlargeOktoberfest
AP Photo/Diether EndlicherOktoberfest began in July in Chicago.

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Brad Richardson of Overland Park, Kan., reports, "Harry Caray's at Midway Airport had Sam Adams Summer Ale on tap back in February. When I stopped there July 28th, the Summer Ale was gone for the season. The barkeep offered me Sam Adams Oktoberfest." Many readers including Martha David of Highland Park, Ill., reported receiving the L.L. Bean "First Signs of Fall" catalog on Aug.12.

Jersey/B: The Jets have a new defensive coordinator and their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons -- Rex Ryan likes to shift blame by firing coordinators. New York City is a political place, and blaming your staff is a way to survive in politics. Going before the New York City press corps isn't all that different from standing in front of angry bulls. Ryan has a strategy for that too.

New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says he's not worried about Mark Sanchez's 54 percent accuracy last season, that Brett Favre wasn't famous for accuracy. Actually, Favre completed 59 or 60 percent in his three MVP seasons; he began throwing nutty interceptions late in his career, and that's really not the model Sanchez should aspire to. Bart Starr dropped below 54 percent only twice in a 16-year career. Last season, the Jets division rival quarterbacks were above Sanchez for completions -- Tom Brady at 63 percent, Ryan Fitzpatrick at 60 percent and Ryan Tannehill at 58 percent. Throwing passes in football isn't like attempting field goals in basketball. In basketball, the high 40s is good shooting; last season only 31 NBA players, barely one per team, bested 50 percent accuracy. In football, a quarterback must be at or near 60 percent. Had Sanchez in 2012 thrown for the average of the other quarterbacks in his division, he would have completed 23 more passes.

[+] EnlargeBart Starr
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesBart Starr would not have considered 54 percent completions to be just fine.

Rutgers University may be a mess, Gov. Chris Christie may squander $24 million of taxpayers' money to promote his ego, Christie may be off campaigning while New Jersey government malfunctions, but at the Jets' New Jersey minicamp, bromance bloomed.

Kansas City: Against Denver, Chiefs corner Brandon Flowers picked up a fumble, seemed on his way to a scoop-and-score -- then was caught from behind by Peyton Manning, one of the league's slowest players. Against Pittsburgh, the Chiefs scored a touchdown and were assessed a celebration penalty; replay overturned the score, but the penalty stood. Against Indianapolis, the Chiefs gained 507 yards on offense at home, including 352 yards rushing, and lost. The 2012 season was that kind of season for hapless Kansas City.

Now Andy Reid is running the Chiefs' show, backed by a mere 22 assistant coaches, including one with the title "statistical analysis coordinator" and one tasked with "spread game analysis/special projects." Reid seemed burned out at the end of his Philadelphia tenure -- why didn't he take a year off? His predecessor, Romeo Crennel, barely lasted a year; the headmaster before Crennel, Todd Haley, took the Chiefs to a division win in 2010, then didn't even last the entire 2011 season. This job may be a perilous one for a head coach who arrives in low spirits.

The Chiefs' trump card would seem to be tailback Jamaal Charles, who at Kansas City has averaged 907 yards per season and a dazzling 5.3 yards per rush. Yet the Chiefs have only one winning record in the five seasons Charles posted those numbers. Anyway now that Reid is in charge, the Chiefs will stop running the ball.

Kansas City gave a high second draft choice to obtain Alex Smith, who, replacing Matt Cassel, becomes the second consecutive Kansas City quarterback obtained for a second-round pick from a team that no longer wanted him. TMQ thinks Smith is the real deal. At the Niners, Harbaugh/West was so eager to showcase Colin Kaepernick that Smith fell out of favor despite performing well. In Smith's final 2012 appearance with San Francisco, he went 25-for-27 with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Should Smith play well in Reid's pass-wacky system, this trade will be viewed as the year's steal.

Kansas City used the first choice of the draft on an offensive tackle; five of the Chiefs' seven most recent first-round choices have been linemen. Drafting is an art, not a science, but NFL teams that emphasize meat and potatoes usually are glad they did.

Which Is Really Sci-Fi, Iron Man or James Bond? In "Skyfall," James Bond is shot twice in the chest, falls off a bridge, goes over a waterfall -- then recovers without medical treatment. And not just any bridge: He is depicted as falling off the 564-foot-high Varda Viaduct in Turkey. The world record for a high dive is 177 feet; Bond falls three times as far with bullets in his chest, and is fine. Later in the flick, he crashes through the ice on a frozen lake and fights a bad guy under freezing water -- it's 1 minute, 24 seconds before he breathes again. For good measures, three times Bond hangs by his fingertips from great heights. Compared to these feats, Iron Man is some guy in a Halloween costume.

[+] EnlargeVarda Viaduct
Courtesy of Mustafa TorThe Varda Viaduct, which James Bond casually jumped off. As Groucho asked, viaduct?

In "Skyfall," the cackling super-villain owns an island and, like the cackling super-villains in the Dark Knight movies, has dozens of highly skilled henchmen who are totally obedient though all his henchmen die.

As Bond chases the cackling super-villain through a subway tunnel, he detonates explosives that cause a Tube train to fall through the ceiling. But tons of explosives would be required for this in the real world. How did the bad guy put the explosives in position without attracting attention? (In "The Dark Knight" and also in "The Dark Knight Rises," bad guys place many tons of high explosives around Gotham City without anyone noticing.) How did the "Skyfall" bad guy determine where to put the explosives, since he had no way of knowing in advance which of London's maze of subway tunnels Bond would chase him down?

The cackling super-villain has a helicopter gunship available on short notice to attack a castle in Scotland. Probably there are not that many privately owned helicopter gunships in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the bad guy called a helicopter gunship rental agency.

Near the climax, when the wizened Scottish gamekeeper runs into the woods with M to hide her from the bad guy, why does the wizened gamekeeper have his flashlight on? Without the flashlight, the bad guy never could have found them.

[+] EnlargeJames Bond
Courtesy of Columbia PicturesVillains may have armies of henchmen, but they have nothing like Bond's suit.

Yet the most ridiculous scene of "Skyfall" was the film's first. Bond goes to an MI6 safe house in Istanbul to pick up an agency computer disc bearing the names of all Western double agents working for foreign powers. Set aside why the disc would be in Istanbul -- why would it exist? A spy agency would never have all its most sensitive info in the same place, let alone on a small disc situated on foreign soil. The reason standby Bond characters are called M and Q is that the actual MI6 uses codes rather than real names -- the first director, Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who took office in 1909, was known as C. In 1909, MI6 did not make lists of clandestine names. By "Skyfall," all the names are on a single digital file that can be emailed.

Miami: During the 2012 season, the Dolphins lost 37-3 at home to the Tennessee Titans, who were 3-6 at the time. The Genetically Engineered Surimi -- TMQ's new cognomon -- finished 2012 in the bottom third for offense, defense and give/take. Recent high draft choices Jake Long, Sean Smith, Philip Merling, Pat White and Chad Henne either were busts or departed in free agency. The franchise remains weighed down by the NFL's worst front-office screw-up of the past decade, the 2006 decision to tell Drew Brees he wasn't wanted, then let Nick Saban make a major trade for Daunte Culpepper. Both Saban and Culpepper were gone 'ere the clock struck twelve on New Year's Eve.

Owner Stephen Ross is so unpopular he's managed to turn local politicians against a new stadium deal, which in the upside-down world of NFL economics is nearly impossible. It is wonderfully refreshing to see a billionaire NFL owner not able to force ordinary people to give him their tax money. Three cheers for Florida Senate president Don Gaetz, who stood up to Ross. The Dolphins had the temerity to claim their stadium subsidies would be paid for solely be "tourists" -- perhaps a resident of Florida becomes a "tourist" when entering Miami-Dade County -- and would create "thousands of jobs." Dozens is more likely, if that.

Given bad stats in 2012 and bad vibes in the front office, Tuesday Morning Quarterback ought to be calling for the Dolphins to finish 2-14. Instead in two weeks, yours truly will forecast them to win the division. (Bear in mind, I also think ObamaCare will be a success.) The Dolphins will win the division because … because … I have no logical explanation. Once in a while, you go with your feelings.

Along the defensive front, the Dolphins have the third choice of the 2013 draft (Dion Jordan), another recent first-round selection (Jared Odrick), two 2012 Pro Bowl players (Cameron Wake and Randy Starks), a 2011 Pro Bowl player (Paul Soliai), a nice free-agent acquisition (Vaughn Martin) and a young undrafted player to keep an eye on (Olivier Vernon). No front seven is loaded like Miami's.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that for training camp, Dolphins coaches hung footballs on the walls of defense meeting rooms, to remind defenders to get the football. Did the Dolphins last season forget they are supposed to get the football?

[+] EnlargeMeet The Millers
Courtesy of Warner Bros.Luckily for marketing of the film, the MPAA rating called it crude.

Disclaimer of the Week: Reader Mark Wegener of Wilmette, Ill., writes, "The tiny-type warning for the Jason Sudeikis/Jennifer Aniston movie We're the Millers cautions of 'pervasive language.' So the movie is full of...words?! Oh the horror!" Not just words, pervasive words.

The disclaimer also warns of "crude sexual content," which seems like the MPAA commenting on the writing. Of course, this warning may have increased ticket sales.

New England: Last season the quick-snap New England offense averaged 74 plays and 30 first downs per game, versus league averages of 64 plays and 20 first downs. New England amassed 444 first downs; compare to Atlanta, which barely missed the Super Bowl, at 343 first downs. The Flying Elvii put up 66 touchdowns, including six on defense and two by kick returns. Despite nearly 700 drop-backs, New England allowed only 27 sacks -- the pace was both quick-snap and quick-release -- while converting a hard-to-beat 49 percent of third downs.

Once obsessed with defense, Bill Belichick continues his transition to offensive sensei. Everything about the Patriots' offense is well-coached. Tom Brady has developed the quickest release since Dan Marino, and throws accurately over the short middle as well as or better than any quarterback. Brady never shows wasted motion, while New England blocking schemes support Brady's throwing lanes. If, for instance, the primary receiver is running a short curl right, the right guard and right tackle will ensure there's a clear lane in the pocket for Brady to see that pattern. The Flying Elvii offense set league records in points, first downs and other categories in 2007 and then again last season. Belichick's transition to emphasizing offense over defense has led New England to 10 division titles in 12 years.

But both Belichick's regular-season record-setting offenses wheezed out in the playoffs, dropping from an average of 37 points per game in 2007 to 14 points in a Super Bowl loss, and from an average of 35 points per game in 2012 to 13 points in last season's AFC title loss. Rhythm-based quick-snap passing tends to succeed in the regular season, when defenders are holding a little something back for the next game, and sputter in the postseason, when there's no tomorrow and defensive backs get into receivers' faces. Will New England in 2013 once again be unstoppable during the regular season, then sputter come postseason?

Aaron Hernandez never will return to the Patriots, while Rob Gronkowski has injury problems owing partly to Belichick's hubris -- Gronkowski was injured last year when his coach kept this star player on the field despite a 58-24 fourth-quarter lead. Problems at the position may make Tim Tebow a tight end sooner rather than later.

Hall of Fame Tosses the Accused, Keeps the Guilty: When Hernandez was arrested on a homicide charge, his former coaches Belichick and Urban Meyer seemed immediately to assume the worst. Belichick said, "Having someone in your organization that's involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing." Meyer said "it was a sick feeling" to see media reports linking his name with the jailed tight end. Hernandez stands accused of an awful crime -- but he's only accused, nothing has been proved. Police leaks to the media often turn out wrong; it could be months or years before the player's guilt or innocence is known. Yet the Patriots immediately waived Hernandez, as if assuming guilt; the NFL immediately yanked his jersey from sale.

[+] EnlargeHall of Fame
AP PhotoIf "good taste" matters here, why are O.J. Simpson and Lawrence Taylor still members?

Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the Pro Football Hall of Fame took down a photo of Hernandez "in the spirit of good taste," according to a Canton official. Wander through the Hall of Fame: Little shrines remain there to O.J. Simpson, who's in jail for armed robbery and was found by a California civil jury to have committed two "wrongful deaths," and Lawrence Taylor, a registered sex offender. Good taste?

