On its own website, the NFL operations department states that eliminating fighting is a “point of emphasis” for the 2015 season.
“Any active participant in a fight will be penalized,” the NFL states. “Flagrant conduct will result in ejections and any player that does not immediately leave the fight area will be subject to a fine.”
Except fights seem to be a point of emphasis in training camps, dominating coverage and conversation.
There was Panthers cornerback Josh Norman flailing wildly at franchise quarterback Cam Newton.
The Texans and Redskins had a massive throwdown after three days of practice.
The Rams and Cowboys ended their practice 30 minutes early after a melee resulted in Dez Bryant getting sucker-punched.
Ron Rivera and Joe Philbin pleaded with their players not to fight before the Panthers-Dolphins joint practice, but Olivier Vernon threw down with Michael Oher anyway. Of course, IK Enemkpali broke Geno Smith’s jaw with a sucker-punch, though there was no footage of the carnage at Jets camp. Bryant got into a huge fight with young Dallas teammate Ty Patmon, and Bills linebacker Preston Brown got tangled up with Browns receiver Marlon Moore.
“I’ll probably get blamed for it and I wasn’t even on the field,” Bills coach Rex Ryan joked about the Moore-Brown dust-up. “I’m guilty.”
The fighting has gotten so prevalent that Troy Vincent, the NFL’s director of football operations, recently sent a letter to all executives, general managers, and coaches reminding them of the league’s emphasis on reducing fighting.
“There have been several recent incidents of fighting among teammates and one involving opposing teams,” Vincent wrote in a memo to teams on Aug. 14. “Please be reminded that the prohibition on fighting is a point of emphasis in 2015.”
Sportsmanship in general has been emphasized by the league since the start of the 2014 season, as it was reeling from the Dolphins bullying and Ray Rice scandals. But the teams and broadcast partners don’t seem to be getting the message.
The Washington-Houston brawl footage was aired all day on ESPN and NFL Network, and was the grand finale of the first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” The Cowboys promoted “exclusive” video on their website of Bryant brawling with Patmon on Aug. 3. The Cowboys-Rams brawl footage was all over TV and social media.
Saints coach Sean Payton noted the mixed messages being sent by the NFL and its teams.
“For as much as we’re harping about avoiding it, hell, the network puts it on 11 times,” Payton said last week. “And clearly when you put a team on television like ‘Hard Knocks’ and then practice with someone else, we’ve seen that formula happen two years in a row. So that’s nothing new.”
Training camp fights are nothing new, of course. It’s hot. Training camp is a grind. It’s hyper-competitive. You hit the same guys day in and day out. Some guys are going extra hard to impress the coaches. It’s a physical game. Livelihoods are at stake. Emotions boil over.
And it’s the only time during the season that you don’t get fined for fighting. During the regular season, fighting will cost a player $28,940 for a first offense (plus an ejection) and $57,881 for a second offense. But in training camp, you get nothing more than an early shower.
“It’s like a free pass,” one player told Sports Illustrated last week. “You can throw punches at guys who talk smack without getting punished like you would during the season.”
But fights can be dangerous, especially when on-lookers on the sideline get caught up in the brawl, as Bryant did last week. Bryant was helmetless, sitting out of practice with a hamstring injury, when Rams cornerback Imoan Claiborne sucker-punched him in the face.
Coaches had to essentially plead with players not to fight before the Dolphins-Panthers, Ravens-Eagles, and Colts-Bears joint practices.
“Treat them like we treat ourselves,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano told his team. “It’s not about the chirping and the jaw jacking and taking cheap shots. It’s about getting better.”
Joint practices are becoming increasingly popular across the league, but also are prone to cause more fights, with players turning up their effort an extra gear and having few repercussions for fighting someone on another team.
“I said to the Carolina Panthers today, ‘We love the way you guys play football. You’ve got a tough, hard, physical defense. We like to play the game the same way and we came down here to compete and get better as a team, not to have barroom brawls,’ ” Philbin said last week. “I don’t see it being an issue.”
It wasn’t an issue with the Patriots and Saints last week. Bill Belichick threatens his players that he will immediately toss any player for fighting, just as an official would during an NFL game. And Payton had a simple message for his players before the Patriots-Saints practices last week: “If you want to fight, pack your bags.”
