We’ll take a brief respite from “Law & Order: New England Patriots” to catch up with the important stories from around the NFL that you may have missed:
1. Execs Gone Wild.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will be handing down a stiff punishment in Denver for violations of the personal conduct policy, but no players will be involved this time.
Instead, the Broncos’ front office will be hit — hard — after two of its top executives were recently arrested in separate DUI incidents.
First on Saturday, director of player personnel Matt Russell — a Patriots scout from 2000-05 who is credited with the drafting of quarterback Matt Cassel — was arrested in Breckenridge, Colo., while out celebrating his 40th birthday. He allegedly had a blood-alcohol level of .246 — more than three times the legal limit — and hit two cars while intoxicated, one of which was a police cruiser.
Then Tuesday, a June 11 DUI arrest for director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, who spent the last three years as the Browns’ general manager, came to light after going unnoticed by the media for a month. Heckert, hired by the Broncos in May, was arrested in the town of Parker after police noticed him weaving in and out of his lane. He had a blood-alcohol level of .162 seven hours after his arrest.
The personal conduct policy relates to the entire NFL — not just the players — and these punishments could be more severe than usual, as Goodell is not limited by the collective bargaining agreement.
Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 21 days and fined $100,000 in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired. The Broncos’ execs could receive similar or even stiffer punishments, and don’t be shocked if the team is fined or even docked a draft pick.
The Broncos are also likely to punish Russell and Heckert on their own, perhaps as a way to soften Goodell’s punishment on the team.
“This type of behavior is inexcusable, unacceptable, and completely embarrassing,” team president Joe Ellis told the Denver Post. “It’s embarrassing for us as a franchise, it’s embarrassing for Mr. [Pat] Bowlen [the owner], it’s especially embarrassing for our fans. We don’t tolerate it, and we’re not going to.”
“My expectation is the discipline will be severe.”
2. Lions and Matthew Stafford: Pay as you go.
Stafford is entering his fifth season after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, and is working on his fourth contract.
The Lions are taking a “pay as you go” approach with their franchise quarterback, restructuring Stafford’s contract last week for the third time in as many offseasons in order to give the team some much-needed salary cap relief.
Stafford, who already has collected more than $50 million in his four seasons, was supposed to have salary cap numbers of $16 million in 2012, $20.8 million in 2013, and $19.3 million in 2014.
The Lions instead converted large chunks of his base salaries into bonus money last year and this year, and shaved about $7 million off his cap numbers each season.
Stafford reportedly received a $27 million signing bonus last week, and his new contract runs through 2017, when he’ll be 29. The total value of the new contract is $76.5 million, and his $15.3 million average salary ties him with Philip Rivers as the eighth-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, behind Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Matt Schaub.
Stafford is 1-23 against teams with winning records — yes, you read that right — but he has thrown for 10,005 yards and 61 touchdowns the last two seasons, and is only 25.
3. Victor Cruz gets a new deal, too. Who’s next?
Cruz and the Giants finally consummated a not-so-contentious contract negotiation this offseason by agreeing to a six-year deal worth more than $45 million, although for practical purposes it’s a two-year deal worth $15.6 million guaranteed.
The $8.6 million average salary places Cruz as the 13th-highest-paid receiver in the NFL — sandwiched between Greg Jennings and Roddy White — and his total guarantee is 15th, between Santonio Holmes and Sidney Rice.
The deal was a win for both sides. Cruz, who has 19 touchdowns and 2,628 receiving yards in two seasons, gets rewarded for far outplaying his initial deal as an undrafted rookie. The Giants get a happy superstar at a decent price, and good PR from doing the right thing — Cruz was slated to make a restricted free agent salary of $2.879 million in 2013, and the Giants were under no obligation to increase his salary.
So, with Cruz and Stafford out of the way, who is next? Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, entering the final year of his rookie contract, certainly has taken note of the numbers given to Stafford, Romo ($55 million over three years) and Flacco ($62 million over three years) this offseason.
