Meta/HouseKeeping: Detroit Lions Links

>> 7.22.2011

Some of you may have noticed a familiar byline on yesterday: mine. I’m thrilled to announce that has asked me to help contribute to the daily Lions Links posts. Just as with my soccer blog, The Wild Turkeys, and my MSU blog, A Beautiful Day for Football, this won’t take away from my writing here at TLiW. I scour the wild Internet  frontier for Lions news as it is; serving up links to them in a digest format is easily done. Moreover, that’s never been TLiW’s mission.

I tried to do a links post for a little while, and you all told me loud and clear that sites like MLive and Roar Report already do that well, so there’s no need to replicate the effort. So, go to and get the links, and here (or to Roar Report) for my deep thoughts and analysis, and everything will be cool.

"Now wait," some of you are saying. "He keeps starting all these side projects, and promising they won't slow down his posting rate, but his posting rate has definitely slowed down!" It’s true: the past couple of weeks, my usual 4-to-5 posts a week have dropped to more like 2-to-3. It’s not because of anything writing-related, though—it’s because of Flaming Idiots. It’s a play at Lansing’s Riverwalk Theatre, and I’ve been deep in rehearsal for it. It opened last night, and will run this weekend and next. I’m desperately trying to keep the posts here going at the usual rate, and once it’s over I’ll be buckling down for training camp and the preseason.

So. If you’re in or around Lansing, come see the show—it’s hilarious. If you’re not, and grumpy at my posting/commenting rate, please be patient, TLiW will be stoking the fire at full speed very, very soon.


Our Backus Against The Wall? The Lions’ Tackle Woes

>> 7.21.2011

Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus blocks New York Giants DE Osi Umenyiora.One of the biggest questions about player-led team and individual offseason workouts was, “What happens when somebody gets hurt?” Whether it’s due to the noncontact drills actually being noncontact, or low participation, or less strenuous workouts, there hadn’t yet been a notable injury . . . until yesterday.

According to Dave Birkett of the Freep, Jeff Backus has partially torn his left pectoral muscle, and will be unavailable for the near future—possibly missing however much training camp there is. Birkett has said he’s been told it’s “not serious,” which in Lions-speak means he won’t miss more than one or two regular-season games, if any.

There’s no doubt that offensive line depth is an issue—especially proven offensive line depth the Lions could count on to start a game or two. With Gosder Cherilus a pure right tackle (and recovering from major surgery himself), it’s unlikely they swing him over to the left side. Will the Lions have to make a play for a veteran free agent to hold things together? I think the answer is “no,” for a variety of reasons.

First, Jeff Backus has been the Lions’ starting left tackle for ten years, without fail. That’s 160 consecutive games. He’s played through injuries before, most notably a intercostal rib muscle he tore while warming up right before a game. Granted, he was terrible in that game, but he played—and Backus has weeks, not hours, before he’ll have to suck it up and play this time around. He should be ready to go when it counts.

Second, any veteran free agent the Lions sign is going to know they have no hope of a starting job. Guys like Doug Free and Jared Gaither are looking for places where they can earn a long-term gig; Detroit isn’t that place. Backus is playing the best football of his life right now, signing with Detroit would get a free agent veteran a prime spot on the bench and a bus ticket.

Finally, this might be a blessing in disguise. The Lions need to know what they have in 2010 fourth-round pick Jason Fox; heavy training camp reps against the Lions’ stacked DE corps will help them find out. Rookie seventh-rounder Johnny Culbreath should get a lot more reps, as well—exactly what he needs to help adjust to the speed and power of NFL defensive ends.

Don’t get me wrong, if it’s a blessing in disguise it’s a pretty heavy disguise. I have every confidence in Jeff Backus to do what he needs to do to be out there, but if he’s at any less than his best, the offense will suffer. And, for as much press as the defensive line (deservedly) gets, this team’s identity really is the passing offense. Stafford and the Transformers will be expected to average thirty-or-so points per game, and if Backus is unavailable or ineffectual, that will be a very tough task . . .

. . . but a decade of reliability should have earned Backus our trust. I’d rather the Lions focus on adding talent to the back seven than adding a safety net for Jeff Backus.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,jeff backus,jason fox,gosder cherilus,johnny culbreath,jared gaither,doug free,offensive line,offensive tackles


Contrition & Forgiveness: The Cusp of A NFL CBA

>> 7.19.2011

If all the reports are to be believed, the players and owners are within days, perhaps hours, of agreeing on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. All outstanding lawsuits will be settled, all remaining hatchets will be buried, the NFLPA* will recertify itself as a union, and by week’s end the engines of professional football will crank up and roar to life.

I’ve been mulling this for quite a while. I, as much as any single-team independent blogger, have spilled barrels of ink into the rift between players and owners. The first of those pieces, “The NFL, the NFLPA, the CBA, and Their Fans,” laid out all the issues as I understood them, and my feelings as both a true-blue fan and an educated chronicler:

Pushing Thirty Minivan Me is just that: pushing thirty with a minivan. I’m not pushing fifty with a Harvard MBA, and I’m not pushing twenty with a Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe. I’m not in a position to bear investment risk, or rake in dividends off the profit. I’m the schmuck in line at the gate, ready to part with fistfuls of hard-earned jack I should spend on more important things. I’m the tool with a family of five, all dressed in jerseys on gameday. I’m the fool at the bottom of the pyramid scheme, the rube all this is built upon, the mark they’re all getting rich off of . . .

. . . and I’m the kid in front of the TV set, eyes as big as saucers, watching Barry run. Owners, players, coaches, front office, staff, agents, flaks, and all the rest: please. Remember me. Remember us. Remember who really bears the financial burden here—and ultimately, who really holds the cards. Baseball, 1994? Hockey, 2005? We are the golden goose, and you have your hands around our neck.

Many radical outcomes were foretold: an 18-game regular season, the “unpinning” of the salary cap from revenue, even abolition of the draft! There were frequent public spats between members of each side—even over issues like whether or not upcoming negotiations had been scheduled. The resultant bad blood between players and the league has been disturbing (case in point: James Harrison’s comments about Commissioner Goodell). Yet, soon that’s all supposed to be water under the bridge, as the John Hancocks are applied to a new CBA.

Who won? The biggest winners were the lawyers, and big business (thanks to that 8th Circuit ruling expanding the presumed boundaries of the Norris-LaGuardia Act). The next biggest winners are Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, each of whom was hired to deliver in this moment. To a lesser extent, everyone who loves the NFL, or makes a living off the NFL, wins: we’ll get our full annual recommended amount of football.

In terms of semantics, the players nearly ran the table. The CBA will arise from a settlement of the Brady v. NFL lawsuit, as presided over by US District Court mediator Arthur Boylen—not collective bargaining sessions with FMCS Director George Cohen. They successfully maintained their decertified trade association status. They kept the money debate focused on a percentage of all monies coming in the door, rather than splitting the hairs of what money “counts” and what doesn’t.

Yet the result of all the semantics—and layoffs, and furloughs, and prematurely induced labors, and eight digits’ worth of lawyer bills—is a tune-up, not an overhaul. Players will receive an smaller piece of the biggest possible pie, continuing the trend started with the 2006 agreement. Rookie salaries will be reigned in, and the savings will go to active and retired veterans. Those retired veterans will be vastly better taken care of, player safety rules clarified, and player health benefits improved. In lieu of an 18-game regular season, there will be a weekly Thursday  Night package to wring more TV revenue out of the existing 16-game docket.

In short, the ultimate agreement will look like a very reasonable compromise; this is both good and bad. Good, because it should lay the foundation for another decade or two of labor peace. Bad, because it means the two sides were never really that far apart. All of the grandstanding and caterwauling, all of the doomsaying invective, the lockout and the lawsuit and all the bitter words, it all could have been avoided. I repeatedly begged both sides to do what it took to come to an agreement before the CBA expired—if for no other reason than to respect the investments of the millions of fans making them rich. But no, leverage was protected by any means necessary, and we’ll have a deal in late July that should have been struck in February.

Back in college, I studied an article by a dude named Francis Fukuyama called “The End of History?” Written at the close of the Cold War, it argued that liberal democratic governments, paired with market-based capitalist economies, were the culmination of human history. Once the entire world had converted to representative democracies, History—capital H, meaning the progress of humanity towards liberty and equality of opportunity—would end.

As an extension of this idea, some argued that the Cold War itself was History’s pause button. The two superpowers’ opposing ideologies were holding an entire world in thrall; other countries either aligned themselves with one side or felt immense pressure to do so. All that time the US and USSR stood at loggerheads, viewing the rest of the globe as a giant game of Reversi, and other nations’ political and economic development were stifled. Once the Soviet Union fell many democracies sprung up, China became an economic powerhouse, Korea and India started moving to the forefront of technology and industry, and now we’re in the midst of the Arab Spring.

TO BE CLEAR: I am not equivocating my stepfather’s service in Vietnam to my being really bummed about football. But, I can’t help but feel like the last seven months have been like that for NFL fans. There have been so many sacrifices by and of so many; people have lost their jobs over this. There have been so many feelings hurt, bad blood shared, and regrettable decisions made. Yet, in the aftermath, it feels like it was all a charade. The outcome was inevitable all along, and everyone will pretty much pick back up where they left off.

In light of that, I want to say a few things. First, to Commissioner Roger Goodell, and NFL PR folks Greg Aiello and Brian McCarthy: there were some times I abused the direct pipeline of Twitter. I crossed the line with my real-time emotions on more than one occasion. I’m sorry.

To NFLPA executive director for external affairs George Atallah, many thanks. You were open, honest, transparent, and accessible throughout the process—most especially to new-media types such as myself. I also thank DeMaurice Smith for delivering some classic quotes while defending the players’ interests well.

Special thanks go to the Lions. That includes the players who’ve taken time out to talk about the issues with me—Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Cliff Avril, etc.—and members of the organization who’ve done the same, such as Director of Media Relations Matt Barnhardt. I come out of this experience more convinced than ever that the Lions are a great group of people led by a great group of people, and a classy organization from the top down.

All that’s left is for them to get on the field and play.

Technorati Tags: nfl,nfl collective bargaining agreement,nfl cba,roger goodell,george atallah,greg aiello,brian mccarthy,nfl lockout

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