The Patriots and Saints have now held joint practices three times since the 2010 season, because Payton knows he will get a level of professionalism and respect from the Patriots.
“It’s a big reason why we’re practicing with them a third time,” Payton said. “We know it’s going to be about improving both teams. We’re both trying to do the same thing at this period of training camp.”
MORE ON DEFLATEGATE
League full of misinformation
One of the more baffling aspects of Deflategate is the NFL’s refusal to investigate the actions of its own members, particularly during the first week of the saga.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen gets a lot of heat for overstating the deflation problem in his Jan. 21 story, but he wasn’t the only one getting bad information from the NFL office. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote on Jan. 23 that he was “told reliably that . . . either 11 or 12 of New England’s footballs . . . (I hear it could have been all 12) had at least two pounds less pressure in them. All 12 Indianapolis footballs were at the prescribed level. All 24 footballs were checked by pressure gauge after the game. All 24 checked at the correct pressure.”
That’s a ton of misinformation being spread by the league, in a piece that ran five days after the AFC Championship game. Then add in the 10.1 PSI figure quoted by Dave Gardi in the initial letter sent to the Patriots, which was blatantly false.
How could high-level NFL sources get so much information wrong? It’s mind-boggling.
And a good case can be made that these inflammatory reports increased the pressure on commissioner Roger Goodell to escalate the matter to a full-blown multimillion-dollar Ted Wells investigation, when the infraction really only deserved a speeding ticket.
Wells had one paragraph about the NFL’s conduct in his 243-page report. The main conclusion: “Specifically, we identified no evidence of any bias or unfairness,” he wrote. “We believe that the game officials, NFL executives, NFL Security representatives and other members of the NFL staff who participated in the testing of the footballs and the subsequent investigative process acted fairly, properly and responsibly.”
Here was Goodell in May on why the Ted Wells Report didn’t have more scrutiny on the NFL’s conduct:
“I think Ted Wells did address that in his report. I asked him specifically when I engaged him to evaluate the league’s conduct to determine what we could have done differently,” he said. “He was very clear in the report, so I would disagree on that point.”
OK, but he wasn’t clear or detailed at all. And Goodell gave us the run-around this month when asked about why the league office didn’t correct the overstated ESPN report.
There’s really only two conclusions: Either the league was hell-bent on punishing the Patriots, or incompetent. Take your pick.
SIGNS POINT TO PAYDAY
Manning could land on top rung
Eli Manning wasn’t too pleased with the report that came out last week stating that Manning, set to be a free agent after the 2015 season, wants to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.
“Reports are all wrong,’’ Manning told reporters. “I don’t know where they get their information from. I just kind of laughed at it.’’
On the surface, the notion of Manning being the highest-paid player in the league is laughable. He’s 34 years old, hasn’t made the playoffs in three straight years, and even he couldn’t say with a straight face that he’s better than Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
But being the highest-paid player is more about timing than ability, and Manning has the chance to surpass Rodgers’s $22 million average annual salary, currently the tops in the league. Manning has all the leverage against the Giants as the rarest of NFL commodities — the franchise quarterback with two Super Bowl rings on his résumé. He would easily eclipse Rodgers’s contract if he reached the open market, given how hard it has been for teams such as the Jets, Bills, and Browns to find a competent quarterback.
Plus, in today’s NFL, 34 is still a prime age for top-level quarterbacks. Manning also reined in his interceptions last year, throwing just 14 after tossing 27 in 2013.
The Giants always have the option of giving Manning the franchise tag next offseason, but Manning’s tag number is $23.7 million. They could tag him again in 2017, with a number of $28.44 million.
So Manning shouldn’t settle for any contract that doesn’t pay him at least $52 million over the first two years. Philip Rivers’s deal with the Chargers will pay him $54 million over the first two years, and $68 million over three years. Manning has two more Super Bowl rings than Rivers, and has the leverage to surpass those numbers.
Add in the fact that the salary cap keeps increasing by close to $10 million each year – meaning that Manning knows the Giants have plenty of money to pay him – and there’s no reason why Manning can’t sit atop the NFL’s contract mountain next season.
CORNER IN BRADY’S CORNER
So many dollars, so little sense
Further proof of the ridiculousness of Deflategate, Richard Sherman became the latest rival of Tom Brady to come out and support the Patriots quarterback, joining Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs and Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Sherman made a lot of sense last week when addressing Brady’s ordeal, noting the ridiculousness in docking Brady a whopping $470,000 per week in salary if he ends up serving the four-game suspension.
If Brady ends up serving the full penalty, the Patriots will simply withhold Brady’s four game checks, totaling approximately $1.88 million.
While the $1 million fine given to the Patriots organization is the largest in league history, the Patriots will actually save $880,000 on the transaction.
“You’re fining players more than you’re fining organizations?” Sherman told USA Today. “That should bring up some red flags. But nobody’s talking about that.”
The NFL’s maximum fines for teams and league personnel over infractions is $500,000. The Patriots were fined $500,000 for Spygate, and got two separate $500,000 fines for Deflategate — one for the crime and one for not fully cooperating with the investigation.
Brady’s potential $1.88 million fine would be more than three times the fine that Colts owner Jim Irsay got for being pulled over with a briefcase full of prescription pills and $29,000 in duffel bags last year. Irsay also was suspended for six games.
“Last year, Jim Irsay got fined what, 500 grand?” Sherman said. “People are just so focused on, ‘Oh, that’s a huge fine for the organization.’ It’s not. A million dollars is peanuts to the Patriots, who will make [hundreds of] million dollars this year.”
Stalemates have them unsettled
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor is locked up in a good old-fashioned training camp holdout, missing the first three weeks of camp to show his unhappiness over a contract set to pay him about $17 million over the next three years.
The Seahawks have the right to fine Chancellor $30,000 for every day of camp that he misses, though it’s unclear if the team will do so. If Chancellor takes his holdout into the regular season, he’ll miss out on $267,647 per week.
And Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is getting frustrated with the pace of his contract extension talks.
“They’re making it hard,” Dareus told the Buffalo News after Thursday night’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. “And it’s just really making me unhappy . . . I feel like they don’t want me here as bad as I want to be here, as bad as the fans and my team wants me here. I feel like they’re saying, ‘Whatever. You come a dime a dozen.’ ”
Injuries always a pain in preseason
There’s really only one important story in training camp that will have a real effect on the season — injuries. And this training camp has seen its fair share of unfortunate injuries.
The Dolphins-Panthers joint practice proved tragic for both teams, with the Panthers losing budding superstar receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL and the Dolphins losing safety Louis Delmas to a torn ACL in the same practice. The Cardinals placed defensive tackle Corey Peters on injured reserve with a torn Achilles’ on Friday, and new free agent guard Mike Iupati will be out six to eight weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
Texans running back Arian Foster is out two to three months after undergoing groin surgery, the Jaguars will be without new tight end Julius Thomas and cornerback Jonathan Cyprien after both broke their fingers in training camp, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion Thursday night, and the Bills played Thursday’s preseason game without their top five running backs, prompting rumors that the team would look at Ray Rice.
The NFL is trying a few experiments in the preseason games this weekend. In four games, the NFL will bring a Microsoft Surface tablet onto the field for the referee to use for instant replay instead of having him use the booth on the sideline. And in 13 games (including the Patriots-Saints game), the NFL added an eighth official on the field. The league has used seven-man crews since 1978 . . . One person who deserves a little sympathy in Deflategate is Don Yee, Brady’s agent. He was thrown under the bus by attorney Jeffrey Kessler for advising Brady not to hand over his electronic communications, when Yee was just doing what he felt was best for his longtime client. And this isn’t the first time Yee has had a client get steamrolled by the NFL’s justice system. Yee also represents Saints coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season despite not having direct involvement in the Bountygate scandal . . . “Hard Knocks” with the Texans has been mostly enjoyable, but each episode feels about 20 minutes too long. Could maybe cut down on the gratuitous slow-motion shots of J.J. Watt, and do we really need to see Vince Wilfork scrubbing the dead skin off his foot?
With Kelvin Benjamin going down for the season, the Panthers’ top three receivers are now Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn, and rookie Devin Funchess. How has GM Dave Gettleman not already signed Reggie Wayne or Randy Moss? Wes Welker is still available, too.
Tough to bear
With news that rookie wide receiver Kevin White has a stress fracture in his left shin and could miss the season, another example was added to the Bears’ run of bad luck with first-round draft picks. Here’s how Chicago’s first-rounders have performed since the team drafted Brian Urlacher ninth overall in 2000: