Friday, July 27, 2012

You Know the Drill: Training Camp Basics

By this Sunday, July 29th, all 32 NFL teams will be in training camp.  Most teams have already begun their camps (Arizona players reported to camp on the 23rd), with just a few teams, like Oakland and Chicago, waiting a bit longer to get to work.  Some players like to make a big show of reporting to camp.  Pittsburgh defensive lineman Brett Keisel wins the “showstopper” prize this year for arriving at Steelers training camp (held in Latrobe, Pennsylvania) in a tractor (it took him an hour to go 20 miles):

Although images like these, and stories of rookie hazing and fist fights between teammates, give one the impression that training camp is just one extended frat party, this annual rite of passage is actually a critical time for teams.  Rookies, who typically report several days before the veterans, have to learn how to play at the professional level.  Along with the rookies, newly signed veterans have to learn the philosophies and playbooks of their new teams.  Everyone wants to impress his coaches and teammates, and many are auditioning for a job or promotion on the depth chart.  This is when you start hearing about “quarterback competitions” and veterans who are on the cusp of retirement but are hanging onto a fingernail’s hope that they’ll still be worth something to a team.*

On the business side, the start of training camp reveals what players plan to “hold out” while they continue to negotiate a new contract with their team.  Of the more significant holdouts right now are Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (left) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.

For the rest of us, though, the start of training camp is a bright spot in the lull that occurs every summer when the only major sport in America in season is baseball. 

If you read my post earlier in the summer about OTAs and Minicamps, you’ll remember that there are rules about how the teams conduct their offseason training, and those rules are outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.  As you might imagine, there are similar restrictions on how training camps run.  Training camps last through the last weekend of the scheduled preseason games, so the CBA’s rules apply until that time.  Below is a summary of the rules on how teams can get physically prepared for the upcoming season.

The Beginning of Camp:

·   Players can’t be required to report more than 15 days before the first preseason game;

·   Activity on the first day of camp is limited to meetings, classroom instruction and physical exams (running and conditioning are allowed, however); and

·   No contact and no pads during the second and third days of camp.

Practice rules:

·   Maximum four hours on the field per day;

·   Only one padded practice per day, and it can last for no more than 3 hours;

·   There must be at least three hours between practice sessions; and

·   The second practice session in the day can only consist of “walk-through” instruction (i.e., no helmets and walking pace after the snap)


·   Quarterbacks, kickers, punters and long snappers can wear a helmet at their option;

·   A player can wear a helmet if instructed to do so by club physicians as a precaution because of a head injury; and

·   If the QB or designated defensive player needs his helmet to receive communication from coaching staff (for an explanation of coach-to-player communications, see the post “Breaker, Breaker… What’s Your Handle?”)

If you’re curious about what happens during training camp, you may get a chance to see for yourself.  Keep an eye out for announcements from your local team for days when practice is open to the public.  I went to see a Redskins practice back in 2009 and it was pretty interesting.  It also wasn’t terribly crowded (it was a steamy, drizzly day), so it wasn’t too hard to see what was happening.  One of my favorite drills involved the quarterbacks—one would stand in the middle of a circle formed by the other QBs and some coaches.  He would try to pass the ball to the guys in the circle while everyone else pegged him with huge rubber balls:

OK, so maybe training camp can seem a little like Romper Room and a frat party.  They got down to business eventually, though, and had a scrimmage between the offense and defense:

*For an outsider’s perspective on an NFL training camp, check out our book club’s selection Paper Lion.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius II

Welcome back to our look at NFL Olympians.  While our last post consisted solely of track and field competitors, you’ll find a little more variety in today’s assembly.

