The first full week of NFL preseason action featured some tough decisions made, and tougher ones brewing on the horizon.
The toughest decision was made by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. Faced with a void at wide receiver after the Brandon Marshall trade with Chicago, the Dolphins signed Chad Johnson. But after Johnson was charged Saturday with domestic battery after he allegedly head-butted his wife (whom he married barely a month ago), Philbin terminated Johnson's contract. Now the Dolphins are once again short on receiving help, and it could cost them wins.
Another tough decision is looming in Miami: Who will be the starting quarterback? The easiest choice would have been to go with David Garrard, but his knee surgery on Saturday likely eliminated that option for a month. By the end of Week 2 in the preseason, Philbin must decide whether to go with incumbent Matt Moore or first-round pick Ryan Tannehill. Considering the Dolphins' lack of receiving threats, Philbin might be wise to go with Moore until he figures out what he has on the outside at receiver.
For the Titans, Mike Munchak won't have an easy choice at quarterback. Jake Locker has done well in training camp and looked good in the preseason opener against Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck may have the lead, but the gap is narrowing.
Pete Carroll moved the Seahawks' quarterback position closer to a solution. He used Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson against the Titans, putting Tarvaris Jackson on hold because he's already familiar with Jackson's skills. For Carroll, the toughest decision is timing. Should he push his three-way competition to a conclusion this week or next, knowing time is running out for the starter to get ready for the opener against the Arizona Cardinals?
On the legal front, linebacker Jonathan Vilma didn't get satisfaction in federal court when a magistrate decided to take more time to decide what to do with his defamation suit against the NFL. Vilma was hoping for a temporary restraining order to allow him to return to the field. The magistrate wasn't sure she had the authority to make a decision, because player discipline is a collectively bargained issue.
On the negative side, the NFL appears to be bargaining hard in talks with officials. It appears they are set to go with replacement officials for the second week of the preseason, and there is a growing feeling the dispute could last into the regular season. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
From the inbox
Q: Peyton Manning is getting all the attention, but how is the young receiving corps he has to work with looking? On paper this is Denver's most promising tandem since Rod Smith/Ed McCaffrey, with Eric Decker roaming underneath and over the middle and Demaryius Thomas playing downfield. I can't help but think they'll both have better numbers catching from Manning, but can they do the little things we blue-and-orange faithful took for granted in the old days, like blocking downfield?
Luke in Ewa Beach, Hawaii
A: So far, so good for the receiving corps. Thomas is having a great camp, and Manning hasn't worked with a wide receiver as tall as Thomas before. Decker and Brandon Stokley work well out of the slot. Andre Caldwell is also a good slot receiver, but the Broncos have him working on the outside. The Broncos could probably use another outside threat. They are hoping Jason Hill or Matt Willis might come through, but they may have to wait until next year to find another perimeter option.
Q: With reports about altercations, both physical and verbal, coming from the Jets, is it possible that we are seeing a team in distress or are players just blowing off some steam? It seems more and more likely that if they carry on this way into the season, that this is a team that will fail to secure a winning record, let alone a trip to the playoffs.
Steve in New York
A: This can be a little overblown. The weather has been hot and guys get tired practicing against each other every day. Sure, there are potential problems in the locker room, but not to the extent you suggest. Rex Ryan is a players' coach and he keeps his defense playing on the edge. I remember when Jerry Glanville was coaching in Atlanta and Houston there would be some wild fights, much worse than that of the Jets, and those teams were close. What you should worry about is how the offensive players respond to quarterback Mark Sanchez with TebowMania swirling around them. If they don't have full faith in Sanchez, the Jets are in trouble.
Q: With all the quarterback trades the Eagles have made the past few years, do you think it is plausible to think NFL teams now don't trust Philadelphia when it comes to trading for a new starting quarterback?
Brett in Naples, Fla.
A: No. Teams know Andy Reid and his staff can develop quarterbacks. If the gamble doesn't work, more of the blame falls on their scouting department. Still, from A.J. Feeley to an aging Donovan McNabb to now possibly Kevin Kolb, teams that have gambled on former Eagles quarterbacks haven't had a lot of success. Still, a team has to do something if it's desperate for a quarterback.
