The opening of training camps unofficially ended a couple of months of bad publicity for the National Football League.
No question the NFL's shield has been dented by recent arrests. Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail on a murder charge. The Browns cut undrafted rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott after he was charged with attempted murder. DUIs were plentiful.
Much has been discussed about what the NFL should do in trying to stop the arrests. With approximately 2,800 players under contract, it's irrational to think some players won't get into trouble when they have time on their hands. The new CBA gives players more time away from work during the offseason. Off-the-field incidents now stand at 42 in 2013. There were 45 in 2012 for the entire year.
The most encouraging hope, though, is teams are being more proactive in handling discipline instead of waiting for commissioner Roger Goodell to react. Teams know they can use the league to deliver the bad news to players who embarrass the franchise and the league.
If teams hold players and employees accountable for their actions, the number of incidents might slow down.
Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for following through on their no-tolerance threat with cornerback Eric Wright. Wright disappointed the Bucs last year by being suspended four games for a PED violation. The suspension voided a $7.75 million guarantee in Wright's contract for the 2013 season.
To stay with the team, Wright accepted a pay cut to $1.5 million. When the Bucs found out he was arrested on July 12 on suspicion of DUI, they put him on the trade market and were prepared to cut him if they didn't get an offer. Wright ended up going to the San Francisco 49ers for a low conditional draft choice in 2014. (Update: The trade was voided when Wright failed his physical.)
The Denver Broncos wasted no time suspending two top front office officials -- Matt Russell and Tom Heckert -- for their DUI arrests. The league could have delivered the punishment, but it means more if the teams act. When teams deliver the punishment, it sends the message that jobs could be on the line if off-the-field offenses embarrass them.
The Patriots handled the Hernandez situation properly. Instead of worrying about trying to recoup $10 million of signing bonus money, the Patriots cut Hernandez after he became involved in a murder investigation.
Since April 29, six players have been cut or traded for off-the-field acts.
From the inbox
M.A. in Michigan
A: I don't think the Clady deal affects Veldheer in any way. Clady is a top-of-the-line offensive tackle with Pro Bowl ability. Veldheer is a good offensive lineman, but he's not at the top level. His contract is more affected by the Jermon Bushrod and Will Beatty contracts. That puts Veldheer in the range of $7.1 million to $7.5 million a year. A good season could put him above that mark. That should be affordable to the Raiders, but they could franchise him if they can't complete a long-term deal.
Q: Is the quarterback position just too valuable to move toward a "draft a QB every four years and build a contender around his rookie salary" model? The Seahawks, 49ers, Colts, Redskins, etc. might be onto something. You could argue that they will suffer significantly when they have to pay their QBs top dollar. Now that QBs are starting right away, would it make sense to spend money on other positions and allow the QB to play out his rookie deal and reload at the position?
Nick in Washington, D.C.
A: For a franchise to get the right quarterback, it's a once-in-a-decade move. There aren't enough good ones to go around. To let one go for another for cap purposes would set the franchise back for years. The good quarterbacks win games. That puts them in the lower portion of the draft, where it is hard to get the replacement. Think about this year's draft. There wasn't a guaranteed No. 1 quarterback. If you let one go after four years, you may need to get one at the time there isn't a good draft for quarterbacks. If you have a quarterback, you pay the quarterback. If not, you lose.
Q: With QBs either getting rid of the ball faster than ever, such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, or just flat out becoming faster/more mobile like Aaron Rodgers (not a burner but fast enough and great at moving his feet without taking his eyes off of his WRs), Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton (burners), what does that do to the value placed on O-linemen? I understand that value in a general sense differs from franchise to franchise, but as a whole does this trend bring their value in the open market or in the draft down? Could it depend on the QB you have? Are the Patriots less willing to commit cap room to O-linemen because they know Brady gets rid of the ball? And do these different types of QBs require different types of linemen/blocking schemes?
Will in Detroit
A: A faster-paced offense puts teams in position to consider lighter, more athletic blockers. You notice that's what the Patriots have, and it worked well last year with Brady averaging 74.4 plays a game. The success depends on being able to move the chains and get first downs. To go three-and-out in a fast-paced setting is going to eventually wear down the team's defense. That's not good. You saw Brady could run the fast-paced offense with no mobility. That tells you it depends on the quarterback how the offense is going to work.