Oakland: Charles Woodson was expected to sign with Denver, which offered him about the same amount of greenbacks as Oakland plus a much better chance of a postseason appearance. But at Denver, Woodson would have played second fiddle to Champ Bailey, while at Oakland, Woodson will be Da Man. Had Woodson gone to the Broncos, and he and Bailey found themselves doubling the same receiver, their ego fields would have interacted, causing a distortion of the space-time continuum.

The Raiders play man coverage more than any other NFL team, so corners mean a lot in their scheme. In addition to signing Woodson, Oakland spent its No. 1 choice on cornerback D.J. Hayden, who suffered a rare and quite serious heart injury at a college practice last November. The Raiders have blown so many high draft picks lately that Hayden and Darren McFadden are the sole first-rounders of the past decade still on the team, and add to all the highly drafted flops the first-round choice thrown out the window for Carson Palmer.

Oakland once had an eccentric majority owner in Al Davis; early indicators are the team now has a spiteful majority owner in his son. Mark Davis fired the Raiders' public relations director after Sports Illustrated ran an article critical of the Davis family. Mark Davis actually believes a P.R. person can control what appears in Sports Illustrated? That sounds like a reason to run an article critical of Mark Davis.

The stadium where the Raiders play is a joint football-baseball facility that can be reconfigured. For this season there will be just 53,000 football seats, down from 63,000 in 2012. The Jaguars reduced their seating by nearly 10,000 a few years ago. The goal in both cases is to increase sellouts, thus reducing blackouts. Television revenue so dominates modern football marketing that the additional income from selling a stadium's last 10,000 cheap seats is less than advertising revenue from local broadcasts of games. Hence owners, who once loved the blackout, now don't.

After being the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, then the Network Associates Coliseum, then the McAfee Coliseum, then the Overstock.com Coliseum, the stadium now bears the unpronounceable name O.co Coliseum. Googling "O.co" takes you to the Overstock website. Why a corporation uses a name that looks like a misprint is anyone's guess.

College Football News: The University of Texas at San Antonio, which is Division I-AA and moves up to Division I in 2014, last season played Northwestern Oklahoma State. This fall the Roadrunners face Oklahoma State. As with other universities that shift funds to football, the likely result is a higher public profile for UTSA, followed by academic budget cuts.

[+] EnlargeTexas Map
AP Photo/Eric Gay, File"Big East" opponents will face off in this state.

The Big East 2013 football schedule includes Houston at Southern Methodist, a Big "East" pairing in which neither leaves the state of Texas; Memphis at Houston and SMU at Memphis, pairings in which neither Big "East" school is in the Eastern time zone.

It was sad in March when the Big East basketball tournament ended forever. "Forever" in this usage meant three days.

Pittsburgh: While the coaching carousel revolves across most of the league, the Steelers have had three head coaches in the past 44 years. Could lack of turmoil maybe just possibly have something to do with the Steelers also recording the most Super Bowl victories in that period?

Coordinator turmoil, which grows steadily worse in the NFL, afflicts even the Steelers. After Pittsburgh's playoff exit following the 2011 season, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was scapegoated and dismissed. The Steelers had finished 12th on offense in 2011; without Arians in 2012, they finished 21st, and made no playoff exit because they weren't invited to the playoffs.

The Steelers enter this season with an offense perceived as in decline, with home run threat Mike Wallace gone and once again with uncertainty at tailback and offensive line. The Steelers' defense was the league's best in 2012 and should be stout in 2013. But six starters are on the wrong side of 30. How long can these aging defenders sustain a high level of performance?

This year's draft offered bargains at quarterback. Because 10 quarterbacks were taken in the first round during the previous three drafts, few teams were looking for a highly chosen signal-caller, allowing Geno Smith to slip to the second round while Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib and Landry Jones slipped to the fourth. The same effect applied to running backs. Seven went in the first rounds of the three prior drafts, so few teams were looking for a highly chosen tailback. This dynamic allowed Le'veon Bell, Montee Ball and Eddie Lacy to slip to the late second round.

Because only one quarterback or running back went in the first round, touts called the 2013 draft weak at these positions. TMQ thinks it will turn out the 2013 draft was strong for quarterbacks and running backs, it's just that the action did not begin until the second day. And look which team got a double whammy -- the Steelers landed Bell and Jones at bargain prices in draft terms.

