Summer vacation is here for the NFL, a time for players, coaches, employees, and executives to unwind, travel the world, or spend time with family before reconvening for training camp in late July.
Except not everyone was on vacation this past week. The rookies on all 32 teams still had one last course of business — participating in the NFL's mandatory Rookie Transition Program, which replaced the old Rookie Symposium this year and serves as an orientation to life as a professional football player.
Advice on healthy eating habits, financial management, dealing with family members and sexual relationships, and how to avoid bad situations with alcohol and drugs were among the many lessons imparted on the NFL's 500 or so rookies last week.
While teams have been holding clinics and player development sessions since rookies arrived in early May, last week served as more of an official orientation, with NFC teams holding theirs on June 20-22 and AFC teams on June 22-24.
The league created 15 mandatory topics to be discussed, including:
■ A video introduction to the NFL and league policies.
■ Player benefits, including their union rights and resources, and NFL programs available to them.
■ Player expectations on sportsmanship, respect in the workplace, media responsibilities, and more.
■ Social responsibilities, including issues such as driving under the influence, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and more.
■ The mental health and fitness resources available to all players.
■ An introduction to the culture, values, and history of the league and each team.
■ Rule changes from college to the NFL.
"They can never hear it enough," Mo Kelly, the Seahawks' vice president of player engagement, told Seattle-area reporters. "I don't know how many meetings we've had so far, but guess what? They're still going to make mistakes . . . They're young individuals, they're going to make mistakes, and we have to be here to help them when they make mistakes."
The Rookie Transition Program is much more inclusive and attuned to the needs of today's NFL. The previous Rookie Symposium, which was held in Northern Ohio and centered around a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was only available to the 255 or so drafted players — meaning that undrafted rookies, which represent 55 percent of the total rookie pool, were not invited. The large-room setting also routinely led to players falling asleep or not paying attention, and the Symposium was the sight of the embarrassing "fall guy" speech by Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter in 2014.
This year, the NFL canceled the Symposium and instead enlisted all 32 teams to provide their own orientation, led by each team's player development staff. It provides a much more low-key, peer-to-peer environment for the rookies, and teams were able to craft their programs around their team history, local market, and more.
The Patriots declined to disclose the details of their program, but have been holding a transition program like this for several years. Player development sessions were blended into the daily schedule, while the team also gives the rookies a tour of The Hall at Patriot Place to learn about franchise history, and on Tuesday the rookie class made its annual trip to Boston Children's Hospital.
The Colts hosted a dining etiquette and dress-for-success course, seating each rookie at an upscale table. They also taught rookies about financing a car or home, dealing with reporters, and handling family members.
The Ravens brought in several speakers to address workplace conduct, social responsibility, and more, most notably Ray Rice. They also watched an interview with Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been open about his struggles with borderline personality disorder.
The Dolphins brought in a panel of players from throughout their history: Larry Little (1970s), Kim Bokamper (1980s), Sam Madison (1990s), and Channing Crowder (2000s). The Lions taught players how to tie a bowtie and necktie and also discussed time management, wealth preservation, jewelry, and "depreciating assets."
Former Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant told the team's rookies about how embarrassed he was to fail his first conditioning test at training camp, a "terrible look" for the No. 11 overall pick. Bryce Fisher, who played on their 2005 Super Bowl team, talked about roster turnover and the slim odds of forging a long NFL career.
The Chargers brought in former Celtics guard Keyon Dooling to speak about sexual abuse and mental health. The Bills provided a nutrition training program and cooking class, to encourage players to cook healthy meals at home instead of relying on fast food. The Bills also held a competition to see who could lay out the healthiest meals in the quickest amount of time.
"I've got my spinach, I've got my bell peppers, and I cooked mine with egg whites," sixth-round cornerback Kevon Seymour told the team website. "Last time I made an omelet it was like a taco. So this is basically the first omelet I've made, I'm proud of this."
And the Rams heard from perhaps the most poignant speaker — Mike Lutzenkirchen, the father of former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who spent the 2013 training camp with the Rams. The younger Lutzenkirchen was only 23 when he was killed in a 2014 car accident, when he and the driver were both legally drunk.
"If I can get them to step back and evaluate," Mike Lutzenkirchen said via the Rams' website. "But more importantly, if I can get that teammate to get shoulder to shoulder, now you've got two guys looking out for one."
Delay leads to speculation
It has been five weeks since Tom Brady's legal team filed for an en banc rehearing with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, then was supported by a barrage of "friend of the court" briefs from the Patriots, AFL-CIO, famed attorney Kenneth Feinberg, and a group of 20 physicists.
Yet we've heard nothing but crickets from the Second Circuit. The 13 active judges — soon to be 11, with Richard C. Wesley and Gerard E. Lynch set to hit senior status this summer — have not requested any sort of response from the NFL's legal team, and have not offered any hints as to when a decision on granting Brady a rehearing is coming.
What to make of the silence? If the Second Circuit is seriously considering the rehearing, it will request a response from the NFL — so the lack of a request thus far is an ominous sign.
But attorney Daniel Wallach of Becker & Poliakoff, who has been analyzing the lawsuit from the beginning, cautions not to read too closely into that just yet. Wallach notes that Second Circuit judges usually act quickly, and rarely take this long to issue orders, which makes Wallach believe that the judges are still digesting Brady's appeal brief as well as the amicus briefs filed in his support.
In fact, just last month the Second Circuit overturned a decision en banc in United States v. Ganias, perhaps providing Brady hope. In that case, the court asked for a brief from the opposite party within a week.
"A briefing order (if one is issued at all) usually comes out pretty quickly, like 1-2 weeks after the petition is filed," Wallach said. "But a denial is usually pretty quick, too.
"I think they are actually reading all of the briefs, rather than reflexively denying the motion or asking for more briefs."
So the timeframe for Brady's en banc appeal appears to be unusual — which makes it fit in with everything else about Deflategate.
TIME TO MOVE ON
Lombardi not in Patriots' plans
The Patriots parted ways with a member of their front office recently when Michael Lombardi, a longtime friend of Bill Belichick's, left the organization after two years as an "assistant to the coaching staff." The news was first reported by ESPN Boston.
The Patriots created a new position to bring aboard Lombardi, whose relationship with Belichick dates to their days with the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s. Lombardi was given an assortment of tasks for Belichick, from scouting college players to attending workouts, compiling projects, and doing whatever odd jobs the team needed done.
But from what we're told, the decision to split wasn't so mutual, as has been reported elsewhere. One league source characterized the move as the Patriots choosing not to renew Lombardi's contract, as Lombardi very much enjoyed working for the organization. The Patriots and Lombardi declined requests for comment.
The Patriots were happy to have Lombardi the past two years, because most of his salary was still being paid by the Browns, who fired him as general manager in February 2014 after just one year. But now that Lombardi's contract has expired, the Patriots opted not to renew it and let Lombardi pursue opportunities elsewhere.
It is believed that Belichick was Lombardi's only real ally inside the building, and while Lombardi helped the Patriots bring in former Browns Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis, his contribution is a bit overstated, as Lombardi was previously against extending Sheard in Cleveland and had mixed opinions of Lewis.
Lombardi formerly worked at NFL Network and is believed to be looking at media opportunities. The Bill Simmons project for HBO is a possibility.
League is there for Orlando
Nice job by several teams and players around the NFL to step up last week in the wake of the tragic nightclub shooting in Orlando.
On Wednesday, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston drove up from Tampa to visit with several of the shooting victims at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Winston posted a couple of pictures to his Instagram account with the #OrlandoStrong hashtag and invited victim Chris Byrd to his first Bucs game this fall.
A day earlier, former Broncos, Jets, Patriots and Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow visited the hospital to check in on his former high school teammate, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Rodney Sumter is a bartender at Pulse nightclub who was shot three times during the attack, and noted on his Instagram account that his "high school quarterback left the Bahamas" to visit him in the hospital.
And on Friday, the OneOrlando Fund received a $400,000 combined contribution from the Dolphins, Buccaneers, Jaguars, and NFL Foundation. Fans who are interested in making their own donation can visit OneOrlando.org.
Costly decision by Sanchez, others
If it's not too late, NFL teams should invite Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez in for one last talk about the dangers of investing and financial management. According to Bloomberg News, Sanchez and major league pitchers Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt were defrauded out of about $30 million by a Ponzi schemer who appealed to their Christian faith, according to a recently unsealed lawsuit in Dallas from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sanchez met financial adviser Ash Narayan in church in 2009 and was ultimately defrauded out of about $7 million, according to the lawsuit. Peavy lost about $15 million, the majority of his personal wealth.
"Narayan exploited athletes and other clients who trusted him to manage their finances. He fraudulently funneled their savings into a money-losing business and his own pocket," said the SEC's Shamoil T. Shipchandler.
The Rams abandoned St. Louis this spring, potentially to the Chiefs' gain. With Missouri back to being a one-team state, the Chiefs are planning on slowly and respectfully moving back into the St. Louis market with advertising and radio broadcasts. Chiefs president Mark Donovan said the NFL has decided that the Chiefs can broadcast their games on St. Louis radio airwaves if the team can put together its own network of affiliates, and the Chiefs' preseason games will be broadcast in St. Louis, as well. Don't be surprised if the Bears and Colts also try to get in on the suddenly open St. Louis market . . . Speaking of the Chiefs, I don't know if they'd be willing to trade within the AFC, but the Patriots should inquire about running back Knile Davis to compete with and possibly replace LeGarrette Blount as their heavy back. The Chiefs still have Jamaal Charles and signed Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West to contract extensions this offseason, making Davis expendable and prompting rumors that he's been on the trade block all spring. Davis, 5 feet 10 inches and 227 pounds, has 12 career touchdowns plus two more in the playoffs in three NFL seasons. Davis is also in the final year of his contract and could factor into the compensatory pick equation . . . Another sad, scary story involving former Dolphins slot receiver Davone Bess, who last played in 2013. Bess drew police attention for driving without his headlights on, then led police on a high-speed chase and barricaded himself in his Gilbert, Ariz., home with a knife. Police eventually got into the house and arrested Bess on three felonies: endangerment, felony flight, and failure to stop for a police officer. Bess's career ended when the Browns put him on the non-football injury list for "emotional distress," and Bess was later taken into custody for singing with his pants around his ankles and acting irrationally at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Airport. It's a sad fall from grace for Bess, who overcame a rough childhood that included incarceration to play six NFL seasons and play a big role in the Dolphins' community efforts. Here's hoping he can get the help that he needs . . . In news of "unlikely partnerships," the NFL, NFL Players Association, and Cirque du Soleil announced plans for a four-story, 40,000-square-foot NFL attraction in Times Square to open in the fall of 2017. The attraction will be interactive, with fans testing their skills to see how they measure up to NFL players, learning game strategy, proper throwing and tackling fundamentals, and getting a high-definition multimedia experience in a 350-foot theater . . . Love that Vince Wilfork listed himself as "325-plus" pounds in his bio for his upcoming appearance in the body issue of ESPN The Magazine. Emphasis on the "plus."
The Eagles doled out $63.299 million in guaranteed money to defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the most ever for a player that isn't a quarterback. While Cox is a disruptive and imposing presence, there have been a handful of defensive linemen in Eagles history who have put up similar numbers through their first four years.