Efren in Phoenix
A: The one-day contract doesn't net a player a dime. What it does is put his name on the team's reserve list. The player signs for the minimum salary, just like Alex Brown of the Bears did last week. The next day the player goes on the reserve/retired list. This allows him to say he ended his career with the team that originally drafted or signed him. It is mostly a ceremonial procedure.
Q: With depth charts being announced, I am curious about your thoughts on Ronnie Hillman being the No. 3 running back in Denver. What kind of impact do you see him having in his first year, and in what capacity do you think he will be used?
Mike in San Diego
A: He should have a good impact on the Broncos if he's healthy, but Hillman wasn't healthy when I visited Broncos camp. They had Lance Ball as the backup and Knowshon Moreno running fourth team. I guess you can say the Broncos must be pleased with his early development to put him ahead of Moreno, a former first-round pick. Hillman has speed and elusiveness, but to be a factor on third downs, he'll have to learn how to block in passing situations.
Q: The Giants were 7-7 after Week 15 last season. They went 6-0 after that and won the Super Bowl. But all through that run there were a number of plays that could have turned games against the Giants. No one could have predicted their title, and it doesn't seem likely to happen that way again. If the Giants are to win the Super Bowl again this season, it will have to be with better and more talented players making plays, because miracles apparently only happen every four years.
Mark in New York
A: It's hard to repeat as Super Bowl champ, and it's not out of the question for the Giants to have a better start this season but not go as far in the playoffs. We watched the Packers go 15-1 after winning the Super Bowl, and then get eliminated at home in their first playoff game last season. The Eagles are better than they were last year and the Cowboys might be, too, so the Giants have a long road ahead.
Q: I know Mike Wallace is expected to sign his tender sometime this month. But if he chooses to sit out 10 weeks of the season in protest (and then sign the tender to still have the season count in terms of service), does Pittsburgh still have the option of lowering the contract amount to roughly $250,000, or was that a one-time option that they cannot enforce due to passing on it last month?
Matthew in Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: The Steelers can't lower the tender, but if Wallace holds out into the season, he loses almost $159,000 a week in salary, which is why I think he will come in before the start of the regular season. The Steelers are offering a five-year contract worth more than $50 million. Wallace wants around $11.5 million per year, and that's too high for the Steelers' payroll. They may be over the salary cap next year, but they can franchise him for around $10.3 million, which would mean his two-year salary as a restricted free agent and a franchise player would be $13 million. It does make sense to consider the Steelers' last offer.
Q: Everyone is talking about the 49ers regressing. I can see a regression in win-loss record due to strength of schedule, but I think they have the talent to make a run in the postseason. Remember, had wide receiver Ted Ginn not been hurt, they would have beaten the Giants with one more third-down conversion, because two costly fumbles wouldn't have happened. Now, wide receiver upgrades and running back depth should improve us for the postseason.
Matthew in Richmond, Va.
A: The tougher schedule could lead to a worse record, but you are right. The 49ers could go deep in the playoffs. They obviously would need to stay healthy. They would also need a big season from quarterback Alex Smith. At the moment, they probably have one of the five best teams in the NFL.
Q: In preseason games, we get to watch second halves played by undrafted free agents and third-string quarterback wannabes. If we are lucky, perhaps a kicker or punter may be fighting for a real job. My questions: Are the 30-plus players who have almost no chance to make the team covered in any way by the CBA, what kind of contracts have they signed, and what kind of injury settlements are they entitled to receive should they get hurt?
Mike in Thornville, Ohio
A: The undrafted rookies have base salaries of $390,000 that is paid only if the player makes the team. Some received signing bonuses of $10,000 or less, many didn't get signing bonuses at all. If a player suffers an injury during a game, he can be placed on the waived/injured list and could make as much as $273,000 if he's out all season. Those players stick around until they are healthy, but they usually work out an injury settlement for the length of time it takes for them to get healthy. That $390,000 is not guaranteed.
Q: With a rash of injuries after one preseason game, do you think the lack of padded practices has made the players softer and opened them up to more painful injuries? Going from very little hitting in practice to full-on contact in a game, it seems like players are not quite prepared for the physicality of a game experience.
Gurinder in Abbotsford, British Columbia
A: I didn't see an appreciable increase in injuries during the first week this year compared to last year. It was probably a little worse last year because the players didn't have an offseason in the weight and training programs due to the lockout. But I agree with you that the lack of contract during practices in camp makes it tough for the players to be fully prepared for the games.