Hakeem Nicks will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and Eli Manning surely doesn’t want to see his No. 1 receiver walk away. But he’ll look for a contract similar to the one the Dolphins gave Mike Wallace — $60 million over five years, with $30 million guaranteed in the first two seasons — and already there’s buzz about Nicks joining his hometown Panthers next year if the Giants don’t step up with a significant offer.
Left tackle Ryan Clady also is reportedly in talks on an extension, with the Broncos upping their offer to more than $10 million annually.
4. Contingency plan for the Browns.
New owner Jimmy Haslam’s foray into the NFL hasn’t gone as planned. Most of his time is currently spent worrying about his main business, Pilot Flying J travel plazas, being under federal investigation for fraud stemming from a rebate scam.
Five Pilot executives already have been charged with crimes, and three have accepted plea deals. Haslam is facing 18 lawsuits in connection with the investigation, and was adamant in an interview with ESPNCleveland.com last week that he’s not selling the Browns.
But the website also quoted an unnamed source saying that the NFL, which does not like seeing one of its owners embroiled in scandal, has “a plan in place in the event there is an indictment [of Haslam] to maintain ownership of the Browns during the legal process.”
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Pilot Flying J had nearly doubled its debt to $4 billion, sparking speculation that Haslam might sell the team less than a year after buying it.
5. Concussion matters still in the news.
A couple of interesting concussion-related stories emerged last week. One, that judge Anita Brody has ordered the NFL and the 4,000 ex-players suing the league for concealing information regarding head injuries to mediation to see if they can hash out their differences.
The NFL had asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it is a CBA issue and not one for the courts. Instead, Brody gave the ex-players and the NFL until Sept. 3 to see if they can hash out their differences with a mediator.
And the NFL Players Association announced Wednesday that former Colts and Bengals tight end Ben Utecht won an arbitration hearing that entitled him to receive his full salary after suffering a career-ending concussion in 2009.
Utecht suffered the concussion in training camp, and the Bengals released him from IR in November of that year after clearing him to play.
But an arbitrator ruled last week that Utecht “had not been sufficiently tested” under concussion protocol, and ordered the Bengals to pay him the remainder of his 2009 salary.
It was an important victory for the players and further established clear guidelines for returning to play following a concussion.
6. Colin Cap-ernick.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick put the world on notice that he could be the league’s next young star when he took over the starting job in November, and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. But he showed a lot of immaturity last week with the way he handled a mild controversy.
Kaepernick was seen wearing a Dolphins baseball cap at the beach over the Fourth of July — he liked the colors — and 49ers fans were rightly upset about seeing their franchise leader donning the hat of another team. It’s not the biggest scandal in the world, but you’d never see me wear an ESPNBoston.com hat in public while employed at the Globe.
Instead of apologizing or letting it die down, Kaepernick posted a photo of the hat and said, “This the hat y’all mad at? I’m goin wear what I want regardless of what you think.”
It was an immature response for someone hoping to break the bank on a new contract in the next year.
Kaepernick posted a new photo on Monday of him wearing a 49ers cap, but the damage was already done.
7. Still on the market.
A list of the most notable free agents available (in no particular order): DE John Abraham, DT Richard Seymour, WR Austin Collie (worked out for Patriots), RT Eric Winston, G Brandon Moore, LB Bart Scott, WR Randy Moss, RB Willis McGahee, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, S Quintin Mikell, RB Michael Turner, LB Nick Barnett, WR Brandon Lloyd, S Kerry Rhodes, TE Dallas Clark, RB Cedric Benson, QB Matt Leinart, WR Laurent Robinson, RB Beanie Wells, QB Tyler Thigpen, TE David Thomas.
The Patriots, who have two open roster spots, could use help at receiver, tight end, and pass rusher.