Q: Would it be feasible to start paying players based on their position? Basically, all starting QBs would warrant a $16 million-$22 million paycheck, RBs make $4 million-$8 million, etc. Backups and specialty players would have their set price tags and could maybe earn a bonus for filling in and playing time. Rookies would still make less, but after a certain amount of starts/plays, they would escalate to the higher rate. You would cut down on free agency while giving the players a little wiggle room for contract negotiations. Every year, instead of raising the salary cap, you could add a "cost of living" raise to each position. It's not perfect, but as a fan who hates watching his favorite players move on for more money, it would seem well worth the time spent on investigating the possibilities of such a pay scale.
Travis in Casper, Wyo.
A: Agents and the union would never allow that. They wouldn't allow a system that caps an individual salary. In many ways, the market dictates the value of the player. Quarterbacks, defensive ends, offensive tackles, wide receivers and cornerbacks make the most because they have the best leverage in contract talks. Sure, this is a union, but athletes are like actors and actresses. They get what they get when negotiating.
Q: I have never understood why a team can play all of its games in front of its fans all year, and then they have to go 3,000 miles away if it makes the Super Bowl. Why can't the team with the best record host the Super Bowl every year instead of going halfway across the country. Not only would this eliminate tanking and holding out players at the end of the season, it would give a chance for the "real" fans to go the game. I guarantee Justin Bieber or Madonna would not come and sit in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati in February.
Derrick in Hillsboro, Ohio
A: The NFL built its brand and popularity, in part, with the Super Bowl. The league wanted the Super Bowl to be a big event. To do that, it wanted to have a two-week buildup in a city that had years to prepare for the game. Because cities have to invest so much money into acquiring the game, it's a big money maker for the NFL and the Super Bowl continues to grow. Now, owners can help fund new stadiums with the revenues generated from a Super Bowl game. Sure, it would be nice for the sport to have home field in the championship, but the NFL formula has worked, so it will continue.
Q: With all the legal and financial problems going on with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, if he gets charged with any crimes can the NFL step in and force him to sell the team?
Adam in Dayton, Ohio
A: If he gets charged with a crime, he might have to recuse himself until the resolution of the case, but I don't see him being forced to sell unless he is convicted of a federal crime. Despite the losses in his company, he has enough cash for the Browns. The NFL is letting the case play out without any actions. We'll see if the company's efforts to reach settlement agreements will affect the government's case. For now, the team remains his.
Q: The NFL commissioner's fines and suspensions for illegal hits seem very arbitrary. Why not establish a system similar to the NBA's flagrant foul system? Add a panel of five judges (i.e. a doctor, an NFLPA rep, former coaches, offensive or defensive players, etc.) who spend all season evaluating any questionable hits. Illegal hits are given values (points) by the judges at midweek. When a player accumulates points, he gets a set fine leading to a suspension. Some hits warrant more points than others. Obviously, for egregious offenses Mr. Goodell steps in and dishes out specific punishments, but delegating some authority would relieve lots of stress and allow him to focus on other issues. And in most cases it would provide logic to a system that seems very biased and inconsistent.
John in Leonard Wood, Mo.
A: I would like it. Those who cover the league would like it. I'm sure it would help fans with the understanding of the fine, but Roger Goodell wants to have the clout to be able to make an impact with those fines to stop whatever actions trouble the league. There is a fine schedule for most incidents. If the player is a repeat offender, the fine increases. If those actions don't stop the offenses, the player faces possible suspension. It's almost like hamburger places with secret formulas. The NFL doesn't want to reveal all fine schedules because it wants to judge cases one by one.
Q: Not strictly a football question, but what is your take on the new NFL policy on bags in the stadiums (one clear 12-inch x 6-inch x 12-inch bag, no seat cushions)? It seems to me you are going to have some angry fans at the gate, especially in cold-weather cities, when that small bag won't hold much cold-weather gear. It just seems like a lot of security theater with virtually no added safety that could negatively affect attendance.
Richard in Seattle
A: I understand it, but I'm not for it. The NFL is trying to do everything to make the game experience better to keep fans buying tickets. Preventing blankets and limiting bags and cushions would qualify as an inconvenience in my mind. Will fans be comfortable in the cold-weather games without blankets and seat cushions? Everyone is in favor of safety. I hope there are good suggestions from the NFL to give ticket buyers options to make their experiences good ones.