NIMBY Is Not Progress: For decades, nuclear power plants have produced electricity with almost no air emissions and no harm to the public; high construction cost and waste disposal are the drawbacks. Cost may be an intractable problem: Industry's promises of affordable new reactors so far are just promises. Waste disposal must be dealt with whether new plants are built or not.

Of course no one wants atomic materials in his or her state, but they must go somewhere. The nearly complete Yucca Mountain underground storage facility in Nevada has received elaborate scientific study and is surely a safer place for atomic wastes than any other current alternative -- including holding the wastes at power plants, which was done at Fukushima and quietly is being done in the United States. Two years ago your columnist argued that Barack Obama suspended work on Yucca Mountain as a political favor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and to the Hollywood elites who denounce nuclear power yet fly around in private jets madly spewing greenhouse gases. The move was good politics, but bad for the national interest. Last week a federal appeals court found the president is simply ignoring a law, enacted by Congress, that requires a final decision yea or nay on the Yucca Mountain project.

Republicans have been rightly accused of engaging in obstructionism to please their donor base. But Obama engages in obstructionism too, in this case apparently failing to move forward on a safe, sensible plan because the plan offends left-wing donors.

[+] EnlargeCharger girls
San Diego Chargers/Mike NowakIf only the Chargers could meet the performance level of their cheerleaders.

San Diego: In the past decade, the Bolts have had trouble keeping their first-round draft choices on the field. Craig Davis was a bust; Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo had short careers due to injury; Ryan Mathews often doesn't or can't start; Larry English looks like a bust (four starts in four seasons); Antoine Cason was effectively waived over the winter as San Diego made no attempt to re-sign him; Antonio Cromartie was sent packing in a trade that brought the Bolts only a fraction of their initial investment.

Two years ago, San Diego performed the seemingly impossible feat of finishing first in offense and first in defense, yet missing the playoffs. Last season the Bolts dropped to 31st on offense, though finishing a respectable ninth on the other side of the ball. The play of Philip Rivers has declined, but football is a team sport -- everyone on the San Diego offense went downhill last season. In the San Diego organization, only the cheerleaders could be counted on to bring it.

Nevertheless keep your eye on the Bolts, who are sure to win this season's Super Bowl. Why? Reader Kevin Lasota of Rochester, N.Y., notes, "The four most recent Super Bowl victors -- the Saints, Packers, Giants and Ravens -- were Philadelphia's opponent in the Eagles' home opener that year. In 2013, the Eagles open at home against the Chargers."

[+] EnlargeGone with the Wind
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images"Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn about your possessory credit."

It Could Have Been 'Rawson Marshall Thurbur's We're the Millers': The new film loosely based on the life of White House butler Eugene Allen is titled "Lee Daniels' The Butler." The title is grammatically incorrect -- "Daniels" is not plural, proper names that end with the letter "s" require as a second "s" in the possessive: the title should be "Lee Daniels's The Butler." Beyond that, the title carries the possessory credit too far. "Marvel's The Avengers" could be justified as distinguishing the movie from the 1998 spy spoof "The Avengers." There's no other movie called "The Butler" that the current film might be confused with. Perhaps past offerings should have been "Stanley Kubrick's 2001," "David Lean's Doctor Zhivago" and "David Silverman's The Simpsons Movie."

Tennessee: The Flaming Thumbtacks were last in the league in points allowed -- so during the offseason they loaded up on offense, using their first two draft selections and their big-money free-agent signings on offensive players. Just to show their puzzling approach was no fluke, the Titans raided the roster of the woebegone Buffalo Bills, signing away Andy Levitre and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Tennessee will be goin' nowhere in 2013 if it once again allows 29 points per game. But little was done in the offseason about the defense. The Tennessee defense was so bad in 2012, the Titans' seven return touchdowns, an excellent number, translated into only six victories. Several Titans losses were embarrassing -- a 51-20 defeat at home by the Bears had patrons streaming to the exits early, a 55-7 defeat at Green Bay was an embarrassment. The Titans could be the train-wreck team of the 2013 season.

Next Week: TMQ's NFC preview.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.

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