8. Fun and games.
Recently deceased Ohioan Scott Entsminger requested at his funeral “six Cleveland Browns pall bearers, so the Browns can let him down one last time.”
Redskins fan Mark Lindamood, who died of cardiac arrest last week at 33, was buried in his Robert Griffin III jersey, and attendees at his viewing were encouraged to wear Redskins gear.
Yes, that was Jets coach Rex Ryan looking terrified beyond belief while running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
And the Browns have finally given fans a reason to attend games this year — wiener dog races at halftime!
QUICK TO REACT
Rule changes are considered
The extreme nature of Aaron Hernandez’s murder charge is naturally going to lead to overreaction from some fans and media.
Already we’ve had a lot of finger pointing at Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick, as if their enabling and lack of guidance turned Hernandez into an alleged cold-blooded killer.
An even more ridiculous overreaction, though, is reportedly being considered by the NFL as it relates to the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
According to CBSSports.com, the NFL is considering a new rule that would prevent academically ineligible players from attending the combine. It’s not directly related to Hernandez, per se — Hernandez wasn’t academically ineligible at Florida, as far as we know — but it’s on the table as part of a broader effort to clean up the NFL and “because of the increased scrutiny on the maturity and commitment of the prospects entering the NFL,” according to the report.
Of course, the notion that teams will only scout straight-A students is laughable.
“It won’t stop teams from still evaluating guys,” an AFC front office executive said. “You will still find the guys you want to find.”
And it will only make life more difficult for the scouts. The combine is about a lot more than 40-yard dashes and bench presses — it’s an all-in-one setting where teams can meet with dozens of prospects and have them meet the entire organization.
“What guys would lose out on is the chance to work out in front of the GM, head coach, coordinators, and the position coach all in one setting,” the executive said.
And to our original point, even the NFL’s director of security finds it ridiculous to blame Belichick or the Patriots for Hernandez’s alleged act.
“Hindsight is always 20/20 in a situation where a player gets into serious trouble and people say, ‘See, I knew this was going to happen,’ ” security director Jeff Miller told Fox Sports. “It’s hard to predict how a young man is going to perform and mature. Even though I’m sure there are a lot of clubs that have concerns about certain players going into the draft, if those players are drafted, the teams try to work with them through their player engagement and security personnel to take the steps necessary to prevent the kinds of things that can cause big problems to a player and a team.”
Agents are hit where it hurts
The NFLPA handed out a little agent discipline last week — a three-month suspension and $5,000 fine for J.R. Rickert, and $5,000 fines for Ethan Lock, Eric Metz, and Vance Malinovic.
Rickert, who represents Josh Cribbs among a couple dozen clients, failed to make several payments and breached an agreement with co-agent Audie Attar.
Lock, Metz, and Malinovic were fined for failing to disclose that they each own a 5 percent stake in a company that provides services for clients.
Ravens safety Matt Elam, the 32d overall pick in April’s draft, hasn’t signed his rookie contract yet, but he’s not sweating the details. According to the Baltimore Sun, Elam will sign his contract without an agent, using only his older brother, veteran NFL safety Abram Elam, as an adviser.
NFL agents better hope that future draft prospects don’t take Elam’s lead, because there’s little negotiating to be done in rookie contracts. Elam is slotted to sign a four-year deal worth $6.767 million, including a signing bonus of $3,301,456, no matter if he does it with an agent or not.
While the agent can fight for a few thousand dollars here or there in bonus money, an agent isn’t really needed until a player signs his second contract, which can’t happen until after his third NFL season (second for undrafted players).
Nice job by Bills Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure, who on Wednesday embarked on a 213-mile journey for charity. He is walking from the 50-yard line of Ralph Wilson Stadium to the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to raise awareness and support for Grace’s Lamp, an organization in Charlotte, N.C., that helps young children who grow out of their prosthetic legs but cannot afford the high cost of new adult prosthetic legs. DeLamielleure plans on reaching Canton by July 20.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.