Tinderbox: NFL Mediation, and the Draft

>> 4.08.2011

Well, the one eventuality I didn’t prepare myself for was the one that occurred: Judge Nelson decided to take a couple of weeks to mull it over. Meanwhile, she urged both parties to continue talks in hope of reaching a settlement. As you all likely saw, the NFL invited the players to return to the FMCS and resume collective bargaining under federal mediator George Cohen; the players—who, no longer unionized, can’t collectively bargain—invited the NFL to negotiate a settlement presided by Judge Nelson herself.

After some po-tay-to/po-tah-to back and forth, Judge Nelson will host a conference call today to settle the issue of where and how mediation will occur. I applaud the league for offering written assurances that these talks will in no way be used against the players as the lawsuit goes forward. It’s a clear sign that both sides truly want an agreement. I also applaud Judge Nelson for giving the sides another chance to settle it like grownups, before she gets out the wooden spoon and starts paddling heinies.

Among many more important things, I worried that government shutdown would prevent federal mediation. However, Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane's Sports Law program, says George Cohen would be available to mediate even in event the Republicans and Democrats prove even harder to bring together than the NFL and NFLPA*.

The Net Rat deconstructed the idea that Lions should draft an offensive tackle 13th overall. He goes point-by-point: the Lions’ line was quite good at pass protection, none of the available tackles will be an immediate upgrade, a rookie may not be as ready as Fox or Hilliard, and it’s unlikely that only one of Backus, Cherilus, Fox, Hilliard, and Ugoh will be able to play at a high level this year. I agree with all of this.

Here’s what the case for an OT (and, for that matter, a DE) boils down to: there will surely be a couple of very good ones available when the Lions pick. Year after year, the Lions have passed on taking an OT with truly elite size and athleticism, because they had more pressing needs elsewhere. Time after time, Lions fans decried the wasted opportunity . . . now, one may fall in their lap.

I believe the situation is perfect for a guy like Colorado’s Nate Solder. He possesses that magically rare combination of huge frame (6’-8”, 319) and incredible athleticism—but he needs time to develop bulk and technique. If he were a little more developed, and a careerlong OT instead of a converted TE, he’d likely not make it out of the top five. Instead, he’s a project with the potential to not only replace Backus in a few years, but be the kind of elite blindside guardian Lions fans have craved ever since Lomas Brown.

Don't get this twisted; I'm not saying the Lions NEED to draft an offensive tackle, or even Solder specifically. I’m saying Backus’ consecutive-start streak, Gosder Cherilus’ knee, and Jason Fox’s development, are things the Lions can’t bet on beyond 2011. There is a need for a long-term solution, and—if everything goes to plan—the Lions  won’t be drafting high enough to net an OT with Solder’s tools for a long, long time.

One last bit of business: I have to take time out to plug my friends over at Sideline Scouting. They’re a bunch of fanatical fans, like me, who’ve been putting their nose to the grindstone and churning out excellent draft guides year after year. The 2011 edition of Sideline Scouting’s draft preview is 391 pages, over 32 megabytes, and just $5.00. I love their work, I use their guide extensively as a reference, every year, and I recommend you do so, too.


Judgment Day: Brady vs. The NFL

>> 4.06.2011

For all intents and purposes, nothing has happened between the NFL and NFLPA* [Ed. note: I’m using Pro Football Talk’s shorthand for the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA] since the union decertified, the NFL instituted the lockout, and the players filed Brady vs. the NFL. All the public talk from the two sides has just been PR—but not all of their talk has been public. ESPN’s John Clayton reported that the NFLPA* reached out to the league, to negotiate a settlement to the lawsuit, but the NFL refused. That would have represented real progress, but it didn’t happen. The NFL denies that the NFLPA offered such negotiations, but admitted they would not negotiate settlement terms (as they contend the decertification is fake).

There are two great articles explaining what today’s about: Pro Football Talk’s “Ten Things to Know About the Wednesday Court Hearing,” and ESPN’s Lester Munson doing a Lockout Q&A. Here’s the upshot: the best-case scenario, for fans, is that Judge Susan Nelson orders the two sides back to mediation, and to not come out until they reach a settlement. Unfortunately, that’s quite unlikely. The second-best-case scenario, is Judge Nelson granting an immediate injunction—meaning, she rules in favor of the players, the lockout ends, free agency begins, and we have business as usual until the conclusion of the trial. This is more likely than her ordering the parties back to mediation, but still not very likely.

According to the above two articles (and others), the most likely outcome today is Judge Nelson ruling in favor of the players, granting them the injunction that blocks the lockout—but with an order to “stay” the injunction until an appeal is heard. That means the lockout continues until, likely, mid-summer. According to PFT, the standard for an appeal of such an injunction is high; the Federal Court of Appeals, like instant replay, will have to determine Judge Nelson made a major mistake—they can’t re-rule the case from scratch.

The worst-case scenario, for fans, is if the owners win. The lockout would continue until the case works all the way through federal courts (meaning no real 2011 season), or the players can no longer ride out the process and resume negotiations (presumably after re-certifying as a union). For years, this has been the owners’ plan: to lock the players out and wait for them to cave. They know that the players need paychecks much more than they need ticket sales. It’s why they took less money from DirecTV, so would DirecTV pay them for non-existent games during the lockout. Even though Judge Doty prevented them from accessing that money, the owners are still in far better position to go a year without revenue than the players.

So, bottom line: if the players win today, the fans, players, coaches, assistants, scouts, trainers, concessions workers, and parking-lot attendants win. If the owners win, everybody loses but the owners.


Matt Millen is Not Still In The House.

>> 4.04.2011

By now, I’m sure you heard about the Lions erroneously sending out their list of pre-draft rookie visits not just to the league offices, but to the entire league. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported this, then ended his article with a little jab:

Why do we have a funny feeling that, in some way, this is Matt Millen’s fault?

Har har. Sean Yuille over at Pride of Detroit did an awesome job debunking the notion, noting that Killer reported the list only contained visits to date, not future invites—and Dave Birkett spotted a known visit that wasn’t on the publicized list. The best thing Sean did though, was point out how little the list really matters:

The disclaimer I have presented when tracking these visits is that you shouldn't try to read into them too much. Like Schwartz said, it is fun for us fans to track, but it's not like they are a great indicator of who might be picked in the draft. That is why I don't see this email thing as being a huge "blunder" at all. Hell, with the way Martin Mayhew and company are so secretive with some information, perhaps they meant to send it to the rest of the league. You never can be too sure, but even if this was a mistake I don't see it as being a very big one. It's not like the Vikings or some other team picking ahead of the Lions is going to alter their draft strategy over some names in an email about pre-draft visits. That would be almost as ridiculous as how PFT framed this story in the first place.

I’ll defend Florio, though he doesn’t need my help (and will likely never know I offered it!). He tries to keep things funny; one of the easiest fish to shoot in the barrel is poking fun at a perennial loser. I don’t ascribe this to anti-Lions malice, just Florio trying to punch up a relatively harmless story with a funny angle. We may not find it all that funny—but believe me, if the headline were “Vikings Expose Something Other Than Visanthe Shiancoe” we’d be chortling along with everyone else.

Florio says right in the piece he assumed Schwartz’s quote about “everyone already knowing” referred to agents disclosing what other teams their client has visited. It’s common knowledge in league circles; they just ask around. Yes, it’s embarrassing the Lions made it so easy on everyone else—but it won’t change anyone’s draft strategy. A team brings a guy in for a visit to learn more about him . . . they don’t bring in the guys they’re already sure about—and definitely not the ones they trying to keep their interest in secret. As far as I know, Mike Shanahan didn’t even say Jay Cutler’s name out loud before trading up in the first to build the Broncos around him.

Matt Millen made a lot of mistakes when he was here. He flapped his gums a lot about what the Lions were going to do. He approached the front office like he was the coach of a football team, and not like he was the President and CEO of a billion-dollar company—literally, his job title. He put in 40 and flew home for the weekend, every weekend, for eight years—in an industry where the best leaders sleep at their desk. The results were terrible, but Matt Millen isn’t an idiot. He isn’t a blundering meathead who can’t do anything right. He’s just a well-spoken, likable football guy who was in way, way, way over his skis. His biggest mistake was refusing to quit.

No, Matt Millen wasn’t a human curse upon this franchise. He wasn’t a fell demon whose pestilent shadows still lurk in the corners of Allen Park, making fax machines jam and administrative assistants hit “Reply to All.” To the contrary, the new, infallible leadership that everyone has so much faith in? The executives we’re so sure are awesome that we’re tempted to call this email leak deliberate? They were Millen’s right- and left-hand men. Yet, in just their second season, the Lions won more than they did in all but Millen’s best year. Their track record already speaks for itself: Matt Millen doesn’t live here anymore, and this little oopsy doesn’t reveal any cracks in the Lions’ foundation.


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