Ron Brown (born March 31, 1961)

Having said that, our first athlete was a runner.  And, like our other profilees so far, he was a successful one.  Ron Brown was born in LA and after attending Arizona State University, he returned to the City of Angels to play for the Los Angeles Rams from 1984 to 1989 at wide receiver.  He changed teams, but not cities, when he joined the (then) Los Angeles Raiders in 1990; he returned to the Rams for his last season in football, in 1991.  Over his career he caught 98 passes for 1,791 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Before his football career began, however, Ron Brown ran for the U.S. in the 1984 Olympics, which were held in—where else—Los Angeles.  Brown just missed the medal platform in the 100 meter dash, placing fourth.  However, he won gold as part of the American 4 x 100 meter relay team, which set a new world record of 37.83 seconds (Ron ran the second leg).  The story of these Games, though, was American star Carl Lewis, who needed the win to match Jesse Owens’ record of four golds in one Olympics.  By the time the relay came around, he had won three (in the 100 meter dash, the long jump and the 200 meter), so anticipation was high.  Here is a video of the men’s gold-medal race, with commentary by Al Michaels, a familiar voice to football fans:

Michael Carter  (born October 29, 1960)

Michael Carter was one of Ron Brown’s track and field teammates in the 1984 Games, but his specialty was shot put.  Though he won silver in the Olympics, his lasting legacy is an accomplishment from high school.  Michael set the national high school record of 81’ 3.5” in the 12-pound shot put in 1979.  No high schooler has come within four feet of his record.  He kept with the shot put in college at Southern Methodist University, and was part of the school’s championship team in 1983.

Despite his obvious skill at track and field, Carter actually focused on football, which had gotten him a scholarship at SMU.*  Carter played nose tackle and was selected in the fifth round of the 1984 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.  He stayed with the Niners for his entire career, which ended in 1992.  During that time he was a three-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the team in 1984—making him the only athlete to win an Olympic medal and a Super Bowl ring in the same year.**  

Incidentally, Carter’s daughter, Michelle, has followed in her father’s footsteps and, like her father, she has her own national high school record!  Michelle has competed on the world stage as well:  she finished 15th in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but has since medaled in the 2011 Pan American Games and 2012 World Indoor Championships, earning bronze at both.  And, yes, she’ll be part of Team USA in London.  The shot put competition takes place on August 6th.

Herschel Walker (born March 3, 1962)

Anyone familiar with college football history knows the name Herschel Walker, who carved out a permanent place for himself in the history books as a running back at the University of Georgia in the early 1980s.  No individual player before, or since, has created the kind of adoration and frenzy that Walker inspired with his dazzling performances and domination of every opponent he and the Bulldogs faced.  He wasted no time building his legacy at UGA:  he set the NCAA freshman rushing record with 1,616 yards and was the first true freshman to be named a first-team All-American (only two players have done it since). 

The ‘Dawgs went undefeated and won the national championship that year by beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.  The only player to finish in the Heisman voting top three every season he played, Herschel won the award in his junior year.  He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.  Here’s a teaser from the “SEC Storied” series installment about Herschel:

At the time, NFL rules prohibited players from entering the league before they graduated college.  After his junior year, Walker decided to sign with the New Jersey Generals, a team in the newly formed United States Football League (Donald Trump would buy the team the following year).  During his time in the USFL, Herschel set the pro football record for rushing yards in a single season, with 2,411 yards.  Sensing the end was near for the USFL, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Walker in the fifth round of the 1985 draft; Herschel joined the team when the league folded in 1986.  Herschel continued his phenomenal production with the Cowboys, with the 1988 season being his highpoint:  he played at seven different positions and amassed over 2,000 combined yards rushing and receiving (only the tenth man ever to accomplish that).    

In 1989, the Cowboys traded Herschel to the Minnesota Vikings in one of the most lopsided trades in football history.  For Walker, the Vikings gave Dallas five players and six draft picks—through which the Cowboys acquired future stars Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson.  Resenting the price paid for this one-man show, the Vikings coaches never really shined to the idea of centering their offense around Walker.  After a monster debut against the Green Bay Packers, Herschel never quite lived up to the high expectations of the Minnesota faithful. 

He was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1992, where he earned some redemption.  In his first season with the team, he rushed for over 1,000 yards, and in 1994 he became the first player to have gains of 90+ yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks in a single season.  Walker retired after the 1997 season, having played for the New York Giants and again for the Dallas Cowboys.  Over his career, Herschel Walker amassed over 17,000 all-purpose yards:  8,000 rushing; 4,000 receiving; and 5,000 returning kicks.

I could go on and on about Walker and his many exploits outside of football:  his brief stint with the Fort Worth Ballet, his recent entry into mixed martial arts, his sprinting competitions, a season of Celebrity Apprentice, his successful food company….  What’s relevant for our purposes, though, is that in 1992, he joined the U.S. bobsled team.  He made the team and competed in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, at the age of 29.  In the two-man bobsled, he and partner Brian Shimer placed seventh overall. 

James Jett (born December 28, 1970)

James Jett attended West Virginia University, where he was a starting wide receiver all four years.  He excelled in track and field as well, earning All-American status seven times in that sport.  For his impressive track record (no pun intended) at WVU, Jett was inducted into the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.  The high mark of Jett’s track career was his gold medal run in the 4 x 100 meter relay team in the 1992 Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain.

In 1993, Jett signed with the L.A. Raiders as an undrafted free agent.  The gamble on an undrafted player paid off for the Raiders right away:  in his rookie year, James led the NFL with 23 yards per reception.  However, he wouldn’t become a starter for the team until the 1996 season, when he started every game.  When he retired in 2002, he finished with 256 career receptions for 4,417 yards, 30 touchdowns and an average of 17.3 yards per reception.

Stephen Neal (born October 9, 1976)

Our last athlete didn’t actually make the U.S. Olympic team, but I wanted to include him because he was a true star in his second sport.  Stephen Neal represents the Fortius element of the Olympic motto:  “Stronger.”  A letterman in five sports in high school (football, wrestling, swimming, tennis and track and field), Neal became one of the top wrestlers in the country during his college years at California State University, Bakersfield.  During college, he earned four All-American titles and compiled a 151-10 record.  He won NCAA Division I titles in both his junior and senior years.  In 1999, Neal won the U.S. Freestyle Championship, the Pan-American Games and the World Championship.  All this led up to the trials for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.  He was edged out for a spot on the team and retired from wrestling.   

In 2001, Neal was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent, despite the fact that he did not play football in college.  He joined the team as a guard, but remained on the Pats’ practice squad for most of his rookie season.  With a shoulder injury in his first start in the 2002 season, Stephen did not see action again until the 2004 season, when he started the last 14 games of the regular season.  He had a complete season in 2005, but after that season, and until his retirement in 2011, his career suffered several pauses due to injury.  In all, Neal started 81 games, but earned three Super Bowl rings.

I hope you've enjoyed our look at NFL Olympians, and that it's inspired you to cheer on Team USA as they strive to be Faster, Higher and Stronger than their competitors in London!

*SMU had a strong football program until 1987, when their entire season was cancelled by the NCAA as punishment for multiple serious violations of NCAA rules and regulations regarding paying players.  The impact of the penalty was devastating for the SMU football program.  The University did not field a team again until 1989 and it took twenty years for the school to play in a bowl game.  It’s record since 1989 is 66-169-3.

**You’ll remember from our last post that Bob Hayes is the only athlete to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius

In honor of the start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London this Friday, Naptime Huddle will be introducing you this week to some of the NFL players who have represented the United States in the Olympics.  It just so happens that the players we'll look at today exemplified the first part of the Olympic motto, Citius--which means "Faster."

Jim Thorpe (May 28, 1888 - March 28, 1953)

Jim Thorpe has been the focus of several NH posts, so I won’t go into much more detail about his football career today.  To learn more about Thorpe and his many contributions to football (and other sports), click here, here, and here.  What’s important for our purposes is that one of Thorpe's most significant achievements was his participation (and domination) in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.  He competed in four track and field events: long jump, high jump, pentathlon and decathlon.  At the 1912 Games, the pentathlon consisted of the long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, 200-meter dash and 1500-meter run.  The decathlon's events were pole vault, shot put, javelin throw, discus throw, 120-yard hurdles and races of 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, 880 yards and one mile.

Thorpe didn’t medal in the long jump or high jump.  We’ll forgive him, though, since he crushed the competition in the pentathlon and decathlon, winning gold in both events.  Of the combined fifteen individual events, he won eight; his 8,413 points in the decathlon set an Olympic record.  He also won two “challenge prizes” that were donated by King Gustav V of Sweden (decathlon) and Czar Nicholas II of Russia (pentathlon).*  Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Thorpe’s victories at the Stockholm Games was that he achieved them wearing shoes that weren’t his!  Someone had stolen his shoes as the events were about to begin, so he had to rummage through a trash bin to find replacements (see picture); one was too big and he had to wear extra socks to make them fit.

Sadly, Thorpe’s medals were stripped in 1913 when a newspaper reported that he had played professional baseball—for a mere pittance—in 1909 and 1910.  The Amateur Athletic Union asked the International Olympic Commission to revoke Thorpe’s amateur status.  Though they violated their own procedures (protests such as these had to be made within thirty days of closing ceremonies), the IOC rescinded Thorpe’s amateur status and took back his medals.

Ollie Matson (May 1, 1930 - February 19, 2011)

An accomplished runner, Ollie Matson represented the U.S. in the 400-meter race and 4x400-meter relay team in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.  Ollie won the bronze medal in the 400 meters and his relay team won silver. 

Ollie was a drafted third overall in the 1952 NFL Draft by the then-Chicago Cardinals.  In his senior year at the University of San Francisco, Matson led the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns and was selected as an All-American.  He enjoyed a long and successful career playing for the Cardinals (1952-1958), the Los Angeles Rams (1959-1962), the Detroit Lions (1963) and the Philadelphia Eagles (1964-1966).  Over his 14-year career, he earned six Pro Bowl selections (winning MVP honors in the 1956 Pro Bowl), seven All-Pro selections and was named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team.  When Matson retired, his 12,799 career all-purpose yards were second only to rushing legend Jim Brown.  Ollie Matson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

Ollie Matson died in his Los Angeles home where he and wife Mary had lived since his time with the Rams; it’s been determined that Matson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as a result of the blows to the head he endured during his career.

Bob Hayes (December 20, 1942 - September 18, 2002)

“Bullet” Bob Hayes has the distinction of being only the second Olympic gold medalist (along with Jim Thorpe) to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he was inducted into the Hall in 2009.  He is also the only man to win both Olympic gold and a Super Bowl ring (take that Tom and Eli!).  A two-sport athlete at Florida A&M University, where he set several track records, Hayes was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh round of the 1964 draft.  This was a gamble by the Cowboys because Hayes was an unproven football player; he had been a backup halfback in high school and had focused on track in college.

Before he could prove his worth on the football field, however, Hayes represented his country in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.  Bullet Bob gave a memorable performance at the Games, earning himself the title “World’s Fastest Human.”  He won gold in the 100-meter dash and, in a Thorpean twist, Hayes ran that race in borrowed spikes--he didn’t realize until he got to the event that he had misplaced one of his shoes.  Even more amazing, though, was his leg in the gold-winning running of the 4x100-meter relay, for which the U.S. team set a World Record at 39.06 seconds.  The victory is all the more sweet because it was his final track race, as he made the switch to football after those Games.

Lucky for us, the race is on YouTube—Hayes had the anchor leg:

So, how did the Dallas experiment work?  Brilliantly.  His success on the track enabled him to transition flawlessly to the role of wide receiver.  He led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in each of his first two seasons; he is credited for spurring the development of zone defenses since no one man could cover him.  In addition to being a receiving threat, he also punished opponents on punt returns.  In addition to being a part of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl win in 1972, Bob Hayes was named to three Pro Bowls and set numerous team records in his ten-year career with the Cowboys, ten of which still stand today. 

Willie Gault (born September 5, 1960)

Willie Gault attended the University of Tennessee and was drafted in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.  While at Tennessee, he was a member of the world record-setting 4x100 meter relay team; he also ran the 110 meter hurdles.  He would have been part of Team USA in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, Russia.  Unfortunately, Gault's Olympic dream became a victim of Cold War politics—the United States boycotted the Moscow Games and Willie would focus on football after being drafted by the Bears.  However, he did compete, and medal, in the Liberty Bell Classic—an alternative to the Olympics held in Philadelphia by the countries boycotting the 1980 Games.  Gault’s relay team earned a gold medal, and he won the bronze in the 100 meter race.

That wouldn't be Willie Gault's only championship hardware.  He won a Super Bowl ring when the Bears won Super Bowl XX.  Over his 11-year NFL career (with the Bears from 1983 to 1987 and the Los Angeles Raiders from 1988 to 1993), he amassed 333 receptions for 6,635 yards and 44 touchdowns.  Today, Willie Gault is very active in Masters Athletics, which is an avenue for track and field veterans to continue to compete in various age classes. 

Don't miss our next post for a look at more "Faster, Higher, Stronger" NFL players!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The ABC's of the Referee Lockout

When the NFL regular season starts the first week in September, there may be a large number of key participants missing from fields all across the league—over 100, in fact.  And they will be sorely missed.  Am I talking about big-name players who might still be holding out because they haven’t gotten the new contracts they want?  Players who have been suspended for their off-the-field conduct in the offseason?  Nope. 

It may be hard to believe, but less than a year after resolving its differences with the players, the NFL is facing yet another labor crisis with the 121 members of the National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA), the men in stripes who officiate the games each week.  As is the case with the players (via the NFL Players Association), the NFL’s officials work for the NFL under the terms of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and their most recent CBA expired after the 2011 season.  

Although the two sides had started negotiating the terms of a new CBA in October 2011, no progress was made, leading to mediation.  After just two mediation sessions, however, talks broke off and the NFL issued a “lockout” of the NFLRA on June 3rd—meaning that the officials would not be allowed to conduct any official NFL-related activities.  Showing that they were serious, the NFL further announced that it would start looking for replacement officials (“scabs” in labor parlance) to take the field in the regular season in place of the NFLRA’s members.

How did it come to this?  As you might expect, the point of contention is compensation.  The new CBA proposed by the NFL includes salary increases that are lower than those provided in the previous CBA.  The NFL’s proposal is a seven-year deal with annual pay increases of 5-11 percent.  Under the league’s proposal a fifth-year official, who made $115,000 in 2011, would make over $183,000 in 2018.  Not all officials make six figures, though—first-year officials made an average of $78,000 in 2011.  According to the NFLRA, the increase that the officials have proposed would only cost each of the 32 teams $100,000 per year.  Another issue in the negotiations is the league’s pension plan for officials, which has been in place since 1974. 

Twenty-one year veteran Scott Green is the NFLRA's president (and a D.C. lobbyist)

Either way, the officials certainly aren’t starving, especially when you consider that this is a part time gig for most of them (some, like Ed Hochuli (right), are attorneys).  Their salaries are generally on par with the salaries of officials in other sports, but are lower than some.  NBA officials average between $100,000 and $300,000 annually; Major League Baseball umpires earn about $120,000 a year and NHL referees earn between $110,000 and $255,000. 

Sure, officials in other sports work more games.  The flip side of that, though, is this:  with only 16 games in a football season (and one-game playoff rounds), each call on each play is more critical. Each of the other major sports has its unique challenges for its officials:  the split-second, hair’s breadth calls in baseball; the speed of hockey; and the wide-open, yet close-quarters, playing style of basketball.  However, in football, all of these challenges converge—on each play.

So, why should we care?  There is a real concern that, if the CBA issues aren’t negotiated and the NFL sends replacement officials on the field, the game will experience a big hit in quality and safety.  Even if you’ve been officiating for twenty years, staying at game-ready form takes a lot of preparation and practice (in fact, despite the lockout, NFLRA members have continued to train, study and test on their own time so they will be ready in the event the lockout ends).  Keep in mind that this is a part-time gig for the officials; the training, rules reviews and physical training (yes, it is a physically demanding job) has to be worked into their everyday lives. 

That’s also going to be true of the replacement officials, who also have to learn the nuances of pro rules and mechanics.  Sure, they can hit the books and take tests for that.  A less tangible aspect of the game that they can’t prepare for, however, is the speed of the pro game, which is going to be different from what they are used to—whether that’s college, high school or semi-pro football.

You might remember from my introductory post that I officiated youth football for one season, before my son came along.  Before the season even began, we had three months of training, which involved meeting two to three times a week to learn rules, practice on-field mechanics and take tests.  Again, this was for youth and high school, and we didn't get paid all that much (as a first-year official I think I got $30 a game for youth).  During the season I worked mostly youth games but I also ran the clock for freshman, junior varsity and varsity high school games. 

For one freshman game, the umpire was running late so I took his place.  Since I was used to games where the players were no taller than my armpits, it was a bit of a shock to the system to be on the field with kids that were bigger than me.  For the first half, I really focused on getting my mechanics* right so my inexperience didn't interfere with the flow of the game.  Luckily, umpire was the position I worked the most.  I guess I did OK because they kept me in when the real umpire showed up at halftime.  Still, there had probably been fouls that went unnoticed by me.

I know what you’re thinking—since the league will probably take the replacements from big colleges and universities that spit out pro talent anyway, won’t they be used to the higher level of talent, speed, etc.?  Nope—officials from the top college divisions are actually barred by the colleges from pursuing NFL jobs.  So, the NFL will have to get officials from lower levels in the sport, or ones who officiated at the top schools but who haven’t been active for several years.

It is unavoidable that the on-field action will suffer if a deal can't be reached and replacement officials are called into action.  Mistakes will be made and calls will be missed.  The rhythm and timing of offenses that have come to rely on the seamless procedures of the officiating crews may also be impacted.  It takes years for the NFL officials to earn the respect and credibility of players and coaches (which they do have, despite impressions to the contrary).  New guys will have to start from ground zero to earn that respect. 

Fielding replacement officials will also affect safety.  With the concussion crisis, part of the NFLRA’s offseason preparations has been learning more about concussions, including diagnosing them in players who may be trying to cover symptoms to stay in the game.  Click here to read a article about a seminar put on by the NFLRA’s medical director, Dr. Thom Mayer.  Note his statement on whether he’ll be repeating it for replacement officials:  “I’m not going to talk to a bunch of scabs.” 

As for the players—some have said that the officials will be missed, while others, like Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays (right), don't think it matters who will be throwing the yellow flags.  For its part, the NFL Players Association, who went twelve rounds with the NFL last year, issued the following statement:

The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFL’s decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season.

In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function.

Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association’s trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the league’s actions in this situation.

So, it appears that, for now, union is supporting union (note the use of "scabs"...twice).  However, even if all of the individual players decide that their brothers in stripes are being mistreated, don’t expect to see any of them joining picket lines on September 5th.   

*For a reminder on the umpire's responsibilities, click here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

. . . They Paid Me!

Now that the July 16 deadline for teams to reach deals with their franchised players has passed, I wanted to give you a quick update on those players hit with franchise tags who did and did not ink new deals with their teams.  Click here If you missed last week's "They Pay Me, They Pay Me Not" post.

Before we get to that, however, there’s big news on the rookie front (well, big here in the DC area, anyway).  Teams usually have their rookies report to training camp several days earlier than the veterans and the Washington Redskins are no exception; their rookie camp started on Monday.  First round draft pick (and second overall pick) Robert Griffin III (a.k.a. “RG3”) (below) has not yet shown up for camp as he hasn’t signed his contract yet.  He’s not considered a “holdout” because he team training camps don’t officially start until July 26.  However, his absence is significant considering that the team will be putting him into use immediately and he needs all the time he can get to acclimate himself to the pro game.

The amount and duration of Griffin’s contract are set (4 years for $21 million), but the two sides apparently are fighting over language in the contract that governs what would happen to his guaranteed money if he is waived before the contract expires.  Before you think that RG3 (or his agent) is being greedy, though, you should know that Griffin isn’t the only one who isn’t rushing to grab a pen.  According to CBS Sports, 14 of the 32 first round picks, including Indianapolis Colts #1 overall pick Andrew Luck, have yet to sign their contracts.

But back to the veterans…


Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints:  CHA CHING!  Late last week, Brees and the Saints agreed to a contract of 5 years and $100 million ($60 million guaranteed with $37 million signing bonus).  This is the richest NFL contract ever.

Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears:  Matt Forte was rewarded for his patience this offseason with a four-year, worth roughly $30 million over its term.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens:  Did the Bears and Ravens talk?  Rice’s contract is also worth about $8 million per year, but he got one more year on his contract than Forte.

Josh Scobee, K, Jacksonville Jaguars:  The 8-year veteran came to terms with the Jags, signing a 4-year, $13.8 million deal on Monday.


Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots:  My apologies to Wes—I neglected to include him in the list of significant franchisees who hadn’t come to terms with their team.  Welker actually signed his franchise tender fairly soon after he was tagged.  It was a gesture of good faith, a sign of his faith that the Patriots would be eager to make a multi-year deal and the two sides would work things out in a way that would make everyone happy.  I think it was this high-road approach that made me take his situation for granted.  Apparently the same was true for the Patriots.  The deadline passed without the two sides shaking hands on a long-term contract; unless something drastic happens, you should expect to see Wes Welker on the free agent market in 2012.  In the meantime, Welker should earn about $9.5 million this year, the expected value for all wide receiver franchisee contracts in 2012.

Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions:  The Lions were busy this season negotiating several long-term deals, including one with superstar receiver Calvin Johnson (a 7-year deal worth $132 million, by the way).  It’s unfortunate that Avril didn’t get a piece of the pie, but it might not be a huge surprise.  Avril has said that he not sure if he’ll report to training camp on July 26th (he can sit out until just before regular season starts and still get his $10.6 million franchise tender), but he has mentioned being able to be there for his son’s first birthday, which is the first week in August.

"Did you remind them that I had
over 1,100 yards receiving last year?"
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs:  This one may seem bewildering to fans, since Bowe is (so far) the most productive receiver for the Chiefs by a good margin.  However, like Avril, Bowe may be the victim of a situation where his team has a lot of issues to address.  The good news for KC fans, however, is that Bowe has said that he’ll be at training camp.  As for his payday, he’ll get the same 2012 salary as Wes Welker, $9.5 million.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Reading Huddle: I Am Third

Those of you who are loyal Naptime Huddle readers may have noticed that I have not yet ran posts profiling the“Stars and Legends” at the running back position.  Well, fear not--you can expect to see those posts during the 2012 season (which starts in 51 days on September 5th). 

I haven’t decided who will be included among the running back Legends yet, but Chicago Bears icon and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers will certainly be high on the list of candidates.  Like many players of his generation (and generations before), Gale had several roles on the Bears.  He was first and foremost their running back, but he also ran back kickoffs and punts (while occasionally throwing passes)—and he made an immediate impact as a rookie in each of these facets of the game.  During his 1965 rookie season, Sayers scored a total of 22 touchdowns:  14 rushing, six receiving and two on kick returns), setting a number of league and team records along the way.  These include a tie in the record for most touchdowns in a single game, as Gale collected six in the Bears’ 61-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.  He earned Rookie of the Year honors by unanimous vote.

Sayers continued to post impressive stats in the ensuing seasons, despite the fact that he became the focus of opposing defenses after his record-shattering rookie year.  Through the first nine games of the 1968 season, Gale was leading the league in rushing when, in a game against the 49ers, he tore several ligaments in his right knee when he was (cleanly) tackled by defensive back Kermit Alexander. 

Alexander (39) tried to help Sayers' teammates carry him off the field after the tackle

Was he able to come back after such a devastating injury?  How would he fare if he did come back?  You’ll learn the answers to these and many other questions about Gale Sayers when you read our next “Reading Huddle” selection, I Am Third.  In his autobiography, Sayers takes you through the very difficult period when he was recovering from his injury; he then paints a vivid picture of his upbringing and the athletic successes that gave him the opportunity to make history for the Bears.  And you'll learn the meaning of the book's title.  Raised in the area of Omaha, Nebraska he affectionately calls “the Toe”, Sayers gives you the full flavor of what it was like to grow up as a poor, but gifted black athlete living in a troubled home environment in a racially turbulent time.

You might also remember hearing about Gale Sayers in “Take 2” of my series “Screen Plays: Classic Football Movies.”  I Am Third was the book that inspired the 1971 TV film classic Brian’s Song.  The only movie that men will freely admit to crying over, Brian’s Song chronicles the tragic death of Brian Piccolo (above), the Bears tailback who passed away from an aggressive cancer during the 1969 season.  Sayers and Piccolo (or “Pick” as Gale called him) became close friends when they were assigned as roommates during Bears training camp.  Defying the racial boundaries of the time, they built an unwavering friendship that helped them both deal with Brian’s terrifying disease.

I hope you enjoy I Am Third.   Since this is a relatively short book and quick read, there will be a slightly shorter period before I post discussion questions.  Look for those questions during the week of August 6th.  (Check the left sidebar for a link to buy the book on

In addition to your longer reading assignment, take a few minutes to read Sayers’ Hall of Fame enshrinement speech and the speech given by former Bears coach (and owner) George Halas as he introduced Sayers at the enshrinement ceremony: