An Email to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

>> 1.06.2011

Dear Commissioner Goodell--

It was a surprise and pleasure to receive your recent email.  I appreciate your initiative in communicating to fans current status of the CBA negotiations.  As you said, we fans care deeply about the league, our teams, and the players; anything that threatens our ability to enjoy NFL football as usual is a matter of great concern.

I assume your statement, “I know we can and will reach an agreement,” was meant to allay that concern.  Unfortunately, it does not.  You made no mention of whether agreement will come before the expiry of the current CBA, before the NFL Draft, before training camp, before the 2011 regular season, or even within our lifetimes.  Of course, an agreement will eventually be reached.  What fans want to know is if you are committed to reaching an agreement in a fashion and timeframe that respects our investment in the game.

Yes, despite the tough economic times you reference, America (and the world)’s investment in NFL football has never been greater.  The NFL dominates the sports landscape in terms of mindshare, media coverage, television ratings, and merchandise sales.  More and more of the average American’s shrinking budget is being spent in support of their favorite NFL team.  More and more of their hurried minutes are spent watching NFL games three, four, or even five(!) nights a week, and consuming NFL news, stats and analysis across every conceivable media and information platform every waking second.

As a result, the NFL has never been more prosperous.  As you know, the NFL will bring in nearly nine billion dollars in revenue this season.  As I write this, word is breaking that ESPN will increase their fee for Monday Night Football, already $1.1 billion annually, by forty percent.  It is at best disingenuous—and at worst, insulting—to suggest that NFL franchises are feeling the same financial pressures as their legions of ardent fans.

You are absolutely correct in stating your job is to represent the game, and to protect its integrity.  It’s unfortunate that at this critical juncture, the actions you cite as harbingers of progress—pushing for an 18-game schedule, stricter enforcement of on-field safety rules, and massively increased fines and suspensions for excessive violence—are doing the most to compromise that integrity.

You state that the NFL is “listening to fans” about uncompetitive preseason games.  However, the NFL is studiously ignoring the overwhelming majority of fans who don’t want an 18-game regular season.  Fans would rather see players who occupy camp roster spots 54 through 80 playing in uncompetitive preseason games, than in uncompetitive regular season games that determine playoff berths and seeding.

The stricter—and wildly inconsistent—enforcement of penalties for dangerous tactics has been a lightning rod for fan anger.  Penalties seem to be called based on player reputation—both that of the defender, and that of his target—more than an objective standard of risk.  This inconsistency is compounded by the NFL levying suspensions and massive fines, independently of whether the plays in question drew flags.  Further, these penalties and suspensions affect the outcome of games, which leads fans to (erroneously, but understandably) question the integrity of the referees, yourself, and the NFL as a whole.

I applaud the league for taking a stand for player safety—but the referees are either incapable of enforcing these rules uniformly, or the rules are too vague to be uniformly enforced.  I also applaud the league for paying much greater attention to concussions and other head injuries; changing the “play through it culture” to protect athletes’ long-term health is vital to the sustainability of the NFL.  Recognize, though, that the “play through it culture” includes fans; we need to be educated about the risks players are exposing themselves to for our entertainment.

I also support the NFL’s effort to reduce rookie salaries.  The out-of-whack salary structure for top rookies has undermined the NFL Draft’s primary purpose: to give struggling teams the best young talent.  Further, these massive, increasingly guaranteed salaries for unproven players are reducing our teams’ ability to keep top veterans in town, or attract new ones—again affecting competitive balance.  Dollars saved by these restructured deals should be redirected to said veterans, and/or to retired players who laid the foundation for today’s NFL.

I’ve also enjoyed the league’s creativity in providing new ways to enjoy the NFL.  The NFL Network, the RedZone Channel, a continually-improving and NFL Rush Zone, mobile and wireless viewing and listening options, and a dizzying array of team merchandise make it possible for a fan like myself to immerse themselves like never before.  My children’s experiences as fans have been far more satisfying, involving, and fulfilling than mine was—and I didn’t have any complaints!

However, as you say, this isn’t about the here and now.  It isn’t about the NFL as it is, it’s about the future; about the NFL as it will be ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.  While the NFL seems to think a “responsible” CBA will be the difference between a wildly profitable, world-conquering NFL, and an incredibly wildly profitable, why-stop-at-just-Earth-the-moon’s-right-over-there conquering NFL, something’s being forgotten.

The revenues the league is splitting with the players?  The revenues the owners are sharing amongst themselves?  Those dollars are ours.  They come from our pockets—yes, us, the fans in the stands with the 10% unemployment and the debt up to our eyeballs.  We work our tails off to earn that money, and we probably ought to be spending it on other things, saving it for our retirement, or trying to keep up with our health care costs.  But no, we give all that money to you, either directly or as a dividend of our passion.

Let me be clear: the $9 billion-per-year the NFL currently pulls in, and the $25 billion-per-year you hope to rake by 2027, will be unattainable pipe dreams if there is a lockout.  Throughout this process, you and the owners have assumed that the only direction the NFL can go from these lofty heights is up—instead, it’s more reasonable to state that the NFL is overdue for a return to Earth.

It wasn’t long ago that Major League Baseball was our national pastime and passion, and it wasn’t long ago that NHL hockey stood on equal footing with the NFL, MLB, and NBA.  Work stoppages were the catalysts for a precipitous drop in interest, passion, ratings, merchandise sales, and revenue for both leagues—and neither has returned to its previous place in the American sports landscape.  If you, the owners, and the players cannot find a timely way to divvy up the monstrous sum we fans donate to you every year, the rainbow will vanish—and that pot of gold with it.

As I said the last time I wrote about the CBA, we fans are the golden goose, and you have your hands around our neck.  Remember us.  Respect us.  Do not take our football away.  Complete these negotiations before the current CBA expires, or we will all pay the price.  If you commit to doing so, 2011 will be a Happy New Year, for you and everyone else involved in, or a fan of, the NFL.




Tinderbox: Housekeeping, and Jerome FElton

>> 1.05.2011

A couple quick housekeeping items:

  • In a long-overdue move, I updated the Links tab up there under the header graphic.  Some Lions folks have switched primary sites, some have shiny new digs, and unfortunately some have stopped writing entirely.  This page has been sadly out of date for quite some time, and I’m glad to get it straightened out.
  • If you’re interested in seeing how the sausage gets made, keep an eye on  That’s where I tinker with new layouts, designs, etc.  I’m toying with Blogger’s site designer, so drop me a line if you dig—or despise—what’s up there. 
  • If you want even more proof that the Lions are becoming a plain-old regular football team, instead of the collective avatar of failure and disappointment in sport, check out the Freep’s article on Jerome Felton complaining about his role:
    "I want to be involved, period," he said. "Whether that's here or somewhere else, the next few months will decide that."

    Back in the preseason, I did a Gameday Preview post with The Steelers N'At, and answered one of their questions like so:

    4. Any sleeper players that might be surprises in the game?

    Third-year FB Jerome Felton has been a very impressive athlete through his first two years, but is developing into a dangerous two-way threat. Lions fans haven't seen a dynamic, multi-faceted fullback in a long time--but rumor has it Felton's quietly blossoming into the kind of Kleinsassery weapon that Scott Linehan has had so much success with.

    Indeed, Felton got two carries and a reception in that game, and if memory serves they were all consecutive.  The Lions seemed to have a “Felton drive” in each of the first three preseason games, where they’d just feed him and feed him until he stopped moving the chains.  He also got a lot of looks early in the season, but his problems with fumbles made the coaching staff shy to deploy him down the stretch.  Further, the effectiveness of the 2-TE set limited the number of snaps that Felton could be out there. Even further, the evolution of Will Heller into an H-back-type-thing made Felton almost completely redundant.

    This is exactly the kind of thing you’ll see throughout this offseason: good players, who have contributed to the Lions’ success, who can still contribute elsewhere, getting squeezed out by the better players the Lions are acquiring.  Nothing against Jerome Felton, but the Lions’ starting lineup is going to be a tough one to crack in 2011—and if he is looking for 40+ carries a season, he’ll likely have to look elsewhere.  He deserves a chance to play somwhere, though; best of luck to him.

  •

    Watchtower Review: Lions vs. Vikings

    >> 1.04.2011

    The data said this Lions-Vikings game would be higher-scoring than it was:

    I'll be honest: my gut is calling this one a Lions romp, something like 35-10. However, the data’s telling me to be far more cautious, so I will be—to a point. According to my projections, the most likely outcome of the game is a 23-17 Lions victory. And, if I’m right, the worst decade in Lions history—arguably, in NFL history—will truly be a thing of the past.

    By The Watchtower's offensive-scoring-only reckoning, this game's score was 20-6, so I was in the ballpark on the Lions’ score, but way, way off on the Vikings’.  Most of this was due to the phenomenal job the Lions did of bottling up Adrian Peterson: 14 carries needed him just 31 yards—that’s a vanishingly low 2.12 YpC average.  Contrast this to Week 3, where All Day picked up 160 yards on 23 carries.  It’s true that 80 yards came on one play, but even 22-for-80 is slightly subpar rate of 3.63 YpC.  There’s no other way to put it: the Lions defense did a masterful job of clamping down on Adrian Peterson.

    They dared the Almighty Joe Webb to beat them, and—even though he’s like just as fast as Mike Vick or whatever—Webb was completely ineffective.  In 35 dropbacks, Webb was sacked three times, threw a pick, and completed only 20 passes; his average YpA was a wretched 4.53.  I loved the way the Lions switched schemes in the second half: they moved to a 3-3-5 nickel, often dropping eight, getting pressure anyway, and leaving Webb with no options.

    Offensively, the Lions fell short of expectations—but a goal-line fumble from Tony Scheffler cost the Lions a touchdown they’d driven 75 yards to score.  Of course, him breaking the plane with possession would have resulted in my projection being short by four instead of long by three—but the point is, the numbers were fairly accurate here.  Other than the admittedly brutal pick-six, Shaun Hill displayed his burgeoning mastery of the offense: he went 28-of-39 (71.8%) for 258 yards (6.62 YpA), while distributing to eight different Lions—none of whom was Calvin Johnson.

    On a meta note, I’m going to be doing some heavy modifying of the Watchtower formula over the course of the summer.  After a season-long Watchtower Review that looks at the process entire for this season, I’ll move on to exploring new stats, new approaches, and trying to incorporate special teams/turnover scores in one way or another . . .


    Three Cups Deep: It Is Finished

    One year ago, the Lions concluded their 2009 regular season. I said in that day’s Three Cups Deep:

    The Lions' season is officially over. Their 2-14 campaign fell just short of media expectations, and well short of fans’ hopes. For what it’s worth, I believe that if Matthew Stafford had been able to play all 16 games at 100%, the Lions would have won several more—but at this point, that’s completely meaningless.

    What an incredible difference a year makes. The Lions’ 6-10 campaign met—or slightly exceeded—media expectations, and met—or fell just short—of fans’ hopes. For what it’s worth, I believe that if Matthew Stafford had been able to play all 16 games at 100%, the Lions would have won several more—but at this point, that’s completely meaningless.

    What matters today is that when I go to, and scroll down to “NFC North,” the Detroit Lions appear above the Minnesota Vikings. I’ve made a mountain out of this particular molehill, but it’s a massive leap forward for the Lions. They’ve pulled themselves up out of the cellar of the league. They’ve pulled themselves up out of the cellar of the division. Having, for the first time, cracked Peter King’s Fine Fifteen, the Detroit Lions are looking down on half of the NFL, at least in terms of national perception.

    When this team was 2-9, I took a long look at the idea that the Lions were much better than their record indicated:

    Two weeks ago, Michael David Smith of the Wall Street Journal’s online edition wrote that the Detroit Lions may be the unluckiest team in NFL history. Despite, at the time, outscoring their opponents, the Lions had won only 2 of 9 games. Certainly, Lions fans expected better—and hoped for much better. Infuriatingly, the Lions seem much improved, but there’s been no change in the bottom line. However, it’s hard not to consider Bill Parcells’ famous line, “You are what your record says you are.” Many fans, bloggers, and media pros subscribe to this idea: no matter how much more competitive the Lions look, they are not actually better until they have more Ws next to their name.

    Well, the Lions have more Ws next to their name, to be sure--and the rush of opening eyes and changing minds has been amazing to behold. People that were damning the Schwartz tenure as a failure are suddenly glowing with joy at the progress! People that were saying "nothing's changed since Millen" just a few weeks ago are now saying that anything other than playoffs in 2011 will be a huge disappointment.

    What games have they been watching? This is the same team from last week, from two weeks ago, from two months ago. They do the same things well, and the same things poorly. The team that lost to the Packers by two points in Lambeau is the same team that beat the Packers by four points at Ford Field. There's been no metamorphosis, no grand reshaping of what the Lions are. They haven't "learned how to win." The ball just started bouncing their way--and they effectively fed off of the resultant momentum, building confidence and maintaining focus.

    The Lions simply showed up and took care of business on Sunday, protecting their house from a divisional underdog. There was not a lot of drama at Ford Field--indeed, it may have been the quietest sold-out Lions game in history! It sounds boring, but THAT is the difference between these Lions and the Lions of the past two seasons. An unspectacular "show up and win" effort against a divisional rival is just what we Lions fans need to brave the winter: proof that this team is on the right track. Proof that they have a corps of young difference-making talent, standing at the doorway to the playoffs. Proof that the coaches and executive staff were the right hires. Proof that Lions fans are going to have an awful lot to cheer about next season.


    Fireside Chat: Lions vs. Vikings

    >> 1.03.2011


    Incredibly, the Lions completed their four-game win streak to end the season—and we celebrated long into the night!  Listen to the final Fireside Chat of the 2010 regular season now:


    Fireside Chat Reminder!

    >> 1.02.2011

    EDITED: Link was broken.  Fixed now!

    Don't forget to join me and your fellow Lions fans, as the Fireside Chat podcast streams LIVE via Ustream tonight! Just log in at the Fireside Chat Ustream page a little before 11:00 pm EST, and we'll revel in the Lions' first not-last-place finish in what seems